The Storming Clouds of Plenty

VERY SMALL #51 SPOILERS BELOW

None of us have OnDemand this season (intractable cable problems), but I think we’ll have screeners for each episode. So same as before: A week ahead, but with warning.

Well, there it was. Months of waiting satisfied with one long establishing shot. We find out that time has passed since #50’s finale, perhaps more than it past seasons. Carcetti’s regime is in the crapper, McNulty’s back with Major Case, Herc’s with Levy, and Bubbles has already moved into the mundane part of recovery. Some of these changes are trends continued, others mini-ruptures, and, as with Bubbs, some seem like narrative shortcuts. While it’s not a new day in Baltimore, as a viewer/citizen it’s like waking up after a long, long nap. In a way, the introduction of the newsroom characters was less jarring than taking stock of what our old friends have been up to in our absence.

However, I’m already thinking to the end of this season which is, of course, the ultimate finale. Here’s where The Wire—that tightly-plotted, intricately-layered that Simon’s always referred to as a single arc—comes to an end. With the montages, the show has embraced the concept of season finales. Then again, with #50’s we saw more questions raised than answers posed, with some snippets bordering on unintelligible. And on principle, The Wire has never cared much about neat and tidy endings, or any kind of resolution. Like, how many of us are still waiting to see Rawls outted at ComStat? The overlapping and intersecting of elements is as important here as resolution is in most scripts. Actually, “it’s all connected” is Simon’s version of “happily ever after,” bringing both reassurance and crushing hopelessness.

I think fans would be disappointed if The Wire ended on a Sopranos-esque note. Critiquing dramatic finality is, for this show, a little pedestrian. But Simon has created a monster, and he has to wrestle it down in the next ten episodes. Individual characters or storylines may find little peace, and yet if Baltimore is the main character, shouldn’t its circle be completed? It’s the system, the network of structural relationships that makes the city tick, that’s forever entrenching itself. And as viewers, we’re constantly being let in on the extent of its tyranny. The newsroom is, as we saw in #51, a mirror image of the police department, city hall, and the drug market. All individuals can do is try to stay afloat, and snatch up small victories as they can. There’s no way they’ll ever achieve lasting satisfaction or stability (without selling their souls), and so we’ve got no reason to expect this of their stories.

So I’m not particularly worried about my favorite characters getting through unscathed, or figuring out whatever happened to the docks. It’s not even worth it. What I do expect, though, is for the show to get awfully crowded toward the end. The Wire isn’t about surprise—that too is a byproduct of “everything’s connected.” But if there’s no such thing as coincidence, bringing the entire picture into focus says less about the characters than it does the environment they’re governed by. As the series comes to an end, it will once and for all lay out the terms and conditions for a show about the modern American city. Like those cases the police work: The minute the bulletin board gets full, things fall apart and its time for another iteration.

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19 Comments on “The Storming Clouds of Plenty”

  1. Francisco Says:

    Could someone explain the scene where Bubbles, walking around at night after his sister kicks him out while she goes to work, has a brief verbal exchange with a guy in an alley? Watching the show through a computer, I couldn’t make out what was said, or if the other guy was someone we were supposed to recognize.

    Also, from watching that Wire retrospective that HBO put out, I just realized how good Jamie Hector is at playing Marlo when I saw Hector getting interviewed and found myself being scared of him. Yikes.

  2. anonymous Says:

    I think that Sun writer completely missed the point, particularly where he assumes that the Sun that is introduced in Season 5 is supposed to be the Sun he works for. It’s not. The Baltimore that the Wire depicts, similarly, is not the “real” Baltimore, and anyone dense enough to assume that should not be reviewing this show, especially this deep into the game. Hasn’t it been obvious from the jump-off that Simon & Burns took the Baltimore they knew in bits and pieces and re-configured it into 1. the greatest dramatic TV series of its time and 2. a soapbox for Simon to sound off on shit about the various interlocking systems that he and Ed were forced to deal with in their respective careers? It’s not a docudrama, you tit, it’s fiction. Why would they hire dudes like Richard Price and Pelecanos to be staff writers if they didn’t want to do a really great show about cops and criminals and how they interact, though a fictionalized account of that interaction. The reason The Wire is better than dreary police procedurals like CSI or the Love Boat With Rape And Murder that are the Law & Order shows isn’t because it’s more realistic, it’s because it goes deeper than cops & robbers and gives you actual characters. Omar is not a realistic character, any devoted, intelligent fan of this show knows that and accepts it. There are probably few cops in the real world who stay as fiercely self-righteous as Jimmy McNulty does for as long as he has. If anything, The Wire sacrifices realism that dopes like this Sun writer seem to mistake as a founding principle of the show in favor of being a deeply entertaining show nine times out of ten. The realism angle needs to be put to bed, imo. It’s an allegory. How anyone could have missed this five seasons deep is beyond me.

  3. Brian Says:

    Could someone explain the scene where Bubbles, walking around at night after his sister kicks him out while she goes to work, has a brief verbal exchange with a guy in an alley? Watching the show through a computer, I couldn’t make out what was said, or if the other guy was someone we were supposed to recognize.

    The guy who says Hi to Bubbles (he greets him by name) is stumbling, obviously high. I didn’t recognize him, but I think it’s obvious that he and Bubbles know each other, not surprising for two dope fiends on the same streets.

  4. Sahu Says:

    “Could someone explain the scene where Bubbles, walking around at night after his sister kicks him out while she goes to work, has a brief verbal exchange with a guy in an alley? Watching the show through a computer, I couldn’t make out what was said, or if the other guy was someone we were supposed to recognize.”

    I too think they once knew eachother from bubbs’ feandin’ days. I think in a way bubbs was looking for an invitation to get high…clearly he dosne’t want to be on the streets at night and dosen’t want to get high but at this point if someone offered or made it easy for him to get back into it, he would.

  5. Francisco Says:

    Thanks for clearing that up, folks. I was just wondering if there had been something that I had been meant to hear but hadn’t been able to.

    On another note, did anyone else think that last night’s episode was the fastest that a season of The Wire had ever kicked off? I think in previous seasons, the story took a bit longer to get rolling, but I guess the cut from 12-13 episodes down to 10 has forced them to get the action moving a little faster. I imagine that the absence of Colvin, Namond, Randy, Cutty, and Prez from last night’s episode indicates that we’re probably not going to see much of those characters this final season, at least not in a major way.

  6. Shoals Says:

    Did you even read my post?

  7. Crabbie Says:

    Re: Bubbs, I read the scene with the mumbly junkie who recognizes him as yes, Bubbles is a (recovering) junkie, and still thinks about junk, and’ll even flirt with the vicarious high of walking by the game, perhaps while thinking about relapse.

    But, if anything, the scene made me think that perhaps Bubbles is going to take a longer ride on the wagon than he ever has before. Because when he is confronted with the junkie, I read his body language and glimpsed facial expression as a registration of revulsion. This, in my experience, is a sign of someone who really is pretty much done with drugs/alcohol/gambling whatever — they get to a point where they see their past lows mirrored back at them, and instead of thinking “wow, that’s awesome, why’d I ever stop doing that!” they’re disgusted by what they once were. Hopefully/eventually they often get to a point where that matures into a compassion for others in dire straits. What I’m curious about is the form of Bubbles’ recovery – is he going to NA meetings, are we going to get scenes (that could provide the show with both more anguish, but also comic relief) of him trying to make amends (with his son?), etc. He didn’t strike me as going the methadone route, but then again, we don’t see him hurrying to a meeting when he has to leave for the night.

    Simon’s rightly said that he’s already dealt extensively with addiction, both on the page and on screen, but he’s never really dealt with recovery in the same way, and the recovery/relapse phenomenon has always gotten pretty short shrift in both The Wire & The Corner, IMO. With McNulty and Bubbles, it looks like that might change this year.

    The NA scenes from season 1 have drawn some heat for “corniness” here before, but I found them (and Bubbles’ interaction with Steve Earle’s character at the end of season 4) to be both incredibly moving AND authentic, just as the poorly behaved and completely disinterested classroom of last year seemed frustrating and reptetitive, but completely on the mark. I don’t expect recovery/relapse to be the focus, but it could be shaping up as a compelling little side plot. Lord have mercy on Beadie Russell and her kids.

    The other character that seems to have changed significantly between seasons is Dukie, who despite “acting like a bitch” is evincing levels of eye contact, posture, tone of voice, and other general indicators of confidence and “maturity” that were almost completely absent last season, even when he was being all precocious on the computer. Or maybe it’s just having money for a hair cut & clean clothes. Witness also his standing up a little (although not completely) to Chris upon being demoted. It’ll be interesting to see where that goes.

    The opening copy machine sequence had me pretty annoyed. At this point, I don’t find it credible that the kid wouldn’t know what a copy machine is. Maybe is the late 80s/early 90s, but at this point even the most hardened corner kid will have been exposed to one several times via t.v./movies, his brief excursions to school, etc.

  8. Crabbie Says:

    I obviously meant Dukie standing up to Michael, duh. Given the interaction between Marlo & the 60/40 dealer, Marlo & Chris’ subsequent reaction, Carcetti’s “truth to power” comment to Norman, Daniels & the state’s attorney’s play with Carcetti, Carcetti w/ the fed, Clark Johnson’s character’s interaction with the managing editor, hell – the introduction of the paper, period – it looks like we might get a lot of “little guys” standing up for themselves (or not) and finding out that as the little guys, they’ll probably end up fucked or compromised either way.

    Just like every other season, I guess.

  9. Curtis Says:

    I have a very bad feeling about Bub. He seems more vulnerable than he ever has.

  10. Crabbie Says:

    From the New Yorker article:

    Most of the trajectories were grim, but one troubled character, they decided, would pull himself together and enjoy what George Pelecanos calls one of the show’s “inglorious redemptions—not Rocky knocking the Russian out in the ninth round but somebody getting through to the other side.” Simon often says that “The Wire” refuses to indulge in the “life-affirming” messages that are woven into the fabric of network TV. Still, he seemed glad to incorporate this small victory into an otherwise rigorously unsentimental picture. “We don’t have a lot of victories,” Simon told his colleagues. “As cynically as the rest of this stuff is ending, it will validate the one place we put any of our sincerity, which is individual action.

    My money’s on Bubbles. Granted, “troubled character” describes pretty much all of the characters. And on a related note, my biggest issue with that article was that it gave away stuff like this and the homeless thing, but I guess it had to be published when it was in order to help the series,

  11. Ty Keenan Says:

    “Actually, “it’s all connected” is Simon’s version of “happily ever after,” bringing both reassurance and crushing hopelessness.”

    Frederic Jameson explores this idea at length in his essay “Totality as Conspiracy” (which can be found in his book The Geopolitical Aesthetic). The basic idea is that in a conspiracy story (he takes The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, and Videodrome as his major examples) the threat is so large that the usual pat narrative conclusions can’t work, so the uncovering of that threat has to suffice in that it reassures us that there is some sense to whatever’s going on around us. Essentially, the termination of the investigation takes the place of closure.

    I’m not sure how exactly how that structure relates to The Wire, but it’ll be interesting to see how they relate it to the Major Crimes investigations. There’s no way catching Marlo would create a worthwhile system of order in this Baltimore — my guess is that the last scene hints at another looming mess. And we’ll be able to envision the outlines of what would happen in a theoretical Season 6.

  12. Francisco Says:

    Good piece in the Atlantic on how Simon’s time at The Sun may shape season 5, with the author worried that Simon’s spite and vindictiveness may well get the better of him. Lots of stuff on the real-life Marimow.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200801/bowden-wire

  13. Hobbes Says:

    In absolutely no way analyzing the episode I was wondering if anyone remembers the episode of H:LOTS when they did the exact same copy machine bit. I recall Munch and Kellerman doing the same thing, in what would have been around 96. So to anyones annoyance about the scene, I’m going to guess that it came from the original book and has now been recycled for laughs because well, it is funny, if not consistent with the Wire-verse.

  14. Andrew Says:

    I remember the scene from Homicide. It was actually Munch and Bolander from season 1, and it did originate from Simon’s book. However, the trick was never actually done by Baltimore cops. The book just made a brief mention of some detective from another city–Detroit possibly, but I can’t remember–getting into some trouble for doing that exact trick. I can’t decide which show’s version of the scam I prefer.

  15. Jeremy Says:

    Not so thoughtful question:

    The guy who Bubbles ran into on the street at night… was that the guy who had been beating him up and taking his money in season 4?

  16. Pooh Says:

    Is it me, or was this season opener even bleaker than the ending of Season 4?

    And it only goes downhill from here. Jeezus.

  17. Joe Bruneel Says:

    The Sopranos is so far out of the Wire’s league the two aren’t worth comparing, (the Wire doesn’t need embarassing dream sequences to get across their symbolism) But the question on everyones mind for the Sopranos ending was, would Tony die or not? To me, the question that could be answered by the finale is whether David Simon gives us any glimpse of hope for the future, perhaps in the form of Detective Sydnor as he as said in some interviews that Sydnor is the only remaining character without any “dirt” on him, or maybe in the form of a clean Bubbles. The season finales of the four previous seasons ended on a bleak outleak, so maybe he will give us some positive outlook, that we can get out of the mess the world is currently in, or am I just completely undermining the whole point of the show.

  18. Pooh Says:

    I say that yes, that would undermine the whole point of the show. Or at least be so far out of character as to be unspeakable jarring.


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