Breaking Down The Wire

Character Count
Talking television.
Oct. 16 2006 2:28 PM

Breaking Down The Wire

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Hey, David and Steve,

Well, Episode 6 ("Margin of Error") appears to be the springboard for the second half of the season. Now that Carcetti's won, we get to see him try his hand at ruling the damn city. You know that's not going to be easy. Omar's setup on the murder of a "civilian"—as the police so nimbly refer to nonplayers—has brought McNulty back into the picture. I've missed having McNulty around. He knows his nemesis well enough to realize that it's not like Omar to shoot someone not of the street. And then, of course, there are the kids, each of whom feels more defined with each episode. I'm keeping my eye on Namond, who looks like he's about to get caught in a tug of war between his mom and Colvin, the former police major. And Prez is keeping his eye on Dukie, who now, thanks to his teacher, has a place to shower in the morning.

Advertisement

In past exchanges, we've alluded to the storytelling genius of the show, how it mirrors great literature. It does and it doesn't. It does in its unbending loyalty to story. And it does in its seemingly magical ability to elicit empathy for virtually all its characters, from drug addicts to drug sellers to cops and—this is where the writers really get my admiration—to politicians. It's what makes great literature: its ability to get inside the skin of its characters, to see the world through their eyes, to understand their motives. It's where The Wire departs from most other television. We're looking at this landscape through all these varied perspectives. I feel Namond's utter confusion about where his loyalty lies—to his self-absorbed mom or to himself. I get Carcetti's ambivalence about his chosen vocation. I know Prez's growing attachment to a group of kids who regularly tell him to fuck off.

But where The Wire diverges from most literature is its ability to juggle this vast array of stories, and with such a full cast of characters. Look at this last episode. You had stories unfolding involving Carcetti, Omar, McNulty, Randy, Namond, and Marlo. That's just in one hour. And I'm sure I'm leaving someone out. The Wire has such faith in its audience. With all these balls in the air, you'd think much of it would be a blur, but the stories seem to unfold in slow motion. As fast-paced as the show is, there's this sense of lingering—on moments and on characters. (Not being a film guy, I'm sure there must be something going on here with the way the show is shot.) It's not that some literature doesn't do this. The more ambitious novelists juggle lots of seemingly disconnected characters, as well. But usually there's a convergence of all these various stories—and where many novelists fail is in pushing too hard to bring all the characters together in the end. We'll see, of course, how The Wire pulls it off this season, but as it stands now, I'm not convinced that The Wire's writers feel compelled to have all their stories and characters meet up in the end. It's the ability to look at this particular landscape—the contemporary city—through the eyes of all these characters, each with their own demons and their own travails and their own loyalties, that makes the storytelling in The Wire so extraordinary. For all its comparison to literature, in the end The Wire's created its own genre of storytelling.

David, is there something about the way The Wire is shot that separates it from other television? That gives that sense of lingering? And in mapping out the season, do the writers first figure out the ending, and then try to figure out how the characters get there—or is it more of a journey, letting the characters lead you to what feels like their most natural destination? It's great to have you back for another week.

Alex

Alex Kotlowitz is author of There Are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Behold
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?