Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Taking Tiger Mountain

March 13, 2008

I surprised myself this past week, as I’ve been having some lingering thoughts about this final season when I though I was all used up. Yet here I’ve been, musing about the purpose of the show in general, and about David Simon’s agenda(s), and about what he might think are the uses of the program to its viewers. Call it force of habit, or the final thrashing out of my system of this program’s grip on my imagination and my conscience. I’ve fallen so in love with the way The Wire frustrates, brutalizes, challenges, and inhabits me that there will be a real absence. It’s nice having this dependably screwy prism through which to refract our own conceptualizations of our society and culture. I guess I’ll just have to read the papers.

And the newspaper is the thing to which I would like to return for just a moment, particularly since it was the ostensible primary theme this season. Of course when Simon has spoke of it before the season he didn’t say “the media” but talked more about “how stories get told and how information reaches the public,” which is as much about “newspapers” as season 4 was about “schools” versus how people get educated, how they learn, and how some don’t learn despite the best intentions. I would argue that while so much of this show is about laments for lost things and the flashes of ancient glory, Simon in some ways offers the show itself as a starting point to something new, the beginning of whatever the next world of storytelling might look like.

When Simon turns up in that Sun newsroom, pencil or pen clenched in his teeth (to prevent a wry smile?), it struck me that behind all the accusatorial plotting and rhetoric that’s come out of the show and out of Simon’s mouth, with the supposed intention of creating a conversation about the decline of good city newspapers and why our standards have fallen just as conglomerates consolidate and blandify local papers, that behind all that Simon just desperately misses being in the newsroom. He cut his teeth on all the issues we see transmitted through the show’s five seasons in that newsroom, learned not just how those issues got covered but who were the human faces behind those issues, and what were the stories behind the stories (in other words he started piecing together how “it’s all connected”).

It’s how he got to Homicide, and HLotS, and The Corner, and The Wire, and it’s how he will get from here to the next thing. In that sense, his final insertion of himself into the show isn’t simply some Hitchcockian cameo, some Where’s Waldo distraction, but rather an admission that for Simon, this is all deeply personal because this is all about some aspect of his life or the lives of those he has sought to make a career examining, and not simply as an entertainment, but as a life experience. The newspaper is not just another (particulary weighty) character in The Wire, the institution of the newspaper is the genesis of The Wire‘s very existence.

By placing himself in that newsroom he’s telling the viewer that these stories we love so much, even the stories about the paper, are captured in real life less and less, but can get captured in the teleplay. Newsrooms with depleted staffs and greenhorn reporters miss the tales of the Omar Littles and the Prop Joes, to say nothing of the Dukies or even the Namonds. Simon is romanticizing his conceptions of reporting and information-transmission because he feels that within these perhaps-arcain modes lie the stories that make us more engaged in the place where we live and the people who we live next to. And he’s managing to still tell those stories many years and miles removed from that newsroom. So there’s a kind of inversion, where the newspaper begat The Wire and now, in its admittedly circumscribed way, The Wire has achieved what the newspaper cannot.

It’s a sort of sentimentalized civics lesson to be sure, but I think that although Simon truly does lament the end of the honorable city paper, he would agree that any mode that can replicate its contributions is welcome. And modesty doesn’t befit him, so he’d probably admit that in the absence of the old ways, The Wire is at least a start on a new way of delivering stories, of getting to know our neighbors, and of getting down to the hard work of considering the best way to move on in this scarred, ailing, desperate, hysterical, terrific land of ours, or at least to start turning from the abyss.

Stomach on your nikes

March 11, 2008

Here we present some additional commentary from a dear compatriot that we thought might fit in with our scattershot final summations, gripes, and laments. Have at it.

Given the uneasy history between blacks and Jews in this country, I’m surprised Simon, a Jew himself, allowed the final season of his masterwork to hinge on a conversation between two powerful Jews. Granted, Levy was the ultimate token Jew on The Wire, as Pearlman was Jewish like Snoop was gay, but the implication was that everything ultimately gets hashed out behind closed doors by Jews. After Pearlman and Levy’s stand-off, I sent a text message to my brother marking the birth of a new generation of anti-Semites.

People hate Jews for a lot of equally inane reasons, but black America’s adversarial relationship with the Tribe is a little more complicated. Jewish ownership of things like apartment buildings, record labels and banks means Jews frequently stand between a black man and control of his own destiny. Whether or not this is technically true is beside the point; it’s happened enough that Jews are seen as holding back black progress. For a community (understandably) preoccupied with freedom, this is a big problem. Tall Israelis, they runnin this rap shit, and by extension, everything else.

Levy went against a lot of this logic. Conniving and smug as he was, he was actually an agent for freedom. His advice and counsel kept bosses out of harm’s way and vaporized sentences during damage control. Maury was every bit the gangster, advising String and Avon to get rid of liabilities, and every bit the hustler, given his hourly rates. Suddenly, every rapper (ok, mostly Jim Jones) couldn’t brag enough about Jewish lawyers. But Season 5 zoomed out a bit on Maurice Levy, to his detriment. He ends up functionally castrating Marlo to save himself.

Marlo, soon to have the $10 million from selling the connect on top of whatever kind of Halliburton paper he was already holding, and now the newest inductee to the real estate moguls of Baltimore club, has only two out of the three. Everyone knew Omar called him a bitch and never had to answer for it. A pair of lowly corner boys didn’t even know who he was. As we learned from Lil Kim back in ’98, the troika of money, power and respect is the key to life. What are you when you only have the money and the power? You are the kind of invisible asshole whose institutions reject credit applications and push back albums. You are the stereotypical Evil Jew.

This was apparently enough to push Marlo back to the streets. No black Bar Mitzvahs for that kid.

breaking up is hard to do

March 11, 2008

I’ve been awol on HH the last month or so, trying to gather my thoughts. Right now my primary feeling is one of panic: What am I going to watch now?? There were a lot of moments in the last two episodes that I loved, and the season, despite a lot of my doubts early on, really did come together. The whole “greedy Jewish lawyer” bit got laid on a bit thick in the last episode, but seeing Levy and Pearlman face off was deeply, deeply gratifying. Like Shoals, I relished seeing Cheese get it. I admired Michael’s smarts in taking out Snoop. (And did I ever like to see her die — a little just vengeance was the cherry on that sundae. Or should I say just desserts?) And Gus on the copy desk! That was a nice touch. There were a lot of nice touches. Marlo punching that guy on the corner was like… whoa. I know I’m not the only one who feels like I lost my best friends. My only recourse now is to start over at season 1, episode 1. To see the whole thing in its glory.

track

My one huge sticking point with the last two episodes is Dukie. Are we really to believe that Dukie, who has survived so much, would be driven to his Sharad/Bubbles addiction because he lost Bug and Michael? What is his tie to the homeless guy with the cart? I just don’t buy it. I also will admit that I was so hysterical at the end of episode 59 that I could barely see through my tears and was reduced to yelling at jetset, over and over, “Fuck you, Simon! Fuck you!” Not one of my most mature moments. But I felt that scene was so manipulative, so punishing, that I couldn’t deal with it. It was gratuitious. The Wire can really veer towards the sadistic — and I don’t mean that as a compliment.

But this isn’t just about me falling in love with Dukie. We’re always talking about the show’s nihilism/bleakness, and I accept that. But the last two episodes seemed to apply that principle of unhappy endings unevenly. We’re asked to believe that Freamon, McNulty and Kima can all rise to the occasion and be their best selves — improbably staying friends after she blows their cover and destroys their careers which, as much as they welcomed, I doubt could be papered over with a beer — but Dukie can’t be his best self. He survives a crack mom, the torment of his peers for years, poverty, hunger, filth, and then falls under the sway of a homeless junkie (who was that guy??) and starts using? Really? And yes, I get it. I get that the characters from the street bear a bigger burden of doom than any other characters. I know that what little “agency” is in circulation is not spread evenly, which is part of the point. But it was too much: too in your face, too “take that,” too cartoonish, too predictible, too unbelievable, just too much. So while I’m depressed there’s no more Wire, I’m also relieved. I can’t do this anymore.

Now tear me apart, you dogs.

Say It With Thunder

March 10, 2008

Well, Shoals already laid out a mess of the reasons why I find my brain sluggish when I would have thought it feverish, and I don’t have all that much to add. When something is so well-wrought and so exceedingly well-ended, it ends up defying too much dissection. It’s akin, I think, to the moment you close the back cover of a just-finished novel, and if it’s a good one you’re filled with emotion, but there’s a distinct quietness. The curtain has come down. There is really little more to say.

burial

Of course my impulse every time I do finish a really good novel is to get up and run to the shelf and dive into another one. There’s also the impulse to put that off, to just let the narrative sink in. But in this instance there’s no next novel at the ready. The Wire is over, and another season, another episode won’t be on the way. But that curtain is down, and rightly so, and any loose ends left were left for a reason.

I will say that in terms of endings, Simon has managed to be quite wry, from Cheese’s headshot at the hands of Slim to McNulty and Freamon metaphorically dead, to Marlo’s fate worse than death (no one knows his name). These American lives, those that are moving on at all, are opening their second acts, and while the cyclicality of Michael and Sydnor and Dukie is expectedly bleak, there’s a small space for hope (admittedly well-earned) in Namond, Prez, and of course Bubbles. I think that what I will remember most from this season is Andre Royo’s inspired performances, his final fleshing out of the human being who lived inside Bubbles all those years, finally clear-eyed and awake, finally starting to push on through real life.

If I have any more closing thoughts I will be sure to bring them here, but if not, I think I’ve said plenty these past two seasons, and I stand by my words. Thanks for listening.

So This Is How It Ends

March 10, 2008

Well, there it was. I’m kind of drawing a blank at the moment. . . we learned that Michael was the next Omar, Dukie the next Bubbles. Almost all the loose ends got tied up, with some wonted cynicism and a few happy endings. And like at Jimmy’s wake, we all realized that, uneven as this season has been, this show rules and there’s a lot we’ll miss about it.

If that sounds empty, it’s because it is. Finales are hard to discuss like that; on an emotional level, all your cumulative for the show and its characters comes rushing back. And it’s hard to be technical or critic-minded about an undertaking that, ultimately, belongs to the creators. They ended it how they wanted, and we have to deal with that. There’s no uncertainty as to what they’re thinking, second-guessing their instincts, wondering where the show is headed, or squinting at how everything will fit together.

What did and didn’t make it into that last episode is, in a lot of ways, Simon and co.’s definitive statement on what this program stood for. Or, more modestly, why this season had to be the way it was. The finale is a tautology that consumes everything that came before and will come after it.

I might say more later, and someone else will probably pipe up. But for now, consider this an open thread.

Actually, one thing: My two favorite scenes had to be Cheese’s murder and Marlo’s trip out into the night. I don’t know if Cheese’s speech about the game was one of the more definitive the show’s ever put forth, or the ultimate in dime store Wire-isms. I also don’t know which way it was supposed to be perceived by the characters. But that it was immediately followed by a murder that contradicted everything it contained—one that went against a lot of what’s been both depressing and demoralizing about the show—was kind of awesome. It’s cool that Bubbles got to eat upstairs, but Slim’s “that was for Joe” found hope in the most unlikely place. And not just hope for honor returning to crime, but that, in the larger context of the American city, there could be decency and standards for large-scale enterprises.

Yes, I recognize the irony of Slim Charles leaving that mark on the plot, and not Daniels, who wanted so badly to do so on the right side of the law. WHAT THE FUCK IS IN THAT FILE?!?!!? Exactly, I mean.

And then Marlo. I know that people have had some issues with his character’s one-dimensional nature, and how blank he can seem at times. But Jamie Hector might be the best actor on that show, since the few times Marlo does show any kind of anything do so much to shape our perception of him. I will probably watch the finale again just to see that expression on his face when he bleeds through his suit. At first glance, it seemed equal parts nostalgia, disdain, indifference, fear, resolve, and realization. And that’s with a bunch of shadows on him and no chance for me to press rewind.

Anyway, have at it. More later.

. . . it’s now half an hour later, and I just finished reading THE BEST DAVID SIMON INTERVIEW EVER.

When It’s Time, It’s Time

February 25, 2008

THIS IS #59. FOR THOSE WISHING TO WEEP UPON #58, GO HERE.

Hopefully, by now those of you living the OnDemand lifestyle have gotten past #58. I hope you have, because #59 was like a zillion times more sad. A lot of it was cliff-hanger-y in nature, setting us up for a monster finale. Since I’ve sworn off predictions, I won’t bother with wondering if the Marlo bust will stick, if McNulty’s headed for awful, or if Herc and Levy will be burned at the stake. What I want to focus on is Michael, because those last five minutes were probably the saddest shit this show has ever foisted upon us.

First off, the decision to off Michael—or, as it turned out, his semi-affectionate offing of Snoop, which kind of felt like someone murdering his big sister/guidance counselor. The issue was that Mike didn’t follow orders, thought too independent, and just generally wasn’t cut out for soldiering. Telling that both Marlo and Chris didn’t, or really didn’t want to, believe that this marked him as the snitch. But you’ve got to assume that one of them ultimately gave the order, so I won’t dwell too much on what they think his true nature is.

However, when Snoop lectures him in the car, you could take it two ways. Either it’s proof that Michael should’ve stayed in school, kept the anger inside, and tried to be a normal kid. “You were never one of us,” Snoop spits matter-of-factly. The question is, what was he never? Snoop, the consummate mindless soldier? Chris, who knows how and when to voice his opinion? Or a gangster in general? There’s still the possibility that, in making this move, Michael showed what we’ve suspected all along: That’s he destined to end up like Marlo, because he’s just too smart, shrewd and determined to work for anyone else. Hence that flipping of what Chris and Snoop taught him about how to scope out a potential hit. He took the field manual and used it for himself.

Those last two scenes, with Bug and Dukie, were positively heartbreaking. I’ll admit it, I cried a little. When Bug walked through that door, and the relative (aunt?) closed it with only an ambivalent glance at Michael, you knew that the kid had now crossed over. She may not have known exactly what had happen—with that murder, Michael is now either headed for a grave or in the midst of a power move.

For Bug to stay safe and grow up normal, he’s got to be away from his brother. Ironically, Michael always seemed like a parent, but only when he watched Bug walk away did he finally look like an adult. One who has chosen, or been backed into, a life that’s bad for those around him. Hard to say whether he became a man when he responsibly said goodbye to Bug, or when he decided to throw himself whole-heartedly into the game by offing Snoop.

And then, the parting of ways with Dukie. I guess he could’ve explained things better, but that’s never been Michael’s way. Of course Dukie, the most vulnerable character the show has ever seen, can’t take it. He throws his heart out on his sleeve, hoping for some response, but Mike’s already repressed it all. At first, I was pissed, and then, I realized it was Bug redux. Dukie shouldn’t want to be around Michael. He’s not built for the street life, and that’s the road Michael’s most definitely stuck upon. The four kids are all now officially worlds apart, and to appeal to that fleeting moment of innocence and camaraderie is, for all of their sake, best avoided. Dukie needs to figure out his own way, and Michael can’t be responsible for him anymore—that would be irresponsible.

I know I said no predictions, but as Bubbles heals and Dukie draws closer to the abyss, the similarities between the two are striking. Hopefully—and I say this knowing how dumb it is to root for characters on this show, and how little it was to do with its message—Dukie will find some niche that doesn’t augur total self-destruction. Given where’s he from, and what he’s been through, that small consolation would be a major accomplishment.

It Ain’t No Secret

February 22, 2008

BEWARE NUMBER FIFTY-EIGHT! FLEE!

I know you’re all eagerly awaiting some words on #58. But what the fuck are we supposed to say? A guy who cheated death multiples times per season finally died. His invincibility was central to his role in this program’s cosmology, but as we saw this season, there are limits to how much disbelief we can suspend in the interest of mythology. This wasn’t Prop Joe, who stayed quiet but was still in a dangerous business. Omar’s entire line of work was loud, proud, and on the edge. And by the end, he was a caricature of himself, hobbling around in rags screaming at every hopper in sight.

What I’ve been trying to figure out is whether he was done in by the game (cue Pacino), his own code, or both. Certainly, they haven’t been incompatible. No one had more fun spouting off the vaguely Eastern rhetoric of “all in the game” than Mr. Little, even as his boundless self-determination seemed to contradict this fatalistic stance. At the same time, Omar eschewed the notion of collateral damage, or even the expansion of the “game” metaphor to encompass anything beyond dealers, users, and stick-up kids.

You could say that it was Omar’s ties to the underworld that brought him back from his tropical sojourn. But “the game” has always been about profit, commodities, and how to get over on others. In this case, it was pure honor and revenge, which really don’t compute to most characters on the show unless there’s an effect on earning. In fact, Omar’s main impact on the show has been as an irritant to first the Barksdales, and then Marlo. In both cases, it was over love, or honor, or some other sort of sentimental bond that ALL IN THE GAME lives to fracture. Avon helped get his best friend killed. That’s in the game. Leaving behind wealth and security to hunt down your enemies . . . that’s a Western, where no one ever has any money anyway.

A brief interlude: I won’t be reading the comments section anymore, unless that anonymous guy or one of my close personal friends says something. Sorry, but it’s gotten too perilous. And to that anti-Semite, thank you. Thank you. I love getting to feel like a meaningful minority for once.

Pizzawhale pointed out how weird it is that The Wire seems to kill off the characters who usually survive: Smart ones. Little Melvin, quiet as kept, is alive, but Prop Joe died. That dude who provided the model for Omar is still with us today. In real life, being smart and clever sustains you. In The Wire, it leads to hubris and free-thinking, which invariably gets the whole world turned against you.

In conclusion, I’ve also been enjoying The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the first season of Dexter. And I have no fucking clue what schedule we’re on, since none of us have gotten the last three episodes yet and my OnDemand is inconsistent.


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