At the risk of making this a Slate dialogue that is mostly about itself, let me just say a few more words about Simon's furious response to my post last week. And those words are: He was right. It was wrong for me to write about social conversations we had at a mutual friend's wedding and book party. He had every right to expect privacy when we talked and to be angry when I turned the conversations into journalistic fodder.
OK, back to the show. There was something off about the second episode, but I don't think it's the Sun subplot. The conniving ascent of the Cooke/Glass fabulist, egged on by the two evil editors, doesn't bother me the way it bothers you. I agree that it's obvious—I don't think the Sun editor needed both horns and a pitchfork—but it's not boring. In fact, my favorite part of the episode is the bull session in the Sun's loading dock. How could you not crack up at Gus' riff about the mother of four who died from an allergic reaction to blue crabs: "Ever notice how 'mother of four' is always catching hell? Murder. Hit and run. Burned up in row house fire. Swindled by bigamists." I'm giggling just typing it. "Swindled by bigamists"—give that writer an Emmy!
So, it's not the newsroom that's confounding me. No, I think the problem is that The Wire has gotten preachy. The show has always had a didactic streak, but a relatively subtle one. For all that Simon is seething with righteous anger, he never let that overwhelm the show. It was a backbeat. He let the story and the characters do the work, and didn't lay the lessons on thick. Like the great journalist that he is, he showed, he didn't tell. He and his colleagues understood that no "the game is rigged" speech could ever mean one-fiftieth as much as, say, the momentary shot of Dukie selling drugs at the end of Season 4.
But the first two episodes of this season repeatedly pause—stop dead—for heavy-handed moralizing. It didn't bother me in Episode 1—I figured they were just breaking us in—but now I'm getting worried. Just checking my notes from Episode 2, I see:
1. The hooker's overwrought speech about her addiction
2. Lester's majestic peroration about the importance of the Clay Davis case
3. Steve Earle's exhortation to Bubbs, urging him to stop bottling up his sorrow about Sherrod and live again
4. The face-off between Gus and the Sun's editor about their schools series—the editor pompous, Gus biting, both sermonizing
5. Michael's conscience-ridden argument with Chris and Snoop about killing a guy who may have insulted Marlo
6. Bunk, Lester, and Jimmy's chorus about the devaluation of black men's lives ("You can go a long way in this country killing black folk.")
In every one of these scenes, The Wire's characters are just a bit too grandiloquent, their dialogue a shade too portentous. Maybe because this is the final season, Simon and Ed Burns don't want to leave anything unsaid, but they're saying too much.
Two episodes and counting without Omar! On the upside, Avon Barksdale is back, and flashing that awesome West Baltimore "W" hand signal. We need one of those—a three-finger "S"—for Slate.