Herc: Stupid, corrupt, or truly evil?

In the first episode of the season, we got the beginnings of a plot development with Herc and Levy, and (speaking as a social Sunday-night watcher, not some On Demand dope fiend) thus far we haven’t seen anything further on it. VirgoTex and I chatted about it in email a little a few weeks back, then events got in the way and I never blogged about it, but let me think out loud about it and see what you think.

It’s become clear to me so far this season that the Barksdale crime family is alive and well. Even with most of their soldiers dead or in jail, the family is still in The Game. Avon (and presumably Wee-Bey and others) are tight with the Russians in prison. On the outside, they’ve got Slim Charles temporarily affiliated with Prop Joe. And most importantly, they have Levy.

Levy has never been just a corrupt defense attorney. He has always been the consigliere, the Tom Hagan to Avon’s Michael Corleone. In Season 1, he all but ordered the hits that took out Wallace and the female security guard witness. He’s provided high level strategic advice on consolidating power. And he’s on the outside, and he is still very active. Just as Hagan ran the Corleone interests while Michael Corleone was in hiding, Levy is no doubt managing the remaining Barksdale assets and looking for ways to return the family to power, since he does well when the Barksdales do well. He’s a sharp mind, a brilliant strategist, and you know he is thinking at least two steps ahead of Prop Joe, four ahead of Marlo, and miles ahead of the police.

Herc has never been bright, and never particularly ethical or honest, always looking out for himself first, but he has always been on the side of the good guys overall. He’ll steal a bundle of drug cash before it’s been inventoried, but he would never take a bribe to betray a witness or to tip off the suppliers that a bust was coming down. He’s naive about how the political game is played, not understanding why he was passed over for sergeant the first time, and having to have Valchek explain to him how the whole mayoral blowjob episode worked in his favor (and to this day he probably has no clue about the larger implications of sharing that info with Valchek, thinking of him as a trusted confidant.) But he’s always been a drug warrior.

So if you’re looking for somebody to use as a mole to get inside info from the cop side of the game, you can’t find a better man than Herc. Play to his self-interest, stroke his ego, make him feel important and wanted, and trust that he will never realize the complex strategic implications of what it is you’re trying to accomplish through him. So you can send Herc into a cop bar with an expense account, have him use his guileless doofus charm to get information from his police buddies, have them run some tags for him, and he won’t really question what it is he’s doing. He’s getting paid, he feels proud of his innate investigative skills, and his boss loves his work.

The thing is: Herc is now working for the Barksdales. He’s the only major character from the police side to completely switch teams in the game. Does he have any idea what it is he’s done? Gone over to work for the team that shot Kima? That those tags he had run might be for enabling a hit, or for some witness or jury tampering?

I don’t think he does. I think he’s clueless. Or in denial. I just cannot believe that Herc would knowingly and willfully go become part of a gang of drug dealers who shoot police.

Virgo Tex disagrees (if I follow this right, and I’m sure she’ll bitch slap me if I get any of it wrong). She thinks Herc is just a man with a price, and after getting fucked by the department one too many times, Herc was vulnerable to being bought, and Levy and the Barksdales were able to find his price. She believes that Herc is in the game strictly for himself. Strictly. Much like Clay Davis. He knows how his money gets made, but as long as he keeps an emotional distance from the bloody details, it’s all in the game.

The discussion between Levy and Herc at the end of 51 is where VTx and I differ. Levy says, “One of our clients is in the paper today” and Herc, holding the sports section, jokes “You’re representing Tiger Woods now?” VTx believes that the sports reference is a deliberate flashback by Simon to Season 3, when Herc and Carver discuss which guy you’d fuck to get the Olsen Twins as your permanent love slave. Simon is reminding us that Herc has a price; he even has a price that’ll make him “switch teams” (har har) as long as he’s pitching, not catching.

I think that it’s simpler than that. Herc just doesn’t care, because he’s too stupid to care. Not because he’s callous, but because he lacks the intellectual curiosity to know what it is he’s doing. He’s the kind of guy who grabs the sports section first, and maybe never gets around to reading the rest of the paper. He knows that he’s working for Levy, but he’s not smart enough to do the math to figure out that he’s also working for Kima’s shooters. He goes with his gut, not his intellect, and all his gut is telling him is that this lawyer is finally paying him what he’s worth to use his heretofore under-appreciated investigative skills.




  1. I don’t know if I’d say he’s two steps ahead of prop joe. Prop joe has always been sharp at knowing how to handle stuff…although you may be right that he’s a better improvisor, and Levy’s better at going by the book.

    Herc’s has morals — weak morals but morals nonetheless. However, he’s a capitalist who has never had money. I think he’s gonna go on a power trip. But yeah, he’s clueless. He ain’t got no idea who he’s working for. I honestly don’t think he is corrupt at his base — he just needed a job, and Levy was there. He’s as dumb as a sack of hammers. He thinks that dope on the table constitutes a success, and 6 months on a wire that may arrest 2 major players is, comparatively speaking, a waste of time.

    When the guys at the sun have to write for some dumb ass suburban hump, they’re writing for Herc.

  2. I think that it’s simpler than that.

    whoah, I didn’t realize all that was for attribution…..

    I think Herc is like a dog that you can lead around with a piece of bacon. He may think he’s calling the shots to an extent but he has no idea what’s really going on.

    Re the whole Levy conversation: I actually lean toward agreeing with you — I think the whole pitching analogy was maybe a little far out on a limb even for me 🙂 I was going through my Sent mail a couple days ago looking for something else and I came across that email and thought, “Jesus, that sounds nuts.” Also I read something recently wherein Simon mentioned his frustration with Oriole pitching…

    However, if it turns out to be true, I’ll deny I ever doubted myself and I’ll delete my comment….

  3. whoah, I didn’t realize all that was for attribution…..

    See? Bitch-slapped. ;p

  4. It’s a great post. I was wondering if you were ever going to put it up.

    I’m majorly curious to see what role Levy (and by extension Herc) is going to play this season-how they fit into the existing S5 plot lines

  5. I’m majorly curious to see what role Levy (and by extension Herc) is going to play this season-how they fit into the existing S5 plot lines

    Sometimes I wonder if Levy is working on an appeal angle, getting enough detail about ineptness and sloppiness in the PD to get all the wire evidence thrown out, OJ Simpson style, and Avon and enough of his crew get sprung. Avon and Prop Joe have a decent business relationship, both now have business relations with the Greek, Omar comes back and caps Marlo and his crew, Avon thanks Omar, and we’re back to the beginning of Season 1, minus a few towers.

    And McNulty gets Bunk killed.

    And Bubbles stays clean.

  6. At the charity event in June, the buzz was all about Herc and redemption, so it fits that his role is pivotal this season.

  7. “And McNulty gets Bunk killed”. My, aren’t we a pessimist.

    “And Bubbles stays clean.” Man, are you a blind optimist.

  8. The first is a wild guess. The second is my fervent belief, and it makes sense to the show. Simon paints a grim picture, but I don’t believe he intends to paint a completely hopeless picture and I don’t believe he thinks of it as a hopeless scenario.

    The drug war, as Carver points out, isn’t a war because “wars end”. But junkies do get clean, bad guys do turn good, other bad guys do go away and do hard time, and some rare kids do come through the maelstrom OK. One junkie at a time, one kid at a time, one bad guy at a time may not be enough to turn the tide, but these success stories do happen. Steve Earle, Felicia Pearson, and a host of brass band musicians who do shoot-outs with horns instead of Glocks are all real-world evidence of this. Bubbles being clean at the end of the season, despite whatever carnage transpires, would be an acknowledgement of this human truth.

    Speaking of…did you hear the trumpet shootout outside the Doo after KdV? Random trumpet players scattered all over the block kept challenging each other with the standard 4-note second line intro with a flourish to a C way way above the register, and then another trumpeter out of sight a block away would respond with a stronger one ending on a higher note. Three or four horn players kept at it for 10 minutes or so trying to outdo each other. It was beautiful, man. It was like a gang shootout, but with horns.

  9. Excuse me as I interject…

    How much loyalty do you suppose Levy has towards his employers? He works for both the Barksdales and Fat Face Rick, so I don’t think he has total Hagan-like loyalty to Avon and co.

    I always just figured Levy to be a merc who stuck with whichever drug kingpin was paying. Or maybe it’s that Avon gets locked up, so Levy moves on to Fat Face Rick.

    In any case, I don’t think Levy gives much shit about who he represents… kinda like Slim Charles… except slimier… and with 100 times less honor… and more morally reprehensive… ok so not like Slim at all. But you get the idea?

    As for our good friend Herc… He always seemed to me like a man who would be useful as long as he knew his limits and was working for the right people… sadly, he sure did not know his limits at all in Season 4 (poor Randy). If Herc accepted his place in the world, he could have been the Po-leece version of Stinkum or O-Dog. (ok, not really a complement…)

    Herc wasn’t smart, but that wasn’t his problem. I think his problem was that he didn’t know better than to aimlessly seek promotions.

  10. Herc did seem pretty invested in his sgt. stripes, Hon Tea

  11. I think he’s clueless.

    True, but reductive. I think it’s a lack of foresight. He’s never seen the long game. This is maybe me having my head full of Charlie Wilson’s War, but I don’t think Herc understood what was going on when he was in the unit, and now that he’s out of it I think he has less of a concept.

    All his actions bespoke someone flailing around, looking for the right thing to do in the next five minues, never thinking about the implications. I’d be shocked if he connected what he’s doing to what happened to Kima, because I just don’t think his brain has the capacity to make those connections. He’s got an ahistorical view: What’s going on RIGHT NOW. Such people have their uses, as you say.


  12. Now there’s a twist. A small twist, but a twist. When Herc and Carv are stitting on the trunk of the squad car, and Herc is begging Carver not to give up Colicchio, Carv tells Herc the story about Randy, Herc says in passing “I fucked up”.

    But Carv tells him that it matters. That it all matters.

    Maybe that was a hint of a foreshadowing of a glimmer of a preview of an epiphany, but Herc told Carv that it was basically OK that Carv had to do *him*, and that it’s OK to do Colicchio.

    Maybe Herc is realizing that it all *does* matter. I can tell you this, he is not a fan of working for Marlo Stanfield’s attorney.

  13. Yeah, I was coming in to say, “I guess we have a little more insight into Ray’s question now.” The moment for me was when Marlo chuckles after Herc tells him he lost his job over the camera: Same shit, different set of bosses.

    Herc is no alpha dog. He never will be.

    But there HAS to be an alpha dog or none of the other dogs survive.

    Chain of command.

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