Saturday April 01, 2023
Lance Reddick (1962-2023)
The first time I watched all five seasons of “The Wire,” I tended to root for the rebellious cops like Jimmy McNulty and Lester Freamon. Particularly Lester: the intellectual as natural police. I liked the guys taking on the system even though they'd get punished for it. I was young. Well, 46.
The second time I watched all five seasons of “The Wire,” I had, in the interim, become a manager, and man did I identify with Lt. Cedric Daniels, played by Lance Reddick, the officer trapped between those fomenting for change from below and the powerful, calcified (and often corrupt) entities above. The first time through, to be honest, I was a little annoyed with Daniels. Did he care enough? Why wasn't he doing more? Didn't he know who the heroes were? Second time through, I immediately recognized what an awful position he was put in—constantly. How the demands for change made sense but why they were ignored. The people below were interested in quality and the people above were interested in quantify—the numbers game. How you tried to protect your little corner of the world; how you tried to protect your people and yourself. How it usually didn't work out and you wound up in the pawn shop unit.
This is from Jonathan Abrams' oral history of “The Wire.” It's Reddick on an early meeting with creator David Simon:
I remember him saying organizations can't be reformed, but people can. I remember being struck by it when he said it, because I knew that I had never thought of it that way, and I knew that there was something profound in the insight. Then, over time, particularly when I watched the show, I realized how we see both on the criminal side and on the police side, you see people struggling to live up to the codes of the institutions that they're a part of and seeing how it chips away at their humanity.
Reddick initially read for Bunk Moreland (three times) and then for Bubbles (he'd recently played addicts on other shows). Once he got the Lt. Daniels role, he spent a day with a cop, a narcotics lieutenant who was getting his MBA at night school at Johns Hopkins, and who told a story about busting a dirty cop that stayed with Reddick. The dirty cop lunged for a drawer, possibly a gun, and Reddick's cop thought: Please go for it. Because I'd love to blow your head away. The story made Reddick realize “that level of savagery and ferocity that you have to be able to call up in an instant and be able to tame and put away in an instant.” You'd see that ferocity flash in Daniels' eyes from time to time. But more, there was just a burden on him, a silent burden. A fan has collected scenes of Daniels' “catchphrase,” where he's asked stupid or obvious questions, or questions he can't answer, and just walks away. It's fucking great.
I also remember that episode—I think it's third season—when we finally see Daniels out of uniform. I think he gets a late call some evening, and he's standing on the landing in just pajama bottoms, and ... holy crap he's cut. He looks like a prize fighter. Not an ounce of fat on him.
That's part of what makes Reddick's recent death, “from natural causes,” so bewildering. That guy died of natural causes? At 60? My age? It's almost an argument against being in shape. If it can happen to Lance Reddick...
I've written about how great “The Wire” is, and how during its run it was only nominated for two Emmys, both writing, never for show, and it never won anything. What I like? That never bothered Simon. If the Emmys were the calcified entity above him, he was the Daniels figure. And the McNulty figure fomenting from below? That was Reddick. “I'll always be angry about [the lack of Emmy recognition],” he said. “I'll be pissed off about it until the day I die.”