A brief diversion from poker to cover “The Wire”
First of all, let me get this one thing out of the way. The Wire is the best television show ever made. Not just good, the best. Some of you think that M.A.S.H. or The Sopranos or some other show is the best, but you are wrong. If you haven’t watched The Wire or you tried to catch a few shows two or three seasons in and you couldn’t make sense of it, you are excused for not knowing this. If you have watched them all and you don’t agree, you are simply wrong and are no longer permitted to vote on matters of taste. Also if you aren’t obsessed like me and haven’t seen everything but the season finale already (I watch the episodes as soon as they get loaded to pay per view), don’t keep reading. I’m sure I’ll give stuff away that you won’t see until Sunday.
Watching The Wire hurtle towards its grand finale and reflecting back on the conclusion of The Sopranos makes me much more confident in my appraisal. Remember all the capital D drama that they used when a main character got hit on that show? Compare the melodrama surrounding the hit on Christopher with the way Omar got killed on The Wire. As Clay Davis would say in his awesome rolling baritone, Sheeeee-it, there is no comparison. I say this as a huge fan of Tony and the gang — they aren’t close to what The Wire does week in and week out.
One of the most effective devices used by The Wire is demonstrating the parallels from one organization or character to another. In Season One, they showed us (to great effect) that the complex criminal enterprise of the Barksdale drug dealing crew was remarkably similar to the enterprise of the Police Department. This year, they have done the same with the newsroom. In years past they have shown the tragic failings of the political system, the educational system and trade unions. In every case, there are smart and likable people who usually start out with a goal to make things better, but the constraints of the system they operate within conspire to thwart those ambitions and serve to highlight the worst of their greed and ambitions. The idealistic Mayor becomes as much a part of the problem as his predecessor, the heroes are all flawed. The scenes where you watch Bubbles emerging from his tragic life interspersed with his young doppleganger Dukie starting down that same path are as powerful, tragic and moving as anything I’ve watched in my life.
I think this nuance of character is what makes the show so great. Detective McNulty is as close as we have to a hero in the story. He is the guy who most represents the struggles against the oppressive bureaucracy that is one of the main villains in the Wire (the most notable others being poverty, greed and ambition). He is the guy who goes outside the system and makes things happen. But he is also an enormous fuck-up. He’s a womanizer, a drunk and this season has concocted the most outrageous web of lies and nonsense that will probably lead to his own tragic end. The drug dealers themselves aren’t any one thing — they are a lot of things at once. Some are greedy and ruthless, but most are nuanced and complex, just like you and me. In one of the less subtle moments of the show, Dukie realized there was no alternative path for him — you make it within the game defined by the drug trade or you don’t have a place. This undoubtedly is overly simplistic, but they do a great job of showing that many of the drug gangs are the best and brightest kids in that environment — adaptive kids who learn the rules of the game and beat it.
I have my concerns with the new season. Some of the characters are a bit one dimensional. For instance, the editor Gus might as well have a halo. He is so much the perfect, saintly news guy that it seems a bit beneath the usual standard for the show. The fake serial killer plot is a bit contrived, but just like Hamsterdam I’m willing to overlook it because it is a plot device that drives the drama where it wants to go. Sure, it is probably a bit far-fetched, but damn if it doesn’t do a great job of exposing things and people for what they are. My mind was not made up on this season until Omar got got and the next to last episode just blew me away. It is TV for the thinking man. Where else will you see someone drop references to Euripides and use “Dickensian” ironically? I’m going to be so sad when it ends. With the conclusion of The Wire, The Sopranos and the untimely demise of Deadwood, I’m not sure what HBO has for me now.
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