Thursday, December 18, 2008

Way down in the hole: The Wire

"All the pieces matter"
-Lester Freamon

Late last year, after hearing tons of critical praise heaped upon this show, I decided to check it out. It took about 4-5 episodes for me to really appreciate it. But after that, it became one of the most addicting shows. I don't know how people made it through waiting each week for the episodes. The Wire is very different from just about every other TV show I have seen. It is pretty much impossible for someone to start in the middle of this series and understand everything going on. It unfolds like a great novel. Critics have compared it to Charles Dickens' work in its detail. It touches on the things you are most likely never see in a network show: the humanity behind the victims caught in the drug war.

The overarching theme of this show is America as a massive broken institution. Perpetuating the system instead of fixing it and helping the individuals within it. David Simon noted that it is much like a Greek tragedy but in place of the gods, there are institutions.

When it comes to character development, this show is unsurpassed. The arcs that these characters go through from Season One all the way through Season 5 are pretty spectacular. The show is very much cyclical in nature and many fates of the characters are cyclical. One of the other important themes of the show is how one single decision can completely change someone's life. For example: In season 4, a kid witnesses a murder. He goes to school and ends up getting used as a lookout for two boys end up assaulting a girl in the bathroom. The principal gets wind of this and sits down with him. Thinking that he'll be able to get off by telling the principal about the murder, he does so. That decision alone becomes his undoing and causes the character to make a complete 180 by the end of his story arc.

The Wire is first and foremost an unapolagetic and bleak show and has a very cynical view of America. The people who go against the system and fight the institutions usually end up getting screwed over in the end.

Season 1 focused on the drug trade. Centering on the Barksdale Organization led by Avon Barksdale and Russell "Stringer" Bell. It basically centers around the drug war and how it only results in tragedy.

Season 2 focuses on the death of the working class. Whereas most shows continue where they left off at Season 1, this show starts a whole new case based around illegal immigration through the ports and how dock workers are caught up with a criminal organization.

Season 3 is where the show really hits its stride. It is here where politics are introduced. The main theme for this season is reform and if is it possible. Marlo Stanfield is also introduced as a rival gang leader who seeks to own the corners that the Barksdale organization owned. Also in this season, Sgt. Howard 'Bunny' Colvin creates Hamsterdam. What Colvin proposes is to take all the mid level drug dealers in his sector and put them into one area. While this idea may sound good to some, it ends up creating a sort of hell for those in that particular area. As always, The Wire never provides easy answers to its problems and this is an example.

Season 4 is without a doubt, television's finest moment. 13 of the most riveting and emotionally gut wrenching hours of television. This season focuses on education or the miseducation of America. The main characters are 4 young boys: Dukie, Michael, Namond and Randy. Their stories are the catalyst to the entire season. What David Simon was asking with this season was: Where do the Avon Barksdales, Stinger Bells and Marlo Stanfields come from?

Politics take second stage in this season with a white Tommy Carcetti running against a black incumbent mayor, Clarence Royce.

Season 5 is about the media and how misinformation and technology, all have an impact on journalism. Everyone's storyline comes to a close in this season. What Simon was asking this season was if The Wire got all of this right, then how come no one else is paying attention to it?
It deals with the stories that the people want to hear and how real stories get buried.

In summary, this is the most satisfying and ambitious show I have ever seen. The characters are richly detailed. We most likely will not see a show like The Wire again.

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