This post contains spoilers for episodes 1 through 6 of the first season of The Wire. Feel free to discuss events that happen beyond these episodes in comments, but if you do so, label your comments as such for new readers.
The Wire, in retrospect, derives much of its critical reputation from its deep roots in David Simon’s reporting on Baltimore’s ills, which is often code for it as a grim show. When the show gets additional credit, it’s often for being bitterly funny. But in watching these three episodes in the first season, I was struck by their illumination of a critical theme: what level of justice and fairness these characters still expect from a profoundly broken system.
That thought lodged in my mind for the first time watching Bodie, having been snatched up into the juvenile detention system after knocking down Detective Mahone, walks out of Boys’ Village and tries to hitch a ride home. There’s something oddly touching about his disappointment when no one stops for the African-American boy who shows evidence of an obvious beating. Bodie’s at genial war with Detectives Herc and Carver, he has a sense of being treated unfairly by law enforcement, but he still holds out hope for some sector of society. It’s clear, when Herc and Carver crash in to his grandmother’s home, that there’s some sort of family resemblance. “Would you like to sit down?” she asks a clearly ashamed Herc. “Preston came to me when my daughter died. He was only four years old. But even then, I could tell he was angry. His mother lived out there. After a while, he couldn’t see nothing else.”
That she’s not entirely right is the basis for the transformation of Bodie’s feud with the two detectives into a wary joviality. Herc apologizes to Mrs. Preston, telling her, “I’m sorry, m’am. And I’m sorry for the way he came through here. If Preston comes past, give him this, and tell him we need to talk. I’m sorry.” Later, he’ll lose at pool to her grandson, who teases him, “That might be your whole salary, but I clock that shit in minutes.” Herc’s gesture of reconciliation to Bodie’s grandmother doesn’t bear precisely the results he expects: Bodie has Herc’s card on him when Herc and Carver pick him up. But it seems to have brokered at least a temporary truce between Bodie and the cops he’s vexed so greatly (perhaps because of how similar they all are). “Fuck you and your tight-ass advice,” Bodie tells him when their fragile peace is interrupted by the need to return to Bodie to detention. “But, that sandwich was good.”
Bodie’s boss is having graver doubts than his deputy is. D’Angelo begins these three episodes bragging about committing a murder on behalf of his uncle, Avon, who needed a troublesome girlfriend silenced. “I ain’t seen a female that fine since,” he muses. But the camerawork gives the lie to his braggadocio, making him float in front of an eerily shifting view of the Pit behind D’Angelo as he tries to establish his credibility. Trying to reconcile these acts with D’Angelo’s sensitivity is an inherently nauseating task.