it’s all in the game, though

Season Two

In Season Two, The Wire proves that its success wasn’t a flash in the pan. The show broadens its scope from the decay of America’s inner cities to the decay of America’s industries – in this case, the port of Baltimore. S2 also follows some of the original cast of S1, proving that the writers create original and organic characters, not just stock types in dramatic situations.

The drugs angle in S2 falls almost by accident; it’s a convenient hook for Major Valchek to hang his persecution of Frank Sobotka on. But the longshoremen have enough problems without the “Greeks” shipping drugs. Baltimore has lost its relevance as a port city. They’re the last of a dying trade.

Where Barksdale was a cunning player, Sobotka’s a man in over his head. He is, in a role we’ll soon become familiar with, caught under the Weight of the Lie. To keep the union afloat, he has to compound his lies with more lies, getting in deeper with the “Greeks” all while railing against them for dumping a can full of dead girls on his dock.

S2 also continues the story of the Barksdale syndicate. This is another of The Wire‘s greatest strengths – its characters are organic and they live in a real world. Stringer labors to keep the syndicate afloat in West Baltimore. Instead of gaining ground by warring with competitors, as Barksdale might, Stringer chooses to partner up with Proposition Joe. He sees a seat for himself at the head of the table – a union between East and West – imagining that he can make the Game less violent and more profitable.

The cops aren’t quiet, either. Every department backs up from the 13 dead girls like a live grenade, not wanting to be caught with the associated paperwork, or the presumed failure to solve the case. McNulty continues to spiral out of control. And the team of Herc and Carver show a backbone for once, storming into Daniels’ office when they’re left in the dark on a stakeout and proving they’re not just comic relief. This depth will be more important for Carver later on.

Other thoughts:


  • This season felt the most grounded in Baltimore for me, probably because I knew more white kids growing up than I did black kids. When Ziggy introduces his pet duck as “Stephen L. Miles,” the show had me hooked. You can write about Baltimore, you can be an expert about Baltimore, but only someone who’s lived in Baltimore for at least five to ten years would know that hack attorney’s commercial by heart.

  • “You look like you could use a good cup of coffee.”

  • Is this the performance that launched Amy Ryan’s career? She’s a real gem – she starts off looking like the quiet, mousy townie girl but shows some real wit and fire when polished. She ends the season with an office job, apparently, but we never see her around the building again.

  • “Did he have hands? Did he have a face? Yes? Then it wasn’t us. Idiot.”

  • Both this season and Season One end with the core target – the “Greek” in this case, Avon Barksdale in the last – walking away from most of the rap. Avon at least gets some jail time, for what little good it does, but the “Greek” walks away clean. David Simon does a lot to disabuse us of happy endings.

  • “You are amoral, are you not? You are feeding off the violence and the despair of the drug trade. You are stealing from those who themselves are stealing the lifeblood from our city. You are a parasite who leeches off–”
    “Just like you, man.”
    “The culture of drugs– Excuse me, what…?”
    “I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though, right?”

  • Frank Sobotka walking to his last meeting with the “Greeks” is one of the saddest goddamned things I’ve ever seen. Trisha L. can confirm this: I was visibly cringing as the importance of the fax, the FBI data entry and the phone call all coalesced in my mind.

  • “Nicky is with us. His cousin … But family cannot be helped.”
    “Who you tellin’? I got motherfuckin’ nephews and in-laws fuckin’ all my shit up, all the time. And it ain’t like I can pop a cap in their ass and not hear about it Thanksgiving time. For real, I’m livin’ life with some burdensome niggers.”

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5 Responses

  1. Word on all points. Sergei and Prop Joe’s quotes are some of my favorites. Stephen L. Miles had a similar effect on me, as you can imagine. I was taken by how much the conclusion of this season hangs on coincidence. Lester happens to have gone down to South East when Nick turns himself in. The Greek just happens to be in the surveillance photo of Vondas. In another show, it might feel kind of fakey and forced, but the world of The Wire is so built on happenstance – heaping helpings of breaks both lucky and unlucky – that it didn’t feel all that forced.

    Beatrice Russell ends up not in office, but going back to the Port, though. That’s why McNulty isn’t completely insane when he thinks he sees her in the Statey car towards the end of Season 3.

  2. “They only know me as The Greek, and I am not even Greek.”
    “They only know my name, and my name is not my name.”

  3. Oh, and “Sigh. Why is it always Boris?”

  4. We just finished Season 2 last night.

    Frank Sobotka walking to his last meeting with the “Greeks” is one of the saddest goddamned things I’ve ever seen.

    Agreed. It was heartbreaking to see Nick, Beatie, and the FBI guy each take some measure of blame for Frank’s death when they realized their roles.

    I LOVED that line from Omar to the skeevy lawyer guy.

  5. Yeah. S1 establishes the characters; S2 plays with them a bit.

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