The Extension Cord as a Wire

18 Nov

At its most basic level, The Wire is a show about connections – whether seen or unseen – between people, neighborhoods, institutions, and places.  Perhaps because of the visibility of surveillance equipment, the wiretap that the police use to monitor the Barksdale operation is the “wire” that is foregrounded in the show and subsequent discussions of it.  There is, however, another material wire that receives considerable attention in the latter half of the first season: the extension cord that connects the abandoned row house in which Wallace lives to a utility pole.  This wire suggests the multiple ways in which the institutions presented in the show are connected.

This electrical wire is first shown in episode five (“The Wire”).  The scene begins with a shot of Brandon’s mutilated body atop an SUV and slowly pans upward, tracing an extension cord connecting a utility pole through the broken window of an abandoned row house and into Wallace’s makeshift bedroom.  Professor Jagoda, in his essay “Wired,” argued that this wire serves as a tangible representation of the connection between Wallace and Brandon, a connection “otherwise obscured by the abstractions of computer data” that had recorded the events leading to Brandon’s murder (195).  Besides representing interpersonal connections between human agents this wire also provides an understanding of the connections, or lack thereof, between Baltimore’s government and a segment of its citizens.

While the power cord represents a connection between the drug world and the city’s infrastructure, there is something inherently dysfunctional about this relationship.  Wallace is in some ways cheating the system by stealing power from the city’s electrical grid.  The drug dealers similarly use public housing as sites for distributing illegal drugs, and public payphones to maintain their drug operation.  This drug trade is sucking the life out of the community.

However, this power cord also suggests the city’s failure to maintain its promises to certain residents, especially young children.  The scene following the introduction of this extension cord shows Wallace getting dressed and preparing younger hoppers for school.  The city’s governing body has clearly failed to provide support for these abandoned or orphaned children.  These children are present within the system (they clearly attend school) but are still ignored by its overseers.  The sign on the abandoned row house’s door, which instructs people passing by to call the city if they suspect that an animal has been trapped, reinforces this notion.  This is more fully explored in season four of the series.  While Wallace and others like him are clearly connected to the city’s infrastructure, those who govern the city or are otherwise tasked with maintaining it are ignoring them.  Subsequent appearances of the electrical cord, namely in episode eight after Wallace has begun using drugs and is seen sleeping by the broken window, in episode twelve when Wallace distributes dinner to young hoppers, and again in episode twelve when Bunk examines Wallace’s dead body, support this interpretation.

The pervasiveness of this single extension cord, or wire, suggests how multilayered these connections are, and how they permeate many aspects of inner-city life.  At another point in episode twelve, when McNulty and Daniels go to look for Wallace at the abandoned row house, they find nothing.  McNulty remarks, “No extension cord, no juice boxes, no Wallace.”  The absence of the extension cord, in this case, suggests the precariousness of these connections and how quickly they can shift.

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