This week has proved very nearly impossible for me to collect my thoughts into a sensible post. Part of it is that it feels like there’s little left to guess at, even if a zillion things have been set up for next season. Part of it is that so much has been said here that I don’t want to ruin any of our good work by trite or forced summation. But I can’t resist. For a guide to what everyone else said in summation, please see Shoals’ post just below. For my final musings on Season 4 and the finale, episode #50, please continue.
As we’ve seen these last four seasons, the final episodes are always comprised of myriad endings, beginnings, and numb viewings of tragedies that won’t stop just because the camera eye is closing. The musical montage near the end, utilizing Paul Weller’s cover of Dr. John’s “Walk on Guilded Splinters,” was as fitting as it was subdued. It didn’t have the zip of season 2’s dizzying montage set to the music of Stelios Kazantzidis, which few fans are likely to soon forget, but it did have an appearance by our Greek friend, which was totally energizing. The restraint with which the show uses music and the musical montage avoids the sort of dull registration of dramatic moments that has overtaken most television where, in the last five minutes, the stirring music tells you that the time has come to feel feelings. What’s interesting too is that Homicide: Life on the Street made such brilliant use of the musical montage that it likely influenced the rest of television to adopt it more fully. Withdrawing from what has become a tired convention is no surprise from some of the same producers, but that just puts the music that does come to the fore that much more affective.
As for what actually transpired, I think the most stirring notes in the finale revolved around the kids, which is no surprised as they have been the locus of energy, conflict and change all season. It is jarring to think how far they have come, and to think how different their paths appear now than they did when the season began. Randy, strangely, has journeyed farthest, and while Carver’s noble efforts suggest that perhaps the fight for Randy’s soul will continue, he seems doomed for the short term to a grim existence increasingly devoid of the joy that once so characterized him. One wonders if there will be room at all for joy in Randy’s life, and what that may do to him as he becomes a man. Michael’s transition from fiercely introvert dark cloud to a resigned and not unhappy killer is less shocking the more I consider it, given his utterly selfless devotion to making a good life for Bug, but also given his apparently ample acumen, and his probable belief that, given his intelligence, his skill, and his level-headedness, he could actually stand to survive the game. What is truly saddening is Dukey’s sad slip into the vicious cycle, selling the same dope that forced him from his family when, once again, they got evicted and his best option was to shack up in Michael’s drug-sponsored bachelor pad and start earning for himself. It’s sad not given Dukey’s potential or his hopeful smiles while manning the class computer, but for its inevitability. Kids like Dukey have so very few opportunities that it is surprising he was able to remain in school at all, much less to achieve. Ironically of course it was his scholastic achievement that ultimately drove him away from school, his preternatural talent that doomed him to an even lonelier path through school, a path he couldn’t abide. Namond’s transition proved the only one where there is real hope. There’s not much to say about it, except that the show again surprises by making us love what once seemed unloveable, and hope for what once seemed the most hopeless case of all.
As for everything else, there’s probably too much to say. The gang getting back together split me in two. This season, more than any other, diverted from the show’s very own path, deviating the expectations I have about what The Wire does, how it does it, and what sorts of narratives it will tell. A return to wiretaps, cases, clues and of course McNulty’s firebrand justice matched with Lester’s croaking wisdom is both utterly thrilling and somehow suspect. Although I missed the cops & robbers plotting this season, I learned to love the relatively (at least literally) bloodless plots of the kids and the mayor-elect. What do we have to learn about casework that we don’t already know? I suppose Ed Burns would say something sharp, nasty and true in response to a question like that, and I look forward to seeing that response next season. How the newsroom will stack up against the Mayor’s office this season will be intriguing. How do stories get told, how does the truth get sold, that kind of thing.
Finally, I would like to say a few words on spoilers, On-Demand, and the concept of the collective. My big spoiler moment came about halfway through the season, which is rather a lucky break for me considering how much material I have been traversing each week related to the show. It was in the search terms for this very site, and it came in just three words: “Michael shoots Bodie.” It’s the image you see for a second, recognize that you don’t want to see, and quickly turn away from but can never even hope to forget. Of course it’s unclear whether that was indeed Michael, and having watched the clip a few times I’m baffled, but the point is still the same, and Bodie, probably my favorite character, is still dead. I was able to avoid other spoilers, which again is kind of miraculous, but that note rang in my head all season, and it also had to be this ugly secret i kept while discussing the show here and with friends.
While leaked copies are always going to be an issue, and some viewers are too rabid to stand down when there’s torrents to be bitten, I think a lot of the trouble stems from HBO’s still unexplained decision to stagger the show, allowing On-Demand customers to see episodes a week early. Collective viewership is no small matter, because it determines the character of the experience not just of seeing something, but of understanding it, as we often do, through dialogue with others. Certainly our dialogue has been compromised, as some viewers come into discussions that have already had an arc, while others perusing the site doubtless scoffed at our cute uninformed predictions as so much needless investment in a system that may be truly dead. Of course HBO is only contributing to the death of the television experience. The On-Demand system devalues the collective experience, and the next logical step is to skip HBO altogether, download the season, have a Wire-filled weekend, and leave it at that. Thanks for the show, HBO, here’s no money and no ratings.
I tend not to think the network wants that, and I think they would do well to respect the willingness of their audience to display fidelity to the concept of an appointed hour. I think something very significant will be lost if this sort of chaotic seeping of a cultural object into the public sphere is the future, because we learn more when we learn together, and we see more when we watch together, and doing away with all that doesn’t sound much like progress.
Thanks for reading and responding all season. It has certainly enhanced our already freakish devotion to The Wire, and perhaps yours as well. Look to us whenever season 5 rears its head, and maybe sooner, if there’s any Wire news that needs discussing.