Season four is my favourite season purely because with all the other elements of previous seasons still vital to the storyline, education is introduced and central to that is the lives of a group of boys whose lives diverge dramatically throughout the school year.
The life of children in inner city schools can be brutal, that they have grown up with so much violence surrounding them, it is understandable that they see mortality as a very real thing, some not expecting to live past their mid 20’s. Added to this is the cynical way that the education system is run and how it further entwines with the themes of previous seasons, showing how the problems are systemic and can’t be fixed by anything but radical moves by those whom we elect as our officials.
As with real life, we don’t get introductions and establishing shots of these characters, finding out who they are and there motivations are about straight away. The characters names and personalities become clear after an initial confusing overload but it’s that feeling of not being spoken down to that becomes one of the most appealing factors. It’s intelligent and assumes its viewers will be too.
The show demands that you pay attention and don’t leap to snap judgements because people are complex with often hidden motivations and a sense of morality based on their own internal rules. It’s this depth of character that really impresses and often, it is a small thing that elicits a change of response from the audience to how they respond to a character.
As I mentioned previously, I’m embarking on the story – for it is all one story with a different aspect shown in each series – for the sixth time and rewatching the series makes the stories more powerful and hard-hitting in my opinion. Watching what seems now inevitable unfold has a greater impact as you watch the ascent and descent of so many character arcs. It’s a mosaic of richness that rewards over and over as newer aspects not previously considered come to light, showing the planning of scripts to be a work of majestic artistry. You can focus on the nuances that inevitably get lost on the first watch in a programme with such ambitious intricacy.
It would be remiss as a book lover not to mention the episode in which a journalist is told his work is not Dickensian enough because that is how the news needs to be, there has to be a human aspect we can sympathise with, otherwise why the readers people care? The streets of Baltimore and the characters who, through brilliant storytelling face both brutal lives but also have their comedic moments does feel very Dickens-ish, however his need to tie things up, for resolution was often furnished with a handy plot twist to sort things out. This perhaps diminishes the overall power of the message of social inequality but Dickens for all his flaws was a genius writer and The Wire will stand up to comparison of that man’s name for the 21st century.
It’s hard to pick out a stand out performance, from the near flawless season one through to the culmination of the series, so many characters have truly memorable scenes. The Chess scene from season one (handily provided at the end of this post) is fantastic, showing how rigged ‘the game’ is through the context of chess pieces and the drugs trade which also lays the groundwork for the future themes of the series and show in a simple yet wholly memorable way.
There is little point in trying to cover all the exceptional characters here but I will pick two who provide the driving force, the first for the show’s plot and the second for the human aspect. Detective Jimmy McNulty is a crusading cop who loves the drink as much as his job and is the catalyst and the driving force for his attempts to change the system and its inherent corruptions. His anger at what he sees and the unwillingness or laziness of those above him to do anything about it, is both admirable and destructive but you can’t help but love the guy, he is a hero with proper flaws which is refreshing to see.
Andre Royo, who plays drug addict Bubbles – a man so convincing he was once offered heroin by a local as he looked like he needed it – plays a caring man fallen on hard time ,unlike the mercenary addicts so often portrayed, who just want the next fix, The range of Royo’s skills in this role are masterful, a word I don’t take lightly, he represents the human face of those addicted but he reminds us that these are people who just want to get by, with feelings for each other, thoughts, often wise about the world. The viewer will find it impossible not to be moved by the portrayal of the characters’ battles with life, loyalty and addiction.
There is no sentimentality though, which is usually one of the pitfalls such shows can fall into. From episode one we see cracks appearing in the status quo, this is something repeated throughout the series whether it be the street, the docks or the education system, to name a few. It does make the thinking person realise how deeply connected the relationships of everything really are and how wide the schisms between the political, educational and publicly funded departments as well as class and colour.
Barack Obama said his favourite character was Omar, the renegade gangster who has a code which he sticks to, who exists between the various organisations and survives despite making many enemies. He has respect for who he is, Omar’s openness about being a gay, black man on the streets is also something not much tackled in TV land, it is never made too much of either for cheap storylines. It doesn’t affect his outlook or govern his levels, thus descending into a moral story but it marks him out and others dare not underestimate him despite the obvious disdain shown to him both by friends and enemies because of his sexuality.
There are so many perfect scenes and often bit part characters come back with full roles in later seasons which makes the whole story (and it is all one story) feeling immensely well planned out. Such is the realism that David Simon invited the people he met through his books to appear on the show which gives the performances an even more authentic appeal. It says something that all I have thus far written is only part of why it is worth sticking with the show when at first its overwhelming yet ultimately rewarding, with unbiased insight into the lives of victims of circumstance just trying to eke out a living and find a meaning to it all.
The social commentary is blistering and back to those schoolkids once more, their lack of control over their lives contributes to a terrible downward trend, a sad cycle, which is bravely highlighted ,whilst juxtaposed that with scenes of bureaucracy, it’s still raw and razor-sharp today. Some of the language can be a little confusing to begin with but it’s real and you will get used to it,the rewards of rewatching gifts us further insight, each scene no matter how short will give the viewer something thought-provoking to ponder.
At times the story arcs can be genuinely heartbreaking story and its frustrating that these problems are so prevalent in society and remain so as politicians remain unwilling to change them. All sides seem to accept the bad of what they do or turn a blind eye to it, I suppose the mark of society now should be whether we wish this for any of our future children or whether we prefer the relatively cheap cost of policing it to more radical approach that could help stop the problem.