Wire: we waiting
So, belatedly, I caught up with the final two episodes of Season Four of The Wire. I half-recall mentioning that I quite like this programme, so I won’t do it again. (Everyone’s at it now. Pundits saying it’s better than The Sopranos are ten a penny. But it’s still only showing on FX, so no amount of chatter can actually elevate it to the mainstream. Let’s hope they get this one out of DVD soon. It doesn’t appear to be listed, yet.) Needless to say, this season has been elegaic, moving, funny, at times more violent than any previous season (especially the death of Bug’s father), and deftly balanced between police, the corners, the Mayor’s office and (new thrill!) Edward Tilghman Middle School, where co-creator Ed Burns’ experience as an ex-cop schoolteacher could finally come into play. You wonder if he’s Prez, or Colvin, as both went from the police to the public school system. He’s probably both.
I must say it’s been weird, and not necessarily in a good way, watching this season with a gap of seven days beween each episode. Having watched all the other three in binges, sometimes three or four at a time, and certainly one a day until the end of the box was reached, it made Four a langorous experience, somewhat disconnected. I’ll be honest, I was glad of FX’s “previously on” catch-ups, so labyrinthine and subtle is the plotting of The Wire. You don’t get standard cliffhangers or denouements on this show.
The final episode, directed by Ernest Dickerson, story by the guv’nors, David Simon and Ed Burns, teleplay by David Simon, was called Final Grades (the 50th episode, and a fitting half-century). So much happened (and do I need to point out that I’ll be running through a few SPOILERS?), it would be foolhardy to relate it all, but among the more poignant beats were: Jay Landsman blowing his top as Lester’s tenaciousness at the boarded up vacants, as he uncovers a potential homecoming parade of lime-sprinkled John Does (we later see a sheet of paper added to the bottom of the whiteboard, so many are there), then finding redemption with his sensitive handling of the Bubbles case. The man has a heart under all that blubber. You could see it when he patiently dabbed off Bubbles’ vomit in the men’s room.
The school gymnasium where the body bags were eventually laid out after Lester’s excavations (the nail gun was the key – and didn’t we see it in Episode One?) became a haunting mausoleum, and not a coincidence that this was a school building, with echoes of the Middle School. Daniels even nail-gunned this point home by saying he used to attend this school. It’s so circular. The Major Crimes Unit is back up and running, and guess who’s come back to the fold? McNulty, done with “drinking and whoring” and ready to attack the Marlo investigation with a clear head. We later see Bubbs in a “soft walls” hospital, being visited by NA buddy Steve Earle, but his cold turkey from what he accidentally did to Sherrod will take some time to sweat out.
Prop Joe finds his back against the wall (which still means his stomach is far out in the street), and has to give up his drug connection to Marlo after Omar steals the package. Here, we get a Season Two flashback as the Greek is seen, down by the docks, too, judging by the background noise. The Wire does have a sentimental streak. Omar, meanwile, becomes a default drug dealer, selling back the shipment he jacked at “20 cents on the dollar”. Joe’s affronted nephew Cheese (aka Method Man) says he’s going to “kill him twice.” Carver seeks redemption by attempting to foster Randy, to prevent the “snitch bitch” going into a group home, but he fails, and is last seen punching his steering wheel, as Randy meets more rough justice. “You tried.”
The sense of tragedy that grew out of the sense of hope and a new semester at the Middle School was palpable. Randy, so cocksure with his chocolate and hall passes at the beginning of the Season, ends up in a home, a punchbag. Michael proves to be the corner version of Michael Corleone, the white sheep who goes black (as it were), seen, under the instructional wing of Chris Paltrow (the most innocuously named vicious assassin in West Baltimore) and the boy/girl Snoop, who are finally arrested by Bunk and Greggs for their twilight nail-gun activities. Education comes in many forms. Duquan graduates to High School, where the brand of his backpack might just ensure his alientation. The corner is his only option. Namond fares better, being taken under the wing of Bunny Colvin. (The final shot is of the pleasant, upscale suburb he now calls home.)
A sad end for Bodie, too, who’s been there since the start. I had to look this up, but the idyllic place were Bodie and McNulty ate shit food was Northwest Baltimore’s Cylburn Arboretum. Another reference back to Season One when “them little bitches on the chessboard” are explained to be pawns. Remember D’Angelo’s lecture on the rules of chess? So long ago now. And what a poetic moment, when Omar collects his clock, repaired by Prop Joe, and we all hear it tick. Someone’s heart is still beating. Even Wee-Bey, incarcerated at Jessup, comes good, giving his blessing to Colvin’s effective adoption of his son, who will never be a soldier. Prez, such a failure as a police, finds that his class have slightly improved their “math” and reading scores in those demoralising, dehumanising tests. He’s found his spiritual home. “Got a pretty good education, now that I think on it,” is Cedric’s remark that resonates. Look at him now.
The finale was, I’m almost embarrassed to say, a musical montage, but it worked, because this is The Wire, and I guess they didn’t even know for sure if there’d be a Season Five when they shot it, so some wrapping up was required. (With, of course, Marlo still at large and the unit back in business, just in case.) Again, I’ve looked it up, and the tune was Paul Weller’s version of Dr. John’s Walk On Gilded Splinters, a huge honour for our boy, I’d say. Cutty’s back at the gym, Herc attends his Internal Investigation hearing in uniform, Pearlman and Daniels break bread with Carcetti as State Sen. “Clay” Davis and the ostrachised Burrell watch from another booth (symbolic of the turning political wheels). It’s a classic, almost soppy ending.
On points, while I was watching it, I’d called Season Four the most satisfying, and the most diverse, but I’ll always harbour a soft spot for Season Two, because it was so daringly different to Season One. Anyone still not up to speed has plenty of time in which to complete this task. Season Five’s a long way off. FX are showing it from the beginning, every episode, if you have access to the channel – which, as far as I can work out, is otherwise filled with Nash Bridges.