Media matters

The Wire’s final season
By DAVID BIANCULLI  |  December 31, 2007


VIDEO: The trailer for the fifth season of The Wire

Every season, writer/producer David Simon’s HBO drama series The Wire rips the roof off a different element of Baltimore’s complex infrastructure — from the streets and the docks to City Hall and schools — and exposes the characters, rules, and anarchy feeding and starving the city from within. For the show’s fifth and final season, beginning Sunday (January 6) at 9 pm, The Wire takes aim at another rich target — the media.

Actually, it’s one medium: newspapers, as represented by the Baltimore Sun. The newspaper brings fresh eyes, and fresh characters, to continuing story lines, from the still-unsolved murders of drug-world players whose bodies have been found in abandoned buildings, and the feud between drug lords Omar Little and Marlo Stanfield, to Mayor Carcetti’s attempts to live up to his many campaign promises.

And if the medium is indeed the message, the message The Wire delivers, based on the first seven riveting hours of this new season, is this: no matter which side of the law you’re on, or whether you’re a newsmaker or a news-gatherer, you’re wading in a very strong, unpredictable, and treacherous current.

The best addition this season is Clark Johnson, the Homicide: Life on the Street veteran actor who directed the original pilot of The Wire (and is slated to direct this year’s 10th and final episode). Here he plays city editor Gus Haynes, a solid worker who’s frustrated on all sides — by corporate cutbacks from Chicago, layoffs and buyouts that decimate his newsroom, young reporters so hungry for bylines that they stretch the truth, and new management more interested in bottom-line profits than nuanced stories.

“I don’t want some amorphous series detailing society’s ills,” one senior editor scolds Haynes, swatting down an ambitious idea at a staff meeting. “If you leave everything in, soon you’ve got nothing.”

The joke, of course, is that The Wire is itself, clearly and proudly, an amorphous series detailing society’s ills — one that leaves everything in. And when this year’s setbacks send even longtime detectives Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) to commit acts of desperation in the pursuit of evildoers, the series builds to a tangled web in which all the story lines — the murders, the mayor, the newsroom, and the wiretaps that give the show its title — come together, brilliantly.

These aren’t mere plot threads. They’re so strong and interwoven, they’re more like cables. Simon and the show’s other writers (an impressive list that includes Ed Burns, David Mills, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and Richard Price) have clearly enjoyed themselves with the knowledge that this is the final season. Even sacred cows can be slaughtered in the last 10 episodes: anything can happen, and many shocking things do.

If you’ve been a Wire fan since the beginning in 2002, you’ll be stunned from the start, just to learn what has happened to some of the characters in the year or so (in their world as well as ours) since we’ve seen them. Some former addicts are straight, while some former teetotalers aren’t. Marlo’s cold-blooded killers, including Felicia “Snoop” Pearson as a particularly ruthless hit woman, are still at large. The mayor tries to avoid being eaten alive by the barracudas surrounding him — and so, on the illegal side of the fence, does drug lord Proposition Joe.

Simon, a former police reporter for the Sun, knows this stuff cold, and it shows. This season of The Wire presents the best, most true-to-life depiction of newsroom journalism and politics since the movie version of All the President’s Men. And though I can’t wait to see the conclusion of this final season, The Wire once again is off to a thrilling start.

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  Topics: Television , Politics, Entertainment, Media,  More more >
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