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ToxicUnicorn

S01.E05: The Pager

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So, I'll plunge in on this newbie/rewatch thread.  I guess the main things about this episode that struck me were:

 

1.  It was the first episode where I didn't fully believe what was going on.  I didn't really believe Omar would chastise his boyfriend for language.  I didn't really believe the word search cop would break the pager code and I especially didn't believe that McNulty would kiss him for it.  I didn't believe the cops would get away with watching Omar's van like that.  (Turns out they didn't get away with it, but that didn't prevent them from doing it in the first place.)  I didn't believe Omar would invite them to a talk in the graveyard.  I didn't believe the girl would talk to the detectives so freely, or have that much information and be alive to tell.  I don't believe officers would play pool with a criminal.  And I was really, really surprised by the language.

 

2.  The language.  Perhaps this deserves to be in another thread, but I'll put it here for now.  I mean, I was shocked and surprised and befuddled by all the people in the Barksdale crew using the n* word for each other earlier in the series.  But, it had mostly been the younger kids, and I chalked it up as maybe a young kid thing.  But then, the adults used these terms in this episode as well.  How far back is this series set?  Now, granted, I'm pretty sheltered but really, do people talk to each other like that?

 

It wasn't just the blacks.  McNulty, if he were a less patient man, might use the c* word for his ex-wife.  Really?  I mean, really?  This is work talk ... to a woman?  I suppose it is as possible as anything, if I consider that, where I'm from, the most verboten word starts with n and not c, but my eyebrows took a tour North for hearing that word as well.

 

I still really enjoyed the episode, despite not buying into all of it.  I absolutely loved the Ikea scenes.  So much of a particular slice of life and time, captured in a couple wordless shots.  Now, that, I believed.  But the language and plotting choices really took me out of the show, and that's the first time this has happened.

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First of all -- is this really a no-spoilers thread? We're not supposed to talk about story developments?

 

As to language: I dare say most or all of us who frequent a forum like this are sheltered. Me too. But in so far as my experience and reading allows me to say: Yes, that is the language of this world, when it was filmed a decade ago, and now. I was on the jury for a murder trial a year ago (took place just outside a somewhat smaller city than Baltimore), and that word was a staple of the video and audio testimony we were shown. The witnesses would mostly avoid it in the courtroom when recalling earlier conversations, but it was clearly an everyday part of their conversations among themselves. So that aspect would seem to be simple realism. (And McNulty is definitely not a role model for anything, language included.)

 

As for story developments: Nobody can tell you to believe it if you don't. All I can tell you is that I bought almost all of that. (The exception being the visibility of stakeout for Omar, and David Simon has explained that a surveillance car would have to be much further away but they made it closer for the sake of clarity on film. OK, but I would respond that the proximity destroyed its believability for me.) One of the delights of the series is getting to know characters who don't behave according to their cultural stereotype: the loser doofus happens to be good at puzzles; someone who has no compunction about theft and murder can still be prissy about language. Again, I can only report a personal reaction, that it works for me and is part of what makes this series great.

Edited by Rinaldo
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Sorry, Rinaldo, I mis-remembered what Dougal had said about episode threads.  The policy is to use the spoiler tag for discussions in the episode thread for stuff that happened later, not to make the entire thread a no-spoiler thread.  Maybe a mod can undo the heading?  So, go ahead and spoiler tag away!

 

Your experience about language in the court case .. thanks for sharing.  If realism is what the show is going for, then I guess I'll have to readjust my reactions to what is believable, as well.  I was thinking that Omar was being turned into a quirky character, rather than the idea that he might just be a realistic exception that proves the rule.  To be honest, he still is looking pretty quirky to me.  Maybe if one character was gay and another character was picky about language .. but then, those aren't the choices the show made.

 

I actually liked the actual telephone code a lot, and don't mind that the word search guy had hidden talents.  It's just - as a puzzler myself, I found it hard to believe that word searching would give you that kind of insight.  But that's an idiosyncratic quibble.  I find the point you made about getting to know characters that aren't stereotypes in general quite valuable.  Thanks!  

 

 

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Thank you, @ToxicUnicorn. If I understand the "No Spoilers" tag as meaning "don't spoil events that happened after this episode," it makes good sense -- sort of like the separate Alan Sepinwall recaps for veterans and for newbies. So it can stay, as far as I'm concerned.

 

Not to belabor the code-breaking (and admittedly I became partial to the character Prez), but my impression was that it wasn't word-search skills specifically that led him to break it, but that he had the type of mind that, while ill-suited to police life on the street (and therefore he'd been left alone while others went out, with plenty of time to work away at the problem), liked to poke at number and letter problems and take whatever time it takes to solve them. Or as he put it, "I like figuring shit out." It seems it was not some flash of insight but just dogged persistence -- try this, no, try that -- over many hours. And it was the sort of work that he, more than the others on the team, had the patience as well as inclination for. Again, my personal sympathies are showing, as I work logic puzzles for fun, and I know that most of my friends (possibly smarter than me but just not inclined that way) would get bored with them in 5 minutes.

Edited by Rinaldo
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Yep, that's the general idea for spoilers; I just pinned a note about it as a reminder. Keep on starting episode threads and whatnot, and when I finally get on top of my shit I'll start posting about the actual episodes too. :)

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