The lost race of statuesque blondes.

The very first poster on the TWoP website made an amazing claim about the opening scene:

The woman who was speaking at the meeting has been seen on the show before. She was briefly seen in season 3 buying drugs from Bodie in Hamsterdam from the safety of a pretty nice car. She was seen again in season 4, now a hooker, having a brief chat with Old Face Andre at his store. And now in season 5 we see her pouring out her soul at an NA meeting. I didn’t notice this until it was pointed out by someone else, and I was amazed. What other show would give a nameless character such a devastating but ultimately hopeful arc and spread it out over three single scenes in three seasons? In typical Wire fashion, they just put it out there without drawing attention, and leave it up to us to notice the connection.

Shut my mouth. Really? This production team is not only settling old scores, they’re putting in far-inside jokes and references to make its most obsessive viewers feel extra-smart. Here’s another one for you folks from last night: The two Baltimore county homicide detectives, the ponytailed blonde and the hot-headed guy, were borrowed from the fiction of Laura Lippman, a statuesque blonde who happens to be Mrs. Simon. Nancy Porter and Kevin Infante turn up now and again in Lippman’s stand-alone Baltimore mysteries, and maybe in the Tessers, too, but I’m not sure. Anyway, as I recall, Nancy is described as borderline plump and Infante’s something of a hothead, both of which were captured in their short scenes last night. I think it’s good that we all keep in mind that these people are fictional characters, too. So much of the commentary on the newspaper story line this season has focused on whether the James Whiting character is Bill Marimow in part or entire, and Thomas Klebanow can’t be John Carroll, because Marimow never hired attractive females with big eyes, or some such, and we all need to relax. This is, ultimately, fiction. Fiction in pursuit of Truth, maybe, but not Fact. Can we all remember that?

Fiction in pursuit of Truth — I’m sure that would be hungry Scott Templeton’s excuse, too. We all know he made up the kid in the wheelchair, but it’s such a good story, right? You know, if there wasn’t exactly an E.J. in the crowd at Camden Yards, there was someone like him. And it’s a color story, so it’s not like the fate of the world rests on whether or not he actually existed. What reporter hasn’t stuck his own dry wit into a paper, credited to “one wag” who slipped away before the writer could get his name? Right? Right?

No, not right. You’re not supposed to make stuff up. Not even harmless stuff. And Templeton was so slick about it, you know this isn’t the first time. He’s building his career like one of those cantilevered houses in the L.A. hills; you know sooner or later it’s going to fall, but while it’s still standing, oh it’s something to see.

And you just know that the lying reporter will find his way to the lying homicide detective, Jimmy McNulty embroidering his crime scene to serve the greater good, the same way Bunk lied to the dumb corner boy to get a confession last week. The justification is always the same: The end justifies the means. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. Don’t let the killer walk because he and his buddies are united in their silence. And don’t let good police work go to waste because the higher-ups are playing political games with the money to pay for it. Who’s the first to know McNulty is telling a lie? Bunk, the very first liar we saw this season. (Remember Council President Narese Campbell’s line when Carcetti mentions casinos as a redevelopment tool? “This is where I get off the boat.” Gambling takes money from her constituents’ pockets, but Narese doesn’t mind putting a million dollars in the pocket of a strip-club owner. No doubt she has her own justification. Just like everybody.)

The bigger the lie, the more they believe.

At some point someone is going to stand up and say fabulists in newsrooms, while not unheard of, are rare enough to be remarkable. That may be true, but I’d like to add this: No fabulist fooled everybody until the day he or she got caught. Reporters learn to suspect the colleague who always gets the perfect quote, the anecdote no one else did, the kid named E.J. who faded back into the crowd. Frequently they confide their suspicions to others, even higher-ups. And frequently they are ignored, their concerns chalked up to professional jealousy. This is key. This is what Simon is saying: When you turn a blind eye to these people, it’s like ignoring a suspicious lump in your armpit. You can build one story on a lie, but not a career, and certainly not a contest entry. This the Washington Post learned to its lasting shame. I don’t see a happy ending for Templeton and McNulty.

Finally, the statuesque blondes. Many reporters have riffed for both comedic and dramatic effect on newsroom clichés. Lippman has an interior monologue in one of her books about the indignity of “local man,” the generic term for a nobody (“Local man killed in freeway crash”). Once I took a commercial flight from Ohio to Arizona, and one of the other passengers was Sandra Day O’Connor. I imagined the headline if the plane had come down hard: “Justice O’Connor, 173 others die in crash”. Around here, suburban papers use “Detroit man” as code for “black.” When you live next door to a city that’s 83 percent African American, you can write, “A Detroit man was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated on Lake Shore Road last Saturday” and your readers will summon a very specific image in their heads, with an 83 percent chance of accuracy. Same with statuesque blondes, and mothers of four. These images become clichés because they fulfill a specific need to believe certain things when we read the paper: Bystanders are innocent, mothers are a greater loss than just plain women. A statuesque blonde is more remarkable than a short one.

What else do we need to believe when we read the papers? That the schools are failing inner-city children. That a boy in a wheelchair sat outside Camden Yards on opening day. That a serial killer is stalking Baltimore, preying on the most helpless among us. Can’t wait for the next part.

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8 Comments

  1. One of the things that I think makes The Wire so incredible is how personally we take the established characters’ actions. I mean, Templeton just pisses me off because so far he doesn’t have any redeeming characteristics — he’s just a slimy, brown-nosing striver. But McNulty — when he started messing with the crime scene,it evoked a visceral reaction from the crowd in my living room. We were disappointed, disgusted… and yet totally understood why he’d do that. It’s an amazing place to get to with a fictional character.

  2. Yeah, we understood him,michaela, and we also understood Bunk almost puking because of what he was seeing his beloved partner do, and also maybe a flash of guilt at allowing him to slide as far as he had. We know in our hearts that almost all these cops are decent people with good hearts that would probably give up their lives to save their buddies or a taxpayer, but we’ve also seen them lie for each other to spouses, cover up evidence of sloppy work, and also look the other way at the drinking and whoring.

    We all understood, we were all horrified, and we all felt complicit.

    Thanks for the Lippman background, NN. Great post.

  3. As I’ve mentioned before at my blog and Nancy’s, The Wire has affected me like I’ve never been affected. You mention the “visceral reaction” you had when McNutty was messing up the crime scene.

    When I saw Wallace get shot, I had to run to the bathroom and puke.

    Never has any TV or movie ever prompted any kind of reaction like that in me. When McNutty was messing up the crime scene, I felt kind of disgusted with him, like Bunk was, but I can’t say that I was disappointed — I mean, his whole five season life has been about “They don’t get to win, we get to win”. And by any means necessary, evidently.

  4. I know what you mean, Ashley. Last season, I worried intensely about those kids between episodes. I even had a couple of dreams about them. I’ve had that experience before with novels — that sense of lifting my head up and being somewhat startled that the characters I’ve come to know so intimately won’t actually be coming over for dinner. And, even worse, that the people around me haven’t met them and can’t help me hash out what’s become of them. Richard Russo’s Empire Falls struck me that way (luckily I live in Maine, where it’s practically required reading).

    Anyway, the point of all this deadline-avoiding rambling is that I’ve never experienced this kind of full-body (or at least full-brain) immersion with TV before. Much as I hate to ponder this series coming to its conclusion, I’m really looking forward to going back to Season 1 and starting all over again.

    @Virgotex: Complicit is absolutely the right word — for Bunk and for us. You nailed it.

  5. Wallace, D’Angelo, Bodie…whenever one of these kids figures out “we just like them little bitches on the chessboard”, they’re near the end of their life. I wonder if a pawn feels that way right when he gets set up diagonally from his opponent pawn as bait, just so a bishop who moves faster will have an easier shot at the king.

    Michael won’t survive the season. I can feel it the way I can feel that Bubbles is going to stay clean.

  6. SPOILER BELOW

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    strangely the sweetest of them all, wallace, never seemed to have that epiphany. he was more than willing to jump back into the life.

    it isn’t michael i worry about, it is dukie and or bug. if the six flags trip hadn’t already been tarnished by monk i would have been sure it was their swan song. you aren’t allowed to be happy for prolonged amounts of time on the wire.

    templeton worries me as a character. he just plain sucks. he is like ziggy, without the tragic backdrop. i think with the extra two or three episodes they should have gotten he might have had more time to develop and not seem like such a one dimensional douchebag. on the other hand, there are still seven episodes left to obliterate my unfavorable (as a person and as a character) opinion of him.

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    Six Flags happens in which episode?

    Alexxx, you twat, did you just drop an unflagged spoiler in our comments?

    In my universe there are more than 7 episodes left and I want to fucking keep it that way til Sunday night. We got to have a code. Otherwise we’ll have media critics and other pond scum who have already seen half the season dropping spoilers up through episode 7. I go out of my way to avoid shit like that, I don’t need it dropped in my own back yard.

  8. […] with your people.” A few days back Ray commented: Wallace, D’Angelo, Bodie…whenever one of these kids figures out “we just like them little […]


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