Sunday, January 2, 2011

Thinking about the Wire After Three Seasons

I am very, very late to The Wire.  But I just finished watching the third season on DVD and I have a few stray thoughts about a phenomenal season.

The show was just amazing, with all of the bits and pieces coming together.  So much so, that the discontinuity or two stand out.  Specifically, Avon, in this season, seems not nearly as smart, careful and paranoid as he was in the first season.  He gets hurt because he is in the car when they are trying to hit Marlo.  I guess prison changed him, but the Avon I remember from the first season was not so reckless. 

Having said that, I do like how Stringer and Avon clash in general on business philosophies, leading to frustration, distrust and betrayal. 

Second bit of frustration: Carver didn't seem to remember that much from his time with the unit.  We expect Herc to be a numbskull with no learning curve, but Carver never has the answers for Bunny.  Bunny has to educate Carver about what he expects, what Carver was supposed to be doing.  Carver does buy into Bunny's plans, and even supports it with some innovative thinking--taxing to take care of the kids, for instance.  But still, his police skills should have been improved by the time with Lester, McNulty, and Daniels.

The best part of the season--showing the consequences--all of them--of legalization.  What happens to the kids?  On the other hand, we see the benefits of concentrating all of the stuff in one spot--social services can be focused on the whole series of problems.  As Bunny gives a tour to the Councilman, he shows him both the good and the ugly.  It is both, and the viewer is left to consider whether Bunny's strategy make sense or not.  In terms of fighting Zombies, it does (Bunny's plan is not that far from those used in World War Z).  In terms of a drug war?  Well, it depends, I guess, on whether the gains were sustainable as the neighborhoods were certainly much better off.   Politically, it was unsustainable, but in real life, would the drug sales stay in the Hamsterdam's limits?  Would the dealers get along?  So very complicated, not all of them are seen here, but we get enough to foster more serious thinking about the drug war than all other TV has ever generated.

Alan Sepinwall raises 9/11 and Iraq in his summaries, and these are not reaches, especially when the season finale (imaged always as only the third of five chapters) is entitled Mission Accomplished.  Bunny clearly is thinking COIN rather than occupation. But he finds that the choices are not sustainable.  Hmmmn.

Of course, I enjoyed this season so much because there was so much politics.   Bureaucratic politics within the police department, city council politics, electioneering, and, of course, politics within and between the various criminal folks.  The mixed motives of Carcetti, as he sought to make a difference and to become Mayor, demonstrating that winning and doing may be at war with each other.  Mayor Royce, getting caught by his own desire to make something from Bunny's experiment, exposes himself to attack, again showing that doing good and winning are often, if not always, in opposition.  The most heartless person involved this game--Terry D'Agostino, the Democratic hack that encourages Carcetti to sell out his friend and tries to use her lust connection with Jimmy to get him to give up some info.  Very interesting, very, very interesting. 

All of the characters have shades.  Avon is likeable.  We don't to see Stringer cut down.  Bunk's lecturing Omar makes us remember that  Omar is a bad guy.  Rawls is revealed to have a second life at the gay bar, and we can also admire his keen intelligence when he is interrogating his subordinates.  Daniels is determined to pay off his wife for her loyalty even as it cuts against his new girlfriend, Ronnie, by standing  by her during campaign photo ops.  It pays in the end when his wife ends up on the Mayor's ticket, but he was doing it because it was the right thing to do.  And so on. 

This season had so many good bits from start to finish:
  • Robert's Rules early and then again;
  • The confusion over the dog/dawg that was killed early on;
  • Bubbles arguing with his buddy about snitching;
  • Kima feigning surprise when the VA cop refers to McNulty as an ass;
  • the confrontations and then alliance between Omar and Mouzone;
  • McNulty's ambivalence, acceptance and then rejection of being used by Terry the political operative, not willing to help her out when she is looking for information;
  • Selling pre-bugged phones to the bad guys, with Lester playing undercover with style;
  • Bernand, in the final episode, looking forward to prison to get away from Squeak;
  • The Comstat meetings with Rawls ripping each senior officer although Bunny holds his own---reminds me how glad I have tenure;
  • The final scene between Stringer and Avon--just wonderfully written and acted. 
  • I love how McNulty reacts when he sees Stringer's Russell's condo.  The man had style, which will be missed.  I love that the book McNulty pulls down is Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.  
  • The final interaction between Bunny and McNulty, with each noting that the other has cut more than a few corners, with both breaking the rules by throwing their beer cans on the roof with all of the others.  Great imagery.
I could go on.  The hard part will be to wait for my next package--season four.

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