Some-a that pepper steak.

David Mills is taking credit for co-writing episode five, so I’m giving him credit for the gleeful cannonball into the racial-politics pool last night. Not to take anything away from Our Hero — and I’ll be switched if I find out later that co-writer David Simon came up with the scenes I’m about to mention — but I’m thinking it takes an African American writer to tackle some of this material.

I’m talking about Sen. Clay Davis’ instinctive deployment of the race card. His radio interview was a thing of beauty, but it was topped by the rally and speechmaking by his old friend in race-baiting, Clarence Royce. Of course it would conclude with a sing-along of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” because no rally like this is complete without a shout-out to the civil rights movement.

You all know I live in Metro Detroit (the approved racial code for “in the suburbs”), and perhaps you’ve heard the mayor of Detroit is in a pickle at the moment. It’s too complicated to summarize comprehensively in a sentence, but it boils down to: Sex, lies and perjury, costing the taxpayers of that impoverished city $9 million (so far; this thing is just getting warmed up). You’d think, looking at a city like Detroit, that racial politics would be passé by this point. After all, the city is over 80 percent black. All the power players are black. The mayor is black, most of the council is black, the county prosecutor is black, and so on. And yet, in the last election, when Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick had a strong challenge from Freman Hendrix (needless to say, black), guess what the Kilpatrick yard signs said? “Re-elect OUR mayor.” Because Detroit is black Israel, surrounded by hostile neighbors, and as long as the race card can be played against moneyed suburban interests, it will be played, and played, and played again.

You have to be a pretty paranoid African American to believe that everyone in the suburbs of a city like Detroit, or everyone white in the city of Baltimore, wishes ill upon the place. Some do, surely, and you don’t have to live here long before you hear a white suburbanite condemning the city and its residents with everything short of multiple N-bombs, and frequently with them. But there are hundreds of thousands of white suburbanites who would dearly love to see Detroit get its act together, or at least make progress in that direction, and despair of it ever happening, because racial politics protects fictional hacks like Clay Davis and Clarence Royce, and real ones like Kwame Kilpatrick and Marion Barry.

(Even today, when I hear white suburbanites stomping their feet over Kilpatrick’s gall and perfidy, I want to tell them to dial it down from 11, that every tantrum boils down to — if you’ll excuse the racial reference — “don’t throw me into that briar patch.” It doesn’t matter what the suburbs think. It’s what the voters of Detroit think, and they’ve already been briefed on our take.)

So it’s nice to see Mills, self-styled undercover black man, calling out these tactics for what they are. It really is time to lift ev’ry voice, as Davis says.

What else this week? Watch out for flying Omars, evidently. That scene left me a little vexed, but I’m trusting we’ll see the man suffered at least some damage next week. The fall was survivable, certainly, and a roll-away under the lower balconies wasn’t out of the question. But I better see more than a limp.

Finally, I jotted down the line from the news meeting: “Let’s not confuse the auteur with his art.” Of course it couldn’t have been inserted after the early critical condemnation of Simon and his grudge against the BaltSun. Is it possible he anticipated it, and threw it in as a wee f.u. to Marimow’s people? That would make him more powerful (gasp) than Omar!

Chances are, it’s just a cigar, and they really were talking about John Waters. But I laughed, anyway.

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14 Comments

  1. “I am innocent and I have done nothing but serve the people.”

    Senator Clay Davis…..

    You have to give the man credit – he knows how to sell his lie.

  2. “Whatever it was, they don’t teach it in law school.”

    I think I’m going to start a bring back Marimow campaign. That guy deserves his own series. Rip and run, dope on the table, etc.

  3. Hey Nancy. David Mills here.

    You wrote: “His radio interview was a thing of beauty, but it was topped by the rally and speechmaking by his old friend in race-baiting, Clarence Royce.”

    Thankfully, I can take credit for the dialogue in that radio-station scene (“… tie the noose in the rope…”). Simon wrote the delightful return of Clarence Royce.

    Of course, the whole storyline springs forth from Simon, so he deserves it all.

  4. I’ve always been curious about how writing is done on series television. Obviously, the season is plotted out ahead of time. Writers know the main arc, individual character arcs, plots and subplots. But when you’re hired to do a single episode, how does it work? Is it, “In 57 pages, give us Herc snaring and distributing Marlo’s phone number, Clay Davis’ defense, etc., and wrap it all up with Omar’s shootout with Marlo’s crew”? And then you’d obviously have rewrites and polishes, and all that.

    I don’t know how someone like Simon has the time to co-write, produce and do all the rest of the day-to-day stuff involved in a show like this.

  5. I think Mills and Simon have been watching New Orleans city council meetings on public access when they come visit down here. That shit looked so damn familiar.

  6. But when you’re hired to do a single episode, how does it work?

    Hey Nancy. Glad to explain: When I stepped in to get my marching orders, the full-time writing staff, led by Simon and Burns, had already arced out the season in broad strokes. In a couple of days of meetings, we worked out my episode scene-for-scene (written on multicolored index card, pinned to a corkboard, moved around).

    The result is a written outline, so that I know exactly what has to happen in the script. The way it usually works, the writer then turns in a first draft, receives notes from the bosses, and does his second pass. Then the Man does his rewrite/polish.

    Yes, it hurts to be rewritten… but then I read a recent interview with Richard Price where he said Simon rewrites him too. That’s as it should be: The creator hears the show in his head. The best the rest of us can hope for is to get it as close as possible to what he hears in his head.

    Example: “Do you believe Satan walks the earth in a fleshly form?” I was happy to see that line made it. It’s nothing spectacular, but I do like it. ;^)

  7. Thanks, David. That’s about the way I figured it would work.

    Some years ago, I took a screenwriting class on a journalism fellowship, and was asked to write about it later. I said that the experience would be familiar to any journalist, in that you turn in your work and then it’s pawed over and ruined by idiots. (Present company excepted, naturally.) Only I hear the pay is a lot better. That’s got to count for something.

    Just catching up on UBM, and I see you’ve become a Zevon fan. Any tracks you seek, just ask. I have them all.

  8. David, thanks for sharing with us. I have a question — and if you feel this is out of bounds, pls just say so— about the scenes of Omar and Donnie in the car. I was struck by them, they seemed very powerful, very much like big blocks of pure mood. OTOH, not much dialog or action is happening during that time. One might argue that one stake out, or at most two, would have gotten the job done. Was the point of the overall presentation (darkness, silence, sad R&B) to emphasize Omar’s state of mind, or to establish the number of nights that had passed, or something else entirely?

  9. ^ Virgotex… Afraid I can’t speak to those stakeout scenes, as Simon wrote those. But watching as a fan, I did like the mood of those scenes.

  10. But what about the “sheeeeeeeeeeeeits”? Who gets to decide how long Clay Davis gets to draw that out in each scene? Last episode I think was a record.

    If I had the editing skills, I’d put together a montage of Clay Davis quotes, with an Olympic style Swiss timer running in the bottom corner timing all the “sheeeeeeeeeeeits”.

  11. That was a good one. That scene with Clay and Nerese was one of my favorites. Who knew she was that powerful?

    I’ve seen Clay sheeeeit clips on Youtube but none with a timer…..

  12. Nerese was sounding like D’Angelo’s mom, telling Clay to take his time like a man and he’d be back in the towers, er, in politics in no time.

  13. I’ve pushed around an idea for a few weeks and so and haven’t been able to express it well enough, about the recurring theme of self-sacrifice on this show.

    The act of self-sacrifice, by definition, is almost always the expression of one who has a higher commitment to a group or communal identity. The sacrifice of self for the good of the whole is something most would see as a noble act, certainly most moralistic-minded people would think so.

    It’s ironic that on The Wire, we see it happening in the drug business, and now being discussed with regards to Clay’s crimes, also Levy tells Marlo to find someone who can do the time for Chris and Snoop’s gun charge. Few on the outside would find these enterprises noble, yet the act is almost intrinsically so. Or is it? Is it merely the ruthlessness of the herd, is it simply the cost of doing business, a battle strategy? Also, on The Wire, these acts are exclusive to the African Americans — people who have likely been taught by the example of their parents, grandparents and others before them who have had to struggle and sacrifice for the next generation.

    Whereas in white America, privileged white America, we talk a lot about “it takes a village” but that concept is seldom put into action. On The Wire, the “bad” guys employ “noble” means to circumvent and rise above, while the “good” guys are often seen as hubristic, sloppy, and looking out for themselves alone.

    Of course, the same theme can be found in literature and films about the Mafia.

    Like I said, I can’t really pull it off, it’s mostly generalizations but the theme is there.

    Related tangent: My father was a lifelong shrimper and commercial fisherman. During my lifetime, previously “outsider” communities successively became part of the commercial fishing industry on the Gulf Coast of Texas: Hispanics, Blacks, Cajuns from Lousisiana, and most famously, the Vietnamese. A commonly heard criticism by those who were most threatened by these “incursions” was about how hive-minded or cultish these “syndicates” were, how by banding together in groups to buy a single boat, then working one boat together till another boat could be afforded, they were creeating an “unfair” business practice that was going to drive the traditional ” little man” -one man -one boat and a paid crew-model out of business. Hell, they might even try to …. unionize.

    Of course, it was bullshit. Those groups came from communities where it was still common to work together for the betterment of the whole group, a value system that was no longer being held by the working class white community.

    Anyway, enough….

  14. VTx, you need to work this into a post somehow. It almost kind of ties in with something from early in “The Corner” book, how the black community in the hood started to really come apart when the women started using. When junkies were mostly men and dealers were mostly adult professionals, there was a code and a back-alley aspect to the game, but in the 80’s cheap coke sucked the women in too, leaving parentless kids to learn only from the streets, and subsequent generations keep taking “Lord of the Flies” to darker and darker depths.

    D’Angelo’s mom fits your model well; on the white side, Beadie and McNulty’s ex- raising the boys in McNulty’s absence does as well. And on the docs, the way the union used skimmed money as a slush fund for suffering guys who couldn’t get on the payroll would be a white example.

    But then how to tie in Michael’s mom,which seems to fit “The Corner” model, or Dukie, who has retained both heart and brain despite the most daunting of upbringings and defies all odds (so far).

    Again, late, I’m loopy, sorry if I ain’t making sense. Somebody stop me, I have to work tomorrow.


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