Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"I’m gonna work them. Sweet Jesus, I’m gonna work them.": The Wire

(OK, so this week I was sick. One of these weeks, I will get up a Wire review before Tuesday. -- ed.)

One of the biggest casualties of The Wire's final season is its deliberateness. It's kind of fascinating to see this show move with this kind of momentum, but it feels like the sort of thing that happened in previous season's final thirds or quarters, when all of the pieces of the plot came together in a way you didn't quite see coming, which enhanced both the "A-ha!" factor of the show and its sense of weight and tragedy.

There's no show better than The Wire at unpacking those little moments when you sense pieces of a puzzle clicking into place, especially if you're an attentive audience member. There's something so satisfying in the STRUCTURE of The Wire that it makes watching even the earlier episodes, when David Simon carefully puts his pieces on the board and not a lot happens plot-wise, palatable, even if you don't particularly care for the show's more critic-friendly affectations and literary tropes. Something about just feeling the show snap its pieces into place makes it satisfying in a way that other shows rarely approach. If there's anything I'm missing this season, it's that sense (though, obviously, we might get it in the episodes to come).

That said, this episode was pretty terrific, a striking portrayal of the way the old gives way to the new, both on the streets and in the cop offices. We got to see the way Carcetti drove the police storyline and the way Gus and the guys at the paper covered it, but the episode really belonged to the officers and the guys on the street, the characters we've been following around since season one. The Wire's grand, snowballing effect means that we've gained new characters worth caring about in every season (particularly ones that we're seeing the final story points of in this last season), but the sheer weight of the characters from season one can really only be matched by the other HBO shows. That tiny little moment where Kima played with Elijah would have been milked for all it was worth in other dramas. Here, it didn't need the milking. We know the long history, and we know Kima, and there's something quietly devastating about the way she keeps trying to build that house, even knowing it's going to be very easily destroyed.

The biggest moment, of course, was the death of Proposition Joe, who finally gave way to Marlo after angering the kid one last time at a meeting (featuring some impressive continuity work, if I do say so myself). Typically, Joe tried to talk his way out of his own impending death, but Marlo is having none of it, finally managing to make Joe somehow accept that he's about to be shot in the head, getting him to close his eyes and just wait for that deafening roar.

Matt Zoller Seitz, in the comments thread over at House Next Door, says that if there's a flaw in this season (which he's enjoying), it's the show's devotion to the idea that things were once better in some golden age that can no longer be attained. I can see where he's coming from, as the show obviously has some affection for Prop Joe and the way that he can talk to just about anyone (and, honestly, when I saw the scene where he bonded with Herc, I knew that his time had to be up soon, though I didn't expect it to be this episode). But I don't think the show has necessarily said this was a terrific thing or that the new generation doesn't have ideals and ideas (and we see more of this in the police story). After all, Stringer Bell was once the torchbearer for the new generation on the show.

No, through the portrayal of Marlo, the series is just touching on something it really hasn't before. The disconnected, dissociative evil that sometimes springs up when a person realizes that their connection to others is tentative and that by forcing their own dominance on others, they can more easily attain the power they lust for. Marlo's not Hitler or Mussolini or anything, but you can feel the stirrings of that kind of dehumanizing power in that final close-up, where the character's eyes seemed both terrifyingly dead and full of a new kind of raw life and realization of possibility. I've found the street plots a bit uninvolving at times on this show, but this final showdown that's brewing between Marlo and Omar (with Omar -- easily the show's most cinematic invention -- essentially playing out a Western) has me on the edge of my seat.

The police storyline also spoke to the inevitability of the passage of time. Burrell, finally having angered Carcetti one last time by doing exactly what Carcetti wanted, was pushed aside for Rawls with the expectation that Daniels would soon take his place. The scene where Burrell was pushed out of the way and given a plaque (and the expert deconstruction of the doublespeak from the mayor by Gus) was a grade-A example of how The Wire shows us bluntly the savageness that lies beneath even our most hallowed traditions. One need only watch any of the Democratic or Republican debates to see this; this is merely war with words.

Man, there's a lot to unpack in this episode, even as McNulty's serial killer plot got backburnered a bit (in favor of putting the necessary plot points in place). The imminent downfall of Clay Davis continued to play out in a way that highlighted the consummate smooth politician's increasing fear that he could very well go down (and I loved the way he transitioned from fearful in the courtroom to schmoozer for the cameras). The newspaper storyline worked well as well, even as the social-climbing Scott storyline continued to bug.

Even if The Wire never quite tops this episode this season, though, this is one for the record books. It was a smooth, tragic and funny hour, full of moments that felt more real than just about anything I've seen on TV in ages. Excellent television.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Well I happen to *like* the timing of your late reviews. It's the perfect antidote to all the on-demand people talking about stuff a week before I even have the chance to watch it.