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The Wire: A Look Back (Pt 3)

Posted on July 27, 2011 at 5:12 PM

The Wire: A Look Back (Pt 3)


As always, don't expect a holding back of reveals, twists and spoilers. To applaud and celebrate this show, we have to discuss those very thing that are identified with it and those moments you don't see coming are a major aspect. Due to Season Five being the last, expect some major points exposed as they wrap things up.

Season 4:

(In which we are introduced to a ton of new characters, go to school and realize there are layers of evil in the world)

I don’t know if there’s any season of The Wire that’s quite as brutally honest as Season Four. I guess when you start getting kids involved that just comes with the territory. You see them in a situation they were born into and probably won’t get out of (and, very likely, die before they get a chance). The don’t understand the world outside their neighborhood, the idea of different people and the world of street is the entirety of their existence. They are the next generation of lower class citizens, just as their parents were and their grandparents probably were too. Season Four shows tat this cycle has been going on for decades, and will go on for decades more.

Prez: way too white for this school.

This is Prez, aka Roland Pryzbylewski. I’ve not discussed Prez all that much, but he’s been in every season of the Wire and worked under Daniels for the Major Case Unit. He also the son in law of Major Valchek, who you probably remember from Season Two. For three seasons he showed promise, the guy is certainly bright, but he also fucked up a few times culminating in Season Three where he killed a plain-clothes officer. He just didn’t have that “edge” that McNulty, Bunk, Carver, Herc, Kima or Lester had.

So he looked to rethink his career and now is a teacher. Season Four traces his path from starting out to becoming a damn good teacher, but damn is there a learning curve. Prez is our vehicle to this world, and it is a harsh one. Prez is, more or less, our main focus this season so I’ll get to more of him in a minute and the kids he meets (making this cast pretty damn huge). Let’s see where the rest of our main characters are at:

McNulty is limited in Season Four, he now developing a further relationship with Beatrice Russell from Season 2. He’s also now clean and happy simply being a patrolman (Colvin from Season Three had a big impact on his decision, though indirectly). Carver is there with him in the western district, this season he’s rose to the rank of Sergeant and he too is pretty small in terms of screentime. I find it interesting that McNulty is so scaled back seeing as how he was the posterchild for most of the show. Sure, the cast is pretty much equal, but considering how the show starts, and how it ends, I wonder if something was happening behind the scenes that caused them to put Dominic West on the shelf.

My man Bunk is working Homicide. He starts some investigations that will tie into the work of the Major Case Unit, but otherwise his place here is pretty straightforward. Like so many characters in those, it’s the personality that you remember the most and “how” he progresses, not entirely what he does.

I stumbled across a website called Wire-Inspire. Go check it out. Also this one:

Cedric Daniels is putting together a new Major Case Unit with Kima and Lester heading it and Herc coming on a little later once they start looking deeper into their target, Marlo. Before that, Herc was working security on Mayor Royce’s detail until he walked in on the mayor getting a blowjob. That is one of about three major fuck ups Herc does this season, and by Season Five we’ll see where he’s kind of sunk to.

Move along, Herc. Nothing to see here.

The problem for the Unit is that with Avon Barksdale is in prison and D’Angelo Barksdale and Stringer Bell dead...they really have nothing else happening other than to hope some connection to the Barksdale Case (another dealer etc...) turns up and they can start investigating them. The reason why is the new kid on the block, Marlo Stanfield and his crew. Marlo, as I’ve indicated, is a smart motherfucker. He doesn’t use cell phones, even burners, and doesn’t make his crimes public. The Unit not only can’t track him, they barely know about the guy despite having taken over most of the western side of Baltimore. His two, cold-blooded and very vicious soldiers keep everything quiet:

Snoop and Chris, Marlo Stanfield's two main soldiers. Advice: if they ask you go check out vacant houses, say "no."

Chris Partlow and Snoop are vicious, but damn good at what they do. If Marlo doesn’t like someone, or someone says something they shouldn’t have, these two go out and quietly kill them, then hid their bodies in the vacant houses around the western district. They take someone for a walk, take them into the house, then kill them, then re-board up the house. Nobody’s burder was public or in the news, they simply disappeared.

Naturally, this starts rumors around the neighborhood and the kids there, and that takes us back to Prez (see how all this goes full circle?)

Season Four really structures itself around Prez’s learning about his 8th grade Homeroom children. Some he befriends, like Dukie, who is given that name half because his name is Duquan and the other half because he smells like a toilet. Prez takes Dukie under his wing, though, giving him a few lunches here and there, a new change of clothes he can hide at school (his mother, or whoever his guardian is, will still them to sell them for drugs) and opens the doors early so he can take a shower. Duquan is a bright kid, not as much a part of the streets as his friends Namond, Michael and Randy.

Season Four traces the path of all these street kids: from left is Duquan (Dukie), Randy, Michael and Namond at priso....I mean shcool.


All these kids have a pretty big character arc, but the short of all them is this: Michael is the leader, has a half-brother Bug, his mother a huge, huge drug addict and he is soon taken a shine to being a gangster under Marlo and Chris Partlow after his boxing gig with Cutty falls through (Yes, Cutty is still around, he’s awesome, and his gym as grown immensely). He goes from a kid to a flat-out killer. His friend Randy is a bit of a schemester, but Randy gets in a bit of abind when Chris Partlow approaches him, tells him to tell a local boy named Lex to visit him and Snoop in the playground. Lex dissapears shortly after. Randy soon becomes a pivotal person in the investigation of Marlo and the murders, though that won't come around until later because Herc, again, fucks it up royally by not bringing Michael to Bunk earlier.

Then you have Namond, probably my favorite character from this season. Namond is in Prez’s class. Namond’s mother wants him to start being a drug dealer like his father, WeeBay (who, I’m sorry, I haven’t really mentioned in these blogs, just so many characters). Namond gives it a shot, but his mother still don’t think it’s enough. Christ, she reminds me of D’Angelo’s mother, just disgusting. All this pressure and stress is what causes Namond to be one of the “bad kids” of his class, in partciular Prez’s class.

Prez is barely holding his class together. There’s arguing, fights, walk outs, a girl gets her face cut on his second or third day. It’s not pretty.

Welcome back, Mr. Colvin! (plese don't legalize drugs again)

So we take alook at our old friend Colvin. Colvin, now off the force after the craziness of Season Three, who is approached by a frined to start helping out with Social Services, in particular the idea of working with youth from the street, getting into their heads, seeing what makes them tick etc... It’s all under a Grant from the University of Maryland and Colvin, being from the district and knowing The Streets well, would be a good help in the research. His first good call was convincing Dr. Parenti, the head of this research, to look younger to get his info he’s looking for. Naturally ,the best place is the same Middle School Prez is struggling to teach at and one of the first, of about ten or so, students to be looked at is Namond.

The class created here is interesting. It’s both educational to us as an audience as we learn how these kids look at life and how others analyze them (Stoop Kids v. Corner Kids) and shows the human side of these “bad” children. Many of them know what they're talking about - it's who they are in real life. Once they start breaking down walls, Colvin soon takes a shine to Namond.

Even though the school seems a little less hectic with these select bad kids out of general population (yes, there's a story thread of how school is like a prison), and Prez especially making headway with his students (teaching them math through playing dice, chatting with them without being disrupted etc..) the “Special” class is taking some major work, but Colvin really tempers them and when he breakthrough with Namond, it’s a truly, satisfying moment. Sure, not all these kids are going to do that, not all can, and as the story moves on Colvin makes a deal with Namond’s mother to have Namond live with him, get off the streets, because he’s most likely going to get killed seeing as how he’s not made out like his father.

Since the fall of the Barksdale crew, Stanfield crew has quietly become the most powerful drug crew in Baltimore. They'll grow more into Season Five.

In similar fashion, Sgt. Carver takes Randy under his wing as well. Unfortunately Randy gets stuck in a home for boys. Carver is incredibly passionate about helping this kid, something we really haven’t seen happen, but his victory is bittersweet...the system won’t let the right thing happen and, thanks to everyone thinking Randy is a snitch on Chris Partlow, his life becomes that much harder once he’s around other kids his age 24/7. It’s pretty damn heartbreaking, Randy didn’t go the route of Michael and become a soldier, nor did he get the life he deserved the way Namond did. He’s in the middle.

The story of these boys is intertwined with the investigation as more is pullled back on Marlo's crew and their doings. Nobody is charged, but that's in the season to come. The big news is the discovery by Lester and Bunk of all the dead bodies Chris and Snoop have been putting into houses. This becomes the big story once the police start draggin them all out (hesitant at first, an interesting aside here is they know there's more bodies, but the commanding officers don't want to fuck up numbers and o more paperwork. More unsolved murders makes them look bad), City Hall and Tommy Carcetti promising to figure this out...and then we're kind of left to the resolution in Season Five. Much of the Marlo story here is just set up.

At the end of this story of schools and kids, Prez finds his calling. Oh, the schools are just as low-funded and in a broken system as the police, the show makes sure you realize that (and that the two combined makes places like West Baltimore exist), but he’s happy here because he feels he is contributing to something. Even though Dukie has moved on by mid-semester, he understands that he can only do good with the time given for him for all the kids, and that the next batch will be the same: try and make an impression, change what you can, then move on because the next group of kids will need help too.

The school system in the US is notoriously bad, if not outright broken. If you didn’t have money, what you see here is probably what you end up with. Teachers more concerned about getting through the day than teaching (surviving, like gaurds in a prison), old textbooks, bored and inactive classes teaching things that these kids don’t care about and, in conjunction with the police story and the City Hall story, a complete numbers game as kids are taught how to do well on a test over how to better their lives and incorporate what they learn into their daily world.

Do what you can because the system itself is so broken it can’t do it at all. Prez learns a hard lesson by the end of Season Four, but that means he can focus on doing what he can to help as well.

It’s just sad. Out of all the Seasons, Season Four is flat-out the most depressing and cynical. More than usual at least. It's a very uncompromising show to begin with, but throw kids into the mix of that as well you have something that's going to really weigh on you in just how honest it really is. Even with the few flashes of hope, such as Prez with Dukie or Colvin with Namond, it’s miniscule in comparison to the full scope of the education system in places like this. That’s our main story for this season. The drug world is moving on with Marlo, but that won’t come to a head until Season Five.

Carver is at a loss in trying to help one of the corner kids, Omar gets a big pay day and Lester and Bunk find a ton of dead bodies in vacant houses that the higher ups don't want you to know about.

In this season, we had a ton of big sub-plots going on during all this that I can't even tackle in depth, but here's a list of the major ones that paint this very dark portrait:

  • the Mayoral Race with Tommy Carcetti and the entire spectrum of City Hall and politics as he becomes mayor.
  • Senator Davis’s constant corruption plot,
  • Omar making an enemy out of Marlo through Prop Joe (Omar played again...damn) and also stealing a ton of cah and drugs from him, then fleeing Batlimore. Marlo wants his head.
  • The story of Commissioner Burrell and Dep Comm Rawls.
  • Kima starts working homicide as the Major Case Unit starts to break apart due to inaction (she’s damn good at it, it turns out),
  • Prop Joe being the next hit for Marlo to take on (especially now that Marlo is looking to make connections with our old friend, The Greek)
  •  Herc screwing up with the kid Randy who Bunk needed to speak to about the murders,also losing a camera on an illegal monitoring of Marlo in the first place.
  • Everything involving Bodie for the past four years, I actually feel bad because his character dies in this season. Bodie I've neglected because he's always just been around since Season One and one of many threads I've just not been able to tackle. He's a corner kid, playing the game, has some damn memorable moments throughout the seasons, nearly looks to flip for McNulty this season but ends up shot in a meaningless "message sending" killing. that’s just off the top of my head. There’s just so much in this season I can’t cover and ALL of it is so incredibly good. Really, though, a lot of it is set-up for Season Five, so we’ll cover it then. Just know that Marlo, Chris and Snoop are still out there, Marlo hates Omar, Prop Joe is getting left behind and the Unit is chasing after all of them.

I do want to briefly mention the story of Bubbles. Bubbles is a character that’s been through the entire series, but Season Four is really where he starts to turn into something more than just a caricature. He takes on in a homeless teenager, Sherrod, (again, the “children” theme of this Season is found everywhere) and tries to take him under his wing. Sherrod comes and goes, Bubbles tries to teach him how to live on the street but finds it difficult as they continue to have falling outs and a local thug constantly beats them and takes their money.

When Sherrod comes back again, they seem to be doing great. They go around the neighborhoods, find scraps to get money for and sell small wares from their shopping carts. Bubbles knows that Thug is going to come again (this is another thing Herc screwed up, I might add, as he didn’t help Bubbles at all) and Bubbles makes a plan: he’ll put cyanide in some heroin bottles, wait for the thug to rob him again and that will be that.

Well, you can guess what ended up happening. The vials are left unattended, Sherrod takes them and is found dead in the morning.

Bubbles finds his breaking point in Season Four. It's heart-wrenching, but it's the best thing that could have happened to him because he wsa near death to begin with.

Bubbles absolutely loses it and I can’t help but recall the time Ziggy lost in Season Two. He is absolutely an emotional wreck and consumed by grief. He begs the police to put him away, even attempting to kill himself in the interrogation room. In one of few good deeds he does through the series (and another character I haven’t even touched on and has been around since episode one), Sgt. Jay Landsman sympathizes with Bubbles and sends him to a mental hospital rather than just book him. This will change Bubbles for the better, as we’ll see in Season Five.


Season 5

(In which we finally wrap everything up, reflect, and realize that nothing was achieved)

As the tagline says: "read between the lines." That means more than just a tagline as it's referring to this season's focus on journalism and asking the audience to realize there's more here than just some crime fiction happening. The Wire has a lot more saying that you have to really look into.

In Season Five, everything you want to see happen happens, all the characters are shown and touched upon (even if briefly) and it ends EXACTLY how you want it to end. Season Five is shorter, a little more straightforward in comparison to the very complicated Season 4, but damn is it strong. Some things happen that you wish wouldn’t...but at the same time you have to kind of expect it.

With Carcetti now mayor, we discover that the Police Dept is on its last legs. It doesn’t have two nickels to scratch together, as they say, and they’re overworked, underpaid, and many units and divisions being broken apart, especially the Major Case Unit which hasn’t done squat in bringing down Marlo, even with the 20-odd dead bodies in vacant houses, and they’re soon broken apart too – Lester and Kima now put back into homicide. It seems once Daniels looked to a more administrative gig, there just wasn’t a foundation to keep it together. In fact, Daniels now looks to investigate Clay Davis, the corrupt senator that’s had his hands in everything for a few seasons now. Lester is put on that, and he helps to bring his ass down. Unfortunately, Davis (based on a real senator) is a smart man and uses his public image to get sympathy and manipulates everyone, even the grand jury, into getting off any charges. Radio, papers...he used it.

The depiction of the newsroom in Season Five is considered the most accurrate depiction of a newsroom at a paper in television and film history - taken directly from Simon's experiences as a journalist.

And that media is a main focus for this season. Season Two is docks, Season Three drugs and administration, Season Four schools and City Hall and Season Five the world of reporting, newspapers and politics blended with drug trafficking and gang violence. There’s also a slight nod to the homeless as well, the lowest of the low-class that are often overlooked. The themes here in our last Season are Manipulation, but also redemption as everyone seems to have their stories come to a very satisfying end.

One such story is McNulty, who, again, is our quasi-lead hero here coming back full-force after sidelined in the major plot of Season Four. He’s now back in Homicide, drinking, screwing women and all while still with Beatrice who knows she is losing him the same way he lost his previous wife. He’s self-destructive, especially this season. Due to the cutting of budgets, he finds a way to not only siphon funds from City Hall to the police department, but get the investigation of Marlo Stanfield back up and running. The trick: lie on the paperwork. Hell, if the police Commissioner and politicians can do it, why not the detectives, right?

McNulty, back in Homicide, is a very naughty boy this season, but you have to fall hard to rise back up.

Well...that and take a bunch of dead homeless people and set it up to make it look like a serial killer, get the papers involved, get Lester to help you out to set it up and then get City Hall forced to have to get this solved. There’s your money and despite Bunk shaking his head (and Kima, eventually, turning McNulty and Lester in) you have the money, the manpower and the equipment to take down Marlo Stanfield.

Marlo has been a busy boy. Chris and Snoop are still his muscle, though they aren’t putting people in vacant houses anymore and keeping it low-key, but he’s made connections with The Greek and his right hand man, Vondas to start getting direct supply. This puts him at the head of the co-op, everybody wants these drugs, and makes him the master of the domain once he takes out Prop Joe, who is betrayed by his nephew in exchange for a position in Marlo’s crew.

Vondas gives Marlo a cellphone...and that is the end of him and Marlo doesn't even know it yet. This one act is what will lead to the Unit bringing him down. Marlo never used one which is why Lester could never track him. Now he has one and the dominoes fall, even when Marlo is only sending pictures to other phones of a clock. It’s a code, and Lester and the team (once they get back up and running) figure it out.

Finally got your motherfucking man, Lester.

Sure, it took some fake paperwork, making accidental homeless deaths look like murders and putting man power on Marlo while lying to them it’s about the serial killer, but got the job done. Marlo and his crew (save for Snoop and Michael, who is now a solid soldier) are arrested. It’s too bad a lot of it won’t hold up in court as Marlo’s lawyer notes, but Marlo does make a deal to give up the organization...because Marlo now wants out. Like Stringer Bell, he has the money, especially hoping to sell his connection to the Greeks to the highest bidder, and is now looking to investigate it. Difference is Stringer was educated and a business man. Despite being smart, Marlo is as far from being in a room of board members and investors as a mouse in cage full of cats.

Chris is arrested for murder, but not for the housing victims. He’s arrested because Bunk has never forgot the investigation on him started in Season Four of a body found – the one moment Chris lost focus and didn’t take care of the body like he usually does. Snoop is killed by Michael because Marlo assumes Michael is the one that gave them up.

"How's my hair look?" - Michael was trained to be a cold blooded killer, and that's exactly what Marlo's crew made him which helped him avoid being killed by them.

Oh, and where’s Omar? Well, if you recall, he and Marlo have a bit of a feud after the stuff that went down in Season 4. Marlo, during Season 4, brutally tortures and murders (actually he has Chris and company doe it) Omar’s mentor Butchie. Omar returns to Baltimore and starts to look for revenge. He starts shooting, stealing, putting the word out there, taking a few people out. It all appears that Marlo and Omar are destined for a showdown.

Omar is never one to shy away from violence, but he turns the dial to eleven this season after the death of his mentor and Marlo looking to take him out. Prepare for a vendetta.

That doesn't happen, though, and that's good. A showdown would have been to "written" and convenient. Omar is gunned down in a convenience store by a kid he doesn't even know. It’s poetic, though. Omar, a man who lived by acts of violence and showed no fear is killed by a kid with a gun that showed no fear to prove he’s better than Omar. And when I say kid...I mean kid. He had to be eleven or so, he’ll probably grow up to be the next Omar (or the next Michael) – the Wire always showing the cycle that seems to never end. Omar was always going to die, and he was probably always going to die like this.

Speaking of “always going to,” Lester and McNulty’s stories couldn’t have ended any other way either as they’re kicked off the force due to their antics being discovered (though kept out of the papers, per City Hall’s instructions). A fond farewell for both with Lester being well old enough to retire and McNulty more or less writing his end in the very first season. You knew it would end like this for him, but it’s not done is some somber way. It’s a party: a fake funeral and a lot of booze as their local bar with the men and women from the Baltimore PD. What’s better is that he and Lester, as they are want to, are staggering outside the bar when Kima approaches. They forgive her, Lester goes in to buy her a drink while McNulty walks home to spend time with Beatrice. Along the way he stops and gives a homeless man a few spare dollars.

By the end of the last episode, we’ve seen (almost) everyone from the past many seasons, even if briefly. Nicky Sobotka is still stuck on the docks, Colvin is still parenting a very well-spoken Namond, Prez is still doing great as teacher, Dukie has unfortunately given in to a life of homelessness and drugs,  Cutty is still taking in kids to his gym, Randy is a hard-edged and mean thug still living in the boys boarding school, Chris now in prison for life, Marlo still not sure what he will do now, Valchek becomes the new Commissioner, Tommy Carcetti becomes governor with Rawls his new head of state police (Burrell pretty much gone by this point, his name is badly tainted), Clay Davis is still doing his corruption filled politicking after being acquitted, Michael is now the neighborhood stick up boy as Omar once was, The Greek and his men are still in control of smuggling in Baltimore, it seems everyone came back even if for a brief moment just to say goodbye to this series.

As for the main cast, Bunk and Kima are going to make a damn good homicide team, Herc is just a big an asshole as every working for a lawyer, Culver is rising the ranks (maybe even be commissioner one day) and Daniels looks for a new career path as an attorney as he's just too morally good for this business as his girlfriend, Rhonda Pearlman, now presides as a judge.

Omar whispers his threats to Michael to give to Marlo and Prop Joe prepares for a farewell.

That’s our main story, but not our main thematic story. The Wire’s Season Five is heralded not just for a great story of drugs and police manipulation, politics and numbers games, but also its depiction on journalism and how fragile that system, like every system, can really be. People like to pretend it’s not, as though it’s a bastion of credibility and we can all trust it, but it only takes one person to bring it all down. I won’t get into the story of the Baltimore Sun that much, though. It’s a lot that ties into McNulty’s serial killer and City Hall, but it’s damn compelling and really the through-line of Season Five’s themes of information and manipulation.

What I will go back into here is Bubbles. If you recall, last time Bubbles was near suicide after losing the kid he took in. This season we find him living with his sister, limited to only living in the basement, and finally clean. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than being homeless and on drugs. His arc really comes full circle as we not only see him clean, accepting the fact he lost his surrogate son (of sorts), but that he now looks to contribute to those in need – those that were in the position he once was and looking for those chances and guidance as well. He starts at a soup kitchen where he meets a reporter for the Sun, the next thing you know Bubbles has a whole article written about him.

That kind of puts in perspective. Bubbles is a character that’s always been around, but only until you really look back do you come to appreciate him. During the final few minutes of Season Five, where we montage everything and everyone, we see Bubbles finally coming upstairs and sitting at his sister’s dinner table. It’s beautiful.

Bubbles finally finds a place in society, you can't help but feel a little emotional over this seemingly small victory.

It’s a reflection, this season. That montage that shows Bubbles shows everybody and where they are now, what they’re ending up. It starts with McNulty on a bridge. He gets out of his car and stares off to an unseen horizon. The montage not only looks at the characters, but implements images of the city itself as though it’s from a documentary. The good. The bad. The very ugly faces that constitute our world. For every shot of kids in a park, there’s kids on the street. Shots of family at a dinner are spliced in with families in poverty. Kids at school learning, kids slinging drugs. Friends laughing, friends sad. Police investigating another murder. The wire only scratches the surface of the issues of our society just I've only scratched the surface of the show's brilliance.

Only five seasons, short seasons at that, and nary any major awards came it's way. The Wire became popular probably more after its run after word of mouth got around, reruns began and DVD became a convenient way to watch entire series (especially short lived series like this, which act more as a mini-series as a result). It was always heralded, though, from Season One but even that didn't' sink out until the internet started to get the word out even more. Now it's just assumed when you're talking about the greatest shows in television history, The Wire is probably pretty high on that list (especially if you're just talking about writing alone).

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McNulty and the show say farewell to you and to Baltimore.

It’s how it always was and how it will always be. And the more things change...the more they stay the same. That is The Wire: a seminal piece of fiction meets documentary that has few television programs, books and movies on its level. It is a five-season masterpiece, an finely-ground example of perfect creative control over style and narrative, full of insight into the elements that are often glossed over as the realism factor has never been matched by another show.

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