I’m Set Free
Note: These are the most straightforward images I’ve ever used. That’s because I’m in a rush to go buy Christmas presents. Don’t ask.
Finished up with Season Two, and I’ve had an worthwhile itch going on that I think pertains to all Wire arcs. Of course there’s such a thing as integrity in Simon’s universe, and it usually correlates with some kind of ultimate undoing. It’s not too much of a stretch to claim that, in a cruel, cruel world, death is a form of release. A little goofy, maybe, but not an unfamiliar theme. But I’ve become a little troubled by exactly what characters on The Wire find release into. Instead of the usual expanse of existential possibility, they simply find solace in another system—a kinder, gentler version of the same thing that’s cut them down.
Wallace’s death marked Bodie’s coming of age and, not surprisingly, that of the show. Up to that point, it had only been so harrowing. However, it’s not right to infer that Wallace wanted that drastic an escape, or that he found any peace in getting popped by his best friend. D’Angelo’s exit the next season, though, could’ve been culled from one of them books he was reading; it also happens to be quite unlike any other murder the show’s seen. Done with the game, family, the prison pecking order, and just about anything that could superficially offer him support, D’Angelo sets out to more or less find himself. This makes him a threat to all that he’s left behind, Stringer has him choked, and lo, only then is he truly free of it all.
Frank, on the other hand, spends the live and dead parts of his downfall returning to his union roots. He works a ship, offers to unburden himself of the forces that have corrupted him, and, for all we know, might’ve ended up telling The Greek to fuck off. When the union would rather close down than sully Frank’s good name, that’s when you know he’s made good in death. He might’ve ended up deep in some dirt, but in the end he saw the light, and the light was. . . his union. Every moment of clarity Sobotka has that season is not about him or his own (c.f. Ziggy and Nicky), but a longing to return to the primordial system of industrial production. Frank’s paradise is working men belonging to their craft; he meets his end not because of who he is, but because he insist on belonging to a doomed world.
“The system destroys us all” is the show’s mantra, with “the game” standing in for “system” at various points. However, I can’t decide if it’s pragmatic or demoralizing that systems also offer the lone form of redemption. Take Bodie: He went down like a soldier, standing up to Marlo’s nihilism as someone who remembered when soldiering meant something. Or Stringer, who can be read either as a martyr to the cause of reform, or a man who, in his last moments, accepted his inner gangster and welcomed a gangland-style exit.
Last week, PW asked me who I thought would die this season. The question caught me a little off-guard; while each cycle has climaxed with a murder, they’re kind of running low on viable suspects. Cops just don’t die at the same rate as criminals, and already we’ve seen Cole and that guy Prez shot go out, and Kima and Dozerman nearly lost. McNulty would be a tad obvious. In the land of bad guys, Avon’s irrelevant, Prop Joe’s immutable, and Marlo—to get back to the thrust of this post—has nowhere else to turn. Michael’s a possibility, since he’s got Bug and isn’t so seasoned yet. But man, how crushing to realize that, on The Wire, “having somewhere to turn to” is synonymous with “might find himself dead.”