There’s never been a more nuanced dramatic portrayal of a major city’s systemic failings than “The Wire.” And yet, early on in the show, Simon cleverly allows the viewer to embrace the well-worn tropes of the cop show genre. So we’re seduced by surly, hard-drinking detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), who views Daniels as part and parcel of the corruption that restrains him from throwing a dent into the many-tentacled drug dealing operation run by Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris).
It’s only on a repeat viewing that you realize how shrewdly Daniels is managing both ends of the game from the start. He’s been dealt a rough hand with problem cops like McNulty, Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski and the over-the-hill duo of Augustus Polk and Patrick Mahon, but he weathers their screw-ups and manages to keep the Barksdale unit shielded from administrative interference. That is, until Detective Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) discovers the Barksdales have been funneling campaign contributions to numerous Baltimore politicians. Daniels knows this is bulls**t and calls it out as such (you’ve no doubt seen the meme), but the damage is done. His unit will forever be thwarted by the comfortably crooked players at the top of the food chain.
Over the next four seasons, Reddick gave the world a master class in how to eat crap without sacrificing your dignity.