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The Wire: The Dickensian Aspect

14 Sep

thewiresteasonthefourthSeason 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.

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26 Comments

Posted by on 14/09/2016 in Crime, Politics, True Crime, TV

 

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26 responses to “The Wire: The Dickensian Aspect

  1. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    14/09/2016 at 17:39

    Thank you Ste J for introducing me to “The Wire”…I’ve seen this advertized on Netflix and I think Amazon Prime Video, so I’ll check it out. I need something new to watch, something that will enlighten me, teach me, make me think. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

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  2. Sarah

    15/09/2016 at 08:37

    I’d forgotten the Chess scene – brilliant. Great post Ste, The Wire has got to be the best tv I’ve ever seen.

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    • Ste J

      15/09/2016 at 13:31

      It is highly unlikely that it will be beaten but just when I say that the equivalent Barcelona FC of a few years ago will prove me wrong. There is a scene in season four that relates to this as I am sure you will remember in an arboretum where one character’s realisation of what this scene means hits. Avoiding spoilers as bets I can there but this character’s facial expression is just perfect and sums up how brilliant the whole thing is. As Lester says ‘All the pieces matter!’

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  3. Liz

    15/09/2016 at 09:20

    I’ve managed to get as far as putting The Wire in my watch list on Amazon, but I am trying to reduce my TV time at the moment in favour of reading lol!

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    • Ste J

      15/09/2016 at 13:05

      It is a fine line, I got so obsessed with The Wire that I let everything slide, I would say in the defence of watching good TV that it does make you think and when you do get back into reading, it makes it all the more sweeter. Having said that I ditch pretty much all other TV these days unless watching it at a friends house which is the only way I can find find time for both.

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      • Liz

        15/09/2016 at 17:51

        Yes, you are right. There is, from time to time, the odd series or programme that is worth watching. In general, though, I have increasingly caught myself watching what is essentially rubbish, just because it is there. I suppose the first step on any change journey is awareness, so there is hope for me… 🙂

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        • Ste J

          17/09/2016 at 20:38

          It is easy to fall into that trap and then feel bad about the wasted time afterwards. I try and limit myself now to the few shows I like and will rewatch on occasion and generally wait for other people to impress me with shows that will interest me, mercifully they are few. Besides these books won’t read themselves.

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          • Liz

            18/09/2016 at 05:44

            Indeed – I have recently done an inventory of all the books I was planning to read by the end of the year – that’ll be just the 30 then. Lol!

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            • Ste J

              18/09/2016 at 09:16

              It’s the content though that beats the number, although bulking it out with some shorter books always helps the morale I find, a good Susan Hill book for the dark winter nights and so on.

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              • Liz

                18/09/2016 at 12:52

                Completely agree – quality not quantity. Although I have a notional annual reading target, that is more about reminding me to read rather than hitting any particular number. It was probably a mistake to count the books on my ‘to be read next’ pile because knowing how many there are makes it feel a bit daunting to tackle them, even though they are all books I really want to read! I have now split the pile into several smaller ones and this is having the effect of kidding me that there are not so many. Go figure!

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                • Ste J

                  19/09/2016 at 15:52

                  I always attempt a short book between bigger books to give me the appearance of reading more quickly than I actually am. My tactic is to have such a big pile of books that it really doesn’t matter anymore. No pressure and a ton of books, sorted!

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  4. shadowoperator

    15/09/2016 at 21:26

    Thanks for sticking with your championing of this programme, Ste J. As I said, I don’t think I’ll be watching it, but I am following your reviews of it, and there’s work enough for us all and plenty more, even infinitely so, nearly, in reviewing books, essays, plays, poems, television shows, movies, documentaries, and etc. so on and so forth. You are doing a fine job with your blogsite. I always enjoy reading what you have to say, and rarely catch out the odd misspelling or grammar mistake. I think, in fact, you have started to make fewer of them as you have read and written more widely, and the major fact has always been the intelligent things you have to say, anyway. It’s evident in the number of people you attract to your site.

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    • Ste J

      17/09/2016 at 20:51

      Last post just published and now I will be back to a good few reviews and such, although I do have in mind to do a singular post of something off bookish every month, I appreciate your reading despite The Wire not being your cup of tea. I appreciate your continued support, it can be a challenge to write well when I seem to exist on four hours sleep between night shifts and then lose most of the days off sleeping or forcing mysef awake so I can attempt some sort of social life so it makes me happy that I can do a good job on writing.

      Reading and writing beget the same and will always improve us all, it appeals to my lazy side that something I enjoy can pay off without really feeling I have to work for it, apart from those challenging books that crop up but I do love that feeling of ‘how the heck do I review this?’. The support I get is so wonderful, I am on course to have my best ever year of views which makes me want to do more. I shall carry on being intelligent, consider it my cerebral lapdance for you!

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      • shadowoperator

        18/09/2016 at 00:32

        Very funny, Ste J! If what you do is a cerebral lapdance, then consider my fistful of virtual money tucked into your mental G string! I am waiting eagerly to see what you make of “A Dance to the Music of Time.” Great title, greater series, and an odd figure in it who occurs like a red herring throughout the main parts of the story (but IS he a red herring?) called something like Wimpole or Skimpole or Humbert or something like that. He is a strange figure the main character knows from almost day one when he is young, and who occupies only a tangential space, but whose significance becomes a bit of a mind-perplexing puzzle as the two of them grow older, settle down, get careers, and etc. But for now, I’m enjoying your other posts, one by one. Be sure that you do manage to catch up on some sleep from time to time–it can really bugger your concentration if you don’t! Ask me, I know–every summer I get a little less sleep than I do during the rest of the year, because of the light, and the biorhythms being different, and etc. I’m looking forward to a nice drowsy autumn.

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        • Ste J

          18/09/2016 at 09:27

          Touché on the challenging mntal images there my friend haha. A Dance to the Music of Time is very unfortunate in that it has arrived at the time I have picked up some amazing books and also have a few reviewing commitments, admittedly of my own making. I will get there though, mainly for fear that the covers will change in the meantime and the other three omnibuses (omnibi?) will look different on my shelf.

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  5. macjam47

    16/09/2016 at 17:23

    I haven’t seen this or any of the other seasons. I know many people have been captivated by it. You gave a wonderful review of a series that addresses the darker side of humanity, but it exists everywhere. I doubt that any country is truly immune to similar situations. It is truly heartbreaking and disgusting that we, as a society, can’t effectively address the problems of the unfortunate. We need to wakeup.

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    • Ste J

      17/09/2016 at 21:30

      Baltimore is every city and every country, since the show finished there has been so much dialogue but nobody wants to push the radical changes needed through. We can do it, it just has to be a collective effort and that won’t happen any time soon sadly.

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  6. Resa

    17/09/2016 at 21:36

    I read 5 first.
    “The social commentary is blistering” in America right now. These stories take place in America. DT has created boils & cysts… never mind blisters., and he may very well win. Then any points “The Wire” has made in exposing social-economic needs are moot. Sorry, I live in Canada & I am saturated daily by America’s election. YAY for Justin Trudeau!

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    • Ste J

      17/09/2016 at 21:59

      That is a spot on analysis of where America is, do they wish to be a nation with a chance of progressing or not. Voter apathy really needs to be low this time otherwise the whole thing will fall apart. We get our fair share of American election news over here as well, which is ironic as voter turnout is low as their is little choice but an election where we can’t vote gets equal amounts of coverage as our own did.

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      • Resa

        17/09/2016 at 22:13

        For sure we are getting MORE coverage of the US election than we did of our Canadian election. That’s mainly because the opposition was basically trying to hide JT. Lol, he won in a landslide. Now he’s becoming an international do-good pop star loved by Bono, Bill Gates & more. Just hope he does as much do-good for Canada!
        As for the USA, they are capitalists at & to the core. Socialism is off the agenda.
        We are referred to as Pinkoes in Canada. I was once told, when in the USA that I was “perty nice fer a pinkoe gal”.
        Having said that… I love so much about America!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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        • Ste J

          17/09/2016 at 22:33

          I’ve never heard the term pinkoe before, America is both repulsive in its politics but wonderful in its people.

          Politicians need to come from the people again, they seem a separate entity at the moment and as such they have no idea how people live. I must admit I know nothing of Canadian politics due to lack of coverage over here and lack of time to explore all I want to on my part but from a quick perusal of Wikipedia, he seems to be doing the right things.

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          • Resa

            17/09/2016 at 22:45

            Pinkoe means we are not Communists (Red), and not Americans (white)
            We are in between… Pinkoes.
            LOL!
            We are messed up in Canada, do-gooders who fall short. I know we are trying, on the whole. However, our native, aboriginal & Metis populations are largely suffering.
            JT has committed much $ to this rectification.
            FCOL! America & Canada stole our countries away from the original inhabitants, who are to this day short shrifted.
            It is getting harder & harder to erase bitter histories, which seems to be a huge tagline of the story of mankind.
            It’s not complicated to understand, only difficult to come to terms with & make good on.

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            • Ste J

              18/09/2016 at 09:44

              That’s a clever term, I haven’t mixed colours since I was at primary school…although that makes me sound like a racist but you know what I mean! It is difficult as the generations go by for the descendants of the appropriators to feel as much connection to the past atrocities and such, not that that should be an excuse though. We must learn from our past which seems more vital with each year.

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