Watching The Wire, Again

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I watched The Wire when it came out a decade ago, and like everyone else on Earth, loved it.

I recently rewatched all five seasons on Amazon Prime, and noticed things beyond my reinforced love.

I still think it’s the best TV drama I’ve ever seen. It shatters the good guy vs bad guy tropes, both on an individual level and societal (war on drugs, race relations, school reform failures, death of the working class, death of journalism, disintegration of the family, government corruption), but somehow manages not to be preachy about it.

The Wire shows what can be done when you don’t have to worry about advertisers. I can’t imagine a show like that being done anywhere other than subscription TV, like HBO.

If you haven’t watched the series and intend to, don’t read further. It’s free on Amazon Prime right now. Go watch it. I was stunned at how good it is, both the first viewing a decade ago, and again this year.

Here’s where my thoughts went after my second viewing of The Wire:

Major Rawls is shown to be hanging out in a gay bar, when another gangster is hunting down Omar (the robber of drug dealers, who is also gay). This revelation is never returned to. Why not? Feels like a loose thread. Could have made his character more interesting. It’s fine to say “he’s gay, so what?” but then there’s little point in revealing him in the gay bar the way they did (and for having a photo of his wife and kids on his desk). It felt important, but wasn’t developed. It could have made him more sympathetic. As it was, he was 99% unlikable, which is unusual for the show. Most of the characters had at least one endearing trait.

Does no one in Baltimore own a rifle? I get that certain people like Omar, Chris, and Snoop are scary, but one guy with a rifle on a roof could take care of these folks without worrying about getting face to face (or within Omar’s shotgun range). It just seems obvious to me, but maybe that’s because my introduction to firearms was hunting, not slinging on a corner or walking a beat.

When Chris beats Michaels’ stepdad to death on the street with his fists and feet (instead of just shooting him in the head and hiding him inside the abandoned house he was walking him toward), he was probably taking out his rage from being raped himself, as a child. It’s never discussed, but emotionally, it seems obvious to me. One of the many things I admire about the show is how they don’t slap you in the face with character development. You just pay attention, or you don’t get it.

That said, I saw no explanation for why McNulty goes from settling down, generally satisfied guy at the end of Season 4 to womanizing drunk in the intro to Season 5. It felt random. There were no events shown or implied that would naturally inspire this sort of flip. Sure, he’s a chaotic guy, but that transition just seemed nuts. If they had simply shown him bored or tempted, it might have made more sense. I guess he was frustrated at the lack of progress in the investigation of the vacant building murders, but it wasn’t set up like that onscreen, so the sudden change felt unnatural.

I found Marlo less cool the second time around. He’s just a guy who’s so afraid of losing power that his only response to a problem is murder. Even Stringer was more sophisticated than that.

Avon and Omar became more interesting, because I could better see their passions beyond money and status. They are the core tragic characters, from the drug dealer side of the story. Marlo and Stringer are simply antagonists, pushing Avon and Omar’s stories along (and as an echo, Bodie’s). In a traditional tragedy, Marlo could have been rewritten as a storm, or some other amoral force. He doesn’t have enough sophistication, as presented, to feel fully human.

Overall, the main character of the series isn’t Detective McNulty, it’s Baltimore. Sure, McNulty is our everyman tour guide, but the main character is the city itself. Baltimore cannot be defeated, no matter which side of the law you’re on; it can only be survived.

That said, the actor who plays McNulty, Dominic West, is brilliant. First, I hate it when English guys do American accents so well that I can’t tell. Second, when he plays an American trying to do an English accent, it’s hilarious.

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2 thoughts on “Watching The Wire, Again”

  1. I watched the Wire myself, but not initially. I watched it a year or so ago and enjoyed it.

    The Wire may definitely be in the top tier of TV dramas, but… when you say “I still think it’s the best TV drama I’ve ever seen.” then I must assume you haven’t seen Breaking Bad. 🙂

    I may get a chance to comment further… later.

    I bit of TV trivia… Three actors from The Wire have had significant roles in The Walking Dead.

    Chad Coleman played Dennis “Cutty” Wise (the ex-con boxer) on The Wire, played Tyreese on The Walking Dead

    Lawrence Gilliard Jr. played of D’Angelo Barksdale on The Wire, played Bob on The Walking Dead (my 2nd favorite character for his optimistic outlook no less… my favorite character is almost his polar opposite with a “realistic” outlook)

    Seth Gilliam played the policeman Ellis Carver on The Wire, plays Father Gabriel on The Walking Dead

    This is supposedly no accident, since Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman has stated he was a big fan of The Wire.

  2. Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff I haven’t seen, including Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. I’m going to have to catch up. So me saying “best” may not be worth that much. 🙂

    I avoided The Walking Dead when I was writing books that had zombies in them, because I was afraid of ripping them off. I’m free to check that out now. I saw the pilot for Breaking Bad, and just didn’t continue. Nothing wrong with it… I just wasn’t in the mood. I’ve heard it’s great.

    Hell, I haven’t even watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (except for a couple of random episodes), which many friends say is their favorite series. So my TV criticism has some catching up to do.

    It’d be fun to watch a lot of The Wire actors again, in new roles. They were awesome. I saw an ad saying the guy who played Marlo is now on the Amazon series, Bosch. May have to check that out, too.

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