These details are dated in the best sense of the word. Few ever understand their present until it becomes past, but The Wire’s brilliance was its understanding and articulation of contemporary life. The drama was an authentic mirror. What worked about The Wire was its very grounding in these years and in the geography of Baltimore.
The pager as throwback technology becomes the technology the street uses to avoid surveillance. Lester Freamon calls it “a discipline” on the part of Barksdale’s crew in episode 4. The discipline he is referring to is the work it takes to eschew being surveyed. As Paul Bond notes in his reflections of episode 5, this attention to detail and avoidance of phones and photography is why Avon Barksdale has been successful. At the same time the opening scene of episode five suggests a constant paranoia in Avon reminiscent of Harry Caul in Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Conversation. It’s interesting that the show exists in a moment right after 9/11 but before the explosion of social media—it would almost be hard to believe Barksdale’s ability to remain off the grid just a year or two later.
The opening scene of episode 5 brilliantly sets up all the themes of technology, surveillance, and paranoia in the opening scene of episode 5. It’s one of my favorites—and highlights a character that often doesn’t get enough love: Avon Barksdale.
I think the gorgeous patent pending schematic visual assignment Tom Woodward created last Spring would be an awesome take on this episode—in particular the technology of the pager. I was looking at the patent pending assignment examples done, and these two examples by Shane Freeman are awesome.
Woodward has a way with the assignments 😉