Despite bringing in a case (of sorts) at the end of last season there is a fair bit of fallout for Baltimore's boys in blue at the beginning of season two. Lieutenant Daniels has been banished to the basement archives and McNulty is a fish out of water working with the harbour police. In fact the first few episodes show brilliantly how ill at ease he is. His barrel chest looks likely to topple him over the side of the boat and there's a repeating joke about his inability to tie any kind of knot. The action shifts for the most part away from the projects run by Avon Barksdale (who now languishes in jail with his nephew D'Angelo) and his crew and to the docks where stevedores and longshoremen ply their trade. In the modern age there is plenty of money to be made from those anonymous looking shipping containers but when one of them is found to contain the bodies of 14 eastern European women a new case begins.
Some slightly transparent plotting allows Daniels out of his underground exile with carte blanche to assemble his old detail (and the promise that if they bring in a case the team will become permanent - very handy for subsequent series) but once things get going it's just nice to have them all back together again. Only McNulty is left adrift and we see his private life following that familiar collision course from the first season. His drunken conversations with 'Bunk' are a particular highlight (and should come with subtitles of their own). We also get to meet Mrs McNulty for the first time as he tries to patch together his relationship.
At the centre of the case is the Sobotka family: Frank is a union official, knee-deep in corruption, his nephew Nick, short on hours at the docks, is doing what it takes to make money whilst also trying to keep Frank's son Ziggy from messing it all up. This series lacks some of the interest of the first. The dock workers can be difficult to care about at times because they are often shown to be just plain stupid. Higher up the ladder is 'The Greek' who with his constantly clicking worry beads is the enigmatic boss. The police work too doesn't get its hooks into you in the same way. Perhaps because of what they've learnt from the first case it all feels far more procedural rather than as if they're feeling their way through. But this is still a compelling series as we watch the personal lives of the team develop, that conflict between home and work putting strains on relationships.
Barksdale's crew continue to fascinate and it is Stringer Bell, played brilliantly by British actor Idris Elba, who exerts all the power whilst Avon does his time inside. His hands are on everything, and I mean everything, and I wonder how that might develop in season three. Could there be some possible conflict in the future? The thief Omar is the other really strong character, still stalking the streets looking to revenge the murder of his 'boy'. Underneath his chilling exterior there is that passion of a man wronged and he is given some of the more memorable utterances. The script continues to be wonderfully baffling at times and maybe suffers in places from much more obvious political point making but whilst it may not have been as impressive a series it still remains far more engaging, serious and worth watching than anything comparable from this side of the water.