Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Wire Season 5 Preview
“The bigger the lie, the more they believe.”

So says Detective Bunk in the opening moments of the fifth season of HBO’s mindblowing series, The Wire, which begins on January 6. And in saying it, he sums up what this season is all about.

I’ve talked about The Wire on here many times before, and have been urging my readers to check it out because it is, without a doubt, the smartest show on television. And definitely one of the greatest shows ever made. I can say that without hyperbole, because I’m not the only one (every time Entertainment Weekly writes up an episode, they call it the best show EVER). To repeat myself, the first season was about the corners and the drug trade in West Baltimore, one of the most dangerous spots in North America, and how the police tried to put a wire tap into one of the drug towers to catch the goons, only to get caught up in bureaucratic red tape. Season 2 relocated to the docks, showing how the drugs get into the country and how, even when the cops are onto the importers, they can’t stop what’s happening. Season 3 moved back to the drug stuff, when a new honcho shows up, and it showed us what happens when the drug traffickers become educated, applying college-level economics to the trade, and making exponentially more sums of money. Season 4 was groundbreaking, and moved back a step to show how the kids who end up slinging the drugs on the corner are pretty much trapped before they’re 10 years old. By focusing on the lousy school system, and how the mayoral, senatorial, and gubernatorial levels are all failing these kids, we watch as bright young minds end up jaded, hardened, and broken. Season 5 takes everything we’ve learned to this point, and shows us that when a couple of people step forward to tell the biggest lies they can come up with, only then can the system appear to work. Sort of.

McNulty is back. He’s drinking again, and is the hateful sonofabitch that he was in the first couple of seasons (i.e. the way we like him). The crimes unit has been disbanded (again), Freamon is trying to get a wiretap going (again), the newly appointed mayor is finding his hands are tied (again) and those kids that we watched grow up last season are back. And what they’ve turned into ain’t pretty. Throughout season 4 we got to know them on a deep level, and watched them struggle against junkie parents, a school system that didn’t care about them, and one by one they began to show us there may be hope for the future. These kids always thought they were destined to end up on the streets, but when Prez, a former cop, shows up as a teacher and tries to show them there are other options, they begin to listen. But no matter how many options they think they might have, and how many streams of light fight their way through the dark clouds of their futures, something’s always there to tear them down. Maybe they need money to feed their younger siblings. Maybe they have parents stealing their school uniforms to sell on the streets for more junk. Maybe the cops have failed them by using them for information, and then letting it get out onto the streets that they’re snitches. One by one, we watch them fall, and now they’re back. (There’s one kid in particular that I became very attached to, and when he finally surfaces in the sixth episode as a very different person, I almost cried.)

Carcetti is the new mayor, and season 4 ended with him declaring it a “new day,” but as season 5 begins, we see it’s the same day, same “shiiiiiiiit,” as Clay Davis would put it. Davis has been exposed, but of course the detectives have yet to put together a tight case against him to make sure he goes down for what he’s been doing all these years.

Marlo is still running the show, after Omar (one of my all-time favourite TV characters) stole a ton of money from him and took off at the end of season 4. (Omar is the Robin Hood of the series – he steals from the drug dealers, and gives to himself.) But when Marlo messes with someone Omar trusted, the man with the giant facial scar returns, and what a return it is.

Murders continue to happen throughout the city. Chris and Snoop’s trail of blood, lye, and nails from the previous season that left dozens of dead bodies in the boarded-up houses, has yet to be solved. The cops are working overtime and all they have to show for it are slips of paper that say they’ve been working the overtime. The mayor’s office is promising them the money, the lieutenants are telling them to continue working and they’ll see the money, and the cops are trying to turn them in at the bars for 50 cents on the dollar. But even the bartenders know those slips of paper are worthless. Meanwhile, Freamon knows he was this close to nabbing Marlo, but his crimes unit has been disbanded. The cops’ hands are tied, and the people have no idea that these murders are happening.

So… McNulty has a plan. He’s going to create a serial killer. He begins to put a few cases together, throws in some fake evidence that links the cases together, and voila – there’s a serial killer stalking the homeless.

We’ve seen how the drug business is affected – for better or worse – by the police, by the mayor’s office, by the schools, by the longshoremen, and by the higher-ups in government, but this season we’re introduced to the level that we, as civilians, are most used to: the newspapers. The Baltimore Sun comes in as a major character (Wire creator David Simon is a former Sun reporter ). My husband is a newspaper reporter, and was working at one of the national newspapers here at the height of the hirings (of junior, cheap reporters) and firings (of the seasoned, contact-heavy, senior, more expensive reporters). He says he's never seen a show portray the newspaper business so accurately. There are moments where someone says something in this newsroom and he can name the reporter who said it in his.

Augustus is the editor in the city section, reporting on crimes that are never solved, and watching as day after day his city seems to be sinking into a mire of hellishness that is going nowhere. Circulation numbers are down, and the papers are all being run by white, upper-class publishers who want sensational news on the front, and want to bury the real stories of the streets that we've been watching for the first four seasons. When a triple-homicide happens in the slums, the story is buried. When a white woman is mugged in the parking lot of a middle-class area grocery store, it makes headlines. Templeton, a junior reporter, comes in during cutbacks (one of the best examples of the current state of newspapering is when Templeton doesn't have a clue who anyone is, and the senior reporter who's just been sacked calls in to city hall and sweet-talks his way into the real story, since he's the guy with all the contacts) and when the stories run dry and Templeton has no idea what he’s doing when asked to do the “man on the street” portion of the features, decides he’s going to Stephen Glass his way to the top.

Unwittingly, he plays into McNulty’s plan, and the result is a brilliant glimpse at how the various levels of officialdom are useless to solve a REAL case, but when a phony one comes their way – and the media are raising the fake case’s profile to create a public outcry – all levels band together to form a crime unit with unlimited amounts of cash to bring in the serial killer. No one seems to care whether or not the guy exists anymore. It's all about the story.

The first half of the season is genius, and if you adore this show as much as I do, I can guarantee you there’s been no decline in the quality of writing, acting, or direction. For four years we’ve watched the kids get roped into the drug trade, the drug dealers warring against each other, the detectives trying to bring down the kingpins while only being able to put away the occasional dealer, the mayor trapped between people who want change and a corrupt government that wants to maintain the status quo for their own greedy means. Now it looks like things might change.

But as with every season, we’re always shown the glimmer of hope, and in the end it all comes back around, and begins again.

Will Marlo finally get caught? Will Snoop and Chris have to pay for everything they did? Will Duquie manage to escape this life? Will Omar find his revenge? Will McNulty get caught?

And most of all, who will be the new drug kingpin who will be the target of the next generation of wiretapping?

I’ve said it before, but forgive my broken recordness – buy or rent the first 4 seasons of this show, and tune in to season 5. If you’re not watching The Wire, you’re missing out on the best example of what television should be. I’ve bitched before about the season finale of Heroes, and Tim Kring shot back that we were asking for too much, and that television has its limits. He should have been watching The Wire, because if he had, he’d see that the writing, acting, and directing on this series would make movie producers jealous. This is the finest storytelling around.

For a preview of the season and some previews of how they'll be handling the journalism angle, go here and click on "The Wire: The Last Word" for a half-hour documentary.

In Canada, The Wire airs Sundays at 8 p.m. PT on Movie Central and 9 p.m. ET on The Movie Network, beginning January 6th. The Wire airs on HBO in the U.S.

1 comment:

filipe c said...

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