Best scene from ‘The Wire’ (so far in my watching)

Rawls McNulty

Excuse me for writing about another show that’s been off the air for years (like “The West Wing”), but hey, we’re in a new TV world, in which when something was on the air is pretty much irrelevant. Today, you see a show for the first time when you see it.

And I just wanted to share the best scene I’ve encountered on “The Wire.” It was in episode 11 of the first season, titled “The Hunt.” (I’m now on the second episode of the second season.) YouTube won’t let me embed it, but you can see it here.

Even if you haven’t watched the show at all, you can sort of appreciate it with a little setup, if you can abide the intense, concentrated, rapid-fire use of cusswords — which is so over the top that it adds a slightly comic touch to this deadly serious scene. But you don’t want your kids hearing it. Or your parents.

Anyway, the anguished guy in the muted red polo shirt with blood on his face is Jimmy McNulty, the protagonist — a singularly insubordinate, know-it-all cop who is extremely upset because a colleague and friend just got shot. This is the first time you’ve ever seen McNulty at a loss, doubting himself. The guy in the suit “consoling” him is his erstwhile boss, the head of homicide, who — as you may notice — hates McNulty’s guts. And not just in the usual, cliched, “I’m tired of defending your shenanigans to the commissioner” way that we’re accustomed to in ranking cops on TV.

And yet, in his own furious, about-to-blow-his-stack way, he’s trying to make McNulty feel better. And does so pretty effectively.

Interesting leadership style. Impressive, yet… do you really want this guy as your boss?

Capt. Furillo

Capt. Furillo

In the early 80s, when I was in my first management position, running the news coverage of a small daily in Tennessee, I used to watch Captain Frank Furillo on “Hill Street Blues” and aspire to be exactly that kind of firm-but-fair, graceful-under-fire boss that he was.

But Capt. Furillo was a Sunday-School teacher compared to this guy, who makes you re-evaluate the whole tough-but-fair thing.

Anyway, I love it when a scene tells you something new and unexpected about a character in a way that is completely believable (instead of the contrived way that is too common on most TV shows — see “24”).

Good writing, good direction, great acting.

27 thoughts on “Best scene from ‘The Wire’ (so far in my watching)

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      You know that the actor playing McNulty is posh Brit–also in The Hour….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yep, I saw The Hour, with the ridiculously beautiful Romola Garai.

        He’s not the only Brit. So is the actor who does Stringer Bell, who is also rumored to be the next James Bond.

        I was celebrating Memorial Day by watching several episodes of “Band of Brothers,” and a huge number of those guys were Brits — the actors playing Dick Winters, Harry Welsh, Shifty Powers, Floyd Talbert, Joe Liebgott, Johnny Martin, Moose Heyliger, Alex Pankala, Albert Blithe, Mike Ranney, John Janovec, William Evans, James Miller, Ken Webb and Col. Dobie. And the actors portraying Norman Dike and “Cowboy” Hall are both Irish.

        And those are just the ones I could identify on a quick skim through Wikipedia.

        The most surprising to me was that the actor playing Liebgott was Scottish. He just seemed SO American…

        They grow some good actors over yonder…

        1. Juan cCruso

          Typical diversion: “the ridiculously beautiful Romola Garai.”; what does that mean?
          Ridiculously beautiful is Amanda McNulty of SCETV’s “Making It Grow” with her self-styled hats.

          Can we be serious when current events do not suit our bias? Juan Caruso’s favorite news outlet (quite as entertaining, of course, as yours and KF’s ) is found here:

          Why is this overlooked by the progressive cognoscenti? Your readers can guess all too well!

          1. Mark Stewart

            Life for the Republican Presidential candidates just became an uphill sled, Juan. What happened to all the talk about how the Republican Party was going to court Hispanic voters after the last Presidential election cycle? It seemed a bit disengenuous when coming from the typical party operative/hack types back then. Now, the populist / nativist / paranoid impulses appear to be trouncing reason and right.

            I’ll tell you though, I would personally be happier to see a massive expansion of the H-1b visa program (with some sort of arduous but achievable path to permanent residency, if not citizenship) instead of this focus by everyone on the other end of the spectrum all of the time. We could begin to bring some rationality to immigration policy and break this log jam if someone in the White House or Congress would advocate for the one type of program that aligns with both Parties’ dogmatic positions.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Well, that’s been tried a couple of times in the last few years, Mark — the White House and members of both parties in Congress teaming up to attempt comprehensive reform.

              But the “NO” crowd always defeats whatever they try.

              It’s sort of like with the Confederate flag in SC and gun control nationally — the center is never as passionate and committed as the angry NO contingent…

              1. Mark Stewart

                I wasn’t talking about comprehensive immigration reform. I meant someone should focus on the H-1b visa program. Easy pickings…

            2. Juan Caruso

              Mark, your hopes seem good to me. And, you are undoubtedly correct about “Life for the Republican Presidential candidates just became an uphill sled, Juan”. That is no different than for Democratich candidates.

              I rejoice in my affiliation with neither of those sell-out duopolies.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Three points, Juan:

            — I’m not a member of the “progressive cognoscenti.” I’m not a member of the “progressive” anything. I think most of the “progressives” here will agree. And my position on immigration, since that’s the topic you bring up, probably comes closest to that of pro-business conservatives. Remember, there are a lot of “progressives” who have long wanted to limit immigration, for the sake of organized labor. This is not an issue that fits neatly into a “left-right” analysis.
            — That item came hours after I posted today’s Open Thread, which was the ONLY venue in which I might have brought it up. Not sure I would have picked it anyway. Seems like turn-of-the-screw stuff to me.
            — I say “ridiculously beautiful” because she’s one of those young women I look at and think, “It’s just ridiculous that one human being could be that attractive.”

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Elvis Costello had a description of that type of woman: “She pulls the eyes out with a face like a magnet.”

              And it’s just ridiculous. Yes, I understand the biological, evolutionary imperative. But when you encounter a phenomenon like that that seems supernatural — a sort of magic — rather than natural, it seems absurd. And yet there it is…

            2. Juan Caruso

              Brad, thanks for clearly stating your positions on the first two points.
              Regarding your final point, Aldous Huxley may have said it best: “Beauty is worse than wine, it intoxicates both the holder and beholder.”

  1. Bart

    Had yesterday to myself most of the day. Watched the first season of Justified. Justified spoiled me completely. Judging other series to it may not be fair but when I find one that can equal the quality, writing, acting, story line, and production, I will continue to hold it well above all others I have tried to watch. When it opened and Raylan Givens walked down the pier with his John Wayne stride and the confrontation with the bad guy had me. Epic opening.

    However, my wife and I enjoy the British mystery and murder series – Morse, Lewis, Midsomer Murders, Sherlock with Cumberbach starring as Sherlock, and several others.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      We enjoy those as well — especially Lewis, in part because we get to see familiar places from our stay in Oxford several years back.

      I don’t like Morse as much. But have you seen the Morse prequel, “Endeavour“? THAT is excellent…

      1. Bart

        Yes, we watch “Endeavor” quite often. Just forgot to include it in the list. Agree, it is excellent. Actually, I like it better than “Morse”. Hope more episodes are available soon.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      Justified was definitely the best written show on TV, as Burl said here once. It did get a bit wobbly later on, but ended up first rate. The second season was the best, of course.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Bottom line, now that I have, for the moment, this unlimited access to HBO through HBO NOW, I have to say that I like “The Wire” a LOT more than the much-ballyhooed “Game of Thrones.” I keep watching the latter, however (I’m in the 4th season, so not much longer now), just to be up on what everybody’s talking about. (And, weirdly, GOT knowledge actually came in handy in my ADCO job, just yesterday.)

    Part of the reason that I like The Wire better is related to the scene above. Remember that I said: “I love it when a scene tells you something new and unexpected about a character in a way that is completely believable (instead of the contrived way that is too common on most TV shows — see “24”).”

    Well, GOT is an example of what I DON’T like in that regard. People suddenly become bad guys, or good guys, for the convenience of driving the plot, and not for any believable characteristics within the characters themselves. The development of Jaime Lannister from a monster in the opening episode to an increasingly honorable type by the 4th season is handled fairly well, but there are just too many ham-handed twists elsewhere, often for shock value.

    Whereas this sudden display of harsh compassion on the part of Rawls is entirely believable. He hasn’t changed. He still hates McNulty. But he grudgingly respects him, and he’s not going to let ANY subordinate kick himself for something that isn’t his fault…

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Everybody with any critical cred says The Wire is the best show ever made. No one says that of Game of Thrones.

  3. Jean Smolen

    Brad, I’m so glad to hear that you’re into “The Wire.” My husband and I are almost through Season 4 and have to restrain ourselves from watching more than two episodes a night. I now understand binge watching. This is the best show I’ve ever seen and that includes the phenomenal “Breaking Bad.” My 21 year old granddaughter loves it as much as I do and we’ve had some interesting discussions about situations that crop up on the show. She told me about President Obama’s recent video interview with David Simon (the Prez is a fan) and I highly recommend Bill Keller’s interview with Simon for The Marshall Project website that ran shortly after the Baltimore riots.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I do not think I could go on living if I binge watched too much The Wire. So bleak…

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    Sat next to my friend Valerie Bauerlein — formerly of The State, now of The Wall Street Journal — at the Hillary Clinton event. She happened to mention that she and her husband are really into “The Wire” at the moment.

    I always knew she had good taste…

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Journalists who are “really into” a ten year old must-watch TV show should not congratulate themselves or others similarly situated.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Working journalists don’t have time or energy to watch much TV. I was pretty much out of the loop on it from about 1978 until after I got laid off.

        There were a few exceptions. Hill Street Blues when it was on. Sometimes SNL. But I mostly missed a generation and a half of TV. Then when I started watching again after 2009.

        It wasn’t just the job. I had kids at home all of those years…

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Kids who might have benefited greatly from watching it.

          We haven’t had cable since before 2002, when it started, but we managed to watch it on Netflix DVDs, which have been available to you, as well.

          Just sayin’

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