Archive for December 2006

Crack and Fissures

December 11, 2006

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.


The Clank

December 11, 2006


We kind of crapped out—I mean, deferred to the show’s almighty narrative sweep—last week, but here’s the rundown of what random posts did go up:

I cry, or not, for Bodie. Vast discussion in comments section

Pizzawhale on another messed-up city captured on film

Endgame, Christy $ style

WDR brings links

PW did that, too

See you on the other side!!!!!!!


December 7, 2006

This week has been exceptional one for HH, with a lot of great conversation about the season, what it means, and how it played out. And I’d like to post here about Bubbles, and the game, and policing, and what people who are aware of injustice are supposed to do about it — this is art, not reality, but I do think that there is an urgency to The Wire that might make some of us wonder how much we are part of the problem, and in what way, with the political situation so totally screwed up, we might possibly begin to contribute to the solution — but I can’t talk anymore. I am blogged out. No question that 50 was thrilling, and that it, as the final Wire episodes are wont to do, cast the whole season in a new light. I would have liked to have seen some of that action spread out over the course of the season, but like I said last week, and like Simon himself says in interviews, The Wire is a movie. In my experience it’s much, much better to take in all at once. So if any HBO execs are reading this, how about releasing Season 5 on TV and DVD simultaneously, Soderbergh-style?

good times

Barring that, we HH’ers were brainstorming some great sitcom spin-offs that we can see coming out of Season 4. So listen up, HBO! Sure, next season’s murder investigation and focus on the media will be brilliant and enlightening and captivating and all that, but hands up anyone who wants to see Carver adopt Randy and the two of them set up shop, Odd Couple style? Or maybe Omar and Renaldo could run away together and start a hotel in Miami? The pilot for that show could begin with a chase down Route 1 from Baltimore to Florida. With appropriate music. If only Bodie hadn’t gone down, he and McNulty could have had their own show, where they became a super, secret, crime-solving team. And if Dukie, Marlo and Bug living together weren’t so damn sinister, what with Marlo pulling the strings from above, and Dukie selling, trapped in a small and terrible cycle, that could be a sweet tale of two young men just trying to bring up a little man. And Fat Man, oh, forget it. Fat Man could have his own comedy hour.

Til next time…

“30 minutes of real work”

December 7, 2006


Recommended: the on the set archive on the HBO site. By far the best installment yet is the conversation with the kid players- if you’re pining for the show you can try acting out the interview with your family, roommates or pets.

“Me, Julito, Tristan and Rashad Orange are playing Andre and his squad. The older cats versus the younger cats.”

lake trout vs squirrel brains

December 5, 2006

It’s not rash to say that dimensions of crime, race, class, cops and municipal governance, as depicted on the show’s fictional Baltimore, are far from representative of America as a whole. As Mr. Simon offered in our comments and on Slate , Baltimore’s populations are at this point, fairly black and white- the impact of Spanish-speaking populations is still yet to be determined. Language is one of the most obvious aspects of urban geography and a key example. If The Wire was set in San Diego, Houston, Phoenix or Orlando- any sun belt city, it’d be in 12 languages and on every night.


By virtue of its Baltimore setting, the urban blight on The Wire looks like what we think it should look like, because Baltimore looks like what we think a city should look like. West Baltimore is an intended urban area- whereas Pleasant Grove, Acres Homes, and North Little Rock are urban by happenstance. Corners, Corbusier towers and bombed out 19th century rowhouses make more sense as urban spaces than strip malls full of Money Trees and Dollar Generals, shotgun houses or skuzzy sprawling apartment complexes. If there’s any hard driven lesson from the show, especially in this past season, it’s to think about the way large scale operations carry out in everyday life, and by extension, to think about what they look like.

But the point of this post is that you won’t have to wonder about what another city’s Wire would be like or look like, because recommended viewing in post-season reeling this week is the mindblowing HBO doc of yore, Gang Wars: Bangin in Little Rock. In a fit of On-Demand scourging a few months back, I happened upon Back in the Hood, the 2004 follow up, which while less substantial and highly specific, is might be necessary to acquaint the unfamiliar with the world of Arkansas in 1992. Observers of The Wire point to authentic depictions of Baltimore’s linguistic idiom as a stumbling block, but seriously dudes, try Arkansas as a starting point instead of the recognizable quirks of the eastern seaboard.

Gang Wars runs under 60 minutes, and its subjects make The Wire’s kids look utterly wholesome by comparison. (Sure, gang dynamics are absent from The Wire, gangs are about more than drugs, et cetera.) Little Rock’s black Bloods and Crips are depressing and inscrutable- to say the least, and their rural-urban environment makes them seem far more hopeless. At the center of much of the narrative is the Little Rock city coroner Steve Nawojczyk, who takes up anti-gang campaigning in either spare time or official capacity. By far the most well intentioned of all of the city officials, Steve makes a poster of drive-by victims’ morgue shots, and takes it around to neighborhoods while bearing pizza and fried chicken. (For humor or to draw in white audience members, the filmmakers do diverge and spend a fair amount of time chronicling a coed, black-white Folk Nation chapter, who chant the lyrics to The Chronic, tote hunting weapons and operate on petty thefts, and may very well be the type of Arkansas youth who pick off squirrels when they get the munchies.) Gang Wars is, bizarre, fairly heartbreaking, and accurately captures the local hysteria that surrounds a sudden crime epidemic.

David Simon everywhere

December 5, 2006

I know that further topical posts are coming about the season finale, but I wanted to note two David Simon sightings:

1.  Slate’s interview with Simon is worth the time.  Simon mostly repeats points he has elsewhere, but his arguments are, as usual, erudite and thoughtful.  The interview is longer than I expected, which is a good thing.

2.  Additionally, and, admittedly, in much more nerdy fashion, Simon’s Homicide:  A Year on the Killing Streets was excerpted in my Criminal Procedure casebook.  The excerpt details the Baltimore police department’s adherence to Miranda v. Arizona, the watershed Supreme Court opinion requiring police to warn suspects of their rights to silence and an attorney when interrogating them in custody, and includes some academic reactions to Simon’s passages.  (As should not be surprising to The Wire‘s viewers, Baltimore’s finest are a bit lacking in their fidelity to Chief Justice Warren’s prescription. )  While the casebook’s reflection on Homicide is not timely, it’s interesting to see how Simon’s popular works have affected scholarly debate.   You can find more of legal academia’s take on Baltimore’s police practices and Simon’s reporting here

Till I burn up

December 4, 2006

If you haven’t finished out this season, please go here.

Obviously, there’s a lot to be said about this semi-bombastic finale. I’ve got plenty of thoughts on where the kids ended up, most of them having to do with how Nay was actually the most complete human being of them all. But there’s some business to be tended to, and so my final H&H post will be a brief, respectful one.

1. Full circle: here’s the second post I ever did. The theme remains my Wire-watching credo, moreso than ever now.

2. A celebration of my absolute favorite character.

3. The song I’d been planning to post since I accidentally caught this spoiler more than a month ago.

The way it actually went down, though, this doesn’t quite fit. I’d anticipated a tear-jerker, at least for as devoted a fan as myself. Instead though, it was noble and kind of gratifying. He never seemed like he should’ve been somewhere else, or cried out to be rescued. Not at that moment, not this season, and never over the course of all fifty episodes total. For better or worse, he did what he did, made as much of it as he could, and went out with a combination of defiance and fatalism. A soldier indeed.


This has been a blast, and lord willing we’ll be reborn in time for Season 5. Look for others to share their concluding goodies in the next couple of days.