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Rinaldo

Season 2 (The Docks): Them Days Is Gone.

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I'll still go in the specific episode threads for my episode specific thoughts, but I have to say, season 2 did not grab me as much as I thought it would.  And I was trying to think why, because objectively, it's not a poorly written season (from what I've seen so far, I don't think I could call anything on the show "poorly written"), the characters are engaging enough, and it's not like I needed the previous season to be a continuation of the last season.

 

I think why it didn't grab me as much was because for all our new characters, I thought only Chris Bauer had the acting chops/screen presence to carry the story.  Because what drew me in about the Barksdale crew were the performances of every character, down to Wallace and Poot - all could command the screen.  I just didn't feel the same way about the dock workers.  

 

I will say, I did think Chris Bauer and Amy Ryan absolutely killed it; I thoroughly enjoyed both of their performances.  

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I don't know if it's the actors or the writing for the dockworker characters.  I think Pablo Schreiber was great in Orange is the New Black.  But Nick, Ziggy, Horseface, et. al. don't have conversations that come close to the "McNugget" dialogue between Wallace, Poot, and D'Angelo.  I also find it harder to sympathize with them being trapped in the particular life that they lead.  Ziggy is pathetic for sure, but is he as totally stripped of resources as Wallace?  Frank is a terrible father, but he's no Wallace's mom.  At least he tried to raise his kid.  I don't know, it's hard to explain because really they are both trapped, but Ziggy doesn't win my heart like Wallace.

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It's different from Season 1 in what it's focusing on, but it's supposed to be. We saw one kind of hopeless way of life with the Barksdale business, and here's a decidedly different one, one maybe closer to home for us watching. A way of life and a source of work and income that's been around for centuries, reliably passed along from one generation to the next... and right now, in our own time, it's stopping and it won't be available to the younger generation. Frank figured his kid would have the same opportunity he did, not glamorous or exciting but a livelihood for those who want to do it. But his is the last generation who'll have the dock work, and it may not last much longer even for them. David Simon called it "the death of work," and it's happening other places besides the docks: any place where manual labor is outsourced abroad or entrusted to computers and other machines, and a skilled profession made obsolete. And as in Season 1, there doesn't seem to be a solution.

Edited by Rinaldo
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I'm only two episodes into season 2, I finished season 1 last month.  It's not grabbing me yet, but I'm sure it will pick up.  The thing I liked about season 1 was the procedural part, how this rag-tag group of cops sent off to work in the police equivalent of Siberia  very intelligently made a case against Barksdale, figuring out the pagers and the codes and the rest.  I'm hoping to see some more creative detective work this season.

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It picks up, Dobian.  Still, I share the sentiment that the dockworkers did not draw me in as much as the Barksdale crew.  Then again, neither did the big man who supplied the good drugs, nor the blind man at the bar, nor the Greeks.  I feel as though the cast of characters was a little too big.  Last season, we got a lot of time with each of the two sides, and the overlapping characters: Bub, Omar, and Bodie were really interesting.  Here, everyone is moving more in there separate spheres, and I did not feel much chemistry when any of the worlds collided (at the Greek diner, or in any of the drug dealings).

 

This season was more about certain characters stealing the scene each episode, than watching an ensemble giving uniformly fantastic performances.  I also missed seeing the glimpses of personal lives that we got last season.  This season was much more about work, and the repetition of scenes of the dockworkers at the bar on their off time didn't give me much insight.  Yes, maybe I get the idea that their lives are limited and not much happens, but it doesn't make for (as) riveting television.

 

Other than missing all the excited chatter of watching in real time, I am very glad I'm able to watch the entire series at my own pace (and especially that I don't have to wait to move onto Season 3).  It's still a show worth savoring. 

 

ETA: I agree the show should have won lots of awards.  I'd love to hear what people would nominate for this season.

Edited by ToxicUnicorn

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Season 2 is the one which benefits most from a rewatch. It's probably my second or third favourite of the whole show now, with season 1 and possibly 4 edging it.

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I've been thinking about the dockworkers versus the black drug workers off and on today.  I am surprised that I am starting to feel more sorry for the dockworkers, in a sense.

 

The Sobotkas got caught up in a world they knew too little about.  Each of them was trying to grab at a way to make a better life.  Frank's way was more conventional, through politics and failing institutions.  Nick saw a ticket, and thought he could manipulate it better than he did.  Ziggy had illusions that he could get in the fast lane.  Ultimately, none of them were equipped and the outcomes blindside them.

 

The project kids, the Barksdale bosses, and all the other drug bosses are also trying to make some fast money, but they know their world, their rules, and the risks intimately.  They even get mentored, groomed, promoted, protected.  Where were the protective details for the Sobotkas?  At best, Ziggy brought along another clueless dockworker to steal the cars.  I guess I'm thinking that the dockworkers were even more disadvantaged to make it in this modern life (caveat: on the illegal side) than the drug gangs.  The dockworkers have nice cars, decent home, and more sort of tangible markers of status, but the drug kids have so much intangible knowledge (individually and collectively) that they (the drug kids) really seem like the ones to bet on.  Of course, the Greeks have all of it.

 

These probably are all well-worn observations.  I was just surprised at how I came to the show thinking that I was going to get, in part, a lesson about race and a more sympathetic understanding of the black kids in inner city Baltimore, and I'm ending season 2 with a real sympathy for these (mostly) white guys.

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It was a small moment, but I thought it was amusing when McNulty was on a stakeout in a fishing boat, after finally getting out of the Marine Unit where he hated working. Admittedly, there's a difference, since the McNulty was interested in the stakeout, but even so.

The project kids, the Barksdale bosses, and all the other drug bosses are also trying to make some fast money, but they know their world, their rules, and the risks intimately.  They even get mentored, groomed, promoted, protected.  Where were the protective details for the Sobotkas?  At best, Ziggy brought along another clueless dockworker to steal the cars.  I guess I'm thinking that the dockworkers were even more disadvantaged to make it in this modern life (caveat: on the illegal side) than the drug gangs.  The dockworkers have nice cars, decent home, and more sort of tangible markers of status, but the drug kids have so much intangible knowledge (individually and collectively) that they (the drug kids) really seem like the ones to bet on.  Of course, the Greeks have all of it.

I believe Herc alluded to that when talking to Kima in the season opener.

Of course, on the flip side, they're not as good because they didn't have to be as good. Until Sobotka unwittingly pissed off Valchek, they were largely ignored, at least by the local and state police. If Sobotka donated more discreetly to the church, or if the prostitutes in the can hadn't been killed, Frank might still be around.

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Sometimes the show is dated in a way that jumps out at you: Watching ep 7 and amused by Rhonda's highhanded dismissal of the possibility of getting a wiretap for smuggling women. "Prostitution? Harrumph". Today the possibility of a major international human trafficking bust would get big-time resources devoted to it.

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I have heard several people say that this season did not touch them the way the first season did because of the characters.  I think the flaw was the Sobatka family.  Their actions never made sense to me. 

 

I know the death of the American blue collar worker is a tragedy, but it is not unique.  There are many college educated people out there who's jobs are dying and now have to start over after years of education and training (not to mention in debt from student loans).  It is nice that the dock workers came from families where the males were guaranteed a good paying jobs, but they were lucky to have this privilege.  How many of us had to sweat and clumsily figure out what we wanted to do in this world and make sure that our desires were a viable means to make a living (which often it is not)?

 

As I said, the Sobatkas were never sympathetic in the same manner as the drug dealers.   The project kids are born into a cycle of poverty, racism, and violence that is hard to escape.  This does not excuse them from their horrible actions, but makes it a bit more understandable to why they choose this world.

 

In contrast, Nicco and Ziggy chose to go into something that had been slowly dying for well over a decade.  Nicco had potential he could have learned a trade ( I hear plumbers and carpenters make very good money) or have gone to community college.  Yet, he stubbornly hangs on to the Union even though he has to resort to drug dealing in order to have financial independence.  Ziggy is a self destructive moron with no impulse control.  I always wondered if he had some fetal alcohol poisoning disorder.  Sadly, I think Ziggy should have gone into show business since he would go above and beyond to put on a good show (like buying diamonds for a duck).  However, I do think he would have eventually imploded no matter what career path he chose.  Then we come to Frank.  Here is a man who will do anything to make sure his precious Union lives another day.  He is the most sympathetic, but he is fighting a hopeless battle and his decisions will probably taint the Union's reputation for years to come.

 

In the end the Sobatkas problems stem from an unwillingness to change with the world.  They are like horse carriage makers in the days that the automobile was becoming popular.  It is truly unfair the way technology and global politics is killing many blue and white collar jobs.  However, most of us have no choice but to go with the tide and make the necessary adjustments and continue with our lives, without getting involved in illegal machination we can not understand or control.

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It is nice that the dock workers came from families where the males were guaranteed a good paying jobs, but they were lucky to have this privilege.

I think this is a good point in real life, but I interpret the story we saw differently.  I thought we saw the way the dock workers hope for a day's work at a time, and how seniority wins all once you're in the union.  So, I'm not sure the dock workers were guaranteed much except some stability in the rules of their world (although the economy is changing, as you say). They seemed to have to scramble, to me.  The fact that this way of life tended to be passed down from father to son also is not peculiar to the dock workers - one might argue that this is the way it is over much of the world, and across a lot of the ages.  It's only because we live in such a modern age, (relatively speaking) that people had any mobility at all.  I guess what I am saying is that I ended up feeling a fair amount of sympathy toward the dock workers' inability to adapt very well.

 

I'm not trying to argue, particularly (more like: discuss).  I actually find the possibility for all these reactions to what we see to be one of the best things about the show.

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I think this is a good point in real life, but I interpret the story we saw differently.  I thought we saw the way the dock workers hope for a day's work at a time, and how seniority wins all once you're in the union.  So, I'm not sure the dock workers were guaranteed much except some stability in the rules of their world (although the economy is changing, as you say). They seemed to have to scramble, to me.  The fact that this way of life tended to be passed down from father to son also is not peculiar to the dock workers - one might argue that this is the way it is over much of the world, and across a lot of the ages.  It's only because we live in such a modern age, (relatively speaking) that people had any mobility at all.  I guess what I am saying is that I ended up feeling a fair amount of sympathy toward the dock workers' inability to adapt very well.

 

 

I understand what you were saying and I actually liked the dock workers.  I also liked the Sobatkas and that included poor doomed doofus, Ziggy.  It is just that it seemed that someone like Nicco would have many options available.  Of course, I do not know the specifics of his situation and many people with much more privilege have done some horrible crimes, so that might not be a factor.  He could have just gotten addicted to the easy money and felt the risks were minimum since his uncle controlled the docks.  Its just that when Nicco realized that the docks would no longer provide the type of life it did during his father's generation, I wish we would have seen him try some legal alternatives before jumping head first in the drug trade.

 

What do you guys thing about when Nicco and Ziggy looking up the chemicals the Greeks wanted on the library internet?  Do you think it is realistic that a guy NIcco's age would have never done an internet search in 2003?

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What do you guys thing about when Nicco and Ziggy looking up the chemicals the Greeks wanted on the library internet?  Do you think it is realistic that a guy NIcco's age would have never done an internet search in 2003?

 

It's realistic to me.  He didn't grow up with a computer in the house, probably finished high school before all the schools had computers, and he wouldn't have spent much time in a library.  Ziggy, on the other hand, was always looking out.  Kids now are being given tablets to take home.  And no smartphones.  How many kids will grow up today using smartphones rather than computers?  I know some adults who don't touch their laptops anymore -- everythings on the phone.

 

Season 2 is my favorite.  My first husband was union (general laborers and hodcarriers), I worked for a union and for union lawyers (longshoremen and ship scalers), and I was in a union for awhile (UAW).  The thing about labor unions is that the pay is so damn good, even if you only get to work six months out of the year, you can make it.  Some longshoremen could work one or two days a week and send their kids to college. 

 

So that could be why Nicky and the others didn't try another line of work.  And even back then, there would have been lots of competition for jobs in the skilled trades. 

 

Chris Bauer was amazing.  I almost cried when I saw what he stooped to in True Blood.  What a waste.

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I agree the show should have won lots of awards.  I'd love to hear what people would nominate for this season.

 

It's been a few months since I watched Season 2, but, off-hand, I'd have nominated:

 

  • Dominic West, just because I think he can do no wrong
  • Lance Riddick, because his physical acting (if that's such a thing) is worth an award on its own and because he's just such an interesting actor
  • Amy Ryan, for her subtle, lovely performance
  • Chris Bauer, who needs to have a great career because he was incredible as Frank
  • The actor who played Ziggy, because he simultaneously infuriated me and broke my heart.

 

I'm probably forgetting a few people, but these are the ones who stood out for me.

Oh, I'd add the actor who played D'Angelo, even though he's not in many episodes. He has the most soulful eyes. And Idris Elba, because he lights up the screen whenever he's in a scene.

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My season 2 thoughts...I couldn't stand Nick. He was a grade A asshole IMO.

Frank was a favorite of mine from this season. CB is an amazing actor and Frank was so sympathetic and tragic.

McNulty was also an asshole, but the good kind. I loved his mission to screw Rawls. Awesome.

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Just finished Season 2. So Nick gave up the witness protection program, right?  He was unaware the Greeks had left town, so he just didn't care what happened to him?  And we never saw Frank's wife / Ziggy's mom, did we? Loved seeing the PalmPilot and Jimmy's being unaware of the newfangled technology called texting - "what does he keep looking at in his hand?" 

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Season one introduced us to a bunch of drug dealers and gave them complete and often entertaining personalities. Shame they couldn't do that for the dock workers. Other than the Sabotkas, the rest were just a bunch of guys hanging out at a bar. There was the guy with the beard. There was the guy who got his leg smashed. There was the big guy who Ziggy thought he could beat up. There was Horseface who didn't do anything. There was a black guy.

 

I think the problem was that the "Along the Waterfront" story could have doubled the cast in one season. It was already difficult to follow two parallel storylines so fleshing out the dock characters would have overloaded the plots. They made an excellent decision to back to drug dealing in season three which gave the series some uncompromising plots on the difficulties of police work and the machinations of government. I don't know why they didn't go that direction in season two.

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And we never saw Frank's wife / Ziggy's mom, did we?

 

She didn't get many lines, but I'm pretty sure we saw her once or twice.  I think once she growled about breakfast and another time she mentioned where Frank was.  (Probably at the bar with those nameless dockworkers.)

 

They made an excellent decision to back to drug dealing in season three

I agree it was good to return to the drug dealers, but I ended up liking Season 2 a lot.  If the show had gone straight from Season 1 to Season 3, I think it would have felt far more narrow, and more about an issue (the drug war), than about a city, urban problems, and all the people involved.  Also, it would have felt more as though it was about race.

 

It frustrated me that most of the dockworkers were boring and didn't do much that was exciting or seem to have more personality.  But, maybe that's what it's like (as a huge generalization, and relative to the life and culture of the corner boys).

 

ETA: Also, in the drug world, it seems like a lot rests on your personality and your reputation, whereas the union guys' fate relied more on whether they stood together or not.  (On the other hand, maybe I'm just trying to rationalize what I shouldn't.)

Edited by ToxicUnicorn
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The character of Ziggy, for some reason, really stuck with me.  He was so tragically dumb and annoying... a type of character I normally dislike, and indeed I disliked Ziggy quite a bit.  But then I felt awful for him and his fate at the end.  We don't see him learn the fate of his father.  Gotta tip my hat to the actor, he was really terrific in those final scenes.  

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James Ransone is a good actor, I think; and what actors call an "unselfish" one -- he doesn't try to make us like the character he plays, if that's not called for. Many actors will incorporate some subliminal "wink" to the audience to clue us in that he's really not like this scummy character and doesn't approve what he does, so everything's all right. Bur Ransone played Ziggy as written, which made him sometimes unendurable but also indelible.

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I wouldn't say that the guys in the union are necessarily less interesting than the guys in the Barksdale organization, it's just that there's only so much time that can be spent on them, so it's largely spent on Frank, Nick & Ziggy. That's not much different than Season 1 where the time spent with the pit crew is primarily D'Angelo, Wallace and Bodie with an occasional assist from Poot. But everyone else is pretty much sitting around in terms of character development, just as the other union guys are.

A difference between Season 1 and Season 2 is that the criminal leadership and enforcement in Season 1 is in the same organization as the guys in the pit. In contrast, in Season 2, the criminal leadership and enforcement is a different organization, the Greek's. So, because of the different organization structures, we spend more time with characters in the Barksdale organization than the union.

 

ETA: Also, in the drug world, it seems like a lot rests on your personality and your reputation, whereas the union guys' fate relied more on whether they stood together or not.  (On the other hand, maybe I'm just trying to rationalize what I shouldn't.)

 

Although the union's seniority system does echo D'Angelo's explanation of chess in Season 1, where he say, among other things:

 

Now, the king, he move one space any direction he damn choose, 'cause he's the king. Like this, this, this, a'ight? But he ain't got no hustle. But the rest of these motherfuckers on the team, they got his back. And they run so deep, he really ain't gotta do shit.

 

See, the king stay the king, a'ight? Everything stay who he is

 

Look, the pawns, man, in the game, they get capped quick. They be out the game early

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Gosh, I'm not even done with the series and already I'm jonesing for a rewatch.  That chess game speech was so original.

 

So, because of the different organization structures, we spend more time with characters in the Barksdale organization than the union.

Good point, although character for character, actor for actor, I think I'd give the nod to the Season 1 men rather than the Season 2 union/Greek/occasional Russian enforcer.  Frank was very good at times, but for me, quite a few of the S1 people could go toe to toe with him.

 

Bur Ransone played Ziggy as written, which made him sometimes unendurable but also indelible.

Love this explanation for why Ziggy stands out as an unusually poignant character.  (And, yes, I had to look the definition up to check if I was in the right ballpark.)

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I wonder if the reason people tend to find the dock workers from Season 2 less sympathetic than the drug dealers from Season 1 is because we assume that these guys as white men should have had more opportunities than the black drug dealers. However, I wonder how many of the dock workers actually had that much education. Baltimore has some of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country. Just last year, it rose to 69%. How many of the dock workers just stayed in school until they were old enough to get a job at the docks? 

I was very interested in this season. I thought it got a lot better as it went on. Frank was a really interesting character to center the season on. 

The biggest problem with this season was that it focused on too much. I understand the motivation to continue to show the characters from Season 1, but it resulted in a season that had too much going on. 

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^

I think other ethnic politics issues were at hand. The Wire had already become a For Us, Starring Us show. With the second season having the Barksdale crew largely replaced by the  Checkers there went half of the acting roles and the glory. If you ever see the BET edit they tore out so much of the Checkers story. supposedly to sell more ads on a broadcast versus HBO schedule you would never know that Major Valchek set the entire season in motion and they almost took down a modern French Connection because of a stained glass window in the local Catholic Church.

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How many of the dock workers just stayed in school until they were old enough to get a job at the docks? 

The parallel to the Barkley crew (your opportunities largely determined your life) was a point the show ended up making extremely well.  It just took its time to get there.  The tie back to the drug trade wrapped it all up nicely.  I loved Season 2.

My only problem with it at the beginning was that the transition was very abrupt.  I was expecting a continuation of Season 1, so I was confused when all these new faces happened in Season 1.  Also, I have to say, the characters and actors were not as charismatic as the people of the first season.  I learned to care about Frank and his family, but not about the rest of the dockworkers (except abstractly).  That was a big difference from Season 1, as well, where there were so many people who inspired feelings or thoughts of some kind (on all sides of the story).

Very interesting post above, Raja.  Since I did not watch in real time, I did not know any of that.

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I must admit to being a little disappointed with S2 first time round. Like many others here, I was expecting a continuation from S1 regarding the Barksdale crew, but instead that particular storyline was placed on the backburner and a new perspective was thrown at us - this time from a working class view-point.

It was only after re-watching S2, that I began to greatly appreciate this new world of the dockers' struggle keeping their livelihood ticking over until the next pay day. But then again, I still didn't have much sympathy for them because all these guys did was boost cargo from containers, sit around playing checkers, argue at union meetings, or get completely hammered every night in the bar!

But Frank and Ziggy stood out, in much the same way as Stringer Bell and Wallace from S1 did. Ziggy and Wallace, very much tragic characters for different reasons really. Ziggy had a sense of entitlement about him, and came across as hugely irritating throughout most of S2 until the very end, and I couldn't help but feel sympathetic for this complete loser of a man/child.

Then there's Frank, very much an idealist, trying to keep things from falling apart either through lying, cheating, bribing or threatening people; very similar in sone respects to Stringer. In S1 Stringer had everything under control being Avon's right-hand man; but come S2 with Avon behind bars and the burden of responsibility placed on Bell's shoulders you could tell that he was struggling to keep things together, especially with the "package" and trying to maintain the Towers - he barely visited Poot or Bodie because he had too many other things to worry about.

I was pleased to see the Greeks in operation, as well as the introduction of Proposition Joe - two more crucial pieces to the Wire Jigsaw puzzle.

I also loved McNulty for trying to track down the name of the dead woman picked up from the bay in episode 1. He carried a photo of her throughout the first few episodes of S2, in his vain attempt to put a name to the face before her body became chopped up meat for medical research back at the lab.

S2 now ranks as my 2nd or 3rd favourite of all Wire seasons, thanks largely to repeat viewings. 

Edited by Zola

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I was really surprised when I found out season 2 was so unpopular, at least while it was first aired because I think is a precision machine. I liked season 1, I love some of the episodes, but season 2 has been heaven, a masterpiece.

Most of the comments I read say the same, they were waiting for more of the same and season 1 plot was moved into the background through most of season 2. I understand the feeling, but I didn't happen to me, I love the pace, season 1 was difficult sometimes because it was a bit too slow, and I'm not talking about crappy action movie pace, but the inevitable living is moving necessary pace. The new working and emotional state of the characters and the new setting hook me since minute one.

I'm glad rewatching the show is helping some fans to value more this season.

Edited by smoker
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On 1/13/2015 at 3:37 PM, ToxicUnicorn said:

And we never saw Frank's wife / Ziggy's mom, did we?

 

No.  I'm just finishing a rewatch and after reading your comment,  I started looking for her.  Ziggy mentions her when Frank visits him in jail -- saying that it's possible that she doesn't even know what's happened.  Ziggy says something about Nembutals.  We see Nick's mom (stomping on the floor) but we didn't get to know her either. 

Ziggy's character isn't much different from Rye Gerhardt -- season 2 of Fargo -- both tragic characters, small in stature, wanting to be "big".   

This show can be so complicated -- "all the pieces matter" -- and I'm still noticing stuff after multiple viewings.  Some of the scenes are so short, they whiz by and you think, "Is that important?", and yeah, it almost always is.  But so rewarding, getting from A to Z, figuring it out. 

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