This article is based on watching The Wire on HBO On Demand, which means it will contain major spoilers for the episode that airs next Sunday. Be warned.

I never imagined that I would be touched by Snoop’s eventual death, but The Wire is just the sort of show that keeps surprising you from moment to moment. I wasn’t actually even sure that Snoop would die – it seemed so The Wire to leave this remorseless, androgynous killing machine as the last playa standing, a reminder that the world just keeps getting worse and is no longer a fit place for civilized criminals. But of course the show wasn’t done bringing us to the bottom – the real monster is that 8 year old who murdered the mythical Omar Little for no good reason. And it was no accident that Snoop was snuffed by young Michael, the next generation of killers. 

As it may be no accident that McNulty is brought down by Kima, who he brought up way back when the show was starting. Gus at the Baltimore Sun will almost certainly be destroyed by the fabricating reporter Scott, although I suspect the show will offer some ray of hope in the form of up and coming real reporter Alma.

It’s the bigger thematic elements that make The Wire so gripping and that elevate it above simple procedural. It’s been interesting to watch this season as the show seems to make meta commentary on itself and its place in the TV landscape – the whole fabricated serial killer storyline is meta, reminding us how the stories of ordinary people don’t get any attention (in city hall or on television) and that you have to have a serial killer running around to make anybody care. The divide was shown in particularly sharp detail last week when Kima and McNulty went to Quantico, where the empty suit FBI agent went on about how CSI uses his work on their show. This week it was Dookie watching Dexter on Showtime when Michael comes home in a panic after killing Snoop (last year they took a swipe at Deadwood, a show whose use of ‘cocksucker’ somehow came to be accepted in the media as a sign of its gritty realism… while nobody talked about The Wire, which was actually real).

While the themes and motifs are what get my big brain horny about this show, it’s really the human drama that makes it so fucking compelling. We’re at the penultimate episode of the show, and as is the way David Simon does it, all of the pieces are in place and it’s just about clearing off the board. Marlo’s in jail and McNulty’s about to get fucked. I’m not about to make guesses as to what happens – I’ve been trying to second guess these guys for years and I’m always wrong. What’s amazing about Simon and his fellow creators is that they don’t just sidestep the crime cliches, they sidestep their own. Just when you think you have them figured out, they take you down an unexpected alley. Is Bubbles’ story over, as it seems, and with a happy ending? God, I hope so, because there are few characters who deserve the simple dignity of staying clean as he does. But I’m not betting on it, because with an hour left, Simon et al have plenty of time to stick the knife in.

The one thing I can tell you about the ending of The Wire is that it won’t feel like an ending. It’ll feel like where the story stops being told, but we’ll know there are other stories. If Marlo goes down (and I think we really need to see him go down… although his anger in the jail cell in the latest episode actually sort of made me like him, finally), someone else will take over the corners. The schools won’t get better, and even if Carcetti throws McNulty to the wolves as a way of being a ‘law and order’ mayor (which is my theory – the bosses will want to sweep it under the rug but Carcetti, his eyes on the statehouse, will make a stink out of it. This is why crime isn’t reduced, he’ll say), there will still be murders and homeless on the streets. The paper will continue morphing into USA Today. And there still won’t be enough money to do decent police work.

Next week I’m going to try to write a critique of the full final season, once I’ve seen the last episode On Demand. In the meantime I’m going to enjoy the wait for the end of the one of the finest stories ever told about life in America.