Yesterday I watched No Country for Old Men, Rio Bravo (on the big screen with Jeremy), and then the finale of what is already quite obviously the most penetrating, engrossing, and quite possibly perfect show television has ever produced.
As I prepared to say goodbye, I found myself drawn in to Season One again. Partly because all the other seasons are currently on loan to friends who I’ve sucked into the show. And my mother and brother for that matter. I thought it would be important because – like all good authors know to do – the show was going to close in ways vaguely similar to how it opened.
I’ll let Devin do most of the heavy lifting when he posts his thoughts later this week as he said he would, but – besides littering the MB thread, I just thought I’d put some notes here. But I can’t promise I’ll be free from spoilers.
What impresses me most about the show is that it is one of the most tightly written shows in television history. Going back to season one there are elements that are finally paid off in the last episode (the dirt on Daniels comes into play as it has early in the season). Both “look at you giving a fuck when it’s not your turn to give a fuck” and “What the fuck did I do” come back, as do almost every character save Ziggy and Brother Mouzone (missed as they were).
And the show used all five seasons to advance character’s narratives in a way that seems wholly removed from anything television has produced before.
Perhaps the most crucial scene in Season five is when Cutty (Chad Coleman) – in his sole appearance in the reunion tour that was S5 (I mean, seriously, everyone who was on the show turned up, from Ashy Larry to Freamon’s ex-stripper girlfriend) – basically tells Duquand (Jermain Crawford) that he doesn’t have a killer instinct, that he’s soft and that nothing’s going to change that. He’s not a fighter. In another show that would be the tell of Dukie’s fate. Here, we know Dukie well enough to know that it’s the truth about him. He’s never going to toughen up in that way. But partly because we don’t know how bad it’s going to get for Michael (Tristan Wilds), Dukie being cast into the street never seemed as real as it was likely to be until the end of episode nine. And that’s not because the cards weren’t set up, it’s because of the tremendous amount of empathy that David Simon and Co. created in the character. Well, perhaps some people saw it coming, but I – personally – didn’t want to believe it until the needle hit the vein, even with his sketchy story and messed up face.
And that’s why the show had to show him – albeit from a distance – with a needle in his arm. The show, more than anything else, is about the failure of the system, and few things would hit home more than seeing a character like Duie absolutely and thoroughly ruined. Dukie had to end up a junkie, because The Wire was never about anything less than telling it like it is. And through the five seasons we see how the Police department is more concerned with statistics than actual work, how the unions are dirty, but the alternatives are just as bad, how politicians can instill hope, but are just as likely lying to themselves as to us (if season five shortsighted anything it’s a little more time with the mayor), how the school system is also failing to keep students educated, while also training them for the streets, and then how newspapers are distracted by buyouts and creating their own irrelevancy, instead of keeping an eye on the real issues of a community.
The Wire closed on a montage of the locations that we’ve come to know all too well, where drugs are bought and sold, where people work, a sense of who Baltimore is. It ends on McNulty (who else) quoting Ethan Edwards’s final line from The Searchers “Let’s go home,” which neatly tied the show into the films I watched that day. If the Western became about the end of the west, The Wire may be about the end of America, full stop.
But it also understands that there’s hope. Hope for Bubbles, and in that sense hope for Dukie. As neat as it was as the moments came one after the other, the point was clear: the cycle continues, and maybe it only seems worse for the older gen, perhaps because little has changed, the Sissyphean struggle is no better or worse off. There will always be Templetons, Marlos, and Kenards, but there might also always be the Guses and Almas, the Sydnors, the Bunks and the Greggses. The Prezes.
As for Marlo, I never thought I’d feel sympathy for him, but the scene where he returns to a corner is so ripe. The men he walks up to, not particularly aware of his suit, are talking about Omar, and his building jump has become legend beyond legend (“there were like, ten or twelve dudes up there”). Marlo asks if they know who he is, and they don’t, so they pull a gun on him. He moves faster than them, but he also bloodies his arm. At once he is back in control, but also slower than he used to be. Will he go back to the game? Perhaps for him starting with nothing would be the ultimate high.
But I expected nothing less, and I got nothing less than what had come before. The five seasons of The Wire will likely be in constant rotation in my life from here on out. Because they were able to do what television does best (sustained narratives) and take it to a level no one really imagined it could go before. My response to the total is simply this: “My God, it’s full of stars.”