The Wire, "-30-": Farewell to Baltimore
Posted by Alan Sepinwall March 09, 2008 10:34PM
Okay. Very, very, very long spoilers for "-30-," the series finale of "The Wire," coming up just as soon as I find an up-and-coming TV critic to one day replace me...
(Also, if you’re looking for the David Simon Q & A, click here. It’s very long, and I’ll have an abbreviated version both in the paper and on-line tomorrow morning.)
"Let’s go home." -McNulty
Of course the final shot of "The Wire" is of Baltimore. Of course it is.
As David Simon says in our interview -- and as he has said throughout the show’s run -- "We knew that the ultimate star of the narrative was Baltimore, and by extension the American city, and by extension America." No final image other than the Baltimore skyline -- particularly seen from the distance of the highway, a remote view seen by travelers who would be terrified to ever set foot in the West Baltimore the show has depicted for five seasons -- would have been appropriate.
The finale provided closure by the barrelful for all the human characters -- in many ways, it was the antithesis of "The Sopranos" ending -- but the one character whose fate remains very much up in the air is Baltimore itself. When the cycle turns round and round -- when a Bubbles escapes the junkie life only to be replaced by Dukie, when Carcetti sells out every last principle in order to become governor, when the keys to the police department are taken from Cedric Daniels and handed to Stan Valchek -- what can be done to save the city (and, by extension, America)? Can anything? Or was Bunny right last week when he said that there was nothing to be done?
I should say upfront that my experience of watching "-30-" will be different from yours. I got the final three episodes a few weeks ago, and after using a lot of willpower to tend to more pressing professional and familial obligations, I stayed up until 2 a.m. that night watching all of them. (And another hour past that, just trying to get my brain to stop replaying certain moments over and over.) So I view "-30-" and "Late Editions" and even "Clarifications" as one large chunk of the greater whole. (Ideally, "The Wire" is a show that should always be experienced at least three episodes at a time.) So my feelings about it are tied up with my feelings about "Late Editions," which in turn are tied up with my feelings about "Clarifications."
Stepping back and rewatching each one a week apart to take notes for blogging purposes, though, I can see how someone might find "-30-" (the title, for those who don’t know, comes from a now largely outdated bit of newspaper shorthand to point out the proper end of an article) a bit of an anti-climax of "Late Editions." And, certainly, there’s nothing quite as affecting as Dukie and Michael in the car.
But if you’ve been watching this show long enough to care about Bubbs’ trip up the stairs (and, okay, I teared up at that) or Kima and Bunk presiding over a crime scene on the same sidewalk where William Gant was killed, then you should know by now that, like "The Sopranos," "The Wire" usually puts the emotional fireworks into the penultimate episode (The George Pelecanos Tearjerker Special) and then spend the finale on resolution.
And boy, there was a lot of resolution here. You can wonder about what might happen with certain characters -- specifically, how McNulty and Marlo each deal with becoming a man without a country -- but for the most part, we know exactly how everyone ended up, and if they’ve stepped into another character’s role, then we have a pretty good idea what the future holds for them. Sure, Michael’s having fun taking Omar’s place as the Robin Hood of West Baltimore, but we also know that most Omars (albeit not all; see the real Donnie Andrews) wind up catching a bullet. The best case scenario for Dukie is that he drags himself out of addiction one day many years from now the way Bubbs did, but I don’t even know if that’s realistic; Bubbs had a sister who could provide the slimmest of support systems when he needed one, where Dukie has no one.
(’Scuse me while I go find my David Simon voodoo doll.)
Now, some people I know who have already seen the finale thought it provided too much closure, that Simon tried to rush too many endings into 93 minutes -- or that he spent time spelling out fates (like Dukie and Michael) that should have been clear from previous episodes. I’ve also heard some complaints that too many characters get something too closely resembling a happy ending (McNulty seems okay with losing his badge, Daniels looks happy as a lawyer) or the direct opposite, that the ending is far too dark (Carcetti is governor, Nerese mayor, Valchek commissioner, Marlo is a free man, Jimmy and Lester and Daniels aren’t cops anymore, Templeton gets a Pulitzer while Gus and Alma are demoted, Dukie’s a junkie, etc.).
Me, I thought it felt just right.
First, some of the endings are ambiguous enough that they could be read as either happy or sad. Yes, Marlo is technically unpunished by the law for his role in those 22 murders (and many more), but Ronnie’s deal with Levy winds up being the worst possible punishment for the man. In jail, he’s still making money off the co-op (as Slim notes he could) and no doubt doing easy time like we saw Avon doing in season two, and his name lives on in the streets as the man responsible for all that killing. Death is something he was prepared for, too; as he told Vinson a season or two back, he knew his reign would likely be short and end in incarceration or death, but he thought it was his time to wear the crown.
But to be excommunicated from The Game? To be granted money and freedom but lose his power and his rep and the only world he’s ever known or cared about? That’s some "Twilight Zone" stuff right there. As Simon (who refused to elaborate on whether Marlo’s return to the corner was a one-time thing or the beginning of his attempt to return to that life under the cop’s noses) puts it in our interview:
Marlo is cut off from the source of his power, desperate to rescue his name. To me, the great irony is that Marlo ends up being granted what Stringer wanted -- and he has no use for it. To me, to a guy like Marlo Stanfield, hell is a business meeting with a bunch of developers. For Stringer, it was all he wanted.Similarly, Jimmy’s early retirement can be read as either his salvation or a cruel punishment. Throughout the series, it was suggested that his whole life was the job -- hence the mock wake when he had to leave it -- but we also saw, over and over, that the job was killing him. The policework fueled the booze, the booze fueled the anger, the anger fueled the work, and on and on. Stringer’s death was enough of a shock to make Jimmy take a step back to at least something simple like going back in uniform, and for a while, he seemed happy.
But he was still a cop, still close enough to his old shenanigans that he was able to get sucked back in by the bodies in the vacants and his role in Bodie’s death, and here he hit rock bottom. He drank, he whored himself around, and he invented this bogus serial killer that helped bust Marlo (sort of) but that also hurt -- and in two cases, resulted in the deaths of -- innocent people. Losing his badge was the very least he should have been punished, and yet it’s also the best thing that could happen to Jimmy McNulty the man. When he sits with Beadie on her front steps, he looks a little lost (I can’t see him taking a job like Herc’s with Levy or the one Bunny had at the hotel) but not unhappy, exactly. If he wants to have a chance to be a real person with a real life, he needed to get away from that job, and his behavior this season guaranteed that he would. He can’t bring back those two homeless men the copycat killed, but at least he went to the trouble to undo Larry’s kidnapping and bring him home. When he tells Kima (in another moment that made my eyes a wee bit moist) that, if she thought she needed to turn him in, then she was right, he’s not just trying to make her feel better; he believes that he shouldn’t be a cop anymore.
As for the rest of it -- and I’ll be hitting the fates of every major character at some point during this review -- I thought most of it worked perfectly. Some things may have felt rushed -- specifically Dukie’s scam on Prez, which I’ll get back to -- but others were perfectly-timed. The show spent a season-long story arc on whether or not a man would get to go up a staircase and through a door, and all the set-up was worth it for that brief glimpse of Bubbs bounding up the steps and sitting down with his family at the dinner table. You want to talk about earning a moment? That, there, is an earned moment.
Some characters got better than they deserve (Valchek, Rawls, Templeton, Herc and Levy, the politicans), some got worse (Dukie, Gus) and others came out about right (Cheese, Chris, Lester), but The Game is The Game, the system is the system, and life goes on. Until something fundamentally changes, there will always be another Marlo, another Omar, another Burrell, etc. The show has always been cyclical. Remember the end of season one, with Poot having absorbed some of D’Angelo’s lessons about slinging and passing them on to the new version of himself? This is what the show is, was and always will be, because, as David Simon sees it, this is what the system is, was and always will be.
(Ironically, one of the episode’s biggest victims is not a person but an institution. Think how much better off the Baltimore Police Department would have been with Daniels as its commissioner. Valchek’s just another symptom of the same disease. In this show’s fictional universe, what’s done to the BPD is just as tragic as what happens to the kids who aren’t Namond.)
Before I get to individual characters and moments from the finale, I want to say a few words about the Baltimore Sun story, which was supposed to be the spine of the season just as much as the kids were for season four, Hamsterdam was for season three, etc. Again, Simon is going to go into great length about this in the interview, but his fundamental argument is that all the stuff with Templeton is a smokescreen. As he sees it, the real problem at the Sun isn’t what Scott’s doing, but what isn’t being done by everyone else: covering all the stories we’re aware of this season, but that the Sun omits from its pages (Joe and Omar’s deaths, the disbanding of the MCU, Carcetti pressuring the cops to cook stats, etc.).
"That is the last piece in the ’Wire’ puzzle: If you think anyone will be paying attention to anything you encountered in the first four seasons of this show, think again."And I see what he’s saying, to a point. I certainly took notice of those various moments when Alma would pitch a big story (to us) to Gus and it would wind up as a brief, or out of the paper altogether. And I think the Templeton story did add some value, both as a parallel/aid to the McNulty story, and as a reflection of some of the bigger lies that have been foisted on us by politicians and the press in recent years. (Like so many things in "The Wire," the serial killer storyline can be read as an Iraq parallel, which I guess would make Marlo into Afghanistan, but maybe that’s a stretch.)
My problem is that, especially from the moment Twigg took the buyout and left, the screen time has been so disproportionately in favor of Templeton making stuff up and against incidents of the rest of the Sun staff failing to adequately report what’s really happening in Baltimore that the story completely overwhelms the subtext. Worse, it feels like it runs counter to everything "The Wire" is about.
Simon has said time and time and time again that network TV dramas take the easy way out and portray corruption and other villainy as an individual problem. Get rid of the one dirty cop on the force, the one crooked politician at City Hall, and everything will be fine. "The Wire" doesn’t believe that, and yet it spent so much time in its final season on a story of one individual causing all these problems for his institution. Firing Templeton from the Sun wouldn’t come close to solving the paper’s many problems, but the amount of time spent on him makes it seem like it would, you know? "If only Gus didn’t have to waste so much time chasing down this jerk’s lies, things might get done around here!" And, yes, Scott is very much enabled by Whiting and Klebanow, and by what Simon sees as a prize-chasing culture that’s now endemic to places like the Sun. But I feel like the problems plaguing newspapers and other media (and just in the week between "Late Editions" and the finale, I’ve heard of half a dozen friends at various papers either getting laid off or reassigned to jobs designed to make them quit, so it’s bad, people) go much, much deeper than the various incidents of fabulism. I don’t object to it being included -- my first editor at the college paper was a fella by the name of Steve Glass -- but I wish it had been balanced in with more incidents of why the Sun never properly tells the stories we know are out there.
Now, with a finale so wide-ranging and dealing with so many people, I feel the best way to proceed is to take it character-by-character (or group-by-group) and discuss their fates, what that implied, and whether I liked it, then hit some other unrelated points before opening up the floor to everyone else. Even though there’s nothing remotely as baffling as Tony Soprano with the onion rings and the Journey, I imagine we’re going to have a lot to talk about for a while, still. Since I largely dealt with Jimmy and Marlo above, let’s start with....
Dukie (and Prez): I can’t tell you the number of e-mails and comments I’ve gotten in the last week along the lines of "If they make Dukie into a junkie, I’m going to kill David Simon." If I was Simon right about now, I’d want to see if Donnie Andrews does bodyguarding work (or maybe some of the recon soldiers from "Generation Kill" can moonlight). Talk about a stomach punch. On the one hand, they absolutely set this up last week -- have been setting it up practically since they introduced Dukie as the one clean member of a family of junkies. (I’m far from an expert on addiction, but even I know that if you’re raised in that environment, even if you hate it and understand how destructive it is, when things go bad it can be very hard to resist the temptation.) So I should have been prepared for the image of Dukie shooting up, or before that, of Dukie scamming money from Prez. But even so...
(stream of curses deleted)
(another stream of curses deleted)
(tissue box reached for)
One of the surprising things Simon mentioned in the interview was that the writing staff, early in season four, wasn’t sure whether it would be Dukie or Randy who would wind up taking Bubbs’ place. Randy was my favorite of the boys, so I’m not sure I could bear to see that, but Dukie stayed with us even longer, was even more innocent and more put-upon, and to have him go down the exact road his family did...
(resisting urge to curse again)
I do find it surprising, and yet not, how myself and so many other "Wire" fans seem most invested in the fate of the boys, who didn’t even show up until the series was 60 percent over. It’s a testament to the great job the writers and those four actors did with these characters, but it’s also a mark that they’re, well, kids. Tragedies suffered by anyone are bad, but by kids -- especially three nice, warm-hearted, well-meaning boys like Dukie and Michael and Randy -- the pain feels magnified a hundred-fold. I feel bad that D’Angelo and Omar died, that Bunny lost his pension, that Daniels had to retire, but few things on this show will ever sting as badly as seeing Wallace die, or hearing Randy yell down the hallway at Sgt. Carver, or seeing Dukie in that alley, tying off a vein.
If I have one issue with the story, it’s what I alluded to above: I think, within the chronology of the episode, his scamming Prez should have come much closer to the end than the beginning. If we assume that the meeting in Carcetti’s office is the morning after Daniels and Pearlman found out what McNulty did, and that Lester running into Ronnie at the courthouse takes place, at most, a day later (and more likely on the same day; I didn’t think to check the wardrobes), then Dukie goes to Tilghman Middle either the day after he’s dropped off with the Arabers, or the day after that. And while I have no problem believing he’d fall that quickly into the lure of dope -- given the hopeless circumstances, wouldn’t you? -- I feel like running a con on one of the few remaining human beings who knows or cares about him is something he would have needed just a little longer to fall into. Again, I’m no addiction expert, and maybe Dukie’s new mentor guilted him into it in exchange for letting him stay at the stables, but dramatically, I would have liked more passage of time for that.
Now, remember what I said a few weeks back about how I hoped we didn’t see Prez again? At the time, I was worried he might get laid off as a casualty of the budget games with the serial killer, but even with his job secure, I still wish he hadn’t come back. Sure, he looks to have gotten the hang of being a disciplinarian without losing his innate Prez-ness, but I didn’t want to have to see him encounter Dukie that way. All season, and especially in the last week, people have been hoping that Dukie would go to Prez for help, and I’m sure the writers knew people would be thinking that, so they take our expectations and use them to club our heartstrings to death.
While Prez may be naive in some ways, he was a po-lice long enough to know what Dukie was up to from the minute he got a good look at him, but he went along with it, anyway, either on the minute off-chance that he was wrong, or, more likely, because he feels guilty for Dukie being in his current circumstances. Maybe, Prez thinks, if he had been warmer towards Dukie when he visited him with the little present at the end of last season, instead of taking Ms. Donnelly’s advice to try to divorce himself emotionally from ex-students, Dukie would have come to him much sooner than this moment. And now, if he sticks to his promise to not want to see Dukie again, who does that leave for Dukie to run to if he decides he wants out? Nobody, goddammit. And I’m going to move .. I begin ranting and raving about the fate of a fictional character who from minute one was designed to break my heart, and onto the only slightly more optimistic fate of....
Michael: I’ll admit it: while a lot of the commenters over the last two weeks (beginning with when "Late Editions" first played On Demand) have been predicting Michael as the new Omar, his raid on Vinson’s rim shop took me by complete surprise when I first saw it -- and yet it was one of those glorious moments where everything makes such perfect sense that it put a big smile on my face.
It’s funny how, for the better part of this season, and even last season, many people (including me) have been declaring Michael to be "the new Bodie," "the new D’Angelo," "Marlo in training," "Avon in training," etc. As some of the commenters last week noted, Michael has always been written and portrayed as kind of a mirror character. Other characters look at him and see something of themselves in him, which is why so many people were eager to mentor him last year. Bodie saw another great corner boy, Marlo a fellow self-made man, Cutty a great boxer, Prez a good student, etc. He has traits in common with other characters, but the one that’s always defined him has been his independence, his lack of interest in being beholden to anyone. He worked Bodie’s corner to make money, and willingly took instruction from Chris and Snoop, but that was to pay off the debt for them killing Bug’s dad. He’s always been his own man, even though he’s still technically a boy.
So even though his path and Omar’s only crossed twice, and neither occasion was what you would call a mentor/mentee opportunity, it makes perfect sense that this is the man whose footsteps Michael would ultimately choose to follow. Michael’s too independent to function properly within any institution, and his experience of the last year or so has made him unfit to do anything but be a criminal, so that leaves a role that’s in The Game but not of The Game. Plus, he’s shown in the past a certain flair for the dramatic, notably in his plan to humiliate Officer Walker and his theft of The Ring from Walker. Is Tristan Wilds aping Michael K. Williams a little too much in that scene at the rim shop? Maybe, but Michael’s young yet; I imagine he’ll develop his own style over time. I doubt, for instance, that we’ll ever hear him whistling nursery rhymes.
Reginald: Should we even call him Bubbles anymore? Is that the name he should be known by, or just the name he used when he was on the street? Last week, he introduced himself at the NA meeting as Reginald, but quickly slipped in a reference to his nickname. Names do have power on this show (just ask Marlo), and I like to think of the guy who read his story in the Sun, who wears sunglasses to keep his mind clear on a sunny day, who gets to go up those steps and through that door and eat a meal like a member of the family instead of an untrusted burden, as Reginald. In my dream world where HBO revisits "The Wire" every five years or so, I’d like to think that Reginald would barely factor into the new narrative, that he might get a cameo like Namond and Bunny to show how well he’s doing, but that he wouldn’t get sucked back into storylines and communities that he’s graduated from. And I smile every time I think of him casually jogging up those steps, like it ain’t no thing that he gets to do it.
Lester: Like Jimmy, he seemed at peace with retirement. He had already spent 13 years (and four months) in a kind of retirement in the pawn shop unit, and he had lectured Jimmy in the past about the importance of having a life outside the job. I’m sure Lester will miss the work, miss being able to pull off his usual investigative miracles, but he has his dollhouses, and more importantly has Shardene, who all but worships him. (Look at how happy she is just to be with him while he works on that tiny furniture.) I think Jimmy came to realize much sooner what a mistake the serial killer scam was, because he was at the center of it while Lester was just using it as a tool to focus on Marlo, but when Ronnie points out that he’s the reason they lost the money trail, I think Lester finally gets it. This is, in fact, on him, and it’s time to go and enjoy other things.
(With 20/20 hindsight, I suppose there was a way to pull off the scam without having it taint the Marlo investigation, but it would have involved a lot more patience and the hope that, as the money tap stayed on, he would have eventually been able to get approval for a legal wiretap. Then again, a legal wiretap might have gotten Levy’s attention, depending on whether Lester had plugged the courthouse leak by that point. As with so many things about this show, I keep looking for ways that things could have turned out better than they did, but in "The Wire," the fates are the fates.)
Kima & Bunk : There remains debate over who did the right thing with their knowledge of the phony serial killer: Bunk, for keeping silent to protect his friends Jimmy and Lester; or Kima, for ratting them out and endangering the Marlo case in the process because it was the right thing to do. As I said last week, I have no problem with what Kima did, just as Jimmy and Lester themselves don’t seem to by the end.
That said, whether or not Bunk tattled to Landsman, he and Kima were the straight cops of this season, Kima by telling the truth when she knew it, Bunk by finding a way to put a murder charge on Chris without having to resort to Jimmy-level shenanigans. So I like that they wind up as partners at the end (and, as mentioned above, are working a murder at the same location where Bird killed Gant for being a witness in D’Angelo’s trial). But though Bunk quotes his "There you go, giving a f--k when it ain’t your turn" line from the pilot, Kima isn’t the new McNulty; she’s the new Bunk. (Sort of.)
Sydnor & Carver: If there’s a cyclical bit of recasting that felt a little abrupt, it was Sydnor as the new Jimmy. Until he got sucked into the fake serial killer scheme a few episodes back, Sydnor had always been one of the cleaner characters on the show, arguably the only cop with no dirt on him, or who never did things that he knew would hurt other people for selfish reasons. Once he got in with the plan, he certainly soaked up a lot of knowledge from Lester, but this is one of those things that probably would have benefited from an extra episode or two, so we could have seen some signs that Sydnor was starting to enjoy his role as a renegade cop.
I have no problem whatsoever, though, buying Carver as the new Daniels. (You’ll note that, when Sydnor is bitching to Judge Phelan the way Jimmy used to, he complains about "Lt. Carver" getting the run-around from some major, in the same way Jimmy used to argue on Daniels’ behalf. I’m sure Carver’s just as in the dark about Sydnor’s "help" as Daniels was.) Carver was Daniels’ protege before he was Bunny’s (and again after, when Daniels was running the Western), and I’d argue he’s grown and changed as much as or more than any other character on the show. Season one, Herc and Carver were interchangeable. Now, Carver’s a natural po-lice, the type who, in a less dysfunctional department, might make one hell of a commissioner some day. It’s good to know that the department hasn’t lost all of its good cops overnight.
Daniels: Again, Daniels for Valchek is one of the most lopsided trades this side of Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, or Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano. It sucks that Daniels loses his shot at the top job -- and that the BPD loses an upstanding reformer in favor of the hackiest of all possible hacks -- but like Jimmy and Lester, Cedric at least has the love of a good woman (depending on your opinion of Ronnie), and he seemed okay with finally putting his law degree to use. (Interesting that he would choose to be a defense attorney, but I suppose staying away from the State’s Attorney’s office keeps him out of the sphere of influence of people like Nerese.) It’s also interesting that he chooses to sacrifice his career for Ronnie’s -- he probably could have fought Nerese and won, but at the cost of Ronnie’s job (and maybe Marla’s) -- where Ronnie isn’t willing to sacrifice herself to blow the whistle on Jimmy, Lester and Carcetti. I’m not saying the situations are completely analogous, or that Ronnie should be forced to give up her job instead of Cedric, especially since she does put herself at considerable risk with Levy. And speaking of which...
Ronnie, Levy & Herc: ...where the hell did that Bawlmer accent come from in the Levy negotiation scene? A very odd choice. I can see where they were coming from with that -- in a completely desperate moment, when Ronnie’s risking her career and even freedom to get some kind of justice for Marlo and company, she drops whatever cultured airs she’s taken on over the years and reverts to the scrappy native girl I’m assuming she used to be -- but they’ve never gone into her backstory enough for it to quite work.
Still, I really enjoyed that scene and the way that Maury, once again, finds a way to turn an impossible situation to his advantage. Along with Clay, Maury’s one of the true villains of "The Wire" -- people like him allow the Marlos and Stringers of the world to thrive -- and so it’s appropriate that he comes out of the series stronger than ever, much as I would love to see him and Herc (who has now unambiguously sold what’s left of his soul for more attaboys and brisket invitations) doing hard time for their various infractions over the years. A "Wire" where Maury Levy gets caught isn’t the show we know, is it?
But back to Ronnie for a moment. I didn’t catch it until the second viewing (a lot going on in this one, sorry) that her judgeship comes directly from Steintorf’s promise that he and Carcetti would remember whatever she did to salvage as much as possible from the Marlo case (specifically, the conviction for the murders in the vacants). So her motives still aren’t 100% pure when she goes to barter with Levy. But that seems about right for the honorable Ms. Pearlman. On a show full of characters who either battled in vain to change the way their institutions operated or who rolled over and supported the status quo, she was one of the few who fell in between those extremes. She usually did mean well, but she also never wanted to upset her bosses, or her pals across the aisle. This was about as heroic a Rhonda Pearlman as you’re ever going to see. And whatever issues I may have had with the sudden appearance of the accent (not to mention the execution of same, though the locals can defend or assail that better than I can), I thought Deirdre Lovejoy did a great job in that scene where she defended herself and the plea to Lester and Jimmy.
Carcetti and company: Behold, the triumph of the hacks. Norman is now reduced to playing the jester (we only ever see him anymore when there’s a joke to be made), while the odious Steintorf is the real power behind the throne. Tommy the reformer has become everything he swore he would fight against, and in the process has helped elevate fellow hacks like Nerese, Rawls and Valchek. Nothing will be done to fix Baltimore with those people in charge, and with half the state money already committed to PG County, and no doubt with Tommy already trying to position himself for a presidential run a few terms down the line. I cringe thinking about how I let the show lull me into believing in Carcetti’s "new day" back in season four. And speaking of New Days...
Cheese, Slim & the co-op: The finale didn’t offer much in the way of viewer gratification, but Cheese taking a bullet to the head certainly qualified. Excuse me while I get all action movie fan and say hell yeah!
I’ve noticed in some fan circles that Cheese evinces even more hatred than Marlo. No doubt it’s because he betrayed his own kin, and after said kin had already risked his own neck to protect Cheese. (Remember, if Joe had given up Cheese to Marlo after Omar robbed the re-supply, Joe wouldn’t have had to introduce Marlo to Vondas, and he might still be alive because Marlo didn’t want to lose the connect.) So on that level, Cheese’s death -- particularly at the hands of master-less samurai Slim Charles -- was awfully satisfying. There were many points during the series when I wanted to see Snoop dead, but the actual moment of her demise deliberately denied us any real visceral pleasure, because she took it with such dignity and because it was another part of Michael’s slide into hell. But Slim putting a bullet in Cheese’s head while Cheese was in the middle of a bile-filled monologue celebrating the lack of loyalty and nostalgia in the drug game... that was nice. After Bubbs walking up the stairs, it may have been the most uplifting moment of the whole finale.
("The Wire": a guy goes up some stairs, and another guy takes a bullet to the head for being an a--hole, and these are the feel-good moments!)
It’s unclear exactly how the new version of the co-op is going to work -- or even that it’s a co-op, as opposed to Fat Face Rick and Slim somehow scrounging up 10 million on their own or finding some other way to get an in with Vondas. (Given that Slim was Joe’s 2, and that Vondas had established with Marlo that he dealt with both bosses and their seconds, I wondered why Slim didn’t just try to go directly to Vondas. Surely he knew him and where to find him, and it’s not like Marlo was the most reliable of referrals given his current situation.) What really struck me about that whole part of the story was how much trouble these drug lords were having coming up with that much money, especially all together. From what I remember of Lester and Prez’s calculations of Stringer and Avon’s profit margin back in season one, those guys were much better with their money than the old hands in the co-op.
The Greek & Vondas: Same as it ever was. "Always business." With The Greek as the representative for pure capitalism, I knew there was no way the cops would even get close to him and Vondas. As with Levy, Clay, etc., a "Wire" where Vondas wound up in bracelets wouldn’t be true to itself.
I know there was grumbling about why The Greek gave Marlo the okay to kill Joe (Simon explains it in the interview), just as I imagine there will be some more about why The Greek continues to do business in Baltimore given that they’ve lost two shipments (three, if you count the one they left on the docks at the end of season two) due to their various partners getting sloppy. And, again, I view it as The Greek deciding that these are acceptable losses and risks when weighed against the benefit of having the entire city all to themselves. If one distributor falls, even if a shipment or two gets taken, there will always be a new distributor, and enough demand for the product to make up for what was lost. And The Greek will always be so far removed from the action that he can easily flee for a little while should things get the slightest bit hot.
Chris & Wee-Bey: It oddly warmed my heart to see these two stone killers as prison yard buddies. There are, of course, many parallels. Both were their boss’ top enforcer, just as both were either father or father figure to one of the boys to season four. Wee-Bey did the right thing by Namond in giving him up to Bunny, just as Chris thought he was doing the right thing by Michael in beating his stepfather to death and then training Michael to be a killer himself. (Hey, intentions count for something, don’t they?)
Rawls: I know I mentioned him briefly in the passage about Carcetti, but I think Rawls deserves his own entry, if only for uttering one of the funniest lines in "Wire" history, when he asked McNulty whether he was really killing the homeless guys himself.
The thing about Rawls is that he’s not a Valchek, someone who wouldn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. There were plenty of signs over the years that Rawls knew what he was doing (him figuring out that the street signs at Kima’s shooting had been turned, him being the first one at COMSTAT to understand what Bunny was doing with Hamsterdam), and even a hint or three that he might have been interested in properly fixing the department if the opportunity were given to him. (He didn’t seem displeased to witness Daniels dressing down Steintorf last week, for instance.) But between his own petty grudges and the realities of the department and City Hall, he settled into his role as attack dog guardian of the system. Even McNulty, desperate to dig himself out of the damage he created with the serial killer scam, refused to go along with Rawls’ order to coerce a confession to all of the "murders," and as Jimmy, Bunk, Jay and then Daniels all walked away from him, you could see that Rawls knew it was too much, too. Still, I doubt he’ll run the staties any differently than his predecessor.
Templeton, Gus & The Sun: I discussed my larger beefs with this story way up top. In the end, things played out about as expected, given the show’s worldview and what each character had done to this point. Gus doesn’t get fired, but him being sent to the copy desk is every bit a waste of his talents as putting Jimmy on the boat or Lester in the pawn shop unit. Alma, who might have been a good cop shop reporter one day -- and who was still preferable to whatever rookie they throw into that beat next -- gets banished to the county bureaus, and I would even argue that putting Fletcher into Gus’s job just as he was starting to show real talent as a reporter is a waste of resources. It’s typical of Klebanow and Whiting that they get tumescent over this nonsense homeless series about which many obvious questions have been raised -- if nothing else, you would think the undercover cop’s account of what really happened with the myserious gray van would have finally given those two some pause -- while completely ignoring what sounds like a tremendous piece of narrative journalism by a less-favored son.
(This, by the way, is one of those areas where telling a story about a newspaper on a TV show gets tricky. Were this a book, they could run some significant excerpts, if not the whole version, of Fletch’s profile of Reginald/Bubbs, but instead we have to take the word of Gus, and of Walon, that it’s so wonderful. Be a nice web or DVD extra if Simon were to bang out his own faux-profile under Fletcher’s byline.)
As for Templeton, yes, he gets his Pulitzer. (And, while I initially questioned whether Klebanow and Whiting would risk submitting the story when several staffers could bring great humiliation on the paper by ratting it out, Simon said that in real life, Marimow and Carroll did submit the lead paint series written by the alleged fabulist.) But he has to live with the knowledge of what he did to get it, and that other people know, too. It was one thing for Scott to get so much attention for a situation where he thought he was making stuff up to add to a real story, but to find out that even the parts he thought were true were bogus -- to find out that he was played by a fabulist just as much as he played his bosses -- clearly messed him up. (Jimmy spilling the beans to Scott was one of the finale’s highlights. "The Wire": a guy walks up some stairs, another guy takes a bullet in the head, and one liar tells the truth to another! The upliftingest show ever!)
And, sure, Gus could try going public with the file he and Robert put together, but it would no doubt get him fired -- and given the vast number of newspaper vets around the country who are suddenly in need of work, this isn’t a good time to get yourself fired.
A few other random thoughts on "-30-":
-With Clark Johnson back in the director’s chair for the first time since season one, we saw a couple of visual signatures that the show stopped using after he left -- specifically, the use of black & white surveillance footage (as in McNulty and Daniels on the elevator), security mirrors (Levy meeting with Marlo) and other viewpoints designed to show how often we’re being watched -- and how many ways there are of seeing a single situation.
-Another obvious full circle choice was the use of the Blind Boys of Alabama’s version of "Way Down in the Hole" from season one (still my favorite of the five) as the song over the final montage, which was itself filled with images, locations and people from seasons past. In addition to the final fates of all the above characters (and of Crutchfield busting Kenard for the Omar killing), we saw the original basement headquarters of the Major Crimes Unit, the low-rise courtyards where D’Angelo once ran things (plus, later, a glimpse of D’s hand showing off the chess pieces), a Port police car (presumably Beadie’s) driving through the stacks, the police boat on the harbor, and Old-Face Andre’s corner store, among other familiar sights.
-Even more poignant was the interlude of sunrises and sunsets over various Baltimore neighborhoods that separated the episode proper (the resolution of the serial killer story and Marlo’s case) from the extended epilogue. The city seemed so peaceful and beautiful in those shots -- a place worth fighting to save, you know?
-A number of people last week "guessed" that the business cards at Christenson’s murder scene meant that the copycat was the homeless guy who collected cards. That was the closest anyone here came to posting something I worried might be a disguised spoiler, but I left it in because, frankly, they spent so much time on the guy earlier in the season that I suspected he would come up again, and as soon as we saw cards scattered at that first crime scene, I knew what was what. And I’m not so smart that other people couldn’t have figured out the same thing.
-In case you were wondering, the courthouse leak was grand jury prosecutor Gary DiPasquale, played by Gary D’Addario, the Homicide commander during the year that David Simon was writing "Homicide" the book, and the inspiration for Gee on the TV show. He’s popped up on "The Wire" a handful of times over the years (his most memorable appearance was earlier this season, when he heckled the guy who complained that he was too important to wait his turn). I’m fine with the leak being a very minor figure like that; the leak itself wasn’t a major storyline, but rather a plot device to enable the deal Ronnie brokers with Levy.
-Look closely, and you can see David Simon in the Sun newsroom, typing next to Zorzi, at the very start of the scene where Scott tells Klebanow he doesn’t feel well enough to write about the killer’s capture. And the sign in front of Simon reads "Save our Sun."
-Among the many, many, many things I’m going to miss about this show is Lance Reddick’s perfect posture and dead-eye stare, two traits he got to show off during several encounters with McNulty.
-I like how we transitioned from Jimmy, back in the good graces of Beadie’s kids (if not Beadie herself), showing them "the dreaded crab claw," to Reginald and Walon eating actual crab claws.
-Whatever hatred I now have for Carcetti doesn’t extend to Aidan Gillen’s portrayal of him. Carcetti’s struggle to find something, anything, to say about the truth about the serial killer was one of the most priceless moments all season.
-How much do you think everyone at the faux-wake knew about the real reasons for Jimmy and Lester’s retirement? Is the serial killer/Marlo story going to become the cops’ own version of the death of Omar, where the story keeps getting elaborated upon as time goes on, but no one from outside the culture ever hears about it? And I hope you caught, after "The Body of an American" came on one last time, that glimpse of the photos of Det. Cole (aka Bob Colesberry, late "Wire" producer) and Col. Foerster (aka late "Wire" actor Richard DeAngelis) on the wall at the bar.
-Two things of note from Marlo’s return (temporary or not) to the corner: 1)The legend of Omar’s death continues to grow and grow, now involving hitmen from New York; and 2)After three years of people questioning why Marlo had the power when Chris and Snoop were doing all the heavy work, we see that Marlo can handle himself just fine in a fight, thank you. Admittedly, those two corner boys didn’t look like they’d been through Chris’ combat training school, but winning one against two when the other two have a gun and a knife is still impressive.
Lines of the Week:
"I wish I was still at the newspaper so I could write on this mess. This is too f---ing good." -NormanWhew.
"I believe he’s about to have one of those ’road to Damascus’ moments." & "See? The police commissioner done fell off his ass." -Norman
"S--t is like a war, ain’t it? Easy to get in, hell to get out." -Bunk
"To be continued." -Daniels
"I remember ’clean.’" -Gus
"You’re not killing them yourself, McNulty -- at least assure me of that." -Rawls
"You’re mishpacha now." -Levy
"If you say so." -Herc
"Though had he lived, his d--k would have been 134." -Carver
"Detective, if you think it needed doing, then I guess it did." -McNulty
"That was for Joe." -Slim Charles
"This sentimental motherf---er just cost us money!" -Tall Man
"There you go, giving a f--k when it ain’t your turn to give a f--k." -Bunk
"You just a boy." -Vinson
"BANG!" -Michael’s shotgun
"That’s just a knee." -Michael
Well, that’s all I’ve got for the moment, so fire away. I’m going to dearly, dearly miss this show, but I’ll say this: in the ’80s, I never thought TV drama could get better than "Hill Street Blues" and "St. Elsewhere," and then it did. In the ’90s, I didn’t think cop shows could get better than the early seasons of "Homicide" and "NYPD Blue," and then they did. It’s easy to look on the final episode of "The Wire" -- and of an HBO schedule that’s now devoid of "The Wire" and "The Sopranos" and "Deadwood" -- and wonder if the latest golden age of drama is over. But I can see myself 5, 10 years from now writing something like, "I know this sounds like blasphemy, but (insert name of new show written by some guy named David here) may be even better than ’The Wire.’" Whoever wants to try to get to the top of this mountain has his or her work cut out, but I think it can be done. "Hill Street" taught people to watch TV in a new way, which in turn led to "St. Elsewhere" and "NYPD Blue." "Homicide" allowed "The Wire" to exist. I’m sure somehow, someone’s going to figure out how to build on what Simon, and Burns, and Colesberry and Pelecanos and Price and Lehane and everyone else here created. And I look forward to watching and writing about that show when it comes. Watching "The Wire" may have made me terribly pessimistic about the future of our country, but it fills me with hope for the future of TV.
Months back, I said that I intended to immediately follow the end of the series with a rewind back to the beginning, so I could blog about seasons 1-3 in the same depth I gave to season four and season five. And I still want to do that, but, frankly, I need a break. As you can imagine, these reviews take a lot of time to do properly, and with the rest of primetime TV weeks away from returning, my schedule’s going to get even busier in a hurry. I want to say that I’m going to try picking up with season one in two or three weeks (and I’d post them on Sunday nights or Monday mornings as if they episodes were still airing), but in case it takes longer than that, please understand. But I’m looking forward to going back to the beginning to see what other "Yo, my turn to be Omar"-esque moments were planted early, and to relive great moments like the chess lesson, the F-word crime scene, Bubbs on the park bench, etc. If everything about "The Wire" is circular, then it feels right as we come to the end to go back to the beginning, and very soon.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org