So there’s these two fish in a tank, and one fish says to the other one, “I can’t drive this thing.”
Seriously, I know one joke, and that’s it. I forget who taught it to me. I’m sure it was funnier when he said it.
McNulty and Templeton, sitting in a tree, L-Y-I-N-G. And we view the one with sympathy, because his intentions are to bring much-needed police power to bear on a criminal. The other, his aims are selfish, to make enough of a splash to get the Washington Post to hire his resume-packing ass. Both of them running cons, each of them looking at the other one, because when you’re a professional liar you think everybody else is too because it’s the only way you can live. Each of them looking at the other one trying to figure out what his con is, what he’s about, how it might help. McNulty’s sizing up a suspect; Templeton might as well be a dealer for all he’s playing and being played. He’s a corner boy, maybe, working an angle of his own in a game he barely understands and at which he has no hope of succeeding. They’re both so completely into their own stuff here they can’t even see past their faces; it’s not like Herc, who can’t see the long game. He can’t see it; they’ve closed their eyes.
But the consequences spiral out from the center and never stop; being a writer is like being a teacher is like being a cop is like being anybody: You never know where your work lands, you never know where it stops. It spirals out, in that somebody reads something you wrote and gets involved in a cause and comes to understand community and runs for office and gets elected and does it again and again and you didn’t make that guy president, but you dropped the pebble in the pool. You flapped the wings on that butterfly and changed the way the air moved. So now Kima’s in it, in that she’s implicated in faking police reports with McNulty on the phony serial killer. Alma’s in it, too, and I feel for this girl so much, in that she’s sharing a byline on a guy who’s gonna get found out and it’s going to come back to haunt her. She’s gonna think, every day, “Could I have seen this coming?” Kima, too; she and Jimmy used to be close, she’d know if something was up, wouldn’t she?
Forget about up the ladder, to Daniels, to Gus. Forget about that. I look at down the ladder, everybody who ever passed either of them a pencil is gonna get tarred with this, because things like this ruin everyone they touch, and maybe they should, maybe that’s the only way it stops.
So does it matter, given the damage it’s causing to people who don’t have any hope of the kind of parachute Burrell got, for example, does it then matter that Templeton’s intentions are bullshit and McNulty’s are (in his own twisted way, in the beginning) honorable? Does it matter that McNulty intends to catch a killer and Templeton just wants to get his dumb ass a better job? Before it touched somebody else, I would have said intentions counted. When your ass is your own you can risk it all you want for whatever aims you please and if you can convince me to find it admirable I will but it doesn’t really matter that much; McNulty had no right to risk Kima’s ass (or Bunk’s, but he knew, and Kima doesn’t). That’s where his rationale falls apart for me. Templeton never convinced me I should have the slightest bit of sympathy for him; make him the old timer trying to hang on with the new kid coming for him, and you might have had me there.
(And why the fuck didn’t Templeton go into television, anyway, if what he wanted was to be a halfbright hairdo who people admired and asked to their parties? That shit is for the six o’clock, not for print, god damn it.)
So there’s these two fish in a tank in the city of Baltimore, neither can drive the thing worth a damn, and they’re rolling all over everything in their path, crushing things they don’t even see.
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