David Simon/Richard price gave a talk in New York last week that some of the H&H team attended. It was cute when one of our number, on the walk home, asked if we thought there were Wire superfans, the kind of viewer who would go to a Trekkie-equivalent convention. The rest of us quickly pointed out that the hypothetical Wire superfans he spoke of were us.
A few things Simon said really struck me — one was about the conception of the show as “Greek” versus a “Shakespearean” model. He argued that a show like the Sopranos — or most shows on television — are built around a central charismatic figure (Hamlet, Othello, MacBeth etc.). The Wire, on the other hand, is consciously fashioned as an ensemble — and when any one character starts acquiring too much power, he/she must be eliminated. Hence the killing of Stringer, and the demotion/domestication of McNulty.
Along with this, Simon said that The Wire is a show about institutions — that it is necessarily and purposefully negative about change in America, and furthermore, that it is always about institutions “fucking” the people they’re supposed to protect. Which makes me wonder, Are the characters’ lives overdetermined by this heavy control from above? One way to think about fiction, especially television fictions, is that the characters have their own agency in these imaginary worlds. But for Simon, the characters must be constrained in order to make a political point. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, just thinking it over.
Richard Price’s main contribution to the talk was to be dreamy and tell a pretty amazing story about a verbal spanking he got from Denzel Washington on the set of whatever movie he was working on, who informed him that he should “pretend” that his black characters are as smart as his white ones. It was pretty remarkable, I thought, that Price was so comfortable in admitting it, esp. given how good he is at writing for The Wire. (Another great anecdote from the talk was that apparently, the day after Stringer’s death aired, all the “real” wires in Baltimore were blowing up with dealers talking to each other about how they couldn’t believe it.)
Final note: My immediate impression of the first episode was that this season was going to be more depressing than even the ones that came before. Watching kids be kids struggling is, for me, even harder than watching grown-ups like Johnny throw everything away. But with a little distance I’m more optimistic. Those kids are alright.
And Mr. Shoals, I have to disagree. Marlo’s not losing composure. I don’t even think he’s getting arrogant. He’s just staking his territory, getting them while they’re young.