Systems and Their Tragic Flaws

A friend and I have been backing and forth-ing about the current and final season of the best series ever produced for television.

Reams have already been written (some better than others), but I’ll add: Few novels come close to the storytelling skill, importance, and breadth of the Wire. I almost want to call it something new, the tele-novel, or something like that, but its size alone defies definition: a five-season-long yet relentlessly interwoven snapshot of a struggling American city at the turn of the century. Literary comparisons beckon but fail (Dickens? Too fanciful; Sinclair Lewis? Too polemical; Dashiell Hammet? Too complex. Franzen’s The 27th City? close, but still no. Richard Price and George Pelecanos? well, they help write the scripts …) and there’s little worth in comparing the Wire to any television, since only The Sopranos comes within two horse lengths.

I’m not a latecomer to this now-accepted critical raving, mind you, and I will go on the record here as having witnesses to my masochistic reading of Wire creator David Simon’s mindblowing book Homicide in the summer of 1992 or 93 (hazy times but for that book and a few others). Said witnesses will complain about my responsibility for their spinal injuries after I forced them to borrow my copy of the brick-sized Homicide and lug it around Hollywood-for-Ugly-People DC.

This season seems a bit limp, if I may raise the bar to my bar, but then the final two episodes should deliver, although surely on the Wire’s longstanding go-fuck-yourself terms. It will not wait for us. Already a pivotal, series-long character has met his end in a surprising, yet normal-for-Bodymore-random manner, a murder also haunting for its wordless evocation of the type of child-perpetrated violence thought impossible, but real, on American soil. Said evocation is always something the Wire has gracefully rendered, their few ‘messages’ never billboarded for the dumb armchair quarterback seasoned on Law&Order’s fast-food issue parabolas.

My favorite scene remains an opening sequence during season 3, in which episodes concerned a desperate precinct major’s attempt, in the face of Compstat, to legalize drugs for three block radius. Violators of this new policy are not only arrested but removed from the city. The sequence open wordlessly, a group of black teenagers in plastic cuffs, at night, sleeping in the back of a police van, traffic lights flashing by on the highway. The van stops and they stumble out of the back doors and into the company of two white cops, one scissoring cuffs apart, the other stating “we told you not to sell outside the zone.” The teens realize they’re in the forest. One kid says “how do we get home?” A cop answers, pointing up to Polaris: “See that? That’s north.”

The Wire has always been about systems (some say institutions, but I say it’s deeper) finding their tragic flaws, their extent to which they can go before they come up against that which they cannot resist and then which destroys them. The drug game and greed. The cop game and honesty. This season, it’s journalism and profit, and how even respectable newspaper management eventually lies down with shoddy, even plagiarized journalism in the search to please the ownership.

I also have a public prediction to make: HBO has made three ‘prequels’ of the Wire, and two of those characters have subsequently been knocked off. The third will off himself, of course, cop suicide being one subject I’m almost sure the Wire hasn’t touched upon yet. And he’s due.

Baltimore: It’s the type of city that’ll even make a sitting mayor shoot himself.


One thought on “Systems and Their Tragic Flaws

  1. OK, so I had to skim your post because I still haven’t watched last season or this one yet BUT I agree, best TV ever.I think it is Shakespearean. No question. Reminds me of all those Histories I read in college, but in a good way.I think your prequel idea is brilliant, and I predict that your credit bank will be robbed again, but this time it will be for the greater good.


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