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March 12, 2008



Well, it was inevitable that if you spent this much blogspace devoted to it, I was going to get sucked in sooner or later. It's been a challenge sifting spoilers, but I've gotten pretty adept at glazing my eyes over names as I read. Just finished season 2 last night and while I enjoyed season 1 tremendously, season 2 blew me away. Sobotka's arc specifically, culminating in the gut-wrenching ep11 "Your way will not work." Man. Nick's slide into crime, Daniels' confident resurgence, Valchek's pettiness, the completely authentic and capricious strokes of luck (good and bad), ...I belabor the obvious. No sense reiterating all the praise lavished here and elsewhere, nor the chinks I wish weren't there, just wanted to throw my hat in the ring.

I will say, with the emotions still fresh it is nearly impossible to see slimy Stringer Bell as a Sabotka-esque figure. And the spoiler I most regret getting past my filter is Carver's rehabilitation. I can't picture the Wire without his Frik to Herc's Frak, and woulda been nice to see that evolve.

Damn me and my slow Netflix Q anyway!


Gus sounds like Hamlet there. Or Polonius. But maybe he'll write a book in with his new free time, or start writing for tv.

I railed at Daniel at the end (or at least the tv)...even his wife asked him to push back, her own career on the line.

I wonder if I might ask while we have a few folks who are surveying the whole show, and JJMcC who's watched through the 2nd season, why the Docks season is so (relatively) poorly regarded? Not here so much, and not by myself, but I've read fans who practically toss it aside. Is it just because the story with the Barksdale's felt unfinished, and no one wanted to leave them?


Jeff, if these posts got you hooked on The Wire then that alone justifies them.

hcduvall, I thought Marla asked him to knuckle under, in the end. Which is probably why he did. Score another point for Nerese Campbell for knowing exactly how to go at him... but yeah, with what he was holding he folded far too quickly. Look at what Levy pulled off just by calling Pearlman's bluff!

The docks season was easily my least favorite, at one time. I moved across the country that summer and, hard as it is to imagine now, I didn't have the cable guy waiting for me the second I moved in. I actually never saw a couple of episodes until I watched the DVDs... that didn't bother me then, though it bothers me a lot more now that I know how the season hangs together. (Plus I missed McNulty's British accent!) I think Jeff viewed it the ideal way. The plot seems to pull in so many different directions (the docks, the west side, the prison), and it takes so long to put the detail back together, that it demands a lot of patience week to week but it plays well when seen all at once.

(That said, season two also had perhaps my favorite scene in the whole series, when Daniels reads Burrell's desperation on the fly and negotiates himself a Major Crimes Unit. Absolutely unrivalled until Valchek pulled his stats stunt this season, and that had the weight of four previous seasons lined up behind it.)

I see season five as being a lot like season two, with all these disconnected plotlines that seem to be angling off in different directions, and the detail scattered among a couple different units. But I wonder how it will view back to back: will this one come together as well? Or will the narrative compression seem even more egregious?

But yeah, if anybody can explain their love for the second season--or their dislike--I'd be interested.


Poorly regarded, really? Given I'm not even half way in, there is some risk here that I'll come off as extolling the virtues of the Buffy Movie to a group of hard-core Scoobies. But then I have no shame.

I don't mean to dump on the first season, because that's what got me hooked in the first place, but I found the second season comparatively much more accomplished as a tightly plotted story (the more so for its initial expansive sprawl), and much more engaging emotionally.

Proving I have no shame, I'll extend the Buffy metaphor at least once more. I approached the series similar to a Buffy season - the Barksdales were the Big Bad of S1, The Greek for S2 (meaning the Barksdale de-emphasis seemed natural). The fact that the unit was dispersed at the beginning (and that we didn't even know the Greek) was a feature for me - Daniels' increasingly assured moves to reassemble the team were sweet, though in truth, I was perfectly satisfied withOUT the unit. Daniels and Prez working off Valchek's hardon for Sabotka, Bunk/Freamon on the murders, McNulty working from the harbor was just as interesting (trying to shit on Rawls, not appreciating that it rolls downhill where his friends were sitting).

To the plotting point, there were many more wheels in motion S2 than the comparatively linear S1. A favorite example: the episode where the police are shadowing the cans, Sabotka spots them, then the strategic cat and mouse that follows, culminating in the police sinking the hook deeper BECAUSE of Frank's moves. With the exception of the too-convenient FBI mole and maybe the hyper-efficient FBI themselves (would've liked to seen them more beaurecratically neutered, like the BP), I found things much more naturally flowing between the threads and within them (Kima's shooting and Wallace addiction both felt just lightly out of true in S1, for example).

If you compare Nick and D'Angelo's arcs, dramatically they echo if in opposite directions, yet every step of Nick's felt more fully justified and more painful. Ditto the maybe more writerly arcs of Ziggy and Wallace.

Even the Barksdales were used to if not greater effect, then equal effect here - D'Angelo's final fate, Bell's Machiavellian CEO-wannabe (even better, fumbling-the-ball CEO-wannabe)... The final exchange between Avon and Bell was a (#$&-yeah moment I don't remember having in S1.

More: on top of the established police and gang culture, to further layer the union culture, bringing the working man and the waterfront into the cops'n'robbers Baltimore landscape really fleshed it out for me, made the city more real (kind of Like D'Angelo stepping out to the 4-star restaurant in S1, but for a whole season). Better, the way the three intersected (both as plot and as cultural mirrors of each other) served the story as much as the overal presentation of Baltimore.

And probably most importantly, the character study of Frank S - champion to his union, willing to sacrifice almost everything, and losing everything BECAUSE of it. S2Ep11 was probably the most breathlessly engaging television experience since, what, Locke's first episode on Lost? Bigger. Watching Frank's realization that he's lost everything and STILL not created a better world for his union, finally at least trying to save his son as we knew that couldn't happen either.

D'Angelo's decision was heart-rending but not like this.

How much have I written? Feels like a lot. I guess I'm saying more intricate, accomplished plotting; more emotionally wrenching; and the portrait of a fuller Baltimore (loved the final montage of decaying waterfront). If S2 is regarded as a weak link, I have some hella-viewing ahead of me.


Get back to comics, you gabby motherfucker.

Jones, one of the Jones boys

Orlando as runner-up for DA in season 1? Hell, yeah. I'd forgotten all about him until you mentioned him. But, yeah, Orlando was one dumb fuck.

Re Season 2, here are some of the problems I had with it:

1) it was the first season to introduce a set of characters and institution only tangentially related (at first) to the main characters from the first season. Now, that probably softened us up for the introduction of Carcetti and Cutty in Season 3 and the schoolkids in Season 4. So maybe S2 takes one for the team and will look better when we look back at the series as a whole. But the immediate effect was a bit alienating.

2) The Sobotkas are miserable sons-of-bitches, sullen and/or obnoxious. Nicky always looks and acts like someone just took a crap in his hardhat. Ziggy's an intermittently amusing dick. Frank is a beaten shell. They're all sympathetic, but they're no bloody fun.

Contrast this with the kids in the pit, who are lively and entertaining. My (possibly inaccurate) memory is that a lot of their scenes happened in sunshine, in the bright sunny area around the orange lounge. My memory of the Sobotkas is either overcast or cold winter light. Spending time with the Sobotkas just wasn't as *fun* as spending time with the non-cops in S1 or S4.

This may be an accurate reflection of the respective cultures. But it dilutes the fun factor of the Wire in S2.

3) It's disappointing that so few characters from S2 stick around for later seasons. Yes, there are exceptions. Bunny Colvin's brief cameo brilliantly sets up S3. Valchek really only becomes Valchek in S2. But on the whole, in S2 we're introduced to an institution and set of affiliated characters. And then we never see them again.

Not just the union and unionists either; what about the whole sex trade angle? But that's a broader problem with The Wire--its neglect of the specific ways that women get screwed over by institutions--which was just as bad in some other seasons (S4 in particular). So pass over that.

Anyway, the Wire generally mostly worked by slow accrual of characters and themes. So it feels unfair to the characters to abandon them after just one season. They got short-changed (although this isn't really a problem with season 2 per se, I guess).

4) The structure of S2 doesn't seem...I don't know exactly how to put it. Tight? It didn't seem as tight as S1. I don't like to use the word, but most of the major characters in S1 show nice, contained "arcs". Similarly, the themes and plots are nicely resolved. S2 seemed a lot looser. Stuff happens to the characters, but not necessarily in such a way that you could easily characterise their "arc" for the season.

Now, lack of resolution, and some diffuseness can be good things. But S2 just seemed kind of messy to me.

5) Yes, reasons (3) (too much resolved!) and (4) (too little resolved!) conflict. What the hell.

6) Too much Brother Mouzone. Mouzone struck me as a bit too cartoonish--based, no doubt, on a real figure, or composites of real figures. But he pushed a little too hard against the show's brand of "realism"; yes, harder than Omar, or at least without his compensating charms.

7) Not enough Rawls, Burrell or Bubbs.

Hell, I should have just given that reason and left it there. Nuff said.


Marc: I took it more as Marla acquiescing to Daniels’s decision. I think she at least proposes a push back, which he rejects and then she supports (no risk for her), or he’s just too disgusted with playing politics to want to do it then, or in any future Neerese term. Which I can understand, except going to lawyering or legal aid seems like the worst option then. The weakest position in the legal system short of his clients. Maybe I'm misremembering.

Regarding Season 2:
My take is very similar to JJ's, though I’ve read some outright dismissals around that go beyond the well-reasoned criticisms here. The Slate reviewers for example, who I find pretty good beyond their journalism sore spot, pretty much said they could do without the whole of it. I also know some fans who watched it out of completism, and others who quit immediately when season 2 started. I expect my view was shaped by starting the series late. I started season two after watching some of three, so I knew we’d get back to the Barksdale’s and Prop Joe and the like. From that standpoint, it was intriguing to see not just the other parts of the drug business that reside outside the imagination of the street-raised members—witness the way the Greek interacts with every newcomer into the business of crime (his world being much larger than just drugs). It places Baltimore in a larger world, which is something that Simon probably needs to remind the audience occasionally, before it becomes too much for Wire viewers that-kind-of-world and not-mine. I also wonder if in some small part it’s that white and poor is less compelling to some critics or audiences, hard as it was to tear away from the other characters.

Jones’s point that the characters of Season 2 don’t return is a good one. It makes season 2 feel out of place, like its role as story building block count for more than the characters, outside of Beadie. Otherwise I only remember Nicky’s cameo protesting Carcetti’s building project was a cruel tease. I don’t need everything resolved with a bow, but getting out of witness protection seems a big enough point to expand on. May'be that’s a distinctive difference? The series as a whole shows the way institutions are letting the city down, but supporting itself, all the parts replace themselves, but the docks, the docks are dead.

I did watch the first 4 seasons on dvd, and the last is the only one I’ve followed on cable. Narrative compression definitely affected my viewing, so season 2 just linked up with the rest. If anything season 3 has some of the weakest parts. I loved Hamsterdam, but it ended more…theatrically?...than I perhaps liked. Brother Mouzone only bothered me here, and the whole way the ending unfolded. It’s certainly not bad, probably more of a taste thing, but Simon and crew weren’t sure of being renewed and I think you can tell.

And finally, Season 2 had Omar testifying in court, that’s got to be worth a bunch.

Ken Lowery

Jones kind of beat me to it. There's a lot to admire about season 2, but after the tightness of season 1 it seemed like a step back in terms of sophistication and... well... yeah: Tightness.

By sophistication i mean the inclusion of characters you'd find in much dumber crime fiction, specifically Brother Mouzone and Ziggy. I enjoyed Mouzone to a degree, but both were little more than archetypes who only did EXACTLY what that archetype is supposed to do. In Ziggy's case, he just fucked up all the time. That's all he did, ever: fuck up. Not even Herc was THAT bad.

Mouzone was more fun, but he was obviously meant to be the creepy "unstoppable spectre of death," and THE WIRE is just not a world that believes in an unstoppable ANYTHING. (At least not on an individual level—the institutions are completely unstoppable.)

But there was Omar in court, Daniels getting his MCU back, the grimly hilarious "battle for jurisdiction" and McNulty egging it on, and a tantalizingly incomplete look at the influence and impact of international criminal activities... just a reminder to all of us that these things are going on EVERYWHERE, and a victory "here" is worthless if everything is still fucked up everywhere else.


"I also wonder if in some small part it’s that white and poor is less compelling to some critics or audiences"

I believe Simon has said that season two had the show's highest ratings. There are two possible conclusions we can draw from that limited and incomplete data point:

A. White viewers were willing to watch the show when it was about white characters, and they left when it went back to the westside.

B. More viewers tuned in to see season two after they heard all the praise for season one, but they didn't like what they saw enough to come back for season three.

Come to think of it, those aren't mutually exclusive. IIRC Simon subscribes to option A. It would be helpful to have the episode-by-episode ratings and see how much they hold steady or drop off across the season.

"By sophistication i mean the inclusion of characters you'd find in much dumber crime fiction, specifically Brother Mouzone and Ziggy."

Yes. Yes. GOD, yes.


Now that I've begun wading into S3, I think I see what you guys have alluded to RE overall fit. S1 by definition introduced an all-new cast, so the all-new S2 seemed like a creative choice, and one I kinda liked. S3 definitely retrenches a bit, with Cutty, sorta Marlo and Bunny emerging from the established casts/cultures, and Carcetti (and maybe Daniels' wife) a much smaller cultural addition than an international cartel-connected stevedore brotherhood. This early in, I kind of miss the idea that each season would be a reboot of sorts, but I'm sure I'll be more than amply compensated for the loss.

RE Mouzone, yeah I see the point but... Omar kind of softens you up here. Once you've accepted Omar, a more cartoonish New York model just isn't as jarring. I do find it interesting that McNulty gets thoroughly hammered by consequences for his 'renegade cop' act but Omar so far gets a pass. Spoiler-free responses! :]

And hadn't thought on it 'till Jones pointed it out, but yeah, you could easily read that the unions in their death spiral ARE less fun than the vibrant, dynamic, growth-oriented drug trade. Which, ouch, but yeah.

Heh. Paper bags.


Not 'cause anyone asked me, but seasons 3 and 4 are now under my belt. Understand all comments forward are on a Wire relative scale, not intended to be used for comparison to say Desperate Housewives.

I ended S3 respecting the thorough thought excercise of Hamsterdam, enjoying Carver's first steps to respectability, McNulty turning on Daniels, the nice (too-nice really, but why not?) Avon-Bell double betrayal, but in the end couldn't stack it above S2. I think Bell poisoned himself in S2 against my sympathy, so while I found his arc intellectually tragic, emotionally I was uninvolved. The new element, politics, was cut off mid-arc to my mind (the election in S4 would have been a tighter structure, though probably not story). I enjoyed the Mayor's agonized deliberation of the pros to Bunny's experiment... but I missed the scenes of wheels moving against each other tightly and inexorably, and did take points off for retrenchment to Barksdale ground already covered. Ultimately it felt like a slight letdown after S2. (Relative scale, remember?)

So S4 just up and blew it all away. The stock central conceit, cresting innocent youth into adulthood, is supercharged here with inner city concerns and premature aging. Each of the 4 kids' character arcs was compelling on its own, so much so that McNulty can rehabilitate himself (becoming a better, more boring, person) and not take anything away. The political angle comes into its own here too -- ending what S3 started. If anything the school system gets shorted in its own season by the compelling character and political drama. Prez gets some nice moments but by and large mouths stock-if-accurate 'why can't we just teach' speeches, and it's still the best use of the character yet. Carver's arc, Carcetti as frustrated crusader ultimately doomed by his own pride if not political ambition, Bunk and Omar... A thoroughly rich backdrop to the intensely engaging Front 4. Who each get a wrenching Sabotka-worthy arc making it, what, 4x S2? Maybe 3.5? The only sour note I could come up with was the neutering of Prop Joe - it becomes more and more difficult to see him as a drug kingpin as easily as he's played by Omar and Marlo. But really? Window dressing.

All the praise I lavished on S2? Quadruple it for S4.

And it is true that the linearity and focus on Barksdale->Bell->Marlo, as well as their intimate connection to Hamsterdam in S3 and the schoolkids in S4 make S2 standout as disconnected (the Greek link only apparant at the end). I still vaguely find that an issue with S1,3,4 rather than 2.

Kind of sad now, actually, with only 1 more season ahead.


Jeff, I posted your latest comments here, where more people will see them. Hopefully discussion will follow.

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