Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Time of the Season: S2 of The Wire (2003)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 4, 2007

“Business…always business…”

(Spoiler Alert)


People told me that The Wire got even better after the first season, but I couldn’t really believe it. Without the focus on D’Angelo, Avon and Stringer, as well as all the peripheral characters involved in that first season struggle, I just couldn’t see the show getting any better from there–especially not on the docks, which hasn’t been the setting for an epic piece of American entertainment in 53 years, as far as I can tell. Turns out I was right–season two isn’t better than season one. It’s just exactly as good. Pretty impressive stuff.

First of all, the focus on the docks isn’t all-encompassing like I feared–there’s still plenty of Stringer and Avon, even though D’Angelo tragically taps out halfway through the season in a death scene almost as heartbreaking as Wallace’s in the first season. Omar’s still around, even, though his presence is considerably more limited and less important to the central plot than in the first season. There’s also a great new drug kingpin in the form of the gigantic Proposition Joe, and over the course of the season, Bode’s seen stepping up to the plate as D’Angelo’s successor (even echoing specific advice D gave him in the first season), and even a (relatively) rare TV role from Method Man as Cheese, one of Joe’s runners.

More importantly, however, the dock stuff turned out to be pretty fascinating and emotionally involving in its own right. Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), the main target of the team’s investigation this time about (solely because he pissed off a police captain by outbidding him for a church window) achieves near tragic hero status in his character’s arc–clearly a good man, a more ethical and well-intentioned one than any of the dealers that were targets in the first season, but one who made a couple of judgement errors and ended up paying the ultimate price for them. Equally devestating is the story of his son Ziggy, the short, shrill troublemaker who you just know from the first time you see him is gonna start some shit with people out of his league and get fucked for it–which of course, is more or less what happens.

And it’s the same old same old with our boys in blue, pretty much. McNulty is still trying to patch up things with his wife and still trying to fuck with Capt. Rawls at every possible opportunity, usually failing at both and ending up getting shitfaced and sleeping with whoever’ll have him (McNulty’s whoreishness was a particular focus this season, making for a couple of hilarious, if sort of deplorable, sex scenes). Daniels is still struggling with his desire to do the job right and his wife’s desire for him to make a name for himself, as is Kima, whose girl is now pregnant, Herc and Carver still just want attention and action, and new girl Beatrice Russell, probably the most unambiguously nice character in the show, just wants to get home to her kids at night. Things with the police force are kept tight, exciting and personal, clearly one of the best ensembles of not-so-good good guys ever assembled for the big or small screen.

All this said, there were a couple things this season that worried me somewhat. One was the increased use of montage sequences–an effective narrative tool, sure, especially for an action-based show, but one that I thought a show like The Wire was above resorting to, and one which undercuts the no-frills grittiness of the rest of the series. Similarly, new character Brother Mouzone–the enlightened, Nation of Islam member that is nonetheless the second most feared muscleman in Baltimore (Omar is still #1, as far as I can tell)–is a highly memorable and entertaining character, but one that feels distinctly like a creation of TV, a cheap thrill for a show as normally restrained as The Wire. I’d hate to see them go much further with this in later episodes.

Besides that, though, the show’s still all good, and I can’t wait to dive into season three. Got a whole new theme song and credit sequence to look forward to, too–though in that respect, I don’t think they’ll ever top the first season. Certainly not with Tom fucking Waits singing, anyway.

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