What a strange season. I felt like there was enough of a story with Stringer Bell that this season would just build off of the events of season one. It does, in a way, but it’s just one of the several plots in season two. Instead, the show decides to shake things up by going through an entirely different side of the city and looking at a different crime world.
I admire the show’s desire to do something different with this season instead of continuing with more of the same. There are enough shows in the world that decide to play it safe that I like the ambition on display. However, in execution, there are a lot of little things that make this season a bit rough in places.
The season has some pacing issues. While The Wire always plays the long game, the season moves a bit too slow on the front half and a bit too fast on the back half. Even though the season pans out a lot better than expected, the last couple of episodes are crammed with lots of plot points that I think could have been spaced out a bit more.
Also, I had a hard time connecting with the characters in the criminal world this season. Nick and Ziggy don’t have the charm or elicit the sympathy of many of the criminal characters in season one of The Wire. The show does do a surprising job of making the audience sympathize with them in the last few episodes, but I think it would have been more impactful if we had more investment in their characters from the get go.
The exception is Frank. I loved his character. Unlike a lot of the criminals in season one, he enters crime more of his own volition and not because he’s raised in it generationally. He’s built this twisted logic of how his criminal activities are ultimately doing good, but the entire season forces him to face the horrific nature of what he’s doing. He tries to justify those actions and stick to his choices until he realizes how foolish he’s been.
On the law side of things, I like that we get to see a case where things are nebulous. In season one, Avon was the target from the formation of the team. This time, Frank quickly becomes a smaller piece in a larger web that the team is trying to unravel. Here, the work feels a bit more investigative as they slowly find the pieces and try to connect them instead of having a few key guys they plan to trap.
I also like that the ending goes for the tough truth. The first season did undercut Avon’s ultimate arrest by concluding that it wasn’t enough to stop crime. This season, they don’t even get their man. The good guys don’t always win; sometimes evil gets away with it and the operation keeps going as smooth as ever. It’s a hard truth that forces the audience to consider the persistence of evil in our world.
In spite of its missteps, I admire what season two is trying to do. It’s more ambiguous, difficult and challenging than it might have been. The Wire is certainly a more sophisticated crime drama, but season two is trying to tell a story that feels truly challenging to the viewers, one in which they’re forced to face that our justice system can’t overcome or control the problem of evil and that it might not even be able to quell the tide.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing