When I first heard of HBO’s program The Wire, I didn’t pay it much mind. The fact that it took me as long as it did to get with the program as it did is something I regret entirely. Blinders go up with critical praise it seems. The same blinders would fall around the time when I read the NYMag article where they compared Ghostface Killah to Omar, The Wire’s gay shotgun-slinger with a code of honor. That The Clipse were the equivalent of cold blooded Marlo Stanfield. These kinds of comparisons really get me, so there I was watching the first season, transfixed by what I now refer to as the greatest piece of art developed for the TV I’ve ever seen.
Now, when The Wire’s brought up, I sometimes think about how my father and I bonded over it, eagerly awaiting the next disc to come in the mail from NetFlix, like we were any of the many addicts in the foreground or background of Ed Burns and David Simons’ lens. Sure, we’ve connected over film and television in the past, but this was something utterly different, something that wasn’t big watercooler talk like X-Files at it’s peak or any episode of The Sopranos ever. This was something that even back when we started to watch it, in late 2006 and early last year, that was still enough out of the mainstream for it to feel sacred and true. Of course, me being me, I wasn’t as focused on the screen as I should have been, frequently balancing my attentions between screen and laptop. Over the past few months, I’ve been rewatching the series, with the intent of getting my roommate caught up with the show that I’d been raving about for the previous year or so.
More talk, spoilerriffic, below the cut. Do not read until you’ve caught up. Seriously, this is going to talk about who dies and who doesn’t and you really need to learn and see that for yourself.
I said stop reading. If you just clicked on a link to this article, this is your secondary warning.
A moment from watching the show that stands out was the end of “Bad Dreams,” the second to last episode of Season 2, when we see Frank Sobotka walk towards towards Spiros, The Greek, and I believe Sergei was there too. I guess the NetFlix disc was scratched, and couple that with my parents’ DVD/VCR combo player that I’ve been disparaging for years, and you have a moment resembling every household watching the end of the Sopranos, as it just skipped ahead to black, and the credits. We missed the slow fade to black. You knew what was going to happen the minute that Special Agent Fitzhugh blindly sent the info up to HQ, but the slow fade, to take that away was fucked up. The slow fade is almost always the norm on The Wire, and to have anything else happen might suggest cliffhanger, and not Sobotka’s body winding up in the fucking harbor, and then out there for everybody to see. But you really knew what happened. This show doesn’t fuck around with cliffhangers, with the exception of the time it took to learn the fate of Kima Greggs.
Watching the series a second time has been great because of how you come back to the show with the information of all the names and faces, and for Stringer, D’Angelo, Frank Sobotka, Bodie, Ziggy, Double G, Orlando, and even Ray Cole, their fates. Also, with some characters who play more tangential roles in the show, like Landsman and Slim Charles, you know how they fit into the show, and it just flows more.
Something I really appreciate that the show does right is the means of which it will introduce a character, wait a while sometimes to say their name, and with Snoop, wait a while to even give them a line. It’s more natural, and another reason why going back through the series has been so productive.
Possibly, the second season benefited the most from repeated viewings, as you understand and already empathize with the dock workers going in. You know that the season has an added message of saying, “The show isn’t as much about race as it is about class.”
Any single character benefiting more, it’s Prez, as knowing his follies as they’re coming, you understand more of his person and therefore what happened to him before he came to Major Crimes, beyond the rumor of him shooting up his own car. You know what a good person he is, and when you get to that scene with him and Lester talking off hours, after Prez got cut loose for shooting the other cop that scene just kills you.
Most of all, what sticks out to me while watching all of this is that the visual aesthetic (almost) never changed on the show. You couldn’t tell if there was any more critical attention from one season to the other, if any more budget was thrown into it or taken away from it. I say almost, because of “Back Burners,” the episode that Tim Van Patten, legendary director, helmed. When Bubbles walked through Hamsterdam, that was a completely different means of shooting the show, and god damn if it wasn’t exactly what was right. You needed to see some hell on Earth kinda shit to really show what Hamsterdam was. For that sole scene, it didn’t take anything away from the show that it looked a little different, because Hamsterdam was as different as it got.
As is Hamsterdam, so is The Wire. Ed Burns and David Simon pooling their collective genius, partner that with HBO’s standard for not giving two shiiiiiiiiiit’s about language, violence or nudity, and a central cast featuring the likes of Dominic West, Idris Elba, Andre Royo, Sonja Sohn, Michael K. Williams, Frankie Faison, and Wendell Pierce; that made this a show that’s as different from the rest of the cultural landscape as it could have been.
As the series begins it’s final season, my excitement grows more and more, because there’s something strange about the show. No matter how I hype it to myself or to others who havn’t seen it, it will always exceed their expectations. Maybe there’s some level where my recommendations are taken with a fist full of salt, I don’t know. The show may have suffered from poor timing, coming up at the same time that HBO’s flagship shows like The Sopranos, Sex and The City, and Six Feet Under were owning the network and it’s promotional capacity. David Simon, who loves Baltimore as much as anybody can, probably understands what it means to be underfunded and passed over. At the same time, though, if the show had begun right now, right now, with HBO all out of real brand name television (Entourage, as much as I like it, really pales, Larry Bird-pale, in comparison to The Wire) the show, and Baltimore might have gotten the attention they deserve.
I’m waiting to watch the season premiere on Sunday night, and you can expect a review later next week.