This week’s PostBourgie recap of HBO’s incomparably dope drama ‘The Wire’ is being handled by Gene Demby, who works for a newspaper in New York City. SPOILERS!
Of our little troika here at PB, two of us are unabashed, hardcore Wire zealots.
But Stacia, a TV junkie and Baltimore native, remains a holdout. Recently, she started watching The Wire in the worst way: in out-of-sequence clips on YouTube. It was there that she peeped the famous scene that opened Season 4, where Snoop and the salesman at the hardware show have a disturbing conversation about a nail gun, and the quietly tragic scene where Bodie and McNulty converse at the arboretum. “I’ve decided this show would devastate me in its entirety,” she said.
And she’s probably right. After watching this week’s episode — easily the best episode of the season and which boasted arguably the best scene in the show’s run — I felt deflated in a way I’d never felt watching a TV show before. Yeah, even The Wire.
Which begs the question: are we, devotees of this singularly depressing show, just a bunch of masochists? Sadists? Is this, like, fun?
Whatever a happy ending is supposed to look like, this week’s installment boasted one that was the absolute antithesis of that. The quiet exchange between Michael and Dukie was, for my money, the most heartbreaking exchange on a series that trades in heartbreaking exchanges. Dukie’s walk down into that yard at the end of the episode mirrored Frank Sobotka’s walk down to the river to meet with The Greek in Season Two, unwittingly trudging toward his death. I needed to take a walk myself when it was over.
So Michael is clearly gone, a killer now (well, he already was, but his vacillations earlier this season were just the death pangs of his innocence) and probably a killer on borrowed time. And Dukie is almost certainly headed toward the same fate as his parents. But Michael was sexually abused by his brother’s father and being raised by a mother who is a hardcore dope fiend, and the tragedy of Dukie’s home life is only ever hinted at. Given all that, how the hell else were they supposed to end up? Was Michael supposed to grow up to be an accountant? Was Dukie supposed to be an engineer? That would have been completely dishonest.
This is one of the things The Wire gets right about urban poverty and, if I can digress here a bit, what the suggestion that hood folks should just work hard, go to school and make ‘good’ choices to escape its gravity seem to miss. Latoya Peterson, in a conversation over at Racialicious about what Adam Shepard didn’t get about poverty, pointed out how psychically taxing really growing up like that was and still is for her.
As a person newly out of poverty and into the middle class, he just doesn’t have the baggage I carry. Most notably, he doesn’t have that fear that comes with being poor and knowing how close you are to being on the street. That fear is what drives me – and that fear manifests in the form paralysis to many of those who I knew that did not make it out of poverty. Being free of the emotional baggage of poverty is an amazing thing. I hope to be free of it myself someday.
She ain’t lyin’, folks. That fear is a big part of the calculus that goes into the choices people make, to the extent that they even have good choices available. So why Namond (who as we see, is doing well, and apparently eating well, too) and not Randy or Michael or Dukie — or Randy and Michael and Dukie? Was he smarter? They’re all smart kids. Was he more innocent? More virtuous? It’s kind of ridiculous to discuss poverty and then talk about fairness in life trajectories. None of these kids had a fighting chance. None of them. (As Snoop said to Michael in the truck, “Deserve got nothing to do with it.”)That Namond got out is nothing short of a miracle, and it was based entirely on luck: Bunny meeting him and learning to like him and then making a choice very few people would have wanted to or would have been capable of making. Yeah, The Wire‘s just a TV show. But in an America with teenage murderers and heroin addicts (and no one rooting for them) there’s probably an argument to be made for the reality being much, much worse.
(Maybe we watch because it affirms our worldviews? I’m sure there are rock-ribbed conservatives out there who are big-time Wire fans. I wonder what they like about it.)
Okay, okay. Back to the show.
David Simon’s is a zero-sum universe: Dukie’s implied fall is the photo negative of Bubbles’s tenuous redemption (note the sad remembrances of their halcyon, youthful summer days). Bubbles is clean, finally, but he’s not anywhere near as gregarious as he was on drugs. Earlier in the season I thought that rang false, but then I remembered that this is the same dude who tried to hang himself because of his guilt over what happened to Sherrod. His one-year anniversary of being clean, with no family in attendance and the tears that attended finally opening up about Sherrod, doesn’t feel much like a celebration. But it underscored how hard-fought the show’s victories come and also how criminal it is that Andre Royo has never even been nominated for an Emmy*.
We finally get a weird look into the Marlo/Chris dynamic. Marlo, usually the personification of emotional opacity, damn near has a fit when he finds out that Omar was disparaging him during his rampage. That this wig out happened while they were in lockup on very serious charges goes back to Marlo’s monomania regarding power. (Remember the look on his face when Joe was killed?) Here he is, livid that he was disparaged by a man who was already killed. I wouldn’t put it past this cat to torch Omar’s grave and be like “Let that be a lesson so these muthafuckas KNOW!” Ol’ Extra, I-Don’t-Like-You-So-You’re-Dead-Ass Marlo.
More on this: Why was Chris so adamant about not cluing Marlo in on that? Is Chris the consigliere who’s really making a lot of the big decisions à la Stringer Bell or Dick Cheney? Is he trying to be a check to Marlo’s unfettered bloodlust? (That would be an interesting dynamic, Chris being Marlo’s hit man and all.)
I can’t even be bothered with the paper stuff. Nothing I want to say hasn’t been said before. Suffice it to say…this episode was close to flawless in every way, save the scenes in the newsroom, which were impossible to watch because my eyes were constantly rolling.
More on the zero-sum theme: McNulty’s case brings in the biggest fish in Baltimore, but may end the careers of everyone in the cohort of quasi-noble rogues that was the Major Crimes Unit. The only way McNulty and Lester’s scheme works is if they shut it down long before everyone found out about it. But Kima can’t abide the charade any longer, and decides to take it upstairs to Daniels. Again with the subversion of ethics: is Kima right in this case? Reflexively, I’d say yes — McNulty crossed a bunch of lines, especially with that mentally impaired homeless man (a literally squirm-inducing decision). But they collared Marlo Stansfield in the process, who actually is a mass murderer, and has probably been involved in more deaths than we know about. That has to be worth something, right?
I missed a lot of stuff — what is Lester trying to get out of Clay Davis? — but this is already getting pretty long. We’ll just get to it in the comments section.
1) Has the guy who plays Carcetti’s chief of staff never seen The Wire before? In that scene where he’s leaning on Daniels and Rawls, it felt like he’d been imported from some David E. Kelley show. Damn, family. Dial it down a notch.
2) McNulty’s nod to the evacuate-means-defecating conversation at the Sun’s copy desk in episode 1.
3) We’ve seen just about every major character from Seasons 1 through 4 get a tiny on-screen epilogue this season, which is a nice touch. Avon got to tip his hat, as did Bunny, Nicky Sobotka, Namond, Randy and Cutty. In the preview for next week’s final episode, Prez shows up — with a beard. We get a reference to Shardene, the ex-stripper Lester was romancing (they’re apparently still together). We also got some very, very nice winks for fanatical-Wire-fan touches: one of the stevedores from Season Two living under the bridge when McNulty and Lester canvass the area; the white girl in the car who cops an eightball in Hamsterdam in Season Three is the woman in Bubbles’s Narcotics Anonymous meeting that opens one of this season’s episodes.
*The lack of Emmy nominations for this show has been well-documented, but it still probably deserves its own post.
Words to live by this week:
Chris: I don’t see the boy snitching.
Marlo: Neither do I. But you ready to be your future on that?
Waylon: Oh my god. Look at this. Bubs.
Bubbles: Waylon, man. This here’s my boy, Fletcher. Newspaper writer that been following me around.
Waylon (to Fletcher): Well, you’re welcome to sit in. But I have to ask that you respect the privacy. No note-taking. No recorders. What you hear today…stays in the room.
Fletcher (to Waylon): Not a problem. I’m just here with Reginald.
Waylon: “Reginald”? Reginald? I’m his fucking sponsor and I don’t think I ever got a Christian name out of him. Reginald. Hot shit! (laughs)
Bubbles (to Fletcher): See what you done?
Michael: Why here? Why you wanna mix with they kind, man?
Dukie:They give me work.
Michael: Who you talking to? I know what they be doin’ in there, Duke.
Dukie:Then I can still hang with you then.
Michael: You know I’m too hot.
Dukie: You remember that one day summer past, when we threw those piss balloons at them Terrace boys? You remember, just before school started up again? Ya know, I took a beat down from them boys. I don’t even throw a shadow on that. (laughs) That was the day…ya’ll bought me ice cream off the truck. You ‘member, Mike?
Michael: …..I don’t.
Dukie: See you ’round, Mike.
Michael: See you, Duke.