Thoughts On The First Four Seasons Of The Wire

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Last night, we finished off Season Four of The Wire, which was the most depressing season ender ever.  While The Wire’s never been an “up with people” show, at least the previous three seasons have been able to end on some note of triumph – Season Four puts four young, poor kids through the wringer and leaves the police grasping at straws.
That’s all right, though.  I’m looking at Season Four as the Empire Strikes Back season, as there’s too many hanging plot threads to call it complete – they’re literally only finding the bodies.  I’m not saying that Baltimore will be all unicorns and ponies by the time we’re done, but I’m pretty sure we’ll make headway somewhere.
There are those who say that The Wire is the greatest television show ever, and I’m not sure I buy into that.  What I will say is that The Wire is absolutely unique in television, a sprawling drama (with literally 70+ characters to keep track of) that shows an absolutely complex interplay between the cops, the criminals, the politicians, and the bureaucracy that houses all of these.
I remember a soldier once referring to war as “fighting a fire that learns to fight back,” and no show details that better than The Wire – which draws a keen line between “uneducated” and “smart.”  These kids on the streets may not know how to read, but that’s because the environment they’re in doesn’t reward book learning. The Wire seems to posit that intelligence is handed around evenly, but the rewards for the ways one uses those native smarts manifest very differently depending the culture you’re born into.  If you’re really smart and poor in Baltimore, then you’re going to get rewarded a lot more for drug dealing than for trying to go to college – not just in money, but in the support from your friends, and the protection from your allies.  And that’s shown in a lot of very subtle ways.
And so the dealers are cunning, finding increasingly complex ways to bamboozle both the cops and their competitors.  A lot of The Wire is a strange joy in seeing how the drug trade is adapting to the changes.  You wind up admiring some of these folks for how they do it, if not necessarily what they do.
Watch The Wire long enough and you become a part of it.  I’m in Season Four, and some of the older drug dealers have been killed or caught – and new dealers have arisen to take their place.  And these new kids, I don’t know them, I didn’t get to see their internal lives like I did with the old guys, they’re cold and scary.  And I found myself reminiscing for the good old days, when the guys I knew were running things, back when the streets of Baltimore seemed predictable – which is ludicrous.  The guys in Season One were killers, in some ways maniacs, selling drugs to dead-eyed junkies.  But I at least knew their rules, and so I find myself one of the old soldiers mourning that the neighborhood’s gone to hell, when it really hasn’t.  It was hell when I got here.  The hell has just changed temperatures.
The Wire also gave me one scene that just utterly weirded me out: three black guys, in a room.  The black guys were all cops.  They all had distinct personalities, I knew them as individuals, and they were assembled – debating – for reasons that had nothing to do with their blackness, just three African-Americans quietly hashing out a solution to a problem.  And I thought, “When was the last time I saw three black men as heroes in a show not specifically marketed to African-Americans?”  And I realized the answer was never.  That doesn’t happen.  There’s usually one or two people on a cast as The Black Guy – but enough of them that they could meet, coincidentally, in a room?  Never.  But a truly multiracial cast really brought that reality home to me, and it made me sad.
As I close out Season Four, though, what truly sticks with me is Randy.  Poor, fucking Randy, a young stupid kid who was bad but redeemable, who got backed into a corner and made one mistake.  And because of very small errors in the system, each done by people who were mostly trying to do the right things for stupid reasons, the consequences of that mistake got magnified until his whole life unravelled.  Like The Joker, he had one bad day, and that day will fuck him up now and forever, robbing him of any chance to do anything good ever again.  And maybe that’d be acceptable for a grown man – maybe – but he was a dumb kid.
Sometimes that’s the way life is.  Sometimes, there’s one bad thing you do – maybe even not that bad – and it shapes the rest of your days.  But man, is it bitter to see poor Randy condemned for mistakes that weren’t even mostly his.
And now I try to envision a Batman/The Wire crossover, which is surprisingly tricky to envision.

1 Comment

  1. John Perich
    Apr 26, 2013

    And now you’ve got me hearing: You gonna help, huh? You gonna look out for me? You gonna look out for me, Sgt. Carver? and now god damn it, I’m at work, I can’t be crying now.
    Also:
    And now I try to envision a Batman/The Wire crossover, which is surprisingly tricky to envision.
    Agreed. As I’ve mentioned on OTI, Batman isn’t great at solving problems he can’t punch. Sure, the more sophisticated stories will throw in a denouement about Bruce Wayne building a children’s hospital or a rehab clinic or something, but that’s never the focus of the story. Batman’s solution to urban crime (and this is true of almost all cape comics) is “punch it until it stops.”
    So who should Batman take out? By now you know that removing Avon and Stringer from the picture did not clean up Baltimore’s streets, so we can surmise that doing the same to Marlo or Proposition Joe would get us no farther.
    What I’d be curious to see: how would the gangs change their tactics to reflect the increased attention of the Batman?

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