by Steve Lancaster 9/18/17
The Wire is a five-season crime drama from HBO. It is available on Amazon Prime. The series is 60 episodes and the first thing I recommend is that you think of each season as an extremely long movie. Each season has a general theme that reappears in the next season most often as a side note to some other investigation. The principal writer is David Simon and is based on his book about the police in Baltimore, Homicide: Life on the Street, which was made into a 7-year TV series in the 90s.
The first season introduces most of the main characters and the harsh reality of, not only the criminals in Baltimore, but also the police that investigate the crimes, from street hustling, prostitution, drug dealing and murder. Dominic West is Det. James McNulty the principal character in the series; an actor with a wealth of television and movie experience. John Doman is William Rawls as a senior police official, and if you are familiar with the mini-series, The Borgias, he is perhaps better known as Pope Alexander Vl, Rodrigo Borgia, father of Lucretia. Lance Riddick is Lt. Cedric Daniels. Lance seems to have become the official policeman of TV movies and serials; his latest role is Chief of Police in the mini-series Bosch. Deirdre Lovejoy is Asst. States Attorney Rhonda Pearlman and Clarke Peters is Det. Lester Freamon. In one way or another many of the series plots revolve around the wire taps Lester is able to work.
The criminals are some of the most interesting characters in the series. Wood Harris is Avon Barksdale the mastermind behind the way illegal drugs are sold on the Baltimore streets, his second in command is Russell “stringer” Bell played by the very talented Idris Elba. Jamie Hector is the kid who is an up and comer in the drug trade and plays an important part as Marlo Stanfield in seasons 4 and 5. There are a number of other characters who move in and out, especially in season 4 and 5.
Season 1 has 13 episodes. The Barksdale crime family is introduced as the main players in the West Baltimore drug business with control of prime locations and the muscle to enforce keep that control. Over the course of the season we learn that Avon Barksdale and his family are well known to the police on the street and detectives who investigate murders, but to the command officers in the BPD they are unknown. That changes when McNulty has a talk with a friendly judge who applies pressure to actually do police work and not just adjust the stats.
The fallout is predictable, as with any bureaucracy, the police don’t like outsiders and rogue insiders pushing for real results. One theme of the entire series, but especially the first season, is the judge and McNulty pushing and the police command resisting, something that is true more often than not in real life. One interesting scene is in episode 4 about, 45 min, of the way through. McNulty and his partner reinvestigate a murder that may be related to the drug case. From the beginning of the scene to the end the only word uttered by either is f**k or a variation used as noun, adverb, and adjective. It is almost a dance and I have no doubt that something similar was told to the writers by real police. The first season ends with arrests and indictments, but with McNulty sent as far away from major crime enforcement as possible. He is not liked by the bosses.
Season two changes to the docks and corruption in the longshore union, however, the ongoing investigation in the drug business interweaves with union corruption. On the streets, not much has changed for the Barksdale gang even with Avon in jail. Stringer Bell is making more money and is in the process of becoming a legitimate businessman.
Season three deals with politics in a major urban city. Don’t think that the problems of Baltimore are separate from the problems of Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, Dallas, Oakland, Albuquerque, or San Diego. The only constant might be the Democrat control for generations of most of these cities and many others. Season three also attempts to deal with drug legalization. However, drugs are a problem that until we get 20% of the American public to stop smoking, snorting and shooting, is never going away.
Season four explores education and the multitrillion-dollar black hole where money goes to die in cities all over the nation. If waste, fraud, and abuse were the only problem with schools then perhaps we could make some real progress. However, like the police the school bureaucracy is committed to numbers and making the numbers look good even if they do not have applicability in the classroom.
Season five brings the media into the spotlight, especially print media. It also brings an end to the police careers of McNulty and others as they step over the line to take Marlo Stanfield off the street.
The Wire, is reported to be a favorite show of Obama. I don’t know about that but if so. He took the wrong lessons from it. However, the acting is high quality with convincing performances all around. David Simon and the other writers have created insight into the inner workings of big cities and it’s not an attractive picture. The series ended in 2008, and a cynic could say not much has changed in Baltimore in the last ten years. The Freddie Gray riots and the mess Marilyn Mosby made prosecuting police officers is the most obvious point. Although, the first season was fifteen years ago The Wire is just relevant today as it was then.