Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Wire, RIP

I have not had much to say about The Wire's finale, at least in part because I needed some time to digest it (and to mourn just a little bit) and in part because my friends and I, especially the Thunderstick, have been writing back and forth about it a lot. Alow what follows to be episodic and suggestive. I'd be happy to continue the discussion in the comments if any of my readers are fans of the show.

My first impression is to step back from the final episode, in which we always place far too much freight any time a show comes to an end, to look at the series in its entirety. Whenever I have said that The Wire is the greatest show in human history, almost inarguably the greatest drama at the least, I imagine many of you simply assumed that was dcat hyperbole. It was not. The Wire operated on such a higher, richer, deeper plane than any other show that has ever been on television. When you put together the best writing, the best acting, and the best directing over five taut, interconnected seasons, you have the recipe for greatness.

The Wire is not for everyone. You have to watch from the outset and you have to give each season three or four episodes before the picture begins to become clear. But if you do that the payoff is greater than any television experience you will ever have. Buy, beg, borrow, rent, or steal season one.

I would also argue that from the midway point of season three through the finale of season four The Wire was at its best. I really loved this season, and was more willing to go along with two plotlines -- the exploration of the media and especially the Baltimore Sun and the role that the homeless killings played. I know that many felt that the Sun plot in particular did not work. I disagree, but I can see the argument. And I would agree inasmuch as that plotline did not feel as seamless as some of the others have in the past. And I think the reason for this is that David Simon and his cadre of writers were able to take critical distance from everything else in the show, whether the terraces and corners or the police or the docks or the politicians. But because of Simon's experiences with newspapers, and his profound disappointment with The Sun, he could never quite step back from that element of the show. But my argument to this, and it incorporates the homeless killings as well, was that in the end Simon's desire was to create a seamless show that depicted a holistic Baltimore, or as close to it as he could in the time he was allotted. And part of this holistic world had to include the role of the media, both as that media effects the outside world, but also its dysfunctional inner-workings.

So, what about that last episode? First off, I'd recommend that you go read the incomparable Alan Sepinwall's article on the final episode. Sepinwall is my favorite television critic and has been a huge fan of the show. And while you're at it, read Alessandra Stanley's summation in The New York Times. The Thunderstick and I disagree on my conclusion to some extent, but I believed before Sunday that the conclusion would ultimately conclude by reaffirming the mantra of the corners: The Game is the Game. Thunderstick does not think this was the final message, but I do. Not just the game on the corners, but the game in the offices of politicians and the corridors of the police administration and the cubicled rooms of the Sun and the alleys and bridges of the homeless -- the game is the game, and the game goes on. Thunderstick argues that he saw the possibility of change given the right people doing the right things, but for me it is clear that the odds are so long, the system so twisted, that to make the changes would require a systemic overhaul that the five seasons of the show plainly reveal to be impossible. The game is the game, and the game goes on.

As for specifics, you can find that sort of stuff with any Google search. You grow so deeply involved with the characters on a show like The Wire that love them or hate them (or, as is appropriate for the show, feel a whole range of emotions about each person), the investment is real. I was absolutely heartbroken -- I still am -- about what happened to Dukie, just as I was achingly happy for the small victory we see Bubbles earn in the final montage that managed to capture perfectly the fate of most of the show's characters, and by extension of the fate of Baltimore (and presumably inner-city America in general, though the show is arguably the most place-specific in television history).

There is talk of a movie or miniseries or even another season sometime down the road. I'd be thrilled if the principles signed on and if David Simon had the same mastery over the totality of the show. But for now I am taking some time to mourn and to remember before, sometime not so long from now, putting the first disc of season One in my dvd player and becoming involved in the heartbreaking, exasperating, devastating world of Bodymore, Murderland. The Game is the Game.


Roger said...

I literally just finished the episode, so I too need some time to digest it, but you asked for comments..

I agree with you, we're left with a message that the game is the game, and that's all that's there. Cheese made it explicit, before his point was so brutally emphasised.

There is some hope, but only that the system can be worked against sometimes, not changed. We saw some resolution for some of the characters who fought the game, but it is only tentative. I was struck with how the story came full circle, most depressingly with Dukie filling Bubbles' shoes, and there's the clear signal that anything that seems settled now is only about to get stirred up again. Off our screens, though, unfortunately.

On the Sun storyline, it did feel discontinuous, but because it should have been a feature of earlier series, not because it didn't belong.

I may have some more carefully expressed thoughts over at Dunce..

dcat said...

RoJo --
Good points -- I got home today and looked to see if Amiable Dunce had covered The Wire yet, but alas, no luck.

Rumors abound (which Simon and others have not dispelled) of a movie, a miniseries, or even another seaosn down the road. Many times Simon has asserted that he feels that the show has said all that it wants to say, but that sounds a lot like making a virtue of necessity to me.