Monday, March 10, 2008

The Monday Evening Wire. No More Steps.
Episode 60, "-30-"

by Cuyler Ballenger

gus in back

[I want to quickly say that I really enjoyed writing these weekly re-caps, they were as fun as they were challenging (this was my first attempt at any sort of "serious" writing online). So thank you, Ryland, you're a sharp as shit editor and a generous host. Additionally, this final season of The Wire brought together some of my closest friends each week in my living room for food, drinks, jokes and insights. Thanks to you all Rach, Al, Cam, Willie, Ry.]


Well, it's all over, and while I knew last week's episode couldn't be topped, the finale sure didn't disappoint. I think for the final write-up I might try something new and give a brief look at each element of Baltimore.

The Hall

Carcetti had no idea what to say or do about the news that the homeless serial killer -- the one he's been using as a platform to run for governor on -- never was. We've had the luxury of watching, week after week, as the case compounded into the pile of unbelievably large poop that it is, but taking it all in one dose was too much for Mr. Mayor. In the midst of threatening Bond and Rawls with their jobs, Carcetti was interrupted by a laughing Norman, who was genuinely amused. I think I had one of those "'Road to Damascus' moments" right there, when I realized he is one character who's become only annoying. His snide one-liners about life in the hall are tired and no longer witty. On the other hand, Carcetti's chief of staff, Michael Steintorf, who the show has I think attempted to make only annoying, has become not only bearable, but really intriguing. He and Levy are the only non-street characters who, because of their acting, have turned evil roles into almost like-able people (I know a bunch you will probably disagree, and I'm fully aware Levy could never have been the guilty pleasure Snoop was, but Michael Kostrof and Neal Huff were great last night). Anyhow, it all worked out again for Carcetti, as McNulty's actual police work brought a face to the homeless killer and effectively ensured Carcetti's place in Annapolis come November. (I believe the politician Carcetti is based on, did in fact become governor.) The hall was exciting in season four. Seeing Carcetti's charisma and optimism in the mayoral race was a nice change of pace from the pain that was the school, but with really nothing more to offer to this season, save the constant bitching, I don't think the show would have suffered without him.

The Paper

From the season premiere, I knew it would be an uphill battle for the paper, having to compete with last season's power house, Edward Tillman Middle, and a battle it was. As I stated almost religiously over the past ten weeks, there were standout performances, mostly from Clark Johnson's Gus (who directed the finale), but Tom McCarthy's Templeton ended up capturing my attention as well. Templeton's final scene, one of many within the signature concluding montage, had him on stage at Columbia with Klebanow and Whiting receiving a Pulitzer they may just have to give back, going down in the books with Blair and Glass and the others Gus listed off earlier in the episode as notable phonies. There was no question D. Simon had it out for The Sun all season, and seeing his head peeking out from above a cubicle, but tilted down, obviously working, was icing on the cake. He is still working hard to report on a story everyday in Baltimore, he's just found a more potent medium. But there were signs of hope for the paper last night, even though Alma was canned. Fletcher's piece on Bubbles was printed, Sunday edition front page center, and though Bubbs was initially hesitant about publicizing his story, seeing as the only reason Fletcher could proffer for consenting was that "people will read it and maybe think differently," in the end, Bubbles' sister let him come up from the basement and join her family, showing that Fletcher's claim, like his writing, was true. A city as messy and gritty as Baltimore doesn't require reporters to embellish anyway, just people who are willing to look around and take part in their city. This is a point Simon made quite clear when an article on Omar's death was cut from the paper two weeks back. And it is made further visible in seeing Gus stay at The Sun, and knowing Simon himself still lives in Baltimore.

The Law

Jimmy and Lester were hung for their scandal, but neither put in bracelets. Actually, it seems as though they both got pretty good deals. Lester retired with pension, to his wood carvings and his girl. Jimmy looks like he's taking a break from the Jameson, and while he may not see any pension, he won't see prison either (as long as Marlo doesn't, more on that in just a minute). I've never seen him as content as when he looked at Beadie, taking off is coat and gun and said, "yea, home." He put in only thirteen years, and while Carver joked at his wake about a certain organ putting in considerably more time, the essence of the crack rung true. Jimmy expelled both his physical and mental health on this last case. And I commend the show endlessly for the way they handled the final resolution. It seems everybody was concerned with what would actually happen to Jimmy and Lester. Would they walk? Would they do time? They did neither, but that wasn't even the emphasis. The reason that Michael, Snoop, Marlo and Chris were the focus of last week's "Late Editions" was so the finale could be devoted Jimmy's wake, the literal death of the police drama that was the root of this series. In the green-lit local, the camera moved around the BPD's finest, each displaying the traits we know them best for: Jay being the wise-ass wordsmith, Bunk smoking his cigar, Carver just being that stand-up guy he is, Sydnor tucked in the corner attentively watching and Jimmy and Lester in the center of the action, being praised overtly the same way they've been praised subtly throughout the course of their time on the show. It was a long scene, but not too long, just the right length to be affective and not cheesy, and it ended fittingly; with Lester watching, Jimmy opened his wallet and handed a bill to a homeless guy as he walked off down the dark street. I guess he figured he owed him one.

The Street

I should first say that I feel sort of stupid for commenting last week on Andrew Johnston's argument of what Michael would come to be, for if I had just been a more attentive reader, I would have noticed that he had already seen "-30-" when he wrote his article for "Late Editions." Sorry dude, I was projecting my wishes for the show, instead of just paying attention. You were right, obviously. Michael has been my personal favorite since early last season when he wouldn't take the money from Monk (on behalf of Marlo) to buy back-to-school clothes. He walked off and Marlo approached him from across the street, in almost a run, something we had never seen him do before, and has not done since. He accused Michael of being a coward, in so many words, for not taking his money because he thought he might know where it comes from. Up to this point, Mike had not made eye-contact with Marlo, but the accusation instantly popped his head up, offering Marlo a look not so unlike the one he gave Snoop before he sent her shattered skull through the driver-side window of her SUV. Marlo's reaction was strange, a sort of smile, followed by a glance back at Chris who was watching the whole exchange. Marlo acknowledged Mike's presence, his intensity, his wit, and he liked it. From that episode, Michael quickly became a killer on the same level as his tutors and moved up the ranks within Stanfield's crew. He showed a couple signs of disapproval with the way Marlo handled his business, but nothing that hinted at him having some sort of serious moral code. I mean, he did attempt to kill Omar! Michael came off as an independent dude, sure, but so did Cheese. Simply inserting a shotgun into his hands, throwing a black hood over his head, teaming him up with some random guy and having him disappear into the darkness was an unnecessary (and sort of lazy) way to remind us that there are gangstas like Omar. I don't think any fan of the series would have been upset had Mike gone and jacked Vinson with the nine he was using before. His character was well articulated and bad-ass enough for us to believe he could just be Michael, not young Omar. That being said, Tristan Wilds, great job son!

Marlo walked. Chris will do life. Cheese will do death. And Monk will do twenty. Marlo sold Vondas for ten million and won't lose a dime to the law. But his last appearance was debated about for maybe a half hour after the show's conclusion last night. What did that scene mean? Marlo obviously still needed to know (immediately, as it were, for he didn't bother to lose the suit) if his name was his name. Well, it was and it wasn't. The two kids he approached didn't know him, but he never really made his face known, and he didn't actually say his name. When they flashed on him, he diverted the gun shot (in a move that looked all too natural for the martial arts-trained Hector) and threw a quick right hook to the jaw. The other dude dropped his knife and the gun sat at Marlo's feet. In the silence of just another anonymous, abandoned West Baltimore street corner, Marlo took a deep breath, assessed his minor wound, sort of smiled as he looked down at the gun, half nodded his head and whispered "yeah" as the camera pulled away from him. To me, that was Marlo's way of understanding that he only had a name in the first place because he did shit like that. That he wore the crown, he ran Baltimore, and even though he won't go invest in harbor-side property, he won't remain on the streets. His abilites there (on the street) are unmatched, the show has proven that; Stringer and Joe are dead, Wee-Bey and Avon are locked up for life. He needed to know that, he needed to almost lose everything he just gained to come to terms with his future position in Baltimore, whatever it may be.

standing tall

"...the life of kings" - H.L. Menken


  1. I've enjoyed the recaps and will re-read them when I get a jones for THE WIRE. Good work.

    Like you and your crew, I enjoyed the final scene with Marlo, because it suggests he's a corner boy at heart, and that he will get dirty soon enough. Allowing the good guys to prosecute him after the November election (with Freamon and McNulty dusted out the door, the dirt in the case is less problematic).

    Simon had to break our hearts with Dukie (sp?) shooting up; but he shows us Bubs having dinner at his sister's Sunday table.

    He shows us Templeton winning his Pulitzer; along with Gus banished to the copy desk.

    I picture McNulty going private, like Herc, but not doing as much harm. He's back home with a woman who really loves him. Let's hope his ritual death/wake at Kavanaugh's signals a man re-born.

    Did anybody catch David Simon's cameo in the newsroom?

  2. Cuyler wrote: "There was no question D. Simon had it out for The Sun all season, and seeing his head peeking out from above a cubicle, but tilted down, obviously working, was icing on the cake. He is still working hard to report on a story everyday in Baltimore, he's just found a more potent medium."

    Yeah, I kinda yelped, "There's Simon!" Rach was quick to ask, "Who's Simon?" Haha. More thoughts later. But for now I'll say that it was a pretty satisfying end but on the whole the episode felt kinda sentimental and lazy. And yeah, it hurt big time to see Dukie become the next Bubbs -- especially since he doesn't have a sister with a basement to save himself in. But, bigger: Andre Royo is great. My pipedream may be his, too: I hope Michael Mann gives him a meaty role. Imagine if he'd played Max in _Collateral_! Jaime Foxx was great, as great as he can be, probably, but it might have been more tender with Andre Royo. But there I go again dreaming.

  3. Am I alone in this thinking? Was the guy that came into the store with Michael more homage to the Omar legacy. Omar loved to keep a light skinned man around him. I couldn't tell if that was a girl or guy when he was first flashed. With him being on the run like that, maybe he didn't want to deal with a woman. I know I'm reaching. but knowing how the writers reach, maybe it's not a reach.

  4. i just wanna say dat i was so mad when the wire had 2 cuz i didnt even get to see the other seasona.but its all gud!!!!!!!!anyway my boo michael keep on bein an fli kid dat u is LOL!!!!!

  5. Well I finally worked up the courage to watch the finale, and read your post. Wanna thank you, Cuy, for cyber-sharing your screening space and serving me in virtual dialogue.

    My thoughts keep centering 'round what The Wire wants to say about institutions, and about this place where they all converge: "the city," B'more. For me something crystallized in that speech Daniels gave his ex-wife, where he refused to accept the personal cost of capitulating: "I'll swallow a lie when I have to. But the stat games, that lie? It's what ruined this department. Shining up shit and calling it gold, so majors become colonels and mayors become govenors. Pretending to do police work while one generation fucking trains the next one how not to do the job."

    (Marla) The limb that doesn't bend, breaks, Cedric. (Daniels) You bend too far, you're already broken.

    Everyone on the show had to decide whether and how far to bend. That is, everyone faced a set of possibilities, for how to act in whatever institution they were (either) deep in, on the verge of, or trying to penetrate - whether the street, business, government, po-lice, Police Administration, schools, and so on. All These Games. But it's not that The Wire wants to say faith in these institutions is misplaced. Instead, two points. First, showing THAT these systems all operate institutionally. How The Game has a normative dynamic same as City Hall. Second, and here's the shit: players all have to bear the cost of deciding how they're going to be, relative to the demands of (whichever) Game. There's costs to uncritically adopting whatever fucked-up rules have coagulated, hardened, and are now seen as set (Snoop, Partlow, Nerese, Frank Sobotka, Wee-bey). There's a risks to breaking the rules, or not paying sufficient fucking attention to the rules, in the name of personal ambition (Herc, Templeton, Ziggy, Stringer Bell). There's a risked cost to stepping wayyyy outside the rules in the name of innovation and desperate need for change (Bunny, Jimmy, Freamon). There's a risked cost to not compromising your sense of Right (Carver, Daniels, Omar, Gus Haynes, Pryzbylewski, Kima). Or, compromising it (Carcetti, Randy, maybe Bodie). There's a cost for finding your own way (Bubbles, Cutty, Michael). There's definitely a cost to doing nothing (Dookie, Nick Sobotka, D'Angelo, maybe Bunk).

    Not sure all those placements are final or best fit, but you see my point? And it's the TALK of this city, B'more's signatures, where these players are feeling possibilities and figuring risks. Games and players making a city in speech, a city talking to itself. Think of Prop Joe's murder: Marlo was silencing a concentrated locus of dealings working themselves out in speech. His own name was what Marlo valued most, and as his last scene shows it was all he wanted B-more to be saying. (Cheese) "There ain't no back in the day, niggar! Ain't no nostalgia to this shit here! There's just the street, and the game, and what happened here today." Bang. Wrong, Cheese. There's what was said yesterdays gone by. The City and The Game's built on all that shit. You gotta figure it before you act.

    Y'know what transition I can't figure, though? Jimmy's "crab claw" game, to Bubbles' bag of crab from Walon, which he later offers his sister. Guess in each case, it's what made them belong to a home somewhere?

    Ah well. Thanks for reading. Keep making city speech, keep riskin'.