TW: PTLotW, part two: On Suction
In season five, Marlo’s crew needs him more than he needs them. This imbalance is important, not only because it’s part of what makes him invulnerable to the detail’s gaze, but because it illustrates another way that season one and five have different narrative centers of gravity.
The drama of season one, after all, is D’Angelo and what Stringer Bell quickly realizes about D’s crew, the fact that “he may have a problem he doesn’t know about.” D’Angelo’s crew is the detail’s point of entry, the space they manage to create as they isolate each member and attempt to flip them (with varying levels of effectiveness and cooperation). Herc/Carver and Bodie achieve a kind of adversarial respect for each other which translates into communication; D’Angelo reveals that there is something there when they trick him into writing a letter; and Wallace will flip completely, (eventually) bringing D with him, sort of. But the point is this: Stringer Bell understands not only that he and Avon are wholly dependant on their dependants, but that micromanaging these structures of dependency is where the game is played. Stringer instructing D’Angelo on how to discipline his crew, for example, is less about strengthening the first line of defense than it is about addressing the weakest link of a chain that only needs one to break. And when Stringer and Avon are discussing who gets to take over Scar’s territory, the decision is importance less as a strategic consideration vis-à-vis Baltimore as a whole than as the question of how it impacts the internal dynamics of the crew: when they give the territory to Stinkum, taking him off the clock, both D’Angelo and Orlando are alienated, feeling he’s gotten what they deserve.
In other words, season one is about suction, the ways both clients and patron need each other and are vulnerable to each other. It’s a far more sophisticated way of articulating what David Simon has a tendency to simplify the shit out of; when speaking in interviews and so forth, he’ll talk about the effect of institutions on individuals (always negatively), but his show illustrates the much more supremely ambivalent ways this actually happens in real life. After all, Avon falls not because he is defeated by the detail, but because, in failing to take care of his people, he creates the conditions for their being flipped away from him. D’Angelo flips, I think, less because he has a moral awakening, than because he recognizes that Wallace’s expendability mirrors his own. The lesson of the chessboard — that most pawns do not survive to become Queens — is not lost on him, and his decision to flip therefore hinges on the Barksdales’ failure to keep him more dependant on them than they are on him.