The Frontal Cortex

The Wire

I agree with Jeffrey Goldberg: the first episode of The Wire’s final season was disappointing.

I was enjoying myself just fine for the first 20 minutes or so, becoming reacquainted with some of my favorite drug dealers–the intensely lovable psycho-killer Snoop most of all–and scandalous cops. But then we entered the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun, and it was straight-up whiskey-tango-foxtrot time for me. I thought the show stopped dead, just about the time we were introduced to the saintly city editor and the darkly ambitious white-boy reporter.

In our early glimpse of the Sun newsroom, we’re not seeing much in the way of gray: just asshole bosses, a fantasy-camp city editor, a brooding and envious general assignment reporter and his naive-seeming Hispanic colleague, who gave us the most unrealistic moment last night: After she is publicly humiliated by the grammarians of the city desk, she actually seems grateful. Give me a break.

I also thought the newspaper scenes were unusually lame for such a great show. One of the best parts of The Wire is the moral ambiguity. Look, for instance, at Omar: he makes a living stealing from drug dealers, and yet he’s the most ethical character in the show. (As Dylan sang, “To live outside the law, you must be honest.”) I was crushed when Stringer Bell was killed at the end of Season 3, even though he was a drug kingpin. And I’m not the kind of person who roots for the bad guys.

The problem with the newspaper scenes was the transparency of the characters. I could tell the good guys from the bad guys after a few lines of dialogue. The show is normally much more interesting than that.


  1. #1 SEK
    January 8, 2008

    The problem with the newspaper scenes was the transparency of the characters. I could tell the good guys from the bad guys after a few lines of dialogue.

    In all fairness, you could say the same thing about Stringer Bell after the first few episodes of the first season. While everyone speculates that the newspaper plot will serve as a vehicle for Simon’s grudges, I think it’s important to note that Simon’s staff has done a fine job moderating his destructive pessimism in the other seasons.

  2. #2 Tony P
    January 8, 2008

    I got hooked on The Wire back in 2002 when I was working at the RI Department of Attorney General. The show had quite the following in there because of the investigatory nature of it, but also because it followed the personalities a bit too.

    I’ve watched up to the new season where the kids are now playing the game and the Italian guy got elected mayor.

  3. #3 Adam
    January 8, 2008

    I agree with SEK.

    What I’ve read about the first episode has been way too critical. These are new characters! Yes, The Wire’s strength is building ambiguious characters. But people forget those characters need to be built, layer after layer. They don’t just show up on the screen, frame one, perfectly textured and grey. Could you see the many sides of Herc when we first met him in season one? Stringer? Carver? Any of the dock workers in season two? No, they fit into certain types until events showed otherwise.

    Anyone writing about this season needs to give the Sun newsroom time to develop. After four amazing seasons, Simon has earned our patience.

  4. #4 J. Cooke
    January 16, 2008

    I’m going to resound Adam’s comment concerning patience.

    The Wire is about patience. The ambivalent likability of a character should not (and perhaps cannot) be thrust upon the viewer.

    Rawls is a prime example. His debut scene from the first episode sets a very strong, unambiguous tone for his character. Not until the final episode of the first season are we treated to a counterpart interaction with McNulty (in the hospital after Kima’s shooting) that reveals Rawls in an almost uncomfortably admirable light. Further, it’s not for two more seasons that we are made privy to Rawls’ seeming affinity for cosby sweaters and boy bars.

    The audience needs to be sufficiently tugged in one direction to afford significance to any future emotional redirection. This is rarely possible in the span of an episode without resorting to cheap, transparent ploys. The willingness to forgo the needs of the inattentive or one-time viewer and stretch the development and narrative throughout the entirety of a season is the shining hallmark of The Wire.

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