Breaking Down The Wire

The Last Episode Is the Best Episode
Talking television.
Dec. 11 2006 12:21 AM

Breaking Down The Wire

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Steve,

You may have spoken too soon when you said the 12th episode was the most powerful hour of dramatic television ever. I think it may be this last episode. As I watched it, I kept hoping, wishing that it might be a special two-hourer, and while it was in fact 20 minutes longer than usual, it didn't last long enough. It's going to be one long winter without The Wire.

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Whatever I have to say here won't do this episode or the series justice. Bodies turning up everywhere. And still more people falling. Loyalties tested—and loyalties betrayed. Omar puts one over on Prop Joe, and Prop Joe in turn puts one over on Marlo. Bodie begins to confide in McNulty before Marlo learns of his betrayal. Police chief Burrell warns his deputy Rawls not to cross him again. And Bubbles, having accidentally killed Sharod, tangles with his conscience. As the opening song says: "Got to keep the devil down in the hole."

But it's the boys—Michael, Dukie, Randy, and Namond—who are at the center of this episode and this season. They've neither completely stepped off the precipice nor crawled to safety. No neat and tidy wrap-ups for Simon and Burns. (And much to carry us into the next season.) Of the four, Michael may be the farthest down his path, having performed his first execution. But did you see the look on his face after he killed? He may not be cut out for this. Without Prezbo's nurturing, Dukie's dropped out of school, and is now under the wing of Michael. Randy's been thrown into a group home where on his first day he's assaulted by the other boys for being a snitch. (Carver, where are you?) And then there's Namond, who would seem to be safe in the embrace of Bunny Colvin and his wife. But we get a hint that despite his new home, the siren of the streets still calls. As he's eating breakfast on the Colvins' porch in this quiet, tree-lined neighborhood, an old corner friend drives by in a shiny SUV, speeding through a stop sign. Namond looks on wistfully.

I've been thinking a lot about what I wanted to write here, and then I was at a used-book store where I picked up a copy of Never Coming Morning by Nelson Algren, the great Chicago novelist who wrote about the city's marginalized with a brutal honesty and a poetic eloquence. It occurred to me that Simon, Burns, and company are modern-day Algrens. Like Algren, they have heartfelt politics, but dogma doesn't define their storytelling. It informs it. And like Algren, they depict life along the edges without sentimentality and without moralizing. They're drawn to the unvarnished quality of those who have little left to lose. A critic once wrote of Algren: "He refused to draw a line between him and them, between us and them." Those behind The Wire refuse to draw a line between us and them. We see ourselves in Michael, Dukie, Randy, and Namond. We come to understand the choices they make. We come to see that they are us.

Algren once wrote: "We are willing, in our right-mindedness, to lend money or compassion—but never so right-minded as to permit ourselves to be personally involved in anything so ugly. We'll pay somebody generally to haul garbage away but we cannot afford to admit that it belongs to us." The Wire forces us to acknowledge that West Baltimore and its equivalents in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere belong to all of us. The power of the series is that we don't feel like voyeurs. We feel connected. We feel like this is who we are, who we've become. You watch this season of The Wire, and you have to ask yourself: Where is everyone?

Or as Bunny Colvin puts it: "When do this shit change?" Indeed.

Steve, this has been fun. I'm going to miss these weekly exchanges, but we can and I'm sure will continue these conversations over a beer or two. And I'm going to miss the Fraysters—Groovelady, David "Undercover BlackMan" Mills, Isonomist, and the others. But it's The Wire that's really going to leave a void in my week. I rise in a standing O for Simon, Burns, and company and thank them for reminding us what television is capable of, for knowing how to spin one helluva yarn, and for reminding us that the West Baltimores of our country belong to all of us.

Alex

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