There are only two episodes left of the best written, most well-acted, realistic, and complex show in my lifetime and as The Wire is leaving us it is doing so with a bang.
David Simon, the author and former police reporter who created the Baltimore-based show, created a masterpiece that always got a lot more critical acclaim than it did viewers. Which I attribute to the fact that there are no real good or bad guys in the show and most of its characters whether they be street dealers, kingpins, cops, politicians, kids, or reporters are all painted in shades of grey.
The show also has always had a strong educational component to it for those who are paying attention. Lessons can be learned and windows are opened to nuances that many observers have not previously had access to. For those not interested in that there is still just an entertaining show to watch.
The Wire, in reality, was probably never a good fit for TV, even premium cable TV like HBO, and was more suited for independent film ( or even being written as an epic novel) so in retrospect it is amazing it made it five-seasons and was able to carve out a loyal niche audience.
In order to become the kind of ratings champ it needed to be to go longer it would have made the cops into saints, dealers into diabolical villains, and politicians either into martyrs of the faith or crooks. It would have also had to tell stories less nuanced and more quickly. And, lets face it, even with the finest cast of African-American actors in American TV history, for many the show is just too black.
As far as my thoughts on the final season of The Wire go I will say that there have been some things I have liked, and a few I have not liked, but that it is finishing with a huge bang and the last few episodes have been off the chain.
I have said all along that if Omar ( Michael K. Williams) does not get killed than The Wire is not real; because no on does that much robbing and killing and does not eventually get popped himself. Furthermore, I always found the character of Omar to be a little unrealistic. On the hunt for Marlo Stanfield this season and taking on his muscle after Marlow’s muscle killed his blinded uncle Omar once again dropped bodies left and right in Baltimore and struck fear into the hearts of corner boys and stash house squatters. Eventually though, Omar got what was coming to him, and I believe that how he got killed was very appropriate and real. Omar, the most feared man in Baltimore, was dropped with one shot in the head while buying a pack of Newport’s in a Korean deli by a young junior ( Kenard) on the corners of about 12 years of age. A little boy dropped the baddest stick-up man in Baltimore, and that was real, because a gun is a great equalizer, and some of the hardest have been dropped by some of the weakest with a gun. It also shows that some of the worst killers, who will kill for the helluva it, are the youngest.
The Four Boys:
In season four there were four 8th Grade boys introduced to the show who would make decision that would shape the rest of their lives (and as I have written before middle school is about where most people choose what they are going to be in general terms and can either be choose mediocrity, to do great things, or to be dead, in jail or destitute in a very short period of time).
Season five let us see how the decisions of season 5, or the breaks they received, dramatically changed all four in a short period of time. Michael Lee, maybe the strongest character in the 5th season become a stone-killer and dealer who was still responsible for his little brother and has to become a man while most American kids are still watching American Idol and fighting with their parents over hairstyles. I fully except Tristan Wilds, the actor who plays Michael, to develop into a film star in the future.
Dukie, the child of a dopefiend mother who was made fun of because he was always dirty was taken in by Michael and helped take care of his little brother. Other than being a baby-sitter he wasn’t tough enough for the streets, couldn’t shoot a gun, and didn’t make it very far in school, so after Michael gets hot and they can no longer be together he has to settle for living with a bunch of homeless heroin-addicts who sell junk for a living and like so many kids in America he jumps from troubled kid to hopeless for life in a couple of short years.
Randy, who grew-up in foster homes and was in a good home before his foster-mother died in an arson attack aimed at him, ends up in a boys home where he has to harden himself and is on his way to going to prison. Namond, the son of a drug-lieutenant for Barksdale, and the first corner boy of the crew, ends up by season 5 being a prized student and debater and former police Major Bunny Colvin.
Jimmy McNulty , the drunk Irish detective played by English actor Dominic West ( and I have known a few of them) comes back with a fury in season 5 as he manufacturers the homeless serial killings in order to get City Hall to free the money for the investigation of Marlo and his organization. I am waiting on the last episode, but it appears that the desperate measures of McNulty and his bending of the rules may have finally caught up with him and from the first season we have seen something with him that is all too common in cops; street smart guys too smart for their own good with out of control personal lives being killed by their careers.
Bunk also has an interesting season as he solves a significant murder and sees his dead high school classmate Omar laying dead in the store all the while battling with McNulty over his disagreement with the serial killings. Whether he has a big role or a small role Wendell Pierce the actor always brings his A game when playing Bunk and it would be a tragedy not to see him land greater roles.
Lester Freemon (played by the first rate actor Clarke Peters) is once again wise as an old-owl in chasing down the tap of the phones of Marlo and his crew and all of the actors who make up the department do a good job (especially the brass; Burrell, Rawls, Daniels, and Landsman along with greater roles for Greggs, Carver, and Sydnor).
The lesson The Wire shows is that the Baltimore Police Department is a lot like other departments in cities with high-crime rates and challenged tax-bases; they have more and more crime and less and less people and money to solve the crimes with and this leads to bureaucratic infighting and turf wars within the organization and political pressure form the outside.
In seasons three and four we saw a young idealistic Tommy Carcetti aiming to unseat the Mayor and head of the black political machine Clarence Royce. Season 5 saw him turn into just another politician looking for votes as, like Martin O’Malley in real life, used his short tenure as mayor just to get to the Maryland Governors Mansion and lost all his idealism in the process while he has good, Norman Wilson played by Reg E. Cathey. whisperering into his ear and evil in the form of Chief of Staff Michael Steintorf.
State Senator Clay Davis, the poster child for a corrupt black city politician mastering the shake-down, beats the corruption case put up against him and Isaiah Whitlock, Jr., the actor who plays him should win an Emmy for this performance ( on the witness stand theatrics alone).
Council President Nerese Campbell (played by the sister who a lot of brothers would like to get in hijab Marlyne Afflak) comes into her own this season as the alpha-black female going for the top job.
The Baltimore Sun:
The main point Simon is trying to get across with regards to The Sun is that the quality of American journalism and daily newspapers is in a state of serious decline in America due to corporate ownership and lower market-shares. Case in point is the lying and libelous Scott Templeton who furthers McNulty’s BS story about the serial killer. Like in the police department there is a lot of good acting by small characters in the news room (particularly I like the roles of characters Thomas Klebanow, Mike Fletcher, Roger Twigg, Tim Phelps, Alma Gutierrez and Jay Spry). However, the Baltimore Sun phase is stolen by the tremendous acting of City Editor Gus Haynes played by Clark Johnson.
Bubbles is the dopefiend who throughout The Wire has been different things from a salesman of socks and odd bits, a police informant, mentor to a young boy, but at the end of the day always on that stuff. After he accidentally OD’s his young protégé in season 4 Bubbles goes to rehab and gets clean and this season he struggles with staying sober and rebuilding his life.
He has to do this while living in the basement of his sister who lets him sleep in her basement but will not let him upstairs. For those of you who have lived with a dopefiend before, as I have had the unfortunate experience myself, you know that if you give them an inch they’ll steal everything in your house (and would steal the house if they could get it off the ground) and even after they get clean it takes a long time to rebuild trust because you have been burned so many times.
Like a lot of people I have known who have fallen to addiction, Bubbles is a good person at heart; but has to battle those demons, and in this season he is trying to come out of that with a win after having been KTFO so many times before.
Marlo and His Crew:
For those of you who know The Wire Marlo is the man in West Baltimore after the death of Stringer Bell and incarceration of Avon Barksdale. To enforce his rule Marlo uses his brutal enforcers Chris Partlow and Snoop Pearson. While Marlo is cool as a cucumber the whole season as he tries and move from a local kingpin to a drug lord thanks to what he leans from Prop Joe (who he promptly has killed) and rises fast and falls hard. Jamie Hector, the actor who plays Marlo, is another actor from this show I expect to have a bright future.
The Greeks and Russians also reemerge in this season as the heroin suppliers to Baltimore and this is something I don’t know about as I am not sure about that aspect of Baltimore; but, to what I know, that is not the source of heroin supply for most in America.
After the finale I am going to have my final thoughts on The Wire.