The weirdest part by far of the fifth season premiere of The Wire was watching the homicide detectives acting out a blow-by-blow replay of the "electrolite neutron magnetic scan test" stunt from a first-season Homicide episode (which was itself a replay of actual stories told to David Simon in Homicide the book). Was this just another example of The Wire retelling an incident already dramatized in Homicide, like the Snot Boogie story that opened season one? A little homage to commemorate Homicide regular Clark Johnson coming back around to the front of the camera? A rather blunt foreshadowing of themes of gullibility and the "big lie" that will probably underscore this season's critique of the media?
All of the above, maybe, but the feature that truly makes it part of The Wire is its hinting at the endless repetition, the lack of any lasting change. The status quo has previously sunk all attempts at reform and now it seems to be claiming Carcetti and Daniels. Notice how the last line of the episode is a detective answering a ringing phone with the word "Homicide." That sound brought me so much joy back in the nineties but hearing it now, as Major Crimes has been gutted again and McNulty seethes in the place he once viewed as the promised land, brings only a bitter appreciation for this show's consummate skill.
And if The Wire is indicting its predecessor--or at least bringing it up in this rueful context where a criminal gets caught by a trick that was broadcast on network television when he couldn't have been more than four or five--then it isn't letting itself off the hook either. The trailers for next week show the Sun's pompous editor calling for a series of articles on the kids who are let down by the city's school system. It's a clever wink at season four, although The Wire didn't break its arm patting itself on the back for its patronizing attentions the way James C. Whiting III does. (I don't think they ever self-applied the "Dickensian" label, for starters.) Simon and company seem to be acknowledging that if nothing changes, well, they haven't changed anything yet either. But at least they're telling stories with an honesty and a complexity that nobody else in the media can match. The backlash has already begun, folks, but it's possible that The Wire will critique itself more elegantly than the defenders of the media class can manage.
On to the rest of the episode...
City editor Gus Haynes is apparently this season's Colvin--the veteran who knows his city so well he can pull a drug dealer's name out of a zoning bill, who's willing to poke his bosses when they compromise their integrity, and who looks out for his subordinates (giving Price credit he didn't deserve). If the Sun ownership is anything like the Baltimore police department--and The Wire gives us no reason to think they won't be--that concern for his subordinates will probably be the last thing they use against him. When corrupt institutions can't exploit your flaws, they will go after your virtues. (Or they'll hit both at once, like Rawls and Burrell taking away Daniel's car while they kill the MCU--a power play if there ever was one.)
Interesting contrast between the reporters and the homicide detectives: the reporters beg for stories and have to justify their own jobs with daily budget lines; the detectives duck calls and try not to catch the cases that pile up on the board. Both have a habit of missing the big stories that fall into their laps or pass right under their noses.
As always, there's such a great economy of detail in the show's characterization. Templeton and Gutierrez sitting apart from the veterans at the bar, and Gutierrez joining them and Templeton remaining apart, tells us a lot about who they are and where they want to be.
The opening titles suggest the focus will expand from print to broadcast media. (Presumably once a story gets large enough to attract the TV stations.) Kima's ex is a TV journalist, isn't she?
And, since there's no point delaying the ceremonies any further:
For working for Maury Levy, Herc is both the Dumbest and the Biggest Asshole. This is the guy who stonewalled the detail after Kima was shot, then got Savino off with baking soda! Carver should be calling him on it (if he even knows). I may need to draft a "Herc exemption" if I'm going to do this every week...