I DON'T WANT SOME AMORPHOUS SERIES DETAILING SOCIETY'S ILLS. IF YOU LEAVE EVERYTHING IN, SOON YOU'VE GOT NOTHING: Forgive me if "Unconfirmed Reports" (Sepinwall, AVClub) is the first episode of The Wire in a long time (ever?) that mostly didn't work for me.
First off, what did work? Bubbles' painful efforts at sobriety. Walon seems to be one of the few unambiguously good characters on the show, and what he knows is that the Steps matter, and cannot be taken lightly. And it was good to see Avon again, as well as St. Sen. Clay Davis feeling some pressure. Plus, as some commenters have noted, this isn't the first time we've seen Dee Dee, whose sharing opened the episode: in season 3's "Moral Midgetry," we see her fairly cleaned-up and buying an eight-ball in Hamsterdam; late in season 4, she's buying cigarettes from Old Face Andre's store and talking about her pimp. (Never would have noticed myself.)
But between alcoholic McNulty and reporter Scott, you've got ambitious people creating fictions that'll be more sellable to the powers that be than the messy, unpopular facts, in institutions trying to do more with less -- but if I wanted to see that movie, I'd find Shattered Glass on tv again. It just feels a bit been there, done that (and McNulty's stuff seems extreme even for him at his worst), and the Marlo/Chris/Snoop/Michael stuff feels like more of the same, with Michael in the D'Angelo role of questioning why things have to be the way they are.
The shades of grey are separating too cleanly into black and white, whether in the newsroom, Homicide, or City Hall ... it's been a long time since Carcetti did anything admirable, and the cost of his rejecting the state's money just keeps adding up.
Finally, my title quote. Things are just getting a bit too meta in Baltimore, and by the time you get to season 5 you shouldn't have to justify the series' existence. Harumph.