“Bleak to a fault?”
This goes off of #45. All #44 needs can be addressed by this post.
As I believe I’ve let on in previous posts, my Season 4 experience has been irrevocably jacked up by spoilers. Although I did my best to avoid anything that smacked of them, one errant click was all it took for me to learn about what’s likely this cycle’s most pivotal event. Since then, I’ve been trying to come to terms with what I’ve lost, and thrashing myself for feeling so diminished. I don’t think H&H would exist were I not the kind of television watcher who thinks himself above mere surprise; anyone who has ever helped a Wire novice get his wings, or gone to see a film for a second time, probably harbors similar feelings. And the truth is, I watched Seasons 1 and 2 after I first got down with 3; knowing that D’Angelo got offed didn’t make it any easier to watch, and it wouldn’t have taken a genius to get that he was a martyr figure from the jump. The same went for Stringer’s demise, which was a cathartic moment despite the Times’s best effort to scoop fiction.
There’s also the fact that, as we all know, things pretty much always end up shit for everyone involved in our most beloved series. You can count on one hand the number of truly positive outcomes in the program’s history: stripper redeemed, Lester raised from the depths, Daniels as star, Daniels with Perlman, and possibly Jimmy gone soft. Other than that, everything can, and will, go wrong at some point. We don’t know exactly who, how and when, but as elusive internet icon Rocco Chappelle put it in a email, “people are going to die; plots are going to be foiled by incompetence, self-interest, and general chicanery”
While we may not know exactly which Boy of Summer will catch serious misery, or how it will unfold, there’s no mistaking we’re going to get our hearts pulped by season’s end. Spoilers can only hurt us so much, since we know most parties involved are doomed. Cops get fucked, criminals die, anyone with a soul gets crushed. The mechanics of plot and character that land them there, and watching it all so masterfully play out, are the real meat of the matter.
The Wire might not necessarily be predictable, but its utter pessimism and unfaltering belief in institutional tyranny doesn’t leave a lot of breathing room for humanity. At the same time, developing some of the most vivid characters in the history of the moron box puts the invested viewer in near-sadistic situation: share their world, then have it wrung out of you. I can’t help but wonder if plot doesn’t somehow serve to mitigate the anguish, since it allows you to hold out hope until the final, shiftily-delivered punch.
That’s not to downplay the complexity of these real-like situations, or suggest that I ever know what’s coming. But there’s certainly something paradoxical about a program gashed with plot twists that nevertheless operates under a basic fatalistic presumption. Perhaps it’s that we learn about ruin by witnessing various paths to it; on a generic level, all of these stories are the same. What imbues them with meaning, though, is the people behind them, and their fairly futile choices and interpretations.
(Of course, this depends on how much you think The Wire’s invested in the serial structure—“visual novel” would seem to say no—and whether or not slow-burning can be read as a narrative decision, not a recipe for viewer titillation and agony.)
The arrival of Michael’s abusive stepfather was almost a relief—here was the molester we’d so frequently asked after, and now all of a sudden one of the four kids seemed fast-tracked for disaster. The scenes from next, where we see him reaching out to Marlo, were both stunning and, once you saw them, sadly obvious. Cutty, Prez. . . none of them actually have any power to wrest these teens from the jaws of crisis. The more you see Namond treating his grind like a fluffy rite of passage, right down to employing babies and whining at his mother about “wanting to build,” the more you realize how insulated his life is. Dukie suffers more from neglect than deliberate mistreatment; perhaps suspiciously, Prez has been able to turn him from stinky, world-weary creep to beaming, social creature, albeit one whose development seems a little arrested.
Michael’s stepfather, though, is about the darkest, most chilling kind of creature we’ve yet seen on the show; when a force like this shows up, it makes perfect sense to come running to evil incarnate. Michael doesn’t just need a role model, or encouragement—he’s facing his own version of the devil, and lord knows you fight monstrosity with monstrosity. Of all of the young’uns, Michael has the most advanced understanding of The Game; he’s also pragmatic enough to get that going to Marlo might just be his only guaranteed option
Just in case everyone’s slitting their hands right about now, I hope I’m not the only one who took note of Chris’s choice in footwear: