Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SHIT IS LIKE A WAR, AIN'T IT? EASY TO GET IN, HELL TO GET OUT: When a tv series wraps up five seasons as masterfully as The Wire does in "-30-" (Sepinwall, AVClub, THND), I almost feel compelled to let fly a hail of "OMG, that was awesome!" bullet points, or send you to Alan's post-finale interview with David Simon ("There are a lot of cheap victories in TV. When we had a victory, we really relished it. I think The Wire is affirming of people's basic humanity, and an argument that even though it may be futile to rebel, it's the only alternative if you want to salvage anything that remotely resembles human dignity") (or the AV Club's) and leave it at that. Thank you to everyone who compelled me (and the rest of us) to finally watch this series; it was so, so worth it.

But this is my last Wire recap, so I better work it. When we started this project over a year ago, I predicted:

Even if I had never read a word about The Wire before watching its pilot episode, "The Target," I'd probably recognize (I hope) that this is not a world in which it's likely that McNulty is going to decimate the Avon Barksdale drug ring, become a hero, and live happily ever after.
Well, the Barksdale drug ring did get decimated, only to be replaced by the Stanfield Organization, and now whatever cabal Slim Charles et al can hold together, for as long as he wears the crown. McNulty doesn't get to be a hero -- far from it -- but he does end up with a happier life, so long as he stays away from active policing. And there's always another McNulty behind him (Syndor).

And another Royce (Carcetti, Campbell), and another Burrell (Valchek), and another Omar (Michael), and another Bubbs (Dukie). Oh, Bubbs. After five seasons, when it looks at the start like this junkie/informant was just a side character to the police and the criminals at the start of the show, it turns out that his long, slow walk to the top of his sister's stairs is the most moving emotional journey of the show's five seasons.

(Almost as satisfying? RIP, Cheese.)

So what did we learn? The system rewards and perpetuates bad behavior -- leadership in politics, law enforcement, government, and the media all look to the wrong metrics for success, and always make compromises which impede the pursuit of the right outcomes. The stories which look best are the ones which get promoted, along with the assholes responsible. Still, individual victories are possible -- look at Bubbs, or Prez, or Namond and Cutty, or Carver, Bunk and Kima's steady, conscientious work -- though most reformers end up failing (Bunny, Stringer, and Carcetti -- if he ever believed what he once said), and the wrong people often end up with unhappy endings.

I'll probably do a string of posts in the next few days -- funniest scenes, favorite non-major characters (Donut! Norman!), rank-the-seasons, etc. Right now, I'm left with that scene with Fletcher and Bubbs, with Bubbs wondering what the point is of telling his story, the good and the bad, Sherrod and his sister? "What good is a story like that? ... What good do of that do to put that in the newspaper?", Bubbs asks. Fletcher responds, "People read about it, think about it, maybe see things different."

That's why David Simon told this story, and it's up to figure out what to do with what we've seen.


  1. Adam B.10:07 AM

    A very minor note: I had hoped Chris Partlow would have been smart enough to secure separate counsel before going down like that. Oh, well.

    So many memorable details of this episode -- Marlo's being ill-suited to the life Stringer sought, Rhonda's willingness to compromise to advance herself while sinking Daniels to defending the criminals he had sought to lock up, Herc's finally being invited to taste the brisket (well, he's mispachah now) ...

  2. Do you think Rhonda purposefully (or was aware of) "sunk" Cedric?

  3. Adam B.10:15 AM

    Some of the recaps seem more confident than others that Kennard's arrest is for killing Omar. I thought it was just for general hopper-ness. Thoughts?

  4. Adam B.10:16 AM

    Well, she made it clear to him that if he told the whole truth on the serial killer, both their careers were sunk; I guess it's a separate question as to whether she could have advanced to judge had he taken the Commissioner job, but she certainly had to keep her own mouth shut on the serial killer for that promotion.

  5. Marsha10:56 AM

    She knew what she was doing, but so did he. He tells Marla flat out that he can't take strong-arm Nereese - it would hurt someone he cares about. He willingly gives up his police career for her, knowing that even if he stays, he may do more harm than good by playing ball. Instead, she can do good, and he can find another way to do good. (He looks pretty darned happy in her courtroom.)

    Can we take her recusal to mean they got married? (Please?) I know she'd have to recuse herself either way, but the relationship at least seems to be public in that scene.

  6. Marsha11:10 AM

    As usual, I agree with almost everything Alan said. There's a great deal going on here, but much of the crying was in last week's episode, not this one. I took immense satisfaction in every single aspect of Bubbs' story this week (and this whole season, and all 5 seasons) and I wept for Dukie - that conversation with Prez was one of the most horrible things we've seen on this show. But otherwise, a great deal of this felt like little loose ends being tied up. Which is fine, and I'd certainly prefer them being tied up than not, but last week was much more powerful.

    I appreciate that Simon used multiple characters to show us that nothing changes, rather than forcing the individual characters to be stagnant. Bubbs' can end up at that table and Namond can find Bunny and Bunk and Kima can end up partners - but Dukie is using and Randy and Michael are lost and McNulty and Daniels aren't cops any more. The big picture stays the same, but there is hope for individual people. I appreciated that.

    This season wasn't even remotely my favorite, but it turned out much better than I thought it would. I think they'd have been better off with one or two more episodes to let some things breathe, but in all, a satisfying conclusion. (I miss having some closure on Cutty's entire story line.)

    Thanks to all for going on this journey together!

  7. I've waited for five seasons to say that on my first watching of the complete series, I was convinced that Bubbs wasn't going to make it through alive. I thought I had heard some spoiler about his death (though names were surely confused in my novice mind with other viewer favorites like Stringer and Omar), and I watched each episode of Season 5 with increasing dread that Bubbs' history as a homeless man would somehow cause him to fall victim in the fake serial killer plotline. Whew!

    Thank you, Wire creators, for teaching me so much about humanity and particularly about artistic excellence!

  8. Marsha11:12 AM

    I assumed it was for Omar. Omar's shadow looks large over many things in this episode - the legend that keeps growing, Michael becoming the new man outside the system, his role in all the events of this I think the only reason it is worth showing is because it's Omar's death he's charged with.

  9. Marsha11:13 AM

    I had the same thought - I really thought that Bubbs was going to die, that that would be his "redemption." So glad I was wrong.

  10. Marsha11:17 AM

    I forgot to mention something. This show reminds me (retroactively) of Friday Night Lights in that the cast of characters from Season 1 looks so different than in Season 5, and that this was accomplished so well in both shows. I was reminded of this when watching Marlo trying to fit in to Stringer's world last night, and realizing how long it has been since Stringer died. I intend this weekend to go back and watch the pilot of The Wire to see how far we've come. (I'm also very proud of myself that I now have all the names straight, I think. that took a long, long time, but I recognized everyone I was supposed to recognize last night, I think.)

    The time-passing point was also brought home by watching the Gag Reel extra on my DVDs last night - seeing Stringer, Avon, Dee, Brother Mouzone, Wallace and so many other old faces was really jarring.

  11. Adam B.11:39 AM

    "He was the black sheep, a permanent pariah. He asked no quarter of the bosses and none was given. He learned no lessons; he acknowledged no mistakes; he was as stubborn a Mick as ever stumbled out of the Northeast parish just to take up a patrolman's shield. He brooked no authority. He did what he wanted to do and he said what he wanted to say, and in the end he gave me the clearances. He was natural police. And I don't say that about many people, even when they're here on the felt. I don't say that often unless it happens to be true. Nat'ral po-lice. But Christ, what an asshole."

  12. Jordan11:50 AM

    Put the fucking song on!

  13. Marsha12:11 PM

    Hey, Adam, now that we're done, can you do a post with all the awesome post-Wire pop culture things we've avoided looking at until we're done? Here's two I saved in Pocket until today: and

  14. You know for all the talk that The Wire is about institutions, and it is, the two moments that hit me hardest in that closing montage were Dukie using and Bubbs walking up the stairs. It may be cheap staging to have him walking up into the light, but I don't care - it worked. So, in the end, as much as the story was about institutions, my emotional connection was way more to the individuals. And whether they came to good or bad ends, those were the outcomes I was invested in.

    On Twitter last night, Randy and I piggybacked on something Marsha said to compare The Wire and Breaking Bad. (I've seen all but the most current season of BB). To me, The Wire, despite showing the corruption of and the corrupting nature of institutions, is way more idealistic than Breaking Bad. Even the people you hate, with maybe the exception of Marlo and Namond's mother, you still find some reason to hope for their redemption. Breaking Bad has felt, to me, much more cynical, and therefore bleak.

    Also, Prez with a beard is hot. In kind of a log-splitting, junior congressman, fiery debater kind of way.

  15. I thought it was interesting after Cedric's conversation with his ex-wife that he found a way to help the careers of both the woman he used to love and the woman he loves now. What a dreamboat.

  16. There was something about Kenard's face that made me think the charge was more serious than a hopper charge.

  17. Marsha12:49 PM

    "Prez with a beard is hot. In kind of a log-splitting, junior congressman, fiery debater kind of way."

    I think you need a t-shirt that says this. Or a tattoo.

  18. My only regret is that once I started watching, I couldn't stop, and I haven't been in step with this discussion since the middle of Season One because I ate the series whole. It wasn't my first viewing, but it won't be my last.

  19. Watts1:03 PM

    I don't have that large a pain threshold. T-shirt it shall be. Or maybe satin jacket? (I really just want an excuse for a satin jacket.)

  20. Jenn.1:16 PM

    Amen to that. Big thanks to the blog for prodding my husband and me to watch, but we inhaled the Wire like we were McNulty armed with whiskey while tackling Ikea furniture

  21. For what it's worth, I've always thought that The Wire was about both: About how institutions fail and how the only real path to goodness is personal action (I almost wrote heroism, but I mean that in a very mundane, every-day way).

  22. My third time through the series (original run, rewatched when the full series DVD came out), really enjoyed following along with one episode a week. Just like re-reading a great novel.

    I also think this is the best series finale to a show that I watched all the way through. Certainly better than the Sopranos, Deadwood, etc.

  23. isaac_spaceman5:03 PM

    It is beyond sad to me that Omar died before he could ever babysit Marsha's children.

  24. Saray5:34 PM


    Except that there is, and I was feeling it. Especially for Bubbles. Like Janet, I was waiting for him to die at every single turn throughout this entire thing and I'm so relieved that he didn't. It was also really nice to see that Prez had turned into a GOOD teacher, the kind of teacher who gets his kids and knows how to handle them.

    And then they made Valcheck commissioner and I punched a wall. The end!

  25. Marsha8:26 PM

    If you're gonna get all metaphysical on me, Omar died before I even knew who Omar was, so I certainly wouldn't have let him babysit under those circumstances....

  26. Adam B.9:28 PM

    One thing I'd like to do: collect links to all the recaps into one post.

  27. God damn, it's been fun watching you guys talk about this show from the first time.