“The Dickensian Aspect” presents a direct challenge to the “ends justify the means” logic that McNulty and Freamon have been applying all season. The epigraph is pulled from Lester’s drawing Sydnor into the illegal wiretap on Marlo, though not in on the faked homeless murders. Sydnor agrees to help without being completely aware of what he’s getting into, much like the audience. We, like the detectives, have been frustrated by bureaucratic nonsense for 4+ seasons, and so we don’t have many moral reservations when they circumvent the dysfunctional system in order to bring in a case that matters. But false reports and corpse desecration have now escalated to kidnapping and we’re left thinking that this isn’t the story we signed up for.
What’s done to Larry is clearly indefensible as a $100 payoff and admission to a shelter doesn’t change the fact that he’s unable to give consent. It’s exploitation, pure and simple. Larry may be unable to articulate his thoughts, but he’s clearly distressed about what’s being done to him. Things get particularly sinister when McNulty switches his ID. Not only has this man been taken to a strange city against his will, but his identity’s been taken away from him. He’s been reduced to a mere object in McNulty’s plot.
Not only is Larry’s treatment wrong in itself, but there’s nothing new in this episode to justify it. There are no new crimes from Marlo, nothing to remind us what an evil man he is and why he needs to be brought to justice. McNulty and Lester are escalating their hunt amidst a rousing speech about the plight of the homeless. Carcetti may be motivated by politics and personal affront, but that doesn’t make what he says wrong. Society can be judged by how it treats its weakest members and McNulty and Lester can’t be excused for how they’ve used Larry.
Scott’s the surprising source of another reason to condemn our “heroes” as he actually does some real reporting and interviews a homeless man. We learn just enough about Terry to feel sorry for him and while we might be tempted to decry this article as another effort to exploit the homeless, Gus’ approval should give us pause. What’s happened to Terry is, in fact, newsworthy, and making his voice heard is not incompatible with advancing Scott’s career. More importantly, Terry’s a willing participant in the process. His story makes us wonder who Larry’s must be if someone wasn’t trying to cover it up.
Bunk drives the final nail into McNulty’s coffin as he revisits the vacant-homicides with “real police work.” Regardless of how much BS the department hands him (he gets a healthy dose in this episode) he’s still going to do his job. Not only does this contrast sharply with McNulty’s deceptive (and now destructive) actions, but it comes into conflict with them as the real investigation finds itself behind the queue of the false one. We might have been able to rationalize Jimmy’s scheme so far, but the price has just gotten much higher.
Omar’s super-human leap from the balcony is followed by a painfully human scene of him constructing a leg brace and crutch in the janitor’s closet. There’s nothing romantic or heroic about this scene and we’re reminded that Omar is, ultimately, just a man. It’s the right follow up to the theatrics of the last episode, but I’m still not sold. This development makes Omar more of a metaphor than a man and that’s not really what I want from this show.
If you’re going to do something impossible on your realistic show, it’s best to have the characters acknowledge that’s what happened. Marlo’s crew is suitably awed by Omar’s escape, making it slightly easier to believe.
There’s a small call-back to the port here, but it’s not really enough to integrate season two into the overall series arc.