Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Down to The Wire: The Final Act

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 7, 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, has finally begun. 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.

I forgot how depressing the S4 finale was. I remembered Randy getting stoned by his community and ending up in a group home, Michael getting in the Game for the first time, Bodie getting killed and Colvin’s program getting shut down. Alone, that should’ve been more than enough to ensure a miserable finale. But then I had forgotten about Herc getting fired, Duquan dropping out of school in favor of getting his own corner, Carcetti selling out the city’s education budget to keep his pride and his run at governor. I mean…dear lord.

Probably a good thing I watched it again recently, because otherwise there’s no way I would’ve been prepared an S5 premiere this bleak. Not positive about how I feel about the tone of the new season yet, but dear lord do things seem dire so far. I’m trying not to judge the season too harshly just on the premiere (and the second episode, which I caught on demand, but will refrain from discussing here), since if there’s one thing that became really clear watching all four seasons over again, it’s that these seasons take a long time to heat up–even S3 felt kind of tired for the first three or four episodes. That said, here’s how I break it down after one:

The Good:

  • Clark Johnson. I knew he was gonna be in this season, but I thought it might’ve just been a small, two or three-episode arc character or some such–didn’t realize he’d be one of the main characters in the Media plot (the unique focus to S5). The Homicide star is still as cool as they come (having even directed a bunch of episodes, including the series premiere, before), and his presence is certainly welcome as Gus Haynes, the seasoned vet editor at the Baltimore Sun. Have a feeling we’ll be getting plenty of good moments from him before season’s end.
  • Slimeball Carcetti. The evolution was markedly subtle over the course of the third season–I’m not sure I even really realized it the first time out–but Carcetti had decidedly transitioned from swashbuckling idealist to ccompromised careerist by the finale. At the beginning of S5, though, he’s in full-blown sleaze mode, worrying more about stats, rivals and public image than the concerns of his constituents. Even worse, his hair appears to have achieved a new plateau of slickness–it’s been somewhat disturbing since S3 & 4, but now it looks like I could bounce a golf ball off of it. Plus, he now says “resched” as an abbreviation for reschedule, as sure a sign of evil as there ever was.
  • Herc Goes to the Dark Side. Apparently there’s a code on The Wire about ugly, fat, bald white dudes sticking together, since now Herc has shacked up with Barksdale organization lawyer Maurice Levy. At this point I suppose it’s unsure if anyone realizes who Herc’s current employer is, or if he realizes just what sort of character he’s hitched his wagon to, but right now, it feels like the first (and most unnerving) real betrayal on the cop side in The Wire. Herc was never the brightest bulb in the toolshed, but at least he was generally well-meaning in his brutish stupidity. The storylines that could come out of this thing are BIG.
  • The Stanfield Organization. Yessir. By now, Marlo, Chris and Snoop have definitely proven themselves as formidable a Big Three as Avon, Stringer and Wee Bey were at the beginning of the series, and the fact that they’ve gone this far basically without tripping up at all (despite the 22 bodies discovered at the end of 4) is seriously impressive. And now they might be bringing in the Greeks/Russians/Eastern Europeans from last season–who knows the awesomeness that could result in.

The Bad:

  • Repetittion, Repetition, Repetition. The opening sequence feels especially redundant–not just a tired retread of past Cops-Fuck-With-Knuckeleheads mishigas, but an exact rip from an episode of Homicide. Maybe meant as an inside joke, but either way its a waste of a strong season opener. And then McNulty’s raging against the machine, wondering what it’s like to work in “a real police department,” Bubs’ claiming reform and his sister struggling to trust him again, yet another shutting down of the Major Crimes unit…it just feels so tired. And maybe that’s the point, and maybe that’ll become clearer as the season goes on, but right now it’s hard not to miss the kind fo freshness that came with other season premieres.
  • McNulty’s 360. I had mixed feelings about Jimmy going straight in the fourth season–settling down with Beadie Russell, quitting (or at least significantly cutting down on) his drinking, and quite Major Crimes in favor of humbly manning a patrol car. Though I liked seeing him happy for once, I did miss the old McNulty, fucking around and fucking up, the most loveable loser in all of Baltimore. Still, I don’t like seeing him back in full-on scoundrel mode at this point–his humanity was so hard earned, and seemed to make him so happy, that to just completely strip him of all of that in the off-season (implicitly as a result of his returning to Major Crimes at the end of 4) seems low and sort of lazy.
  • M.I.A. Namond, Randy, Prez, Omar, Cutty and Bunny. None but Omar even appear in the credits this season. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

The Questionable:

  • The Theme Song. I’m really not sure what to think about this one yet–my initial reaction is that Steve Earle’s version is the weakest one yet, but usually each new theme takes a bunch of episodes to really stick for me, and even the S4 one was revealed to not be without its charms after seeing it enough times. I at least appreciate how different Earle’s accoustic-folk guitar and drum machine version sounds from the other first four–I still get 3 and 4’s themes mixed in my head.
  • Journalism Stuff. Simon said that the fifth season would focus on the media, and so far, it looks like that means following a group of reporters at the Baltimore Sun, led by the aforementioned Johnson. Newspaper writing seems kind of small-game when compared to the behemoth institutions taken on by previous seasons, and I’m not sure if they can milk the same level of drama and social commenatry out of it. But I guess I might not have said that about the Docks at the beginning of S2, and that turned out pretty OK, so I guess we’ll see. Either way, it’ll probably bring up a lot of nasty memories of the last three-and-a-half years of college for me.
  • The Darkness. So yeah, Season Four ended pretty miserably, but at least some good came out of it–Namond escaped from following in his father’s footsteps, Cutty ended up healthy, popular and with a new girlfriend, the Major Crimes unit was in full swing, things were good with McNulty…there was some heavy shit for certain, but as with all season finales, there was at least enough good for there to be hope. So far, I’m not seeing much hope coming out of this season–it’s starting out even more forebodingly that was the HBO Death March of Season Six of The Sopranos. The show’s always been dark, but it’s never felt quite this cynical before. Here’s hoping the show gives us at least one or two reasons to keep hope alive.

4 Responses to “Down to The Wire: The Final Act”

  1. Jason L said

    Hey, a couple things:

    – After “Wire” goes belly-up, I’m gonna need to check out “Homicide”. From what I’ve read and what you’ve been sayin, it’s definitely worth discovering.
    – My biggest problem with the premiere was actually the cartoonish demonization of Carcetti. I think we all knew he was gonna fuck up at the end of season 4; it was inevitable that he would sink into the sludge that he once rallied against. But the way he’s just being a complete cock, making wrong decision after wrong decision and alienating his allies, doesn’t mesh well with his already-established characteristics. He’s still supposed to be a good guy, albeit one who compromised his city for his personal gain, not the king of the dicks.
    – You didn’t like the Bubbles scenes in this one? I thought they were among his strongest in a while, if only because I thought his season 4 arc — homocide? cyanide? attempted suicide! — was so unrealistic. We’ve seen Bubs wander the streets of Baltimore before, but now he’s CLEAN, and god, he’s even lonelier than before. Society is always gonna be the upstairs of his sister’s house, and Bubs is always gonna belong in the basement as a pariah. Heartbreaking stuff.
    – Shit, man, Cutty better make an appearance soon, I was pissed off that he’s nowhere to be found yet.
    – I wonder how many readers you’ve alienated by basically just talking about “The Wire” every day. Ah, who needs ’em?

  2. As somebody who was lucky enough to get some screeners of the first seven episodes, I say just be patient. You’re right on when you say all the seasons start out slow, but I think this one picks up more quickly than the others. The extreme bleakness dimmed my enthusiasm at first, but I’m six episodes into this season and just as sucked in as ever.

  3. As someone who has yet to watch a single episode yet, I love that Andrew’s been writing about it so much. I’d gladly read about it for another week.

  4. Erick said

    I think it’s a mistake to suggest that Carcetti refused the state bailout of the schools for purely personal/political reasons. Taking the money involved a big loss of control for the city in regard to the schools, and would have done a ton of damage to the teachers and other school professionals particularly in terms of their (already limited) ability to control their own curriculum/spending. Granted that’s part of Carcetti’s political equation, but there was a non-political argument against taking the money as well.

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