Finding my season 4 reviews of THE WIRE are going to take time as I dig through the archives but in the meantime, I will post up all of my reviews of the fifth season. If you haven't seen it...beware because there are spoilers all over my review (and for God sake get the series on DVD already!):
As much as most people consider this the first episode of season 5, I like to think of this as chapter 51 in a sprawling and rich novel. Because, in all actuality, this is perhaps, the best way to look at THE WIRE. It stands out from regular TV fare and plays more like a visual novel.
This episode started airing on HBO on Demand last night and won't air on HBO until this Sunday. I don't have HBO on Demand but I stayed up until 5am to download the episode via torrents. Many people shake their head at my devotion to a show but they miss the point that this show is comparable to a great book that you cannot put down. And I've been successful in converting many people to the show. However, when I try to describe it to people, they think it's a "ghetto" or "black" show since it takes place in Baltimore. And they dismiss it as some hip-hop gangsta show.
Those people couldn't be bigger dolts or more off the mark. Even though Baltimore is a city that has a large African-American population, this show is the biggest melting pot on television. This show cannot be defined or racially categorized. This show is not about cops, drug dealers, politicians, etc. It's about the city. The city of Baltimore which mirrors cities across America that we have let deteriorate. And secondly, this show explores institutions and how no matter big we may think we are- the institution will always be larger than us. And how these institutions fail and consume. This show is going to be looked at years from now not just a great tv show- but as a landmark piece of art for any medium. It's a shame that most people lack the intellectual capacity to watch and appreciate this series.
I honestly feel that and could care less if I sound like an asshole when I state that. This series doesn't just deserve Emmy's- it should be given Nobel Prizes for the humanitarian works that the cast and crew are behind. One such thing is the Ella Thompson Fund which is doing miraculous work for inner-city children.
And yes, it is a television show but I consider this just amazing art. There is no doubt in my mind, this is the greatest thing to ever grace a television screen- not to mention, one of the most defining artistic achievements ever in storytelling. I have tv shows that I watch- but I accept them as they are- just mere pieces of fluff. I don't mind escapism but storytelling in television (not to mention film) is pretty much a dead artform in my mind. This show has thousands of characters and each one of them has their own distinct and unique voice. They all have their own voice. And I actually care about these characters. Whether they are cops, drug dealers, schoolkids, etc. This type of storytelling is what I crave to watch. David Simon, George Pelecanos, Ed Burns, and the whole writing crew need to do seminars and educate writers on how to really write. Not the bullshit that I see nowadays.
But, time for me to get off my soapbox. "Chapter 51" opens with a great teaser like all the opening teasers for the beginning of each season do. And it may be one of the most hilarious moments in "Wire" history as Bunk tricks this poor shmuck into confessing to murder by using a copier as a lie detector. And this drives home the focal theme of this season, "The bigger the lie, the more they believe." No matter how absurd it may seem, we (Americans) will happily accept it.
The opening credits this season are stellar (as always) and Steve Earle's rendition of "Way Down in the Hole" have a hint of eerie foreboding. And the music plays perfectly with the visuals.
My favorite part of the opening credits may be the moment where we see various photos (that The Detail has used on their board) of major characters in past seasons such as Wallace, D'Angelo Barksdale, Avon Barksdale, Frank Sabotka, Bodie Broadus and Wee-Bey. Many of those characters are either incarcerated or were murdered in cold-blood. This also ties into the way that the show is coming around full circle. And the visuals also incorporate the media theme wonderfully.
The episode opens up a year from the end of season 4 where the investigation by the Major Case Unit on Marlo Stanfield's organization is still ongoing. However, unbenownest to them, the Stanfield crew are all about aware of their surveillance, and have remained low-key because of this. We are treated to a brief scene of Marlo schooling someone who is taking his package about the consequences of not accepting the split that Marlo offers.
Marlo tells the young man that the split is 60/40 and if he finds that unacceptable, he needs to go back and have his people strap up- and wait for Snoop and Chris Partlow to arrive and meet up with them. Off that, there is a perfect moment where Snoop says: "Yeah, and we're gonna be brief with all ya'll motherfuckers. I think you know."
And considering how lethal Snoop and Chris were last season with the row-house murders, the young dealer can do nothing but accept what was given to him. At this point, Marlo is drunk with power and enjoying "wearing the crown" that he sought to wear since he had the war with Barksdale in year 3.
Kima, Sydnor, Freamon, McNulty and Dozerman continue to tail Marlo's crew and see what they are doing- but nothing. There are no meets anywhere where a wiretap can be used and the murder has been at a standstill. Until the investigation ends, they are being calm.
Chris' "young pup" from last year, Michael Lee, is still running his corner (which was originally Bodie's). However, Michael's friend, Duquan aka Dukie is not doing well on the corner. Watching these two actors grow up from their first appearance in season 4 is just mesmerizing. Particularly, Jermaine Crawford as Dukie. He's just such a phenomenal presence because he can say nothing- but you can look at his face, and just feel such sadness for the character. Michael notices that Dukie might not be right for the streets (since Michael's crew has no respect for Dukie) and relegates him to being his little brother Bug's babysitter. All of this does not sit well for Dukie.
I have a feeling that something tragic is going to happen to Dukie and if that happens, it will absolutely shake me. There's something about Dukie's character that I absolutely connect with. He was a kid who was born into poverty and used to his parents selling his clothes for drugs. And he wants Michael to think of him as an equal, but Michael was wise in trying to get him off the street. However, I think Michael should have phrased his explanation better to Dukie. It will be interesting to see what happens.
There was a saying used a lot in season 4 when Carcetti was elected as mayor. The saying was, "A new day". That new day has not arrived. Carcetti is completely over his head and is now cutting back on pay for police since he needs to direct his money to schools (which were millions of dollars in deficit last season). Morale is low as the officers are forced to accept vouchers for their OT (which has been cut as well). Apparently, the officers haven't received a decent pay in over a month (according to what Rawls has said). And the entire police force are disgruntled at Carcetti breaking his promise to them. Although, in a stroke of comedic genius, the cops are trying to use the vouchers (unsuccessfully) to paying off their bar tab.
Now, since he did not accept the Governor's money last year (because how it would make his own political standing look), Carcetti is truly fucked. And in order to save more money, Carcetti agrees with Rawls and Burrell's suggestion to disband the Major Case Unit. Although, Carcetti's aide, Norman Wilson (played by the great Reg E. Cathey), brings up the point that 22 people died in those abandoned rowhouses, Carcetti decides to suspend them just to save dollars.
This news is not pleasing to Colonel Cedric Daniels, who when we last saw him, was being groomed as the next Commissioner, and as an ally of Carcetti's. However, Carcetti is too caught up in the fast-paced world of being mayor to hear Daniels plea about the MCU being disbanded. However, the State's Attorney General is all but adament about the case against corrupt State Senator Clay Davis. Carcetti allows the manpower for the Davis case to continue which causes Daniels to muse that a corrupt politician has more worth than 22 people who were murdered in cold blood.
What's great about this series is how they tie up all storylines and weave them together. And never forget what happened before. Clay Davis' actions have been shown since year one and Freamon was able to build a case out of the money that sprung from the Barksdale money trail in season one (and possibly year 3- since they knew Stringer was having dealings with Clay). And McNulty discussed his infamous prostitute story from the season 2 brothel raid with Dozerman.
Perhaps, even more intriguing, is that Chris went to the courthouse to pull information about Sergei Malatov. Who is that? Just the Russian driver/enforcer of the Greeks organization in season 2. Which means that Marlo is still intent on finding a way to get a direct line with the Greeks. Which means, Marlo doesn't need the Co-Op or Prop Joe because that heroin will be coming in directly to him.
Which leads us to the Co-Op meeting which has probably the most intense scene in the episode. We see Marlo arriving late, and trying to stir up shit with Prop Joe and his lieutenants- Slim Charles (mainly) and Cheese (who is Prop Joe's nephew). Marlo seems intent on vying for control of the Co-Op and if he is able to get a line with the Greek for the connect, then I fear for the Co-Op's future. Not to mention Prop Joe's. Fortunately, Slim Charles (being a Barksdale soldier originally and having no love for Marlo), sees that Marlo is up to something and warns Prop Joe "not to sleep on Marlo." Cheese, on the other hands, seems like he is intrigued by Marlo's power play (at least from what I saw) and could potentially jump ship. Which would be very ironic actually, since Joe did everything in his power to protect Cheese when Marlo wanted his head after Omar stole the shipment. Family only goes so far apparently. And this would go into the whole theme of the show of family being sacrificed for the institution.
It would have been a different affair if Prop Joe and Stringer were running the Co-Op. Allowing Marlo in was Prop Joe's serious error because Marlo is a snake. And allowing a snake to dine with you, will only result in getting bit hard. And if Marlo sits at the head of the table, then there will be no Co-Op. It will no longer be structured- but it will be only Marlo spewing out his orders. And the other dealers having to accept because they need the good dope.
Meanwhile, Bubs has now been clean over a year since the death of Sherrod (the homeless boy he took in and OD'd from the hotshot Bubs was going to give a fiend who was beating him up)- but it still seems like he is getting by- day by day. Bubs has been staying with his sister (not when she leaves though because he has to leave then) and is trying to stay on the straight and narrow. However, it appears that his struggle has just begun. I honestly hope that Bubs remains clean because his journey on this show has been so poignant and his goodness shines in every scene he is in.
The media storyline has unfolded well so far with the introduction of the newsroom which mirrors the actual Baltimore Sun (where David Simon used to work for years). Clark Johnson absolutely burns up the screen as Augustus "Gus" Haynes. Clark has always been a favorite of mine since I remember him as Meldrick from Homicide: Life on the Street- and his directorial efforts for THE WIRE's first season. But his delivery as Haynes is impeccable and his honesty cuts through the bullshit. And I'm curious how the story about the City Council President involved in a real estate deal with Fat-Face Rick (a drug dealer associated with the New Day Co-Op) will further play out.
McNulty is well...McNulty again. His obsession to bring Marlo down has led to the boozing and whoring again. Which makes me frown on this wonderfully flawed character. This time around, McNulty has the love of a wonderful woman- Beadie Russell (played by the gifted Amy Ryan). And if my eyes aren't deceiving me, I think Beadie is wearing a wedding band. The scene where Beadie knew what McNulty was doing, but kept the light outside on (sans dialogue) was sublime. And expressed more than words ever could. Shame on you McNulty for cheating on such a good woman. Then again, I have liked Beadie Russell since her introduction in season 2. She's perhaps one of the greatest female characters in fiction because she is extraordinary in her ordinariness.
Herc, somehow, made it out better than his former police brethren by working for corrupt drug lawyer, Maury Levy. As smarmy as Levy is, I look forward to some interesting scenes with him and Herc in the future. And who will Levy be representing now? Is this when we will see Avon again?
At the end of the episode, MCU has officially been disbanded and everyone is relocating. McNulty and Kima, are now officially back in homicide. I love the end with McNulty demanding his old desk back and just sulking there, as the camera pans to Landsman, who quips: "The prodigal son".
McNulty is back in the same spot (and unit) he was in at the end of season 1. The case that he wanted so bad, has slipped away from him. Which means, Jimmy, being the asshole that he is, is going to do everything in his power to piss off the right people. A determined McNulty is always a great last visual to end an episode.