“The bigger the lie, the more they believe.”
Baltimore’s Major Crimes Unit stands reconstituted under fresh operational and, further up the chain, political leadership. Familiar faces work every imaginable angle to box in the decaying city’s aggressive and ambitious rising drug kingpin, while a new mayor reallocates resources as desperately and creatively as possible to plug the leaks in a failing education system, sabotaging in the process the very violent-crime clampdown for which he was unexpectedly elected.
In previous seasons, creator and producer David Simon has furnished detailed and provocative explications of the sociology of law enforcement, the decline of the American working class, the drug trade, and public education. Season 5 introduces viewers to a new perspective: the newsroom of a major local newspaper. Add the corporatization of the media to Simon’s list. The new setting, in keeping with precedent, brings new characters, most notably the savvy, fight-picking Baltimore Sun city editor played aptly by Clark Johnson of Homicide: Life on the Streets fame. At this point, it’s difficult to say how the new characters will unfold. But if earlier output is any indication, Simon et al will develop multi-dimensional, conflicted individuals some of whom leap off the screen. We’ll wait this set out, but so far The Wire has produced two of the most compelling characters to come out of the Western cultural canon since Ingatius J. Reilly and Tom Joad.
This is a micro- and macroscopic mirroring of an American city rotting from without and from within. This is television as great modern literature, urban ethnographic film meets Dickens. The Wire has managed to have and eat its proverbial dramatic cake by successfully portraying systems as social actors without removing individuals from focus or depriving them of agency. The century-old social scientific tension between structure and experience is masterfully optimized as institutions, discourses, and vectors of power-relations conspire against the lived realities of a whole spectrum of rivetingly entertaining, sympathetic and unsympathetic, utterly believable human beings. Angry and ambitious, deadly serious yet sometimes shockingly funny, brilliantly written and acted, The Wire is not for the faint of heart; but it is modern storytelling at its absolute apogee.
Those who already follow the show need no selling. Those who don’t have much to catch up on. But their patience will be rewarded with some of the most astonishingly provocative drama ever produced on television — a punch-to-the-solar-plexus of a series that will leave you breathless.
Cinnamon J. Scudworth