Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Wire, Post Episode 5

We've been oscilating b/w adulation and weariness as the plot of the fifth and final season of HBO's The Wire develops. The almost-husband follows discussion on Salon.com, which I found to be pretty stimulating in its post-episode 5 wrap-up. Here are a few reactions to and elaborations of things I think they may have skimmed too lightly over.

I especially liked comments about the omar/marlo conflict, which is coming to a head -- I agree that it's some of the best stuff in the show this season. Character-wise, omar is like the gift that keeps on giving. I would like to hear a little more about what peoples' predictions are for the outcome of the conflict, however, as I'm doubtful about how the writers can pull off another Omar victory without being trite and moralistic, but at the same time i think audiences will be very unfulfilled if Marlo wins. It's clear omar is not going to get away squeeky clean this time -- he's already suffered a couple serious losses/blows -- but for him to sacrifice his life for the victory (ie. he wins but dies in the process, another possible outcome), would be sort of cliche too. Would him winning and walking away be too hard to swallow, like him making that leap out of the building and surviving? I'm interested to see how they get themselves out of this bind.

I liked when they talked on salon.com about the plot's allusions to the current political climate. To me omar is the conscience of the streets, versus Marlo as unchecked power. I was going to say that makes it very good vs. evil but i think it's less black and white than that, more like Id vs. Superego or something like that. Omar is an unlikely hero with lots of ethical cache. I believe comparisons have been made between him and pirates, or terrorists. But if marlo is a totalitarian regime, Omar is better likened to a particularly American ideology of democracy. He's fighting, ultimately, for a free market in the hood, the right for capitalistic enterprises to battle it out vs. a monopoly on business and power. If you wanna flip that narrative and say that ultimately America, despite what we spout rhetorically, IS the totalitarian regime, I buy that too, but Omar would have to stand for a bit more concrete of a doctrine than the "right to be left alone" for me to fully digest him as a guerilla hero of the people. Omar's profession is essentially parasitic. He needs the free market competition in order to sustain his own modes of production (ie. hijacking stashes, stickups, etc.). Therefore, he isn't a terrorist in the sense of desiring a complete system overthrow, but rather an ethical police in maintaining the system's status quo. In essence, the system needs this x-factor to sustain itself, and he needs the system to sustain himself. It's actually quite a good model for the theory of Rational Choice, or rather, the idea that the market will police itself.

I think at the heart of this season is the idea of necessary evil. That's a theme hitting us over the head in Mcnulty's branch of the plot, obviously, but i think it's also everywhere else to be found. The yellow journalist (I agree, he is an obnoxious character, but perhaps characteristically/intentionally so, b/c so is the portrait of every yellow journalist i can think of in a dramatic plot -- have you seen Shattered Glass?) is generating revenues for a paper otherwise failing, and also helping, inevitably, to bust the clear and present "bad guy" (Marlo), no matter how morally grey the entire process. No one will dispute the idea that Marlo should -- no, HAS TO -- fall. Carcetti is doing the best he can with what he's got, but his pride keeps him from doing better. we are left liking him, while also recognizing the complex systemic obstacles blocking him from doing better, and wondering if he can simply raise the stakes and rise in power, could he do any better? ie. are compromises in Baltimore in the short term worth it for his rise to governor, more power and possibly long term change with greater range? And moreover, do we trust the strength of his character to make it untainted on that journey? I really liked comparisons to Obama on that level.

I like the wire b/c it paints a big picture by collaging minutia, and avoids drawing tidy moral conclusions. I think they're feeling a bit more pressure to do that very thing, however, now that the show is wrapping up for good. Ultimately that's what bugs us: The places where the need for audience fulfillment -- ie. tied up loose ends -- bucks up against the very strength of the show, that they constantly leave loose ends b/c loose ends are endemic to the nature of the story they are telling, and not in some art school ending sort of way just-for-the-sake-of-suspense, ie. the last sopranos episode.

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