We're in the home stretch for these reviews of "The Wire" season three (you can find my reviews of the other four seasons on the siderail at my old blog), and as always, we're doing this in two versions: one for people who have seen the whole series from beginning to end and want to be able to discuss it all, and one for people who are relatively new to the series don't want to be spoiled for what's to come past where they are. This is the veteran version; click here for the newbie-friendly one.

A review of episode 10, "Reformation," coming up just as soon as I got the Bingo tonight...

"Stir up a hornet's nest, no telling who's gonna get stung." -Prop Joe

As we approach the end of season three - and what, at the time, may have been the end of the series - a lot of hornet's nests have been stirred up, and a lot of people are getting stung.

The arrival of a reporter in Hamsterdam forces Bunny to confess to his plan at Comstat to a very displeased Burrell (and a horrified but amused Rawls). Avon's war with Marlo has generated so much law-enforcement heat on dealers across town that the co-op is threatening to kick out the Barksdale crew - and that in turn pushes a desperate Stringer to drop a dime on his friend and partner to Bunny. And Stringer himself is in a world of trouble now that a healthy Brother Mouzone is back in town and looking for all the men responsible for him taking a bullet to the gut - which means Omar has plenty to worry about, too.  

What we see throughout "Reformation" is that the characters in the most trouble tend to be those caught between several worlds. Avon already lectured Stringer on how he's neither fish (businessman) nor fowl (gangster) a few episodes ago. Bunny is a traditional cop who finds himself in a department full of would-be soldiers(*). Jimmy (still rightfully getting icy treatment from Lt. Daniels) confesses to Kima that his relationship with Terry D'Agostino made him feel like he doesn't belong anywhere.

(*) Bunny expresses this sentiment in a very long and eloquent lecture to Carver, and I wonder if it's one Bunny speech too many. Bunny, a likable and morally unassailable character, becomes the writers' mouthpiece at several points in this season, like the paper bag speech. And obviously, David Simon and Ed Burns are using the show as a vehicle to make a lot of points about the state of modern urban policing, urban life in general, America, etc., but the series at its best doesn't stop to spell out its messages by putting them in the mouth of the character whose motives will always be the least in question. I can forgive the show a didactic moment like that because the speech is so good (and Robert Wisdom is fantastic, as always), and because it looked like the finish line was in sight and Simon and Burns wanted to say as much as they could say in what little time they had left, but the scene stuck out then and it sticks out now.  

All of these impending catastrophes are compelling, but the standout of the episode is probably Stringer, because he's facing attack from all sides. Avon now has complete contempt for him, and has basically promoted wartime consiglieri Slim Charles over him for every non-financial decision. (Their confrontation at Avon's hideout, where Stringer is finally making headway with Avon when Slim enters with the news of Devonne's murder, is one of Wood Harris' best moments of the series.) And because Avon won't listen to him, the co-op Stringer helped found wants him out. His reaction to the newspaper story about city developers receiving funds suggests Clay Davis hasn't been nearly as helpful as he claimed to be. And Stringer doesn't even know that Mouzone is out there, hunting Omar, who in turn can tell Mouzone how it was that they came to be in that motel room together.

"There's games beyond the fucking Game!" a frustrated Stringer tells Avon, but Avon doesn't want to hear him. We've been used to seeing Stringer as a queen in this particular Game, able to make any move and take out anyone. Now he's in check, and he's trying to figure out a way around the rules - to see if he can sacrifice his king and still win.


We're also not used to seeing Jimmy so personally adrift. Yes, he was in a much unhealthier place in the middle of season two, but at least there he had a chosen direction: straight down. Between his conflicts with Daniels - the realization that even in a unit tailor-made for his skills, he's still an outcast - his inability to reconnect with his ex and the way he felt outclasses by Terry, he doesn't know where to go or what to do or who he can actually be with who wants to be around him for any reason other than that he's a hell of a detective. That's a very unsettling place for him to be, and a fascinating side of the character for Dominic West to play.

Still, "Reformation" does offer some good news. Lester and Jimmy finally figure out a way to work around the delay in getting wires up on the burners by arranging to sell pre-bugged phones directly to Bernard, exploiting Squeak's greed and boredom in the process.
 
And over the course of the episode, we see another man without a country start to find himself, as Cutty begins recruiting kids to his boxing gym. It's a rocky start, since Cutty's instincts are still that of a soldier and not a teacher, and since kids like Justin and Spider are too damaged to respond to traditional instruction, but he begins to grasp the veteran trainer's point about how to reach out to these kids, and about how long it's going to take. Cutty looks at the newcomer to the other gym and suggests his skills are weak, but the other trainer explains, "It ain't weak. That's the starting point."

As so many other of season three's central characters are approaching what could be bad ends, it's a relief to see someone just at the beginning of what could be a very rewarding journey.

Some other thoughts:

  • We are reminded in the Comstat meeting - where he's the first man in the room to grasp what Bunny has done - that Rawls is a very smart man. And we learn in one of Lamar's scouting trips that Rawls is also gay. In that half-second glimpse of him at the end of the bar, he looks happy, doesn't he? And not with the usual malice that comes along with the other rare occasions where Bill Rawls seems pleased about something.
  • Has Lester been more deserving of the Cool Lester Smooth nickname Kima than when he's posing as a grifter to trick Bernard into buying those pre-bugged phones? Also, good work by Caroline for selling the con at the end by pretending to be annoyed that Lester was making her stay late.
  • Judge Phelan returns, and Ronnie takes advantage of his attraction to her - first suggested back in a season one episode where Phelan is particularly tough on Jimmy once he recognizes him as a threat for Ms. Pearlman's affections - to get the wiretaps authorized. Sometimes in The Game, you gotta cheat a little.
  • Thus far, we've seen that Marlo has plenty of muscle to do his killing for him (notably Chris and Snoop), but he makes sure to take care of Devonne personally, even going so far as to shoot her in both breasts and the mouth in brutal (albeit swift) fashion.
  • The Franklin Terrace site now looks like Ground Zero.
  • On occasion, the series will show a character reading a novel by one of the show's writers. In this case, it's Dennis Lehane's turn to be in the lap of Jen Carcetti as she talks Tommy through his guilt about exploiting Tony Grey to have a shot at winning the election.
  • S. Robert Morgan is very good in the scene where Butchie confesses to Omar that he's known about Stringer's headquarters all this time, and refused to tell him to try to protect the man he views as a surrogate son.

And now we come to the veterans-only section, where we can talk about how some key developments in this episode are reflected down the road:

  • Most obviously, Stringer sets up Avon to go back to prison (and Lester's con on Bernard sets up the rest of the Barksdale crew), and Mouzone's arrival in turn will lead Avon to betray Stringer.
  • Royce is largely a waste of a suit for most of the series, but he's entering his most admirable, likable stretch here, as he tries to figure out a way to keep Hamsterdam going. In the end, he wimps out and condemns Bunny along with everyone else, but unlike Burrell and his chief of staff, his eyes are actually opened to the possibilities of what Bunny has done here.
  • Ronnie mentions that her boss is too worried about winning re-election to be helpful. He will lose that election to Rupert Bond, who in turn will completely blow the Clay Davis prosecution.
  • Tommy's guilt about what he's about to do to Tony is the first of many times we'll see him wrestle with choosing his own self-interests over helping others, and in almost every instance, he'll choose himself.
  • Getting back to Rawls in the gay bar, that half-second glimpse is literally the only time the show will ever discuss this, though there's a joke in a later season where Landsman finds a bit of graffiti in a BPD men's room suggesting that Rawls prefers, shall we say, the company of gentlemen. In our interview at the end of the series, Simon said he was pleased that he never felt compelled to go back there, just for the sake of it. You can read whatever you want into Rawls' past and future behavior based on the revelation that he's a closeted gay man, but that's all you get on the subject.
  • Sun reporter Banisky does not appear in any of season five despite all the time we spend in the Sun newsroom. Perhaps he took an earlier buyout? Or was punished for blowing the Hamsterdam scoop?
  • Justin will turn out to be one of Cutty's better fighters. We'll see that Cutty's approach won't save every kid (Michael still becomes a killer, and Cutty's way with the mothers drives a wedge between him and Spider), but the show ultimately will say that his approach (and the one Bunny takes with Namond) is the only effective one for helping people: individuals have to help other individuals, because the gods of the institutions will not save them.
  • Jimmy's reckless pursuit of a Beadie Russell lookalike in a port police car is yet another sign pointing him towards her home at the end of the season.

Coming up next: George Pelecanos does his George Pelecanos thing in "Middle Ground."

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com