So there's this story.
It's a story about a story. There's this guy, or girl, who makes up a story. Or they read somebody else's story. Or both. And they like the story. They believe in the story. They believe in it so much that they react as if it really happened. And because they react as if it really happened, and other people have to react to their reactions, pretty soon it's almost like the story really did happen.
I refer, of course, to Foucault's Pendulum. I refer, of course, to The Crying of Lot 49. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. "The Blue Hotel." The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Al Qaeda in Iraq. Episode 1F02, "Homer Goes to College."
I refer, of course, to the fifth and final season of The Wire.
It's only fitting that a show about the postmodern economy, and a season that looks at some of the cultural effects of that economy, would close by drawing on one of the classic postmodern plots (and one with some precedents in naturalism, the show's closest literary model)--the story of the believer who, through sheer force of belief, forces the world to behave as if his fantasies are real. Sometimes external reality reasserts itself with a vengeance, and sometimes these holy fools never rejoin "the reality-based community." Sometimes, as in Iraq, both of those things are true, but it's rarely the people who believe they create their own reality who pay the price.
I wasn't surprised to see The Wire go down this path--a copycat begins copying killings that are fake to begin with, saddling McNulty with a real serial killer--but I was surprised that it waited until the final episode. David Simon and Ed Burns, the only people who could have written this finale, didn't leave themselves a lot of time to tease out the suspense or the media circus (complete with stories of a fabricated gray van reminiscent of the sniper scare here in DC several years back), although they did give us another nice swerve with Templeton and the homeless guy outside the Sun building. Once again, The Wire is not The Shield and they know it.
The subplot wraps up in record time with the quickest murder investigation we've ever seen on this show, but it's good to see that Jimmy can still close a real murder (or two) when he has to. His swift closure might look like a gift from Simon and Burns, but it's based on solid local knowledge (from that fake canvass Lester insisted that he do!) and a memory for detail that makes Jimmy a natural, if inevitably self-destructive, police. Imagine what he could have accomplished if he'd just worked those vacants the honest way all along, like the Bunk.
Imagine what the writers could have done with two or three more episodes! Maybe the postmodern fool plot gets just enough breathing room, but Gus Haynes's fall at the Sun is so abbreviated that we don't even get to see the political infighting that would have done a lot to justify the sometimes rocky newspaper plotline. I know The Wire does many other things, but for me, that kind of political maneuvering is what it does best--what no other show on television can even touch. (The Steintorf/Rawls scene was pure Wire, and pure genius. And it made me like Steintorf, even if his influence on Carcetti has been and remains poisonous. He can run with the craftiest, that one.) On the other hand, the infighting at the Sun and Haynes's downfall would be so familiar to us from past seasons of The Wire--or from other plots this episode, like Daniels--that we can imagine it for ourselves, can't we?
After five seasons we know that the guilty will (mostly) get off easy, the few principled holdouts will be removed quietly, and the system will keep on rolling, replacing any worn-out parts. (I love the scene with Sydnor and Phelan.) The biggest surprise is that most of these characters got better endings than many of them had a right to--Dukie and Michael excepted. They aren't part of any institutions anymore, which is why they can fall so hard. (I know it felt good to see Michael carrying that shotty--and to see Vinson catch some shot--but what's his life expectancy?) The system that protects itself also protects McNulty and Freamon, and Templeton. (God damn it, if only McNulty had charged him with filing a false report instead of confessing to him!)
Even Haynes gets his little triumphs. Given the choice (presumably) between taking a buyout and going into exile on the copy desk--you know, the pawnshop! the marine unit!--he chooses to stay at the newspaper he loves, in the city he loves. And he gets the comfort of knowing that he's groomed a good replacement, no easy task on this show. Look at that smile on his face as Fletcher works the newsroom--no envy there, only pride.
This surprising, contradictory, but ultimately consistent ending--generally upbeat personal narratives thrown in relief against ongoing societal dysfunction--is the truest one The Wire could have given us. This has always been a show where successes and reforms can happen interpersonally, but never on a larger scale.
Individually, most of us will be okay; socially, we just can't seem to turn it around.
Other, and final, Wire business:
- That was the only song they could use for the series-ending montage, wasn't it?
- I thought the security-camera footage was lame back in season one, but here it makes a nice homage.
- The couch!
- The boat! The closest we'll ever come to seeing Diggins again, alas.
- And Crutchfield gets Kenard for Omar. Nice.
- Great to see Rawls berating McNulty again. Those two play off so well against each other.
- Also great to see that even Rawls knew he couldn't get away with hanging the fake murders on the homeless guy.
- Which is more infuriating--Templeton getting a Pulitzer, or Marlo getting what Stringer Bell wanted? (I'm hoping there's also an implication that he'll get what Stringer Bell got. The one time I would have killed to see a grinning, victorious Clay Davis pressing the flesh--where the hell was he?)
- I'm glad the courthouse leak didn't turn out to be a major character (honestly, some of the theories I've read... Pearlman? Daniels?) but it's nothing less than amazing that it would be Gary DiPasquale--Gary DiPasquale, played by Gary D'Addario, the Baltimore homicide lieutenant who allowed a young reporter named David Simon to shadow his shift and thus started this whole crazy redball rolling. Seems like a cruel way to pay the man back.
- In case you were wondering, I don't think Valchek was the Craftiest Bastard of this season, actually, or even this episode.
But he is the Craftiest Motherfucking Bastard of All Time.
Next up: the Andre Awards (now's your last chance to lobby), and then some sort of season or series wrap-up.
And then I think I need to go back to Baltimore.