Hot off "The Wire"

Join Salon staff as we discuss Episode 9 of "The Wire"

By Salon Staff
Published March 3, 2008 8:03PM (EST)
McNulty & Freamon visit Hooverville

THE WIRE: Clarke Peters, Dominic West. photo: Paul Schiraldi    (Paul Schiraldi)
McNulty & Freamon visit Hooverville THE WIRE: Clarke Peters, Dominic West. photo: Paul Schiraldi (Paul Schiraldi)

Much of Salon's staff is obsessed with HBO's "The Wire" -- and we know many of you are, too. So we'll host a little debriefing session starting directly after each episode ends, continuing through the series finale. Our East Coast contributors will kick it off and our West Coasters will finish it, though we hope you'll have the final say in our letters thread, which we'll be reading and spotlighting the best posts throughout the following Monday.

Salon contributors will include: Heather Havrilesky, TV critic; Sarah Hepola, Life deputy editor; Alex Koppelman, staff writer; Kerry Lauerman, New York editorial director; Farhad Manjoo, senior writer; Laura Miller, senior writer; Joan Walsh, editor in chief.

BEWARE: Spoilers ahead!

Manjoo: Like the rest of you, I've been watching this story slowly crack open for several years now. It's been 59 hours of TV time; there's one more hour to go, and I can't wait for it. But for now, this hour, this episode, felt like a coming together. It was simply breathtaking -- the logical, perfect conclusion to all those hours, those years' of stories, at once exhilarating and devastating, just like you knew it would be.

I watched this on Tuesday, and it's haunted me in lonely moments ever since. I'm still a bit hopped up on it, so please forgive my sounding overwrought. The thing is, it wasn't just the plot developments that got me, though these were obviously huge: Marlo! Snoop! Namond! Kima! McNulty! Bubbs!

But there was also something more complex here, something more intricately beautiful. In describing "The Wire" to friends, we've all remarked upon on its novelistic properties. This episode felt like the climax of that novel. Every scene hangs on the subtext of years' of accumulated storylines; the story, now, is not just the script but also all that we've learned of these people's motivations, their impulses, their relationships, the constraints in which they operate. The story is the system, and now, finally, we're seeing the system in full.

Early in the episode, for instance, Daniels and Rawls meet with Carcetti's chief of staff, who exhorts them to bring down the crime stats. It's just a procedural scene, the kind "The Wire" has shown us many times before -- a boss is asking the impossible from his underlings. Save for this: Now we understand all sides of the argument, because we've been shown each of their worlds. When Daniels says, "I was told by our mayor at the outset that there would be no more band-aids, no more stat games," we know he's telling the truth. But how can you disagree with the Carcetti aide? If the mayor doesn't bring down the stats, he can't be governor, and what good does that do anyone? "My boss needs to crime to go down now ... or no one is going to be in a position to reform anything." They're going to go back to band-aids and stat games because nobody has a choice, just as it ever was.

On another subject: Kima didn't have to do what she did. Can't the ends sometime justify the means? They got Marlo. Why would she risk that catch? Jimmy's scheme worked. That should be enough. Do you guys disagree?

Seeing Namond at the debate was probably my favorite moment this season. "What you have seen here is evidence of the progress that city schools are making under this administration," Carcetti says afterward, but of course that's not true. Namond survived despite the system, because Colvin pulled him out of it.

Carcetti, apologizing to Colvin, says, "There wasn't anything that I could have done with your experiment in the Western district -- there wasn't anything that anyone could have done with that."

"Well I guess Mr. Mayor there's nothing to be done," Colvin says. It's unclear what he's referring to -- the drug war, the schools, city politics, the media? Of course, he means all of it.

Koppelman: I don't think I can get nearly as poetic about this episode as Farhad did -- I'm just still trying to get over the effect of that final scene. Even having watched it three times now, I still feel like I think Dukie must have when Michael says he doesn't remember the carefree days of their summer gone by: Like I've been kicked in the stomach. Of all the poignant scenes in this show, that may have been the topper.

And speaking of that scene, and Michael, was I the only one who felt that the scene in which he kills Snoop was strangely... touching? (Well, at least touching for a hit?) Amazing how there was almost no anger, even a hint of tenderness, and yet it still felt completely real. I guess that in itself was disturbing in a way, too -- it really showed that Snoop believed what she said, that a hit wasn't about the target deserving it as much as it was just their time. And, of course, the preternatural calm both displayed was, when you stop and think about it later, chilling. And yet, I still find something almost warm about that scene.

Farhad, I do have to sort of disagree with you about two things. First, I think Kima absolutely did have to do what she did. What's the purpose of being a cop if you're just as bad as the people you're chasing? At that point, you might as well just be a rival gang, albeit with more firepower. And beyond that, it wouldn't have mattered; clearly, Freamon and McNulty's scheme was on its way to unraveling even before Kima's action. Smart as Freamon is, he left a big loophole, one the writers are pointing out quite adeptly -- if you're going to pretend to have a snitch, there needs to be someone who can plausibly be that snitch. Levy seems well on his way to figuring this one out anyway. (And hisses towards Herc for playing both sides here, by the way.)

Also, I think we disagree somewhat on our interpretation of the scene with Daniels, Rawls and Carcetti's man. I didn't read it as just a procedural scene; I actually think it had a pretty important message about the way the city works embedded within. That promise of change from Annapolis rang so hollow, because there's no reason to think a Carcetti gubernatorial administration won't be afflicted with similar problems, no reason to believe they'll actually be able to do the big things they want to do then, because, well, won't we need to show a 10 percent drop in crime when he's readying to make his run for the White House? It's how well-meaning people allow themselves to be trapped in the cycle, and I think that's what Simon, et al., meant to show with the scene.

Walsh Yes, Farhad, we see all the wheels of the system turning now: Daniels leaves the meeting where the mayor's aide demands a 10 percent crime drop, looking hopeless, and waiting outside is Freamon, to tell him they've caught the Stanfield boys "dirty." Oh, and they've got a murder warrant for Chris Partlow too. Daniels smiles as if it's all too good to be true (of course it is) and asks if there's anything else Lester's not telling him. Oh boy, Cedric, there sure is, but how is anyone going to tell you when you're grinning like that?

I knew Greggs was going to tell, but I didn't want to know. I'm somewhere between Farhad and Alex on this: I hoped she wouldn't do it, but I knew she had to. Yes, they got Marlo, justice was being served, but rooting for McNulty and Freamon to win by any means necessary puts us in the Dick Cheney school of justice, doesn't it? But I was rooting for them.

Alex, I completely agree about the scene where Michael shot Snoop; it broke my heart. Snoop looking in the driver's side mirror: "How my hair look?" and Michael replying tenderly, "It look good, girl," before he blows her head off. I did find myself wondering, though: How does Michael know Snoop's decided he's gotta get got, but Snoop doesn't know Michael knows? Especially when Snoop tells him in that scene he's not one of them, and he never has been? Anyway, yes, it was her time.

I couldn't watch when Michael shot Snoop, and I could hardly watch him say goodbye to the crying Bug, trying to smile, showing those little-boy dimples, his voice cracking. I guess Bug's in a better place though that aunt looked severe. And Dukie dropped off with the junk men was heartbreaking, too, if a little heavy on the message that all these people are junk to the rest of society. I'm going to miss this show badly when it's gone, because knowing our culture devotes at least one fictional hour a week to exploring the tragedy of the American inner city is better than nothing.

Even before Greggs told Daniels, you knew it was all going bad, and McNulty knew it too -- he wouldn't even drink with Lester.

Havrilesky: Farhad, I like your point about how we're pulling back and seeing the big picture at last. After so many episodes have carefully exposed the breakdowns of various working parts, now we're shown how the whole machine refuses to function. The leaders and workers and institutions charged with serving the people fail to serve them, from the corruption of lawyers like Levy to the self-serving bullsheeeit of Clay Davis to the empty talk of Carcetti to the misguided scheming of McNulty and Freamon.

This may be the most difficult season to watch, because we're seeing how little hope there is for the kids. Of course we were all relieved that at least Snoop didn't take out Michael, but then there's Bug, crying as his little family is torn apart, and Dukie left to the crazy junkie/junk man den (What the hell is the implication with the pony being led in there, and that picture of a dog on the wall?). I'm with you, Joan, I could hardly stand to watch those scenes. Simon is so merciless with us when it comes to the kids, and the message is clear: Unless someone swoops in and pulls them off the streets completely, the children are, for the most part, doomed.

Now it looks like Namond and Bubbles will be the only two happy endings of the final season. Namond has Bunny Colvin and Bubbles has a sister with strong boundaries who's nonetheless willing to give him a place to sleep at night. It takes more than determination to make it off the streets -- think of what a hard-working entrepreneur Randy was during Season Four -- it takes someone who actually gives a damn, who can lend a hand.

"Ain't no shame in holding onto grief, as long as you make room for other things, too." This is more than just Bubbles' acceptance of the tragedy of Sherrod's loss; we're being challenged to take in the enormous sadness of this picture. Simon won't let us push these stories out of our minds, as Carcetti or Davis or Snoop or the other pragmatists in this dystopia choose to do. These tragedies are designed to haunt us so that we'll hold onto them, take them to heart, and then make room for other things, informed by what we've seen.

Hepola: Sometimes I feel about the Wire the way I do about watching local news: People keep dying. Shit's getting worse. Stay crappy, Baltimore. So in the midst of this particularly bleak episode, it's nice to see a few glimmers of hope. I'm glad Namond's appearance effected other people so deeply, too. It was great to see him, with that spongy poof of hair he never could let go of. The best anti-drug program for any society is two loving parents who take time for their child, and that's what Naimond got. It's what all kids deserve, frankly, but as Snoop says, not long before her insides meet her outsides, "Deserve got nothing to do with it."

As tough as it was to watch Bug say goodbye to the only real family he's ever known, it's also the best chance he has not to wind up on either end of a gun barrel. It's hopeful. (Dukie's fate, not so much. No clue on the pony either, Heather, but the junkies inside can only make me think we're watching the makings of another Bubbles.) And Bubbles will end the season with quiet dignity -- a stark contrast to all the other flameouts. Heather's right to point out the importance of family in making it off the streets, but Bubbles is also doing something extraordinary on his own. He's making things right with himself. He's stared down the worst in himself and accepted it -- held on to grief, even though he's made room for other things. No more dope to numb the pain. No more lies. No more hiding. That's an act of courage that McNulty and Carcetti and Rawls and all the bureacratic suits -- with their smoke and mirrors, with their greasy lies -- probably could not imagine. They're too self-interested, too manipulative; or maybe, in the old 12-step thinking, they just haven't hit bottom yet. I have no idea if David Simon's been in AA, but he clearly respects the quiet dignity of broken men trying to rebuild. Bubbles' slow, grueling climb back is an interesting counterpoint to all downfall we've seen this season -- the downfall of characters, of urban cities, of America. I got a lump in my throat when Bubbles introduced himself with his real name. If someone as emotionally eviscerated as Bubs can come back, that says something important for all of us. Sorry, did I say Bubs? I meant Reginald.

Oh, and Kima was right to do what she did. Gotta make things right with yourself.

Miller: For me, the most stunning moment was Marlo's outburst in the holding tank -- "My name is my name!" We all know that McNulty and Templeton are going down, right? The only real mystery this season is Marlo: What makes him go, and can he keep on going indefinitely? This is the first time he's ever lost his cool, and that gives us at least one key piece of the puzzle. Why did his underlings hide from him the fact that Omar was calling him out? They knew that this was the one challenge their boss wouldn't be able to resist. For me, that puts Marlo in a different, more human light. He's not an enigmatic power-gathering machine; he has his pride, his reputation, and he cares enough about defending it to behave recklessly, perhaps. Sure, it's a utilitarian concern: the fearsomeness of a gang leader's reputation is a kind of resource. But what we saw in that cell was not Marlo the pragmatic, if ruthless, drug dealer, but a man who felt struck at the core. I'm sticking by my previous comparison of Marlo to Tamburlaine: pride will be his downfall.

Snoop died like what she was: a soldier. She and Chris were terrible, in the old sense of the word -- inspiring terror -- partly because, as Levy puts it, Marlo runs a really tight ship. They were disciplined, unflinching, reliable, stoic. The idea that people die when it's their "time," the fatalism of that sentiment, is the Greek vein in this story, the opposite of the novelistic narrative that Farhad mentioned. In Greek drama, individuals are the pawns of larger forces -- the Fates and the gods. In novels, people are responsible for their own destiny, even if that destiny is catastrophic. What's happening to McNulty is novelistic. What happened to Snoop is Greek.

Actually, I think this last season is the only substantially novelistic one for The Wire, and what I liked about the previous four was the show's anti-American willingness to insist that we aren't the masters of our fates. The shift has made it easier to say good-bye to it after this season has broken with so much of what made the series original.

As for getting out, we've seen Poot working at Foot Locker, for crying out loud, so it's not entirely impossible for a kid without a rescuer to escape the corner. Can it really be that easy?

Salon Staff

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