TV Club

Week 3: Whiplashed by Jimmy McNulty’s Fall

Dear Jeff,

Maybe it was just that melodramatically tight closing shot of Omar—thank God! Omar—distraught over Butchie’s death, but I thought there was a slight telenovela feel to Episode 3. Or maybe it is the too-fast way the show has altered its characters this season. We’re not in Bold and the Beautiful territory—no one has suddenly remembered that she’s actually a lesbian incest victim—but McNulty, Marlo, and Clay Davis have all become very different men, very fast. Sen. Davis, who has always projected omnicompetence in his sleazy dealings, is uncharacteristically panicky as the grand jury investigation tightens around him. Marlo, who’s terrifying because of his total lack of affect, cracked this week, revealing an unexpected anxiety about his money.

And Jimmy McNulty—well, what to say about Jimmy’s extreme makeover? In this episode, Jimmy embellishes his serial-killer fabrication, inventing—over Bunk’s fierce objections and with the help of a flask of Jameson’s—a murderer who targets homeless men and marks his victims with red ribbons. * Jimmy plants evidence, tampers with a corpse, and forges documents, drinking and screwing blondes in the few minutes he’s not inventing crimes. I’m whiplashed by Jimmy’s fall: We’ve always known that his sweet domesticity couldn’t last, but don’t you think this nose dive is too much, too quickly?

As for the serial-killer plot itself, I’m ambivalent. It seems a little far-fetched to imagine that Jimmy and ultimate good cop Lester could betray the job so easily. On the other hand, Simon proved in Season 3 that he could take an outlandish premise and make it enthralling. The drug-legalization zone of Hamsterdam, the great idea of Season 3, was as far-fetched as Jimmy’s fake serial killer, and Simon made it utterly gripping and persuasive. Maybe he will do it again this year.

What I loved most in this episode was its variations on the theme of escape, or rather, the impossibility of it. The scene of Marlo, fish out of water, trying to get his money at the Antilles bank reminded me of Season 4’s most powerful moment, when Bunny took the kids to a fancy downtown restaurant and they panicked. Then there was Omar’s brief fling with beach life at the end of the episode, another reminder that the game will keep sucking you back in. And there was Michael and Dukie’s glorious day out at the amusement park, which ends with Michael in trouble for leaving the corner. Some of the best scenes in TheSopranos were when the insular characters encountered the outside world—Vito hiding out in the New Hampshire B&B, Paulie and Chrisopher lost in the snowy pine barrens. The Wire too understands the power of claustrophobia, the terrible difficulty of leaving the familiar.

As for the newspaper subplot, the less said, the better. (I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, “do more with less” this season—I could afford to take the Sun buyout.)


Correction, Jan. 22, 2008: The article originally stated that McNulty relied on the help of Jim Beam. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)