The Wire: Paul Schiraldi/HBO
Michael Endelman
October 09, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”The Wire”: Loyalties and betrayals

At the beginning of episode 5, our four middle schoolers are sitting in a desolate back alley discussing whether street soldier Chris Partlow is some kind of ”zombie master.” In a neat bit of narrative symmetry, the hour ends with Dukie proving to Randy and the guys that Partlow is certainly no voodoo priest. The plastic-covered, decomposing bodies show that Partlow is just a vicious hit man with no special power beyond an ability to kill innocent folks (the Doritos delivery woman) and beat down supposed partners (Old Face Andre) with no remorse.

Both Partlow and Marlo especially surprised me this week. Despite the general feeling — among the Baltimore police department and Wire fans — that Marlo’s crew can’t match the masterful scheming and subterfuge of the Barksdale-Bell crew, the Stanfield gang is sharpening up. Example 1: After Omar jacked Marlo’s cash and ring at the poker game, Partlow convinces him that the best response is no response. Omar expects a manhunt — which didn’t work for Stringer Bell — so just waiting will keep the thugged-out Robin Hood uneasy and off-guard. Their plot to ensnare Omar in the bodega murder was fiendishly clever. Example 2: Marlo has security guarding his open-air conference room not only during the day but throughout the night as well. So when Herc and Carver try to plant a video camera in the playground — after a massive failure by the insufferable Lieutenant Marimow — the drug kingpin knows about it just minutes later. Maybe Marlo will be a worthy foe for the Major Crimes Unit.

It’s no coincidence that tonight’s episode is titled ”Alliances”; nearly the entire hour hinged on the shifting allegiances sweeping through the street, the police department, and city hall. In the underworld, the biggest change is that Prop Joe finally persuades Marlo to join the B-More co-op. With some masterful turning of screws — wielding a grand-jury indictment for a rival dealer, hinting that he knew in advance about the Omar poker-game stickup — he’s able to mold Marlo like Silly Putty. Let’s take a minute to give, um, props to Prop Joe, the kingpin philosopher who seems to speak in fortune-cookie-style aphorisms. Two beauts from this week: ”Man learns best when he gets burned” and ”Things happen on the street. Proof is hard to come by.” I could take an entire episode of Prop Joe monologues.

As for the allegiances on the legal side of Baltimore, they were a bit more twisted. Pissed off at Mayor Royce’s corruption and general sliminess, State Delegate Odell Watkins finally stormed, or, rather, wheeled out of the mayor’s office threatening to jump from the ticket. After a full-court press from Councilman Carcetti, it seems like Watkins might defect to the brash Italian’s camp. Police Commissioner Burrell is on the chopping block after his scheme to put a rookie (poor, poor Greggs) on the Braddock murder, but what about Dep. Ops Rawls? He’s a sneaky one; telling the mayor that he’s a ”loyal subordinate” and throwing Burrell under the bus, but then clandestinely leaking info to Carcetti too. After Election Day, Rawls will be the new police chief, no matter who wins. Nicely played.

But all of the Machiavellian maneuvering in this episode raised an obvious question: Is there anyone honest and principled left in Baltimore? Even Greggs had to shut up and lie for the team, after Sgt. Jay Landsman (the combo of Arby’s curly fries and Pepto-Bismol on his desk was classic) forced her to back up the official story of her role in the Braddock case. In the entire episode, only stoic, wounded Michael Lee showed purely honorable loyalty — to his brother. Though if Partlow keeps handing him wads of cash, that may not last for long.

A few questions: Did Prez do the right thing in handing out detentions to his class? Will Michael join Marlo as a street soldier? How will Freamon find the bodies in the ”vacants”? And will the police be able to find Omar?

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