The Wire : Review
By: Wayne Graham

In the opening scene of the very first episode of HBO’s urban-mosaic masterpiece “The Wire,” Baltimore Homicide Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) interviews a witness at a gruesome crime scene. The dead body in question - that of a man nicknamed Snot Boogie - has nothing to do with any of the dozen plot strands we’re expected to follow in this or any future episodes. The scene exists simply to introduce us to McNulty, and what is a normal day on the job for him. He sits on a curb with the witness; they discuss the deceased man’s unfortunate nickname and the circumstances of his death. McNulty feels him out, because that’s the job. The scene is funny, sharply written, beautifully staged and performed. For a series that has developed a reputation for being hard to get into, “The Wire” did a great job of luring you in from the get-go.

A critic’s darling from the very beginning, much of this show’s justified acclaim is directed towards it’s ability to juggle dozens of characters either directly or peripherally involved in Baltimore’s post- 9/11 War on Drugs. We meet dozens of players, including he cops who catch the criminals and the lawyers that put them right back out into the street. We watch how the dealers operate, how they elude the law and best competitors. We meet the junkies trying to score and the stick-up artists that steal from the drug lords. Over the course of a season, we watch as characters on different ends of the socio-economic spectrum move closer and closer into colliding with one another. When a new season begins, the deck is reshuffled. Major characters from one season recede to the periphery; walk-ons from last season end up with major storylines. Brand new characters and angles are added to the mix. All of a sudden, we’re deeper into the rabbit hole. The second season added unions and the prison system to season one’s cops and criminals. Season three took us into City Hall. In the recently launched fourth season, we’re inside the Baltimore City School system. It’s all connected, as the promos say. It continues beyond just police, pushers, and users. It sounds too complicated to watch, but it’s not. The show is so well written, cast, and performed, that you get attached to a handful of characters at a time, and much of the show’s pleasure comes from watching how your favorites wind up in scenes together.

If that were the show’s only good quality, it might just come off as a hopeless, depressing look at How Things Got So Bad. It’s the characters rebelling against the status quo that keeps faithful viewers coming back each week. With each new season and set of problems, we meet corresponding players that know that what’s been done all along is not good enough. Last season alone had three provocative storylines to this end. A police major, under pressure to keep homicide numbers low in his district legalizes, drugs in a portion of his jurisdiction. Needless to say, he gets screwed professionally, but the numbers did drop. A drug kingpin’s second-in-command makes moves to legitimize the business, joining forces with competitors to keep business up, and competition-related fatalities down. For the most part, the move seemed to work, but at a personal cost. An ex-hit man, newly released from prison to find little career options outside of what he was doing to put him away in the first place, gives boxing lessons, just to keep kids off of the streets for at least an hour or two. The show is masterful in the way that it tells intimate stories of individuals trying to make a change against an epic backdrop of dozens upon dozens of characters spinning webs to crawl through.

It gives away none of the surprises of catching up with this show to say that, in the current season, Jimmy McNulty has found himself - at least for the moment - back as on the street as a uniformed beat cop. As more and more characters appear on the show, the very first one we met has shifted gracefully to the sidelines. It feels less like a choice of the show’s writers, and more like one McNulty made on his own. He’s letting others cut through the red tape. His former partners can continue to stake out hit men, and track down informants. Let them deal with the massive obstacles that cops face fighting a war with little to no support. As more criminals and more issues rise up to the surface, it’s clear that the efforts of one cop can only do so much. So now he’s on the street full time, still learning the names, still feeling people out. He’s letting the people on his beat -dealers, civilians, whomever - know that he’s there. Initially, it’s surprising that the main protagonist can now be absent from entire episodes. But his presence is felt. Other characters speak of him almost as if he’s retired or gone; but he’s still there. As the beating heart of “The Wire,” he’s just doing the best he can to help solve the drug problem in Baltimore, one person at a time.

All opinions expressed by Wayne Graham are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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