The Wire 5.1-5.3

5.1 More With Less

I’m curious about how much of it is based off of real events. Writer Ed Bruns served in the Baltimore police department for 20 years and show creator/writer David Simons wrote for the Baltimore Sun for 12 years. I wonder because the opening scene of the film is so hilarious and absurd it seems like something only life could produce: homicide police BS a witness by hooking him up to a printer and tell him it’s a lie detector. Really? It’s so absurd it smacks of something that might have actually happened.

Simons time at the Baltimore Sun comes to the forefront this season as the newspaper becomes the new piece of the larger picture added into the show. As someone with a minor in Journalism, this addition is fun. There’s a lot of great word banter (“You don’t evacuate people”) and the investigative journalism aspect means that the show now has a new lens through which to explore corruption.

After the optimism of the last season, the thought that things might change for the city, this season throws the show a good few months into the future where that illusion has been shattered. Carcetti cuts back on a lot of his promises to expand the police and clean up the city in order to keep the schools afloat. Now the newly promoted Carver is trying to keep command of men who’ve lost morale, especially due to unpaid overtime and a promised raise that hasn’t appeared yet.

This conflict is the fruition of a theme that the show has been slowly building over the last couple of season: the difference before and after the election. Before being sworn into office, Carcetti can make all kinds of promises, but once he’s inside the system, he has to appease different groups in the hopes of staying in the political game. He does it all in the name of trying to get somewhere where he can make an even bigger difference. Therefore, the promises he initially made become hard to enact. When faced with an emergency, he has to go back on some of those promises.

This means that major crimes is cut to a skeleton crew and everyone else is shuffled back into various departments. McNulty falls back into homicide, the return of the prodigal son. He’s also back to his old ways. Is it the pressures of the job again, a natural regression, or just a recurring cycle? In a simpler show, McNulty would be left in the happy place he’s at in season four, but The Wire reminds us that life isn’t a steady climb where we gradually get better: sometimes we regress.

5.2 Unconfirmed Reports

One of my favorite characters to see grow throughout the show is Bubbles. This season we find him in a support group. The scene with the woman sharing is a pretty spot-on take on not only addiction, but general human hypocrisy: we do the things we say we’ll never do. Bubbles still can’t share. His sponsor is pushing him, but Bubbles isn’t at that place yet.

The newsroom introduces two great philosophies to journalism. One camp, represented by City Editor Gus (Clark Johnson) wants to address the problem, look at the system, see the whole picture and understand all the complexities at work. The other camp, represented by Executive Editor Whiting (Sam Freed), is seduced by the words and the craft. He wants to write something that has a smoothness and elegance to it, something that goes over well.

The show could set up a false dichotomy of selling the truth vs. selling papers, but there’s more to the nuance than that. Certainly Whiting’s approach will appease more people and sell more papers, but it’s not in a cynical pursuit of power and control, but sucumming to a seduction of the power of story and words. From personal experience, I know that power. A piece I had praised the most in my time in journalism is one part of me hates because it felt more about the art of words than journalistic truth. Getting that kind of validation can be seductive.

Scott Templeton (Thomas McCarthy), an up-and-coming reporter, is caught in this seduction of words. However,  he isn’t good at doing the footwork and investigative aspects of the job. He cuts corners with attribution and accreditation, which makes Gus a bit suspicious but he and the editors are impressed enough by his work to take it to press.

Scott isn’t the only one trying to cheat the system. In a moment where I think The Wire might have finally jumped the shark, McNulty decides to frame a suicide as a murder in order to begin making it look like there’s a serial killer on the loose. What specifically he hopes to gain from this isn’t clear yet, but given McNulty has always been one to buck this system, I’m sure he’ll find a way to use this to his advantage.

5.3 Not for Attribution

It turns out McNulty is trying to make up a serial killer to get the police the resources they need to do real police work and use the resources they get to bring down Marlo. He’s trying to cheat in a rigged game. While I can get that motivation, the actual extent of what he’s doing seems to go a bit too far. I don’t think I buy it psychologically. Lester is brought in on the plan, but Bunk refuses to have anything to do with it.

So far, this season is about everyone getting by on a wire. The Sun goes through major cutbacks, letting go of all international reporting and cutting back the main team. Gus is put in charge of leading the new, lean team. The cops are running on barely any funding and tensions rise as overtime hours build without being paid off.

While the city is doing poorly, Marlo has the opposite problem. He’s got such a vast amount of money, he can’t get rid of it fast enough. He goes to Proposition Joe for some advice about laundering and he also begins a game on the sly where he tries to get in touch with the Russians. He’s thinking about going straight to the connection instead of through Joe.

© 2014 James Blake Ewing