Monday, March 10, 2008

The Smartest Show on Television™ Comes to an End
Last night marked the end of The Wire. Most of you come here to see me talking about Lost, but regular readers know I am deeply in love with HBO's fascinating look at the Baltimore drug scene, and all of the levels of bureaucracy surrounding it. This show was groundbreaking in many ways.

And after watching the finale, I can tell you that this show is as close to perfect as a television series can be. Lost has had its missteps (Nikki and Paulo, parts of season 2, parts of season 3), Buffy and Angel each had a bad season, Alias had more than one... but The Wire is near-perfect from beginning to end. It never let me down, and refused to take the easy way out on any of the storylines. Unlike many viewers now, I've been watching this show right from the beginning, so the ending has been five years in the making for me.

And what an ending. My favourite character, Omar Little, died a few episodes ago, not in a hail of bullets, not by Marlo, not by the police, but by a freakin' kid. Randy, the young entrepreneur of season 4, shows up in one single scene this season, broken and disillusioned. His appearance is so fleeting, but it casts a shadow over the entire series. Randy had potential, a LOT of potential. He was smart, sweet, and loyal, and he knew right from wrong. When he went to the police with some information, Herc -- the sonofabitch to end sonofabitches -- kinda, you know, TOLD, and now Randy has the rep of a snitch. He's angry at the police, his innocence is gone, and he probably won't live to see his twenties.

Dukie was the real innocent of the show, however, and we see him again this season, joining up with an older man looking for scrap metal to take down to the scales. Michael was the one who actually turned to the corners by the end of season 4, and by the end of season 5, he's a full-fledged gangster. Marlo and his people ended up in jail, with the exception of Snoop (and when she was told to take out Michael, he was on to her, and took her out before she could do the deed, in one of the most strangely touching scenes of the year). McNulty fashioned a lie that got out of hand, and paid the price for it. Bubbles FINALLY stayed off the drugs, and watching him come to terms with who he is and who he used to be has been one of the highlights of the season.

The season had its share of amazing moments, and many of them came last week. Michael shoots Snoop, and then realizes he's a target, so he takes Bug and Dukie and goes to his aunt's to drop off Bug, and leaves Dukie with the scrap metal guy. As Dukie walked away with his dirty t-shirt and small backpack, paused for a moment in the alleyway, and then realized it's all he had and continued on to sit next to the bonfire, it was a sad, sad moment. I thought it was the last we were going to see him, until the finale, where his story took an even worse turn. He returns to school, patiently waiting outside to see Prez, and when his old teacher comes out, Prez takes one look at his matted hair and dirty clothes and knows he's on the streets. Dukie tells him he wants to get his GED and asks for some money, and Prez knows before he even gives it that Dukie's going to use that money for other things.

McNulty gets outed by Kima, and in the finale he's told exactly what he's going to do -- he'll keep his job until they can fire him quietly, but he won't be allowed to do any police work. McNulty does the right thing, and just "retires," along with Freamon. His wake at the pub was a nice moment, but it was a little odd that no one actually said, "Hey, why are you guys retiring?" When Kima showed up at the end to 'fess up, McNulty blinked once, and then said, "Well, if you thought you had to do it, then you had to do it." It was one of the very, very few insincere lines in the series, I thought. The brass all think McNulty was doing it for the money, but it was to bring down Marlo. In other words, he had to create a crime in order to do the police work that he was actually being paid to do. And Kima, knowing his intentions, ended what he was doing, almost brought down the department, and destroyed Jimmy's career. And all he has to say is, "Well, if you thought you had to..."? I just didn't buy it.

It was the only insincere moment in a 90-minute ending, though. Marlo is told that he needs to retire as well, but just like McNulty breathed police work, Marlo is a gangster. It's what he does, it's who he is, and upon his release, the first thing he does is go right back to the corner and just stand there, doing what he does best. But he's powerless to do anything, or he'll be brought down. So a new army is building, and they just need the $10 million to buy the corners from Marlo. They kill Cheese (thank cripes), they collect the money, and then Michael shows up just in time to take it off their hands, along with a little quip. And in that moment, it was clear: Michael is the new Omar. He's the perfect successor.

In fact,the end of the series -- handled beautifully with a montage of scenes to let you know what the future holds -- illustrated that the next generation is on its way, and things will pretty much continue on as they have been. That one cop whose name I always forget (he helps Freamon with the wire tap this season) goes to a judge the way McNulty used to do in the first season, trying to do an endrun around the department. The final, sad scene we see with Dukie is him shooting up in an alleyway, just like Bubbles used to do. Carcetti becomes the governor, and after we see the way he coldly covers up everything in this episode, we realize it's NOT a new day in Baltimore, as he'd suggested, just the same day, different head honcho. Marlo will be succeeded, the police will continue to try to bring down the corners, the higher levels of government will prevent that from happening, the media will continue to miss all the big stories, and nobody wins.

The only people who show us a modicum of hope in this show are the ones who go out on a limb and do things for themselves. Bubbles gets himself off the corners, and the scene of him walking upstairs to have dinner with his sister's family -- a seemingly innocuous moment, but HUGE if you know the show -- is a triumph of epic proportions for him. McNulty does the right thing and returns the kidnapped homeless man to Baltimore. Michael figures out a way to be on the corners but not being a henchman for the drug dealers.

The Wire is an extraordinary piece of television, and now that it's over, there's only one thing left for me to do: break out season 1 and start watching all over again.


Anonymous said...

I love the show, no doubt, but I would definitely put it up there as one of the most overrate shows of our time. A lot of people hail it as the best and/or smartest show on television, but for being either of those things, the seasons are fairly repetitive in terms of plot.

Though I am sad to see it go as it was a great show.

And to compare to LOST, I'll actually quote The Wire (bear in mind this really makes no sense since The Wire came out first)

"You come at the king, you best not miss."

Anonymous said...

My bad, I made a typo. I meant to say *one of the most overrated shows...*

Nikki Stafford said...

While I respect your opinion, I must humbly disagree. The plotlines of each season weren't repetitive -- the only repetitive thing was intentional, showing that this problem just keeps repeating in new generations, but I felt the 5 seasons provided the perfect slow build, and each season focused on a different aspect of the drug trade -- the corners; the docks; the government and kingpins; the schools; the media. It showed all aspects of a problem, and I think it was a masterpiece.

Jonathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...


Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet Brian, this show show told all sides of the story on the streets from every level, as mentioned by Nikki, and in some way, made you feel for the situation of all characters involved. I disagree that there were any repetitive issues in plot, and in fact respect Simon for the way he ended the series, by showing that there's really no point in continuing with the show since it would all become one large repetition, since life on the streets never changes. The Wire showed more elements of the real world that most TV shows do, which I loved.

I've seen a few TV shows in their entirety, but nothing has kept up my interest as much as this one did, and none of them have built on the characters in such a realistic way. Furthermore, the acting throughout the series was exceptional, though I doubt the Emmys or other awards shows will notice.