Only Inmates Run Shit
I haven’t been around here much, so perhaps I’ve lost all right to speak on this site. However, I liked the last episode bunches, in large part because of what’s happened with the fake serial killer plot. While for many of you, it’s been the sticking point for this entire season, I think it’s turned into a stroke of pure Wire genius.
On and on again, what’s the key word about this show: systems. Or, in its applied form, bureaucracies. The whole hook has been that these things are impersonal, indifferent, and, in their blank rationality, often uncomfortably irrational. They are not human minds, blessed with elasticity and empathy. They are what they are, and they churn on with no purpose beyond self-renewal. No matter what happens in the margins, on the streets, or between the cracks, it’s more of the same “get crime down”, “bring up test scores”, “get territory”.
Some of you have compared Jimmy and Lester’s ruse to Hamsterdam. Hamsterdam was a social experiment, one that, like Stringer’s attempt at reform, could only exist until the system caught up with it. Plus, it was, like String, remarkably rational. That’s why so many public officials were intrigued by it, and why the co-op did have some staying power. Until the same old asserted itself in the form of Marlo Stanfield, who makes the old new and the new old again.
The serial killer thing is something different. I wasn’t for the drawn-out evidence tampering, mostly because it was silly and boring. But in its present form, the killer is a virus turning bureaucracy on itself. The police department—and, on a parallel course, the information industry that Templeton’s manipulating—now belong to outsiders. If it’s been mute and confusing all along, why not use these perplexing qualities toward rightness and justice? Jimmy has spent this whole show as the rebel, the outcast. Now, as he himself intoned in #57, he’s the boss. Templeton’s along these same lines, minus the decency part: He’s a self-serving liar who wants out of Baltimore; he’s found a way to get the editors, who represent the feckless modern media, to basically bankroll his exodus.
The key difference is that Templeton’s irredeemable, while Jimmy’s arguably serving the greater good. But they both have their all-too-noble foils: Gus and Bunk, who, not coincidentally, are being touted by everyone as the season’s finest performances. I guess I can see it; however, it seems more like we respect the sheer gravitas of their positions, which we once thought Freamon stood for.
I kind of find this outlook naive, and if anything, it’s the possibility of Bunk breaking the Marlo case that I find unrealistic. Or Gus having some sort of journalistic triumph that slaughters Templeton and puts the higher-ups to shame. It’s like, okay, these are honest men doing honest work and they’ve come through in the end. But what about The Wire up to this point would suggest this is anything less than fantasy? You might think McNulty and Templeton are outlandish, but their story arcs at least work with/within/in the same realm as The System. We’ve seen McNulty go from utterly defiant to co-opting the Department that he once battled against. Bunk, he’s just acting like there’s no external pressure or stress on his hermetically-sealed need to do things the right way.
If everything is connected, and everything is histrionic or crumbling, how many times out of ten are we ever going to see this outcome?
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