TV Article

Underdog Eat Dog

On ''The Wire,'' the murder of a witness helps Carcetti score a point against his corrupt opponent in the mayoral debate

The Wire | LONG SHOT IN THE DARK Carcetti (left) doesn't know yet about a possible sex scandal involving the mayor
LONG SHOT IN THE DARK Carcetti (left) doesn't know yet about a possible sex scandal involving the mayor

''The Wire'': Carcetti draws blood

The more screen time he gets, the more annoying he becomes. Savagely intelligent, Councilman Carcetti is a childish, impudent brat, but man, he's a political savant too. One minute, he's irresponsibly shucking his duties by taking a phone call during an important debate-prep session, but he can then rattle off a nuanced attack on Mayor Royce's crime record from memory. He's an odd mix of swaggering braggadocio and cynical despondency: ''I will kick his ass, but the next morning I still wake up white in a city that ain't,'' he says at one point. I'm not a scholar of actual Baltimore politics, but it does seem that Carcetti's character seems based on the city's actual young, white mayor, Martin O'Malley.

I had a hunch that Carcetti would somehow begin to overcome Royce's lead in the mayoral race — why else would they follow this story line for two seasons? — but the device The Wire's writers used was unexpected. Let's follow the trail of the leak: A seemingly random murder (with no witnesses) gets phoned in to the homicide department; the detective soon discovers that the victim was a state's witness; the gumshoe tells his boss, Sgt. Jay Landsman, who immediately phones Major Valchek, who brings word of the killing to Carcetti himself. That night, Carcetti deftly drops the bomb during the debate. Cue Royce's downfall. Though Royce doesn't quite know it yet, he's getting attacked on two other fronts. First, if Herc doesn't decide to, as Major Valchek advises, ''Shut up and play dumb,'' the entire city will know that Royce is using his office for, cough, extracurricular activities that can't be detailed on this family-friendly website. And second, all of Royce's crooked Barksdale-connected cronies are being hit by subpoenas courtesy of the righteous troublemaker Det. Lester Freamon. (Seeing oily State Senator Clay Davis swearing like a scurvy-ridden sailor gave me great pleasure.) The fall of the Royce regime is imminent; let's just brace for the impact. Though as proved by the show's final moments — ponytailed teenager Namond Brice skips the debate for a round of Halo 2 fragging — the only ones who seem to care about the election are the politicians themselves.

Now on to the street. In episode 1 of this season, Freamon and Greggs were bemoaning the mental unworthiness of their latest target: Marlo Stanfield. This week we see that Marlo might not be so thick after all. Like a Robin Hood of the hood, he has his henchmen start tossing around cash to all the hoppers for ''school clothes'' — it's a gift, though there are unspoken strings attached. He's scouting and cultivating minor-league players for his big-league operation. Big props to stoic, intelligent Michael Lee, the only kid smart enough to turn down the drug dollars, though I'm anxious about his future. Marlo appraised the kid coolly, then let him go, but you get the sense that he'd set Snoop and Partlow on him without pause.

I've also got a bad feeling about Prez's future as an educator. The signs haven't been good — the trashed classrooms, the exasperated teachers, the advice to keep the windows closed so the students will be drowsy and more cooperative. His students are bound to be difficult, rebellious, and rambunctious. How will Prez react to trash-talking kids when he doesn't have the power of a police badge on his side? Long-term Wire fans know that he has a nasty, violent temper. If he smashes the butt of a gun into a student's eye (see season 1), his father-in-law, Major Valchek, won't be able to save him from prison this time.

So what do you think? Is Royce going to fire Herc from his current detail? Is Lester going to get fired for serving the subpoenas right before the election? What are ''soft eyes,'' and will Prez be able to get them? Finally, could Carcetti actually win the election?

Originally posted Sep 18, 2006
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