Run, Rabbits, Run.

Warning: Contains #42 spoilers.

I’m finding myself more and more interested in the political plotlines on The Wire. #42’s highlights, for me, were Rawls approaching Carcetti and Wilson; Watkins chewing out Royce; and the hilarious spectacle of watching Coleman Parker trot after Watkins, rolling away at a faster clip. I must confess that my obsession with the street was not what it was in earlier seasons, but I don’t think the difference is me — I’m being led by the show’s writers to pay closer attention to what’s happening at the political level, to try and make sense of how the situation on the street A) got to where it is and B) is going to change in the future.


Change is a funny concept on The Wire: Because even if the show won’t ever allow the possibility of political change, the fact is, change is inescapable. And sometimes change isn’t worse; it’s just different. And sometimes, things can actually get better. The idea of political change is especially interesting to me because politics requires, by its nature, a unique mix of idealism and cynicism, deal-making and opportunism, as well as genuine passion for improving people’s lives. Sure, there are one-note power-grabbers, like Clay Davis; but you’ll notice that they’re not the focus of the political plot. They’re not as interesting as someone like Carcetti.

Now, there was a good discussion in the comments on Carcetti a couple weeks’ back. I know a lot of people see him as just an opportunist but I think he’s very complicated, someone who genuinely wants change: The drama of Carcetti’s character will be watching him make choices: Will he become a Royce, who forgot the promises of his campaign, which may have also been his true passions? Will he become a Clay Davis? Or will he become more like a Bunny Colvin, who sees fit to continue agitating within the system? It’s the only one we have, after all.


My point here is it’s too easy to dismiss politics as a possible solution to the violence and poverty of the street. The Wire, cynical as it is, still has to reckon with the fact that politics remain our best hope for change. And change is presumably something that we, the good people of the world who love The Wire and also believe that the United States has committed criminal injustices against its citizens, want.

Enough grandstanding. Getting down to the episode. Rawls. Fascinating! The more we see of the police bureaucracy the more I want. It’s interesting how the attitude of self-preservation trickles down through the ranks. The cops are always talking about their pensions, X years, etc.; and of course it’s clear that Rawls is going around to Carcetti to make sure he’s in good in case Carcetti wins. And because everyone is scratching everyone’s back, Carcetti would never tell; there seem to be no downsides — it’s just everyone for themselves. (Sidenote: Does anyone else think it’s a little funny how we found out Rawls is gay and then it was… dropped? Like it was a joke thrown in cause they thought the show would be cancelled?) I have not seen past #42 and I have no idea what will happen in the primary, but will be very interesting to see how it all shakes out: Will Carcetti win, will he lose and remain a thorn in Royce’s side, will he ever drop his annoying poor-me, I’m just a white boy speeches? And what about Watkins? Will he endorse Carcetti? Seems unlikely, but the way Royce’s luck is going (he can’t win for losing), it wouldn’t be that far-fetched. And of course let’s not forget we still have to contend with the little scandal that Herc is keeping quiet—and Valchek, too, who is undoubtedly saving it for just the right moment….


And then the question remains of how information travels throughout these halls of power. We saw this week how Rawls came into his information: through a spy in the Mayor’s office. All kinds of questions here: Was this a one time call? Did this guy do it on his own, did Rawls place him? With all the meddling going on, from Burrell down to Fat Man’s puppeteering with Kima, an awful lot of time is spent jockeying for power and satisfying the interests of the powerful. As jetset put it to me today, how does anyone ever get any work done? Seems like perhaps all this self-preservation comes at a price: actual police work, actual legislating. You know: actual change.

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9 Comments on “Run, Rabbits, Run.”

  1. jbou Says:

    If the writers of the Wire decide to follow what happened in Baltimore in real life then Carcetti wins. Omalley, who is now running for gov in Maryland, is the white mayor of Baltimore, and I assumed that Carcetti would win because Omalley won.

  2. Joey Says:

    Admittedly, I am biased since I could sit in a room muttering “Sheeeeit” trying to sound like Clay Davis for an entire day, but I agree that this season, the political storylines have seized more attention than usual. In prior seasons, the street was where most of my focus rested, and I loved the scenes in which Burrell or Rawls would make a power play within the police department. But those were police moves for police. This season, I find Carcetti more engaging; Royce more engaging; and the larger Baltimore political scene more engaging. I actually find it very reminiscent of Newark, as depicted in the excellent documentary “Street Fight.”

    Nice insight.

  3. if you take this season as a prequel: marlo and chris become avon and string, and carcetti grows up to be royce – based on a lot of muttering over the years about how royce originally ran as a reformer.

    while i agree that government can help, the wire people (simon et al) seem utterly cynical when it comes to the institutions of the city – based on their professional backgrounds, obvious intelligence and humanitarian instincts; i have no reason to doubt their conclusions.

    projected carcetti career arc: gets elected, trys some ambitious shit, gets spanked, spends the rest of his career fighting for survival just like everyone else.

  4. christycash Says:

    Yep, I see how that Carcetti arc is the most probable one…. the idealist in me wants to see him do the right thing, but it’s not going to happen. I do sort of believe, though, that real people don’t have enough templates in art for solving problems: maybe in a sort of life-imitating-art way one day someone could get inspired to actually, you know, not “clean up” baltimore by doing street sweeps and grabs, but with affordable housing, after school programs, art, music, jobs…

  5. Sean Says:

    Simon says in a commentary track at the end of Season 3 that Carcetti’s speech, while eloquent, is just the same set of cliches. While Carcetti is certainly a fully realized human being, and while he is genuinely earnest and occasionally concerned with going about things in new ways, I still haven’t seen him go beyond those cliches.

  6. Kevin Says:

    In season 3, Carcetti seemed to be genuinely interested in Bunny’s Hampsterdam and that it can produce actual change. Of course from the advise he got he ran with the idea that this is an opportunity and gave that speech that hurt Royce.

  7. Simonsbitch Says:

    I keep going back to the lessons shown in the movie “The Candidate” that I just rented and re-watched. The process of being elected corrupts, then the processes involved in getting anything done corrupts. Then, trying to get re-elected completes the picture. And that just applies to people who enter public service with good intentions.

    Does Carcetti genuinely want to help to fix Baltimore? Oh yes. Will he be able to do it? No, no, a thousand times no. But if The Wire is truly patterned on a Greek drama, his heroic act(s) may allow others to live better lives.

  8. youthenrage Says:

    I think the writers are way to smart to have Carcetti making any real, lasting changes. He might seem like an reformer now, but like he says himself – he can’t get anything done without help, and lots of people come to offer “help” to the mayor. We already know that Carcetti has problems with impulse control and temptation from season 3..

  9. christycash Says:

    Yes, and I wasn’t too inspired by how he jumped at the chance to get closer to Clay Davis, either…

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