So I've been watching The Wire again since it's been remastered in HD, and I've just finished viewing season 4 for the first time since it originally aired. In hindsight, it's become clear that the Major Crimes Unit's greatest mistake is not serving subpoenas to state senators or pissing off the brass. It's failing to cultivate their own officer class.
They have Daniels, of course, and his skillful resuscitation of the MCU in both seasons 2 and 4 shows just how much a good officer can do for his people. But once he's promoted above the head of CID he's effectively too far up the chain of command to care about a single unit anymore (and he's gone almost as soon as he's commissioner). No one is left at that middle management level to advocate for the MCU.
After Daniels leaves to take over the Western District, Freamon handpicks Jimmy Asher as the unit's lieutenant because he gives them a free hand while he works on his beach house. Asher won't interfere with them, but he won't ever fight for them either. That's what happens when you select for an empty suit.
Freamon himself should be the classic example of a "noncom" (to use a military analogy that frankly has no business in civilian policing, though this is increasingly becoming the norm) who can make or break officers. But he's not even a sergeant himself. If he and Daniels really wanted the MCU to outlast them, he should have gone for his stripes. Maybe there are solid institutional reasons for him not to do so--I don't know whether he would be allowed to keep his posting in Major Crimes or be forced to run a squad in some district--but he clearly failed to cultivate a middle management that owes its allegiances to the MCU.
Carver was nominally a sergeant in season 2, but Daniels refused to acknowledge his stripes and made him do the scut work. Perhaps understandable given Carver's prior betrayal, but he ends up leaving the unit because of it--and becoming a pretty good sergeant in the Western under Bunny Colvin (and later, under Daniels). So the unit pushed away the one good sergeant (and, by the end of the series, lieutenant) they could have had because it was easier to waste him on the work no one else wanted to do.
And with Carver over in the Western, and Freamon too dedicated to investigative work to take the stripes, who's the only sergeant we see in the MCU? Fucking Herc. And Herc wrecks everything he touches, getting himself shitcanned and nearly taking Sydnor and Dozerman down with him (not to mention betraying and alienating their most reliable informant). Sadly, this guy is what passes for a noncom in the MCU because Freamon and McNulty and the others refuse to take the job. And as a result, empty suits like Asher and hatchet men like Marimow are what pass for middle management.
Other Wire business:
Season 4 may be the best this series ever was, but per this post from Jones, it still has one major failing. I disagree with about 80% of what Jones says there, but unfortunately the other 20% falls mostly in this season.
In a storyline focused on public schools, which have a narrow majority of female students and a supermajority of female teachers, the leads are four boys and two male ex-cops. I suppose they needed at least one familiar character to carry us into the schools, and Prezbo fits the bill perfectly as the perpetual novice. But the idea that the revolutionary new program that saves the corner kids could only be designed by a disgraced former police commander with no teaching experience? That part, not so much. That arc should have been built around a veteran who knows her turf, gets fed up with the dysfunction, tries to create an alternative, and gets crushed by the institution... just like every other arc on every other season of The Wire. Bringing Bunny Colvin back to trade on his instant moral authority (more than he ever enjoyed in season 3) feels like a crutch.
Also, there really should have been a third teacher: some starry-eyed Teach For America reformer who's only doing it to generate material for her Harvard Law application essay. She doesn't make it through episode 7.
- I hate to say it, but the fates of the kids don't pack nearly the same emotional punch the second time around. The season begins to wilt in the last few episodes as straight naturalism is edged out by the heavy hand of fate. The exception is Bodie, who gets one of the best exits in the series and its best soliloquy bar none.
- And season 4 has the best opening titles and theme. Five Baltimore teenagers (and their producers) managed to pull off everything that Steve Earle tried and failed to do.
- Seriously, I'm going to have to wait at least a year before I can watch season 5 again. I think I need to forget how good this series could be.