Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Wire Bows Out Gracefully; Kudos to Cast and David Simon, the Charles Dickens of Television

I sometimes, often, in fact, think The Wire is the best show ever to have been on television. It's hard to compare to The Sopranos, which was just about one person, really, Tony. The Wire was an ensemble show par excellence, with at least 15 to 20 centrally important players over the past five seasons. You can't compare it at all to Lost, which is in another - fantastic - universe, entirely.

The Wire is certainly the best cop show, ever. My previously favorite was Homicide: Life on the Street. David Simon was the brains behind that Baltimore masterpiece, too. And there were lots of other connections - including Clark Johnson, Meldrick in Homicide, Gus in this last season of The Wire.

But The Wire was much more than a cop show - in fact, the cops were less than half the story. There was the dock, in Season 2; politics in Season 3 and after; the school in Season 4; and the paper, the media, in this final Season 5. All of these were done superbly - though perhaps the cynical ending to the paper story this season, with fraud rewarded with the highest honor, was a little too much, though I suppose not unrealistic.

But the real star of The Wire, season after season, in addition to cops, was the street. I can't recall ever getting such a clear picture of life in the street - or, the corner, real and metaphoric, on which drugs are sold and life is lived - as we got, season after season, in The Wire. Not in any movie, or book. First the Barksdale crew, then Marlo's, were as vivid a tableau of intelligent, brutal, sensitive, savvy, focused characters as ever presented. One of the shows this season was called "The Dickensian Aspect" - and, the truth is, that could easily apply to the whole series. David Simon, just by virtue of The Wire, could be called the Charles Dickens of television.

If you'd like a look at the characters and cast of The Wire in all five seasons, HBO has put up a fine page of photos. My favorite is still the extraordinary Stringer Bell, second-in-command in the Barksdale crew, The Wealth of Nations on his bookshelf, played to perfection by Idris Elba, but that takes nothing away from the dozens of other razor-sharp performances in The Wire.

And how did it all end?

The Wire
did something exceptional and original here, too. Totally unlike the brilliantly ambiguous ending of The Sopranos, the ending of The Wire had complete closure, and was brilliant, too. And against all expectations, it was happy. McNulty is stretched out on a table for his wake - but it's only a mock wake - he's leaving the police, not life at all. Carcetti is elected governor; Rawls gets an appointment as a high state cop; Daniels looks happy as a lawyer; Rhonda Pearlman is a judge ... well, you get the picture.

The street does as well as can be expected, too. Marlo's free, rich, and likely out of the game (though you never know). Bubbles is eating upstairs with his sister. Michael may be a stick-up man, not good, but maybe he's just doing this once. Dukie is, sadly, in the worst shape ... going doing the road to addiction that Bubbles just left.

My guess is we won't see a series like this again for a very long time. Even the music was perfect, from the different versions of Tom Waits' "Way Down in the Hole" that opened shows for each of the five seasons (Steve Earle did the honors for Season 5, as well a good performance as Bubbles' sponsor at Narcotics Anonymous), to the great music that ended every episode, to the special version of "Way Down in the Hole" that accompanied the montage near the end of tonight show.

~When you walk through the garden ...~

That's a walk I bet viewers will relish for decades to come.

See also The Wire's Back! Review of Season 5 Episode 1 and Episode 2: The Great, Dangling Conversation ... 3. McNulty and Marlo ... 4. One Down ... 5. Media Chasing Their Own Tales and Tails ... 6. Superman Omar and Tall Stories ... 7. King of Diamonds ... 8. Two Down ... 9. Cold, Killer Sweetheart

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