Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Wire Season 5 Episode 5: Media Chasing Their Own Tales and Tails

A real standalone gem on The Wire tonight - which I predict will become a classic, almost Hitchcockian hour-long morality play of media chasing their own tales/tails...

The medium in question, of course, is the Baltimore Sun, under fire both from staff reductions and from McNulty, who is trying to feed it his concocted story about a Baltimore serial killer - as a way getting some police funding to bring down Marlo and crew.

Gus Haynes (great continuing performance by Clark Johnson) is doing his best to keep the Sun running, but the pressure to perform gets rookie reporter Scott Templeton (well played by Tom McCarthy) to do something daring and devious: he pretends to get a call, on a public phone, from the serial killer - the one who doesn't really exist, the one being created out of almost thin air by McNulty. (I say "almost," because there are, at least, some dead bodies.)

McNulty is called in for a meeting at the Sun, and in one of the best scenes in the entire series realizes that here is his chance to really nail down the serial killer as a reality. So he chimes in at perfect times with confirmations that what Templeton is reporting the serial killer told him rings true, and conforms to what the police already know about the serial killer. McNulty's "weak shit" has suddenly become a lot stronger.

Can this be taken as a metaphor for the way our media nowadays conjures stories out of questionable sources and the drive to be successful? Well, Jayson Blair certainly did similar things a few years ago at the New York Times - though, as far as anyone knows, no police like McNulty were involved.

The Wire has certainly presented a powerful indictment here of our media - even Gus, who at first doubted that Templeton had really heard from the serial killer, is pretty much taken in (though he may have some lingering doubts).

And the story moves on, with the serial killer now truly having a life of his own... and Omar walking into a blaze...

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 ... 6. Superman Omar and Tall Stories ... 7. King of Diamonds ... 8. Two Down ... 9. Cold, Killer Sweetheart ... 10. The Wire Bows out Gracefully

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