For last Thursday’s in-class “hypothetical pedagogy” exercise, our group used the infamous “Fuck” scene from the fourth episode of the first season of The Wire as a springboard for further discussion about how The Wire deviates from or challenges the conventional narrative strategies employed by most procedural crime dramas, in a lesson tailored to a high school demographic (with access to hypothetical permission slips and cool parents, of course). In case this doesn’t ring a bell, for whatever reason, or if you’re an outsider stumbling upon this blog, it’s the scene where McNulty and Bunk are investigating the scene of a murder and piecing together the clues, all while saying or muttering “fuck,” or variations of “fuck.”
The scene is both hilarious and brilliantly self-reflexive in its eschewing of redundant dialogue as an expository device, a narrative strategy prevalent in many crime scene investigations conducted in Law and Order, in favor of essentially-nonverbal, visual exposition that ultimately provides the same amount of narrative information. Implicit in a scene that is so minimal and economical in its exposition is a level of trust that a writer has with the viewer (whose spellbound spectatorship is figured by the landlord in this scene), which is often a safe assumption to make with HBO’s audience — in other words, if you’re not closely following the series of connections being made by McNulty and Bunk, then the final discovery of the bullet jacket in the grass might not be such a satisfying revelation. Indeed, information is rarely ever spoon-fed through cheap expository devices in a narratively complex show like The Wire, although the pilot does at one point break this principle by turning to a flashback to clarify a connection between the Gant murder and an earlier courtroom testimony. In the commentary track for the pilot, David Simon expresses how he was very much against relying on this time-manipulation device because it disrupted the organic, linear momentum of the narrative, and perhaps momentarily undermined its style of realism; although, as someone who often struggles to follow or keep up with the logical flow, jargon, and pace of the series, I definitely appreciated it and thought it effectively visualized an internal moment of epiphany.