“The Cost” really gives us some of the best and worst of The Wire’s first season. The complement sandwich seems like the best way to handle this situation and so I’ll start off by saying just how masterfully the conclusion was handled. The series has already established violence as no exception to its standards of realism. Shootouts have been gritty, intense, and a far cry from any action movie set piece, believably ending with only a few shots fired. How then to have an extended action sequence without pushing us out of the story? Don’t show it. The camera cuts away from Kima after the first shots are fired. We, along with her fellow officers, are left to piece together what’s happening over the radio. Calls for help, shots and then (worst of all) silence are far more intense than any gunfight could be, as is the detail’s blind, frantic race to find her. The close-ups, quick cuts, and sparse dialogue all add up to one of the best put together “action” sequences I’ve ever seen.
The dark cloud in all of this is that it was clearly telegraphed beforehand. The Wire demands that we shift our expectations in order to enjoy it and so I’m particularly harsh when I find it using tired old narrative tricks. Greggs discussing why she became a cop might seem innocuous in itself but, with her being the first member of the detail to discuss their past, everyone’s cliché sense should be tingling. Put her at risk in the same episode and it’s fairly obvious that something is going to go wrong. The worst part about this is that the tidbit about her past is largely pointless; we already had sympathy for Kima as one of the better cops and her relationship with her girlfriend was already established. This “character moment” did nothing more than give up the game. For those still unable to connect the dots, we also have her promising to help Bubbles stay clean. The only thing riskier than a character discussing their past is one making promises for the future.
The final compliment I’ll give this episode is regarding Bubbles’ decision to get clean. He’s the only character thus far to actually try to change his life. The rest of the cast merely reacts to what happens to them, most playing the game while McNulty and D’Angelo rail against it. Bubbles neither wishes to play the game nor to fight it, he’s removed himself from it and thus becomes the only character that seems in charge of his own destiny. It isn’t easy, by any stretch, as the clarity he experiences in the first days is tempered by the ugliness that still surrounds him, but even this partial change is more than any of the other characters have experienced. The point is that while the game doesn’t change, we don’t need to keep playing.
The other major development here is Wallace agreeing to testify. The timing couldn’t be better/worse as it makes any results of Kima’s undercover work (which are already unlikely) irrelevant. They already have enough to charge Stringer, Bey, Bird, and D’Angelo. Kima’s put in danger for no reason other than to placate Burrell.
The other other major development is the discovery of the main stash, a find so valuable it can’t be raided. Deliveries from this place can be traced to every outlet of Barksdale’s organization.
I’m a really big fan of how the opening scene with Bubble was shot.