Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Wire Post (Spoilers Aplenty)

This will probably be my longest of posts, and I could stretch this into a series of many posts but in deference to Jason and Oz who haven't seen the whole series yet, I figured I'd keep it to one spoiler-tastic post, with a lot of my random thoughts on the series and put in blue so it stands out. And to reiterate, all of this below is SPOILER-filled.

Real Police

One of the biggest discussion points on the white hat side throughout the series is about the idea of "real police." Two archetypes who sit on the far ends of continuum of what is "real police" are Daniels and McNaulty. Daniels is about as close to by the book as you get in the series, and McNaulty, obviously, is not. Daniels is loyal to the chain above all else, but as his quick termination as the commish shows , he absolutely will not juke the stats and play the political game, even if it's what has to be done. He also has something of a naive belief about politics and the words of politicians. He doesn't realize that no matter who is in charge, things are going to stay pretty much the same.

McNaulty's loyalty throughout the series is simply to solving the case in front of him (whether it's actually his case or not is another story). In one of the short flashback vignettes shows that solving someone elses case is how he ended up in homicide to begin with. Only by season 4 does he have the common sense (which only lasts for that season) to bring it a case quietly without pissing off the whole chain above him. The middle distance, and possibly the most "real" of the real police to my mind is Carver. I would suggest that when Daniels gives him the promotion right before stepping down as commissioner, the implication is that some day 15-20 years in the future, Carver will be in charge of the Baltimore police. More than anyone else in the series, Carver seems to navigate through both the hierarchy above him and the street cops below (although he's certainly not perfect on either count). He clearly supports Bunny and the Hampsterdam initiative because he realizes that the current system isn't working. But when things swing back to street rips, he avoids the tarnish that ends Bunny's career and goes right back to arresting hoppers without missing a beat.

The Job

On the street side, the most compelling characters of the series, besides of course the lovable Omar, are Prop Joe and Stringer, whose actions suggest a broader truth in the series -- everyone in the show on every side is trying to do their job as best as possible. Sure, one side's is completely illegal, but that doesn't mean they don't try to do it well. The evolution of the wire taps and phone usage throughout the show emphasizes how the two groups do their damnedest to get the job done and keep evolving along the way. The Wire is so compelling because everyone in the series, even the ultra-evil Clay Davis, has a motivation and pursues it. You can argue the methods but not the dedication.


David Simon haaates Ikea. Not one but two detectives are shown over the course of the series piss drunk desperately assembling Ikea furniture. It's one of the best minor comedy moments of the series.

The Kids Get Screwed

Except for Namond, whose unlikely success seems to be a little fuck you to the school system from Simon and Burns, children pretty much have it worst in the show. The other three kids from season 4, especially poor Dukie, have terrible endings, but also in a broader sense, it's terrible to be a kid in Baltimore. Before he's even started his term as mayor, Carcetti has already decided to avoid the schools like a plague and go for issues that will get him the Governorship, even though he has to go begging to the Governor later on for school funding.

Elsewhere Cutty (perhaps the most genuinely good human being in the entire series) is assigned by the school to round up delinquents for just two days of the school year to get the schools funding, an indication of how bureaucracy has trumped the actual learing.
And there's poor young Boadie, who has been in the game since he was a kid, and bites it just for listening to McNulty. His life seems to show the course of how the system treats kids.

The Other Side of Drugs

Rather than simply saying "drugs are bad" the series shows Bubbles through the course of the show fighting through drug addiction, and although I think his plot loses a bit of steam in the final season, Steve Earle is one of the finest casting decisions of the series. He's someone who has fought plenty of his own demons in real life.

Is It Better Than West Wing?

In a word yes. I realize that it's not really fair given that West Wing was a network show and The Wire was HBO, but beyond the fun stuff you can only show on cable, The Wire is still simply the best fully contained but expansive form of storytelling ever put on television. No other show has shown all sides of the equation like the Wire. The casting, acting, writing, directing, and even the soundtracking has been spot on throughout. The West Wing shows one side very well, and even though Vidick gets a lot of time during the final campaign, the show is still mainly devoted to the democrats (not that I personally have any problem with that).


Ozkirbas said...

Spoiler warning much appreciated, hombre. Also, blue text is an interesting choice. Why go blue? (or is that explained?)

Jstone said...

yeah the blue is weird.

What's interesting about The Wire is how the whole thing is an epic tragedy in the style of the Greeks, but it's not overwhelming. A point of contrast is Rescue Me. I might spoil things so I guess if you care don't read the rest of this paragraph. Every season (except this one so far) and nearly every episode of Rescue Me ends with the most preposterous tragedy ever to befall a human being. Franco is addicted to pain meds, Tommy's wife steals his kids and runs away and then one of them gets killed by a drunk driver and then uncle Teddy murders the driver after Tommy picks himself up off the floor during a bender where he soaked himself in vodka and lit a zippo before deciding to go to AA. I mean there's a point in the show where a character is holding a baby over the side of a bridge and thinks "if I throw you in, I'll really be saving you from the shitty life you're going to have."
End spoiler.
It's god damn farcical in nature. The Wire is also extremely tragic, Max already pointed out a few things about youth in Baltimore, but it doesn't give the impression that life is somehow not worth living. That's not to say that David Simon leaves the audience with a sense of hope at the end, but really a sense of acceptance. This is life, its not good its not bad, it just is.

Matt Lindeboom said...

@JStone - I agree with you on the greek tragedy observation (it would be hard not to); but may I also put forward the wire's likeness to Shakespeare's tragedies. Given, Shakespeare stood on the shoulders of Greek giants, just as writer's today stand on Shakespeare's ruffled pads. Tragedy makes use of eternally borrowed themes. One trope of a tragedy is that nearly every main character perishes by the end. (See, Hamlet, MacBeth, etc etc). Think of Omar in the corner store, McNulty laid out in BCPD fashion on the pool table in Kavanagh's Irish Pub at the end of season five, Stringer in the bowels of his own construction project, figuratively and literally where his ending began.

@Max, fantastic post. I'm excited to read the rest.

Max Nova said...

The blue color was an experiment, to try to make it stand out so if you're skimming it's clear where this post starts and ends.

Anyway, I agree with Jstone's point excepting that I haven't seen Rescue Me. Everyone on the Wire is striving. People actually want to be Mayor, Commissioner, drug boss, star reporter, and although there are certainly characters whose ambition is more modest, the best characters in The Wire are mainly folks trying to get to the top, even though Baltimore is falling apart.

Ozkirbas said...

@ Max - Interesting. I like that idea. We should play with things like that more often

Jason Heat said...

I just finished the series, so I finally got to read this post.