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Down to The Wire: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Sobotka

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 3, 2008

Season Five of The Wire, the HBO drama that is almost inarguably the most compelling, innovative and exciting show on TV at the moment, begins at the end of this week. With that in mind, we here at IITS are devoting the rest of the week to the show–the characters, lines, scenes, episodes and themes that make up the patchwork of the show that broadened the perameters of what a TV drama could be capable of. Spoiler Alerts abound, so if you haven’t already, be sure to marathon the entire show first before reading.

Of The Wire‘s four seasons, there’s probably none whose merits are more hotly debated than that of Season Two–the season of the show that feels the most anomalous within the continuity of the four. The reasons for this are many, but mostly, it has to do with the docks–the setting for the majority of the season, which brings with it a whole new terminology, a whole new series of issues, and a spate of characters that we’ve never seen before on The Wire, and with but a couple of exceptions, we never see again afterwards. For this reason, some find the season the hardest to get into, but there also seems to be a growing number of people who label the season as one of their favorites, for the new and unique themes addressed and for the characters we never really hear from again. Personally, I’m not really sure in which camp I land–I’m currently in the middle of watching it again myself, so maybe I”ll report back.

One thing about Season Two that everyone can seem to agree on, though, is Ziggy Sobotka. Throughout the 50 episodes thusfar of The Wire, you meet all sorts of characters and character types–those stubborn (Rawls), arrogant (McNulty), cold-hearted (Stringer), stupid (Herc), corrupt (Royce), nagging (all but a handful of the recurring female characters) and even downright evil (Marlo). But there’s no one character on the show that draws even a fraction of the ire from viewers that Ziggy Sobotka does in his less than a single season’s worth of face time. Talk to someone immediately after they start Season Two, and I’d be twenty-dollars positive that one of their first three comments about the season is “That Ziggy character is a fucking idiot.”

The Wire, for the most part, is a show about tough guys–a show where even the female and gay male characters are dudes you wouldn’t want to mess with. And so while you might rather hang out with the cast of, say, The Office, if given the choice, the cast of The Wire–regardless of what side of the law on which they dwell–demands a sort of respect with its badassedness. So while they might not be morally accountable, at the very least they’s some cool motherfuckers. Ziggy, on the other hand, is not cool–as a matter of fact, he’s downright pathetic, the kind of character you’d cross the street to avoid, but less out of fear than sheer disgust.

We’ve all known a character like Ziggy at least one in our lives, though maybe not quite to this degree, and if we’re lucky, not too well. The kind of guy who’s constantly going too far, drinking too much, fucking around too much, talking too much shit and talking it too loudly. He looks mousy, he’s got a shrill voice, and he goes out of his way to piss off just about everyone he meets. He takes his dick out at the bar for no reason, he tells jokes at the expense of people far more dangerous than he is, and he somehow gets it into his head that he’s a bad enough dude to start dealing drugs and carrying around a gun. Every time you see his face your fists curl up a little bit, and every word out of his mouth makes your blood pressure rise a little further.

But what really seals the deal with Ziggy is the Duck. Ziggy did some seriously inflammatory shit before the duck, for certain–lighting a cigarette with a hundred dollar bill, putting his cock up as a screensaver on a feuding co-worker’s computer, loads of other stupid irritants like that. Still, it’s not until you witness his treatment of his pet duck, parading it around like a mascot and then feeding it liquor until it eventually, inevitably dies, that his character becomes truly despicable. From that point on, you’re just praying for his blood to be spilled.

And you’d probably think you wouldn’t have long to go in that regard. The moment you see Ziggy’s character for the first time, you know this guy is gonna end up dead–even if he was guesting on fucking According to Jim, soon enough he’d have pushed Belushi just a little too far, and the show would’ve had to have taken a turn for the dramatic. The fact that he was on The Wire, dealing with scores of unsavory types at countless different social stratas, made his character a ticking time bomb, seconds away at any point from tempting some character into shutting him up for good.

It might be my favorite thing about season two that Ziggy’s actually still standing at the end. He’s imprisoned, sure, likely for life, but somehow he’s still alive. His character is even given something akin to redemption–after overextending himself so much that he actually murders Double G, basically just for having insulted him, he finally collapses his tough-guy pose, immediately confessing to the murder, and doing it silently, for the first time in the whole season. A lesser show would have him get his comeuppance at the hand of one of his aggressors, punishing him for his sins and letting the audience vicariously experience the thrill of putting him in his place. But The Wire lets him suffer with the knowledge of his own actions, dooming him to a life of misery but at least giving him a sort of dignity in the process.

Did I hate Ziggy Sobotka for every second of his S2 screen-time, just like everyone else? Sure. Is he one of the show’s best characters, and one of the best examples of how the show builds and develops its characters like no other before it? Most definitely.

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17 Responses to “Down to The Wire: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Sobotka”

  1. Jason L said

    Ya know, to me Ziggy was always too pathetic of a character to get mad at. He’s an asshole, sure, but with all the shit he takes, the lack of nurturing from his father, and his cousin always, always doing better than him, it’s not hard to see why this screw-up starts lashing out and overcompensating. Season 2 is my favorite because it’s by far the most exciting (Frank Sobotka walking toward the Greek — and his death — and the end of the next-to-last episode was one of the biggest ‘oh shit!’ moment of the series), and it’s because these characters are so well-drawn and empathetic that it works so successfully. Ziggy may be the most fleshed-out minor character the show has ever offered. C’mon, don’t tell me you didn’t feel bad for Zig in that scene where he finally, honestly, talks to his father at a table in the jail (“Pop… when I seen what I did to that kid down at the store, it made me sick to my stomach). Dude is a walking Greek tragedy.

  2. Erick said

    Seconded – the “you’re his cousin” / “you’re his father” exchange really drives home so much of the dynamic from the season. And although he’s nominally free, I think the season’s events may ultimately weigh more heavily on Nick, who did more to deliberately set them in motion and wasn’t just acting out. And I think that’s why the season ends with Nick.

    I think part of the reason it might be easier to cite season two as a favorite is that it stands alone relatively easily, as you noted. Season three and four are deeply intertwined (and season one as well to a large extent, which is sort of the backburner plot in season two until it’s resolved in season three).

  3. jonathan said

    I gotta third this. Ziggy was a real shit, but I could only feel sympathy for him. He was way too much of a self-sabotaging fuck-up to genuinely hate.

  4. Cassie said

    I don’t know why everyone here thinks Ziggy is so pathetic or unlikeable – I think he’s very lovable and sympathetic. He’s a ‘Heathcliffe’ type character – notice how he’s not his father’s real ‘blood’ son, which is slipped in when he sees his father after his arrest. His mom is also revealed to be dependent on medication and not a real part of his life. He’s small and feels very trapped at his lack of masculine, physical strength which is the only currency that really matters in the world of stevedores he has grown up in. But it’s important that he takes beatings, and walks into fights without fear – he has courage and can take on his opponents. He compensates for his lack of size with wit, and he IS funny and appealing (as well as v. attractive in a unique way) but he doesn’t think anything through. The duck is a forerunner to show this – he is devastated when the duck dies, he hadn’t seen it coming when everyone else had. His lack of power and control is seen when he attacks Nick for no reason afterwards, being easily thrown off, but expressing how desperate he feels with that action. He will later kill two people in the heat of the moment, again without thinking through the consequences, but his immediate remorse and thoughtfulness about the fate of the boy he’s injured shows that he is a moral, but deeply troubled person. The fact that Ziggy isn’t like anyone else puts him out there on his own – this is added to by his lack of fully related family. But the adoration that Nick and Nick’s mother have for him, whatever he does, speaks volumes about his appeal.

  5. Flagstaff Scramm said

    I agree with all of the comments here. I don’t understand the hate for Ziggy at all, in my opinion Season 2 was the best season of The Wire and Ziggy is one of the greatest characters from the whole show. His story was tragic, touching and powerful. Maybe I resonate with him so much because I see some of myself in the character and how I could have turned out, had I not gone down a different path.

  6. Kristina said

    I agree with the other comments on here. I quite liked Ziggy. Yes he was annoying and stupid beyond compare, but the reason driving all of his actions was just his desire to fit in–something I think everyone can relate to. I’m kind of shocked at your analysis, to be honest, and have to ask who exactly have you been talking to about The Wire? Because everyone I know generally likes Ziggy. Maybe a few people are annoyed with his childish antics, but I’ve never heard of someone who hates him with such a passion until I read this article. And I have to say it: the duck? SERIOUSLY? One of your main problems with him was the fact that he accidentally killed a duck? Yes, obviously that was a bad thing, but that is kind of an insignificant detail in the scheme of things. I mean, it really just reinforced the fact that Ziggy is like a child. Afterall, you wouldn’t be disgusted with a five year old for forgetting to feed their fish, would you? His scene with Frank when he’s in jail really drives home why Ziggy is how he is. He’s clearly had little parental guidance thusfar in his life, and I believe he really just never learned how to act his age. Nick Sobatka was pretty much his authority figure in life, and though Nick’s a good guy, he’s no parental substitute by a long shot.

  7. warriorwoman73 said

    I agree with all of the above comments. Despite his incessant idiotic antics, I found Ziggy to be quite likable and in the end I felt nothing but sympathy for the guy. I am now in the process of re watching Season Two. Knowing this second time around how poor Ziggy is going to ends u, it is much harder watching him inadvertently (yet inevitably) self destruct. In fact, the scene where Cheese and his boys burn Ziggy’s Camaro “Princess” actually brought tears to my eyes when they showed his “Happiness is Being Ziggy” bumper frame melting. Ziggy WAS happy just “being Ziggy”, despite what others thought of him. He was basically just a clueless, misguided kid.

  8. warriorwoman73 said

    Edit for above: It should read “How poor Ziggy is going to end up.”

  9. I am genuinely pleased to glance at this website
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  10. Damon said

    Ziggy was a fuck up for sure, he never thought anything through and just seemed to have a huge desire to please everyone. About the duck scene, When Ziggy gets the duck into the bar everyone loves it, the next scene in the bar, all the workers are laughing and joking giving the duck booze, but the scene when Nick comes in and the duck is dead, the bar patrons (the workers) all blame Ziggy, but we know they were all joining in before, but once it went sour, it was all on Ziggy. Thats how I think Ziggy was shown, ever the joker and scapegoat. I liked him though, for all his stupid antics he didn’t seem to want to cause any real harm to anyone. His dad (Frank) just seemed like an extremely angry man, and its more than hinted Ziggy was beaten a lot. He also seemed to show real remorse for the things he did, which saves him a lot. He was just a kid (mentally) who was desperate to fit in and be liked. And the scene when the workers trick him into attack Maui (the giant dude), he is just the butt end of their jokes.

  11. ZiggyisWorthless said

    Ziggy is a worthless piece of shit and the writers intended him to be that way. Kristina commented and said you can’t blame ziggy for his actions like killing the duck because you wouldn’t blame a 5 yr old for not feeding a fish lol. WAKE UP Idiot. Ziggy is NOT a 5 yr old. He is in his 20s and he is a idiot that’s selfish and doesn’t think before he acts. He that had been your brother he shot in the store then I wonder if you would still like ziggy so much. He burns a 100 dollar bill in a bar full of guys that break their back working check to check. He always has shit handed to him. Nick got money back for his Camaro. Nick got money back from white mike for ripping off zig. Nick handles all the work and just hands zig a stack of cash for doing nothing and zig throws it out the Window. I mean I can go on and on. The wire shows how ziggy never takes responsibility for his actions and is always getting bailed out by his cousin nick. Then in the end it shows when he shoots those guys that he final has to man up and take responsibility for his actions and cannot get off so easy like he is use to. There is no one there to save him like before and he has to go to prison. It’s beautifully written. It proves you can go through life not giving a cap until one day when you have to man up and pay the piper. I mean who wouldn’t love a cousin like Nick that takes ALL the risk and all you have to do is sit back and collect money but yet that’s still not good enough for self fish ziggy. He’s a idiot and the actor played him well so well that you hate him. I know at school we discussed this everyone hates ziggy. Even Google searches show how many people hate ziggy. So Kristina commented about how she never seen anyone dislike him so much proves that there are real people out there that are clueless and probably never taken the time to research and they just have a closed mind thinking INSIDE the box. The wire is a well written show and one of the best shows. Season 2 was good but it was my least favorite and I researched and found I’m not alone for season 2 had lower ratings and a lot less viewers according to Nielson rating. Bottom line is if anyone really knew a character like ziggy they wouldn’t like him a and they would think he was a idiot for all the idiot things he doesn’t. To many based people out there though. They love ziggy but yet hate real world people that are exactly like ziggy or even better than him. So it amazes me and makes me laugh how hypocritical humans are. All in all its just a show and no need to get all but hurt over characters. He’s acting was a little off at times but definitely no worse than Aj soprano actor. Now that kid can’t act. Even the the writers said they wanted to write him out the show seasons ago. I mean must be a reason why his only acting job was the sopranos and nothing after that but drug arrests and theft arrest. Anyways I’m getting off the topic. Great shows and HBO has always delivered great series and the Emmy’s prove it. Anyone that comments back with hate please provide facts and not opinions.

    • Anonymous said

      lol

      I can’t imagine someone being so mad about everyone’s comments that they make a whole name dedicated to it.

      • Anon said

        Yeah – it’s like about ten years after the series and six years after the first post….Why so pissed off about a minor character in a TV series? The guy sure got is comeuppance. A skinny little guy like that in prison….The shot where you see the brawny guys close around him in the holding cell…Let it go people. (FYI, I was looking for a new series by these writers and that’s why I stumbled across this post.)

        Hey, I just thought of something. I would like to see a series where Ziggy is the main character – after he gets released from prison early or something because he snitches or they run out of cells or something. He’s been the victim of multiple gang-rapes, had to service a con as his bitch for protection, then decided to physically transform, been on and off the smack… I want to see what he turned into. Can you imagine the love/hate relationship from the viewers.

        HBO execs…Surely you’ll get good ratings for the first ep if a minor character can still piss people off so much.

  12. Frank Sobotka never beat Ziggy. He wasn’t home enough to discipline the boy.

  13. jonny said

    good post and though the title sounds good and catchy, i’m unaware of ziggy haven “risen” anywhere high enough to fall. (are u referring to his “rise” as a drug dealer, i.e., his continued state of being nick’s cousin while nick rose up the dealing ranks?)

    • Jameson said

      The title makes reference to a David Bowie’s album “the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust”.
      Ziggy Stardust was Bowie’s alter ego and I like to think Ziggy Sobotka had chosen his nickname because he was a fan.

  14. GBall said

    I loved Ziggy. After Frank and a couple of the kids from Season 4, Ziggy was one of my favorites. He’s a blithering idiot, yes. But you can’t help but root for him to get it together or step up and make things better for himself. He doesn’t but I still liked him and found myself being empathetic towards him often.

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