Another terrific episode as The Wire builds toward what looks to be a huge finale. It's no accident that the well-received weeks eight and nine (which weren't included in the screeners all the critics received) have focused on the wiretap investigations that are the bread and butter of this show, playing down the less successful newspaper storyline--although that plot makes some great advances, too.
The arrests of the Stanfield organization (including Cheese Wagstaff--good on you, Omar) look like a typical Wire false dawn, much as we saw at about this point in previous seasons. McNulty's shit is critically fucked, as they say, so many different ways that I can't see this case holding up in court, with the possible exception of Bunk's honest arrest of Chris Partlow--and even that's tainted. Nevertheless, the busts were great fun to watch. I notice they were all coordinated on the ground by Sydnor; back in season one Daniels lobbied hard to get him on the Barksdale detail, and we're seeing how good that decision was as he grows into the roles Freamon and Daniels once filled. He's the best hope for a future Major Crimes Unit, as long as he doesn't go down with the ship.
I have no intention of naming or linking to the guilty parties, but it's absolutely appalling to read fans on other Wire blogs complaining about Kima "snitching" on McNulty and Freamon. Set aside for a moment the fact that the serial killer story was always a house of cards, already tumbling... or that Kima does it the right way, taking steps to protect Carver and telling him to protect his people. What kind of Wire fan could watch Randy's story in season four and still berate someone for snitching? What show have they been watching?
The Colvin scene had absolutely nothing to do with any of the plotlines, but it was great seeing Bunny, Namond, and the Deacon just the same. The encounter with Carcetti, especially Colvin's final rejoinder, would have made a fine epilogue for the series (although I'm sure the writers have something even better in store). The Mark Bowdens and others looking to dismiss The Wire will no doubt cite Colvin's "there's nothing to be done" as proof of the show's bleakness, but I read it very differently: Colvin is saying there's nothing to be done if people like Carcetti don't have the political will to do anything. Which is to say, if their constituents don't have the will to demand that they change. It's the Carcettis who offer nothing but despair and the status quo, and the writers have made it pretty clear what they think of Carcetti. ("Be creative?" A new low, even for Steintorf.)
And then Namond provides just the right amount of levity at the end--another note-perfect reading from Julito McCullum.
The newspaper plot takes a couple of good turns this week. First, there's almost no Templeton, Klebanow, or Whiting--though still more than enough. I'm sorry to say that with only one episode to go none of them have risen above one-dimensional caricatures, and "the Dickensian aspect" has now been beaten over my head as many times as "we'll have to do more with less."
Second, and more important, Gus gets out of the office, stops waiting for stories to come to him, and investigates his fabulist in three scenes that do a lot to re-establish his value as a journalist and as a protagonist. Offices are always suspect places on The Wire, sites of isolated and detached management on a show that values local knowledge and field work. (The MCU office avoids this tarnish because it is literally connected to the street through its wiretaps and surveillance teams.) Haynes seemed to wither in those middle weeks when he was confined to his desk, but episode nine gives us exactly what the newsroom scenes have needed--less newsroom. I wish this had started weeks ago. I'd love to see more of the returning reporter as private eye, and besides, the fallout when Haynes formally exposes Templeton should have been good for a couple of episodes of politcking at least. Another mark against the ten-episode season.
The visit to Walter Reed also provides an understated but undeniable reminder of the consequences of fabrication. Haynes is only investigating Templeton's lies, but every shot of amputated veterans is a worst-case scenario for what happens when politicians make up their own facts and reporters don't call them on it--or join in. I would have loved for season five to have shown the cozy relationship between government and the media a little more directly, perhaps with city hall as the vehicle, but this is probably the most elegant way the writers could have alluded to the nationally, globally destructive lies of the war in Iraq.
Finally, getting back to false dawns, Bubs appears to have reached a place of peace, or at least a willingness to forgive himself, in his anniversary speech. (And he looks healthier than ever.) But he still hasn't quite confessed about Sherrod yet--I don't think his story is over. Maybe he'll do it in print for Mike Fletcher, airing out his sins for the whole city to read? That would be a fitting end, and a note of hope, if a season built around lies ended with Bubbles finding the biggest possible audience for his harrowing truth.
Other Wire business:
- Cool Lester Smooth knocks the Bunk off his three-week reign of the title quotes! If this post had gone a different direction I would have gladly used Colvin's line to Carcetti, which is one of the most heavily weighted in the series.
- Dukie's job with the junkman turns out to be less Adena Watson and more Gary McCullough. That ending isn't much better.
- Back in the first week of the season, I was told I was too quick in calling Herc the Biggest Asshole for working for Maurice Levy.
Always go with your first instinct, kids! Herc's not only spying on his friends and feeding information to Levy, he's doing it to help Marlo--and he just might get the sociopath who cost him his last job off the hook. (If Freamon and McNulty haven't already made a successful prosecution impossible.) With that, he officially has no redeeming features whatsoever. He's officially the Biggest Asshole of this episode, and depending on what happens next week he's the inside favorite for the Biggest of the season--which would place him high in the running for Biggest worldwide. If you think there's a bigger one, your case had better be bulletproof.