June 17th, 2009

The Wire: Season 5

Warning: spoilers

Season 5 of The Wire is the weakest. I suspect that's got a lot to do with the writers being given a mere ten episodes to work with- instead of the projected thirteen. The action is leaner, the morality simpler.  There's less exploration of cultural hinterland- and we never get to know the journalists at the Sun the way we know the cornerboys, the dockers and the politicians. Nor do we get to know the Stansfield gang the way we got to to know Avon and his crew. Snoop and Chris are memorable creations- nightmare creations- but we don't see them away from the job- or have any idea who they might be when they're not being soldiers. The originality of the show in its first four seasons lay in its insistence on treating everyone in the Game- cops and robbers alike- as recognisably human; by Season 5 that's no longer the case. We're totally on the side of the cops- and Stansfield is a wholly conventional TV villain.

McNulty's scam- and the newspaper scam that parallels it- tip the scales away from quotidian grittiness and towards black comedy. That's not a bad thing, but it's a different thing. It's not what we've been used to. One strength of this final season is that it deconstructs and debunks those heroes of American folklore- the avenging gunslinger (Omar) and the maverick cop ( McNulty). The season's single greatest moment comes when Omar- who has been looking increasingly mythical- the lone figure in the long coat on the dusty street- is dropped shockingly and anti-climactically by a nobody- just as Wild Bill Hickcock was- with a single shot to the back of the head.

Most TV shows go on too long. The Wire gets out just in time. Another season of the same and it would have dwindled into a standard-issue crime drama.