there ain’t no back in the day. ain’t no nostalgia.

By Season 5, we’ve assembled quite a cast. We’ve got the cops – street level, detectives and command – all angling for position. We’ve got the dealers, all the way from the twelve-year-olds counting the stash to the masterminds dealing with supply. We’ve got politicians. We’ve got folks we picked up along the way, from the ports and the schools. It’s no longer just a TV show – it’s a real live city we’ve assembled.

Let’s start tearing it down, one brick at a time.

Season Five

Mayor Carcetti finishes learning the lesson he started last season: the View Never Changes. In order to scrape together $54,000,000 for the schools, he has to short the police budget something fierce. Unsurprisingly, crime skyrockets as a result. I consider it evidence of the writers’ genius that, in the process, they could make me feel sympathy for the ass-sucking, weaselly Burrell on his last day in office. “No one ever tries to tell Sanitation how to do their job …”

Clay Davis weasels his way out of trouble with some slick talk. And the writers don’t just tell us Clay has the gift of gab. Oh, no, sir. Listening to him on the radio (“can I tell it how I feel, brother?”) and at the courthouse, I half believed him myself. Why, Clay Davis just wants to spread some of the surplus of our rich city to the working family! Sorry he’s too unconventional for your hidebound besuited asses. Sorry he’s bleeding gold out of every pore in his body trying to keep West Baltimore afloat. Can I tell it how I feel?

The bloody cunning of Marlo Stanfield ramps into overdrive. He displays a remarkable naivete for the fundamentals of a criminal enterprise, but I buy it. I genuinely believe that someone raised on the street, without a formal education, could be completely ignorant of things like money laundering and offshore accounts. Fortunately, Joe takes him under his wing. Then, when Joe becomes, um, indisposed (one of the great twists of the season, by the way), Levy walks him the rest of the way.

McNulty, in a rare feat of drunken inspiration, comes up with the idea to stage a serial killing. He very quickly starts to buckle under the Weight of the Lie, generating more attention and more paperwork than he ever imagined. I had a hard time with this at first, but eventually warmed to it: McNulty has always believed that he’s the smartest man a hundred miles in any direction. He’s shown no problem stepping outside his bounds to give a case some real attention before (see: bitching to Phelan; faxing tide charts to the Coast Guard; etc). And he knows that a case only needs so much wind before it dies out and collapses in the uncleared file. Lester coming on board saved it for me, I think; he lent an air of sobriety (no pun intended) to some decidedly haphazard proceedings.

A lot of established critics loathed the Baltimore Sun storyline (a real shocker: Journalists Unhappy With Critique of Journalism; Film at 11). I didn’t have a problem with it at all. Maybe my econ degree speaks for me here, but I didn’t see Klebanow and Whiting as the cartoonish ogres that everyone else (Salon, TWOP, etc) seemed to. I saw another case of the institution steamrolling over truth – a harsh but realistic conflict between profits and justice. Same thing as juking the stats in Season 3, or the standardized tests in Season 4. I didn’t see Gus as the bleeding Christ figure that everyone else did. Sure, he takes the bullet for the sins of the paper, but he smokes and drinks and says “fuck” like a regular human being.

Templeton (edit – played by Tom McCarthy, Boston College class of ’88) … eh, the writers painted him a bit strong. Inventing a kid in a wheelchair after a day of striking out on Camden Yards interviews – that, I buy. We follow Templeton through his frustration, we wince a little at the cloying cliche of the cheat, but it makes him human. When Templeton fabricated details on what already sounded like a good story (the homeless Marine vet), I had a harder time with it. But when Alma dropped the bombshell that Templeton had never written word one in his notepad – the notepad he called attention to by screaming across a crowded newsroom at Gus – I checked out. The Wire had done such a good job in not serving us absolute villains, and then Simon, Burns and Pellecanos give us this sniveling tool. Oh, well. At least he didn’t let out a nefarious cackle at any point.

Omar goes out in the right way. His preternatural ability to set ambushes finally fails him. He jumps from a four story window and walks away – not with a limp but with a broken leg that probably sets crooked. He goes on a wild, ambitious campaign to draw Marlo out, a path that he has to know will end in his own death. Finally, he takes one in the dome when he’s not even looking. He nearly gets shipped to the morgue with the wrong name on his bag. You had to root for Omar while he was winning – but the Game always exacts the same toll.

The saga of Baltimore and the Game doesn’t come to an end in Season 5; rather, the writers simply get off at this stop. Everything comes around again. Carver becomes the new Daniels. Sydnor becomes the new McNulty (“just keep my name out of it”), although Kima jockeys for a piece of that action (“giving a fuck when it’s not your turn”). Marlo becomes the new Stringer Bell, though for how long we can’t say. Michael becomes the new Omar which, though it means an early grave for him, we have to applaud. Slim Charles becomes the new Prop Joe – and for all his talk about not dealing with the street, Vondas doesn’t quail from the musical chairs of ambitious dealers who’ve sat across from him. Valchek becomes the new Burrell (tell me you didn’t laugh knowingly at that one). Herc doesn’t quite become the new Levy, but he starts the journey – a couple years in law school and he could start representing little hoodies. Duquon becomes the new Bubbles and it breaks us all a little inside.

So who made it out of the cycle? Daniels, apparently. Pearlman, maybe. Bubbles, definitely. McNulty … ah, McNulty. McNulty’s the reckless jerk we all wish we saw in the mirror: a man who’ll stake everything – his friends, his health, his career – on a hunch. Jack Bauer, through a glass darkly. And just like Jack keeps getting in trouble in Los Angeles, no matter how much he loses, I think McNulty will find himself back in the Game at least one more time.

The season ended on a higher note than I thought it would, and for that I thank the writers. If Seasons 2 and 4 meant anything, this show had the potential to absolutely wreck me. But writers like Simon and Burns count Baltimore as part of their family. And you love your family, even when they beat you down.


  • “How my hair look?”
    “You look good, girl.”

  • Did anyone else find the quotes that opened each episode a little weaker than usual? They didn’t evoke anything. They didn’t come from strong or pivotal scenes. Episode 9’s quote, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it,” comes to us by way of Unforgiven. I think Marlo’s only moment of pure anger this season – “My name is my name!” – would have suited better. Ah, well.

  • “That sentimental motherfucker just cost us nine large!”

  • Say what you will about the Sun storyline: the writers used it to excellent purpose to show the small stakes of the Game. Neither Proposition Joe nor Omar, two of the most legendary names on either side of Baltimore, get so much as a paragraph when they die. If you consider that in line with Marlo walking up to a corner in the last minutes of the show – “you know who I am?” – the message rings clear: you do not triumph over the Game. Your name might ring out, but for how long or how far?

  • “Likely a white male in his late twenties to late thirties. He likely is not a college graduate, but feels nonetheless superior to those with advanced education … And he is likely employed in a bureaucratic entity, possibly civil service or quasi-public service, from which he feels alienated. He has a problem with authority and a deep-seated resentment of those who he feels have impeded his progress professionally. The suspect has trouble with lasting relationships and is possibly a high-functioning alcoholic, with alcohol being used as a trigger in the commission of these crimes. His resentment of the homeless may stem from a personal relationship with someone who is in that cohort, or his victimization of vagrants may merely present an opportunity for him to assert his superiority and intellectual prowess.”

  • Be honest: you got a little misty when you saw Namond holding court on stage at the Urban Debate League. Come on now. Don’t pretend. Meanwhile, I’m guessing the UDL does Parliamentary style debate, because I know from experience they know how to spread C/X in Baltimore. For real.

  • “In my neck of the woods, it’s a jungle out there. Everybody living hand to mouth. Improvising, hustling, making do with as little as you can imagine. Hell, that TV show…Survivor? Man, they want some good contestants, they need to come around Westside. And Fear Factor? Don’t even get me started. My world is strictly cash and carry. And I’m Clay Davis. My people need something, they know where to find me. Let me tell you, brother, I step out the door, hit the corner of Mosher and Pennsylvania, you better believe my pockets are bulging. But by the time I get to Roberts Street…”

  • Shardene’s still around!

  • “Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, stars. Goodnight, po-pos. Goodnight, fiends. Goodnight, hoppers. Goodnight, hustlers. Goodnight, scammers. Goodnight to everybody. Goodnight to one and all.”

  • The Pearlman / Daniels relationship bearing out makes me happy. No one promised it will last forever, of course, but it lasted this far. Each of them needed a strong partner (and a good time in the sack, too); they deserve each other.

  • “Close your eyes. It won’t hurt none.”

  • Mr. Prezbo looks good in a beard.

  • “You can go a long way in this country killing black folk.”

  • Everyone spotted Nicky at the opening of the condos on the old Granary Pier; a no-brainer. But did you spot Johnny Fifty in the hobo camp under the JFX? Hiding at the edge of the firelight? Bravo.

  • “I say this seriously: If I was laying there dead on some Baltimore street corner, I’d want it to be you, standing over me, catching the case. Because, brother, when you were good, you were the best we had.”
    “Jay, if you were lying there dead on some corner, it was probably Jimmy that done ya.”

  • I want to hear your speculation on where every character ends up three years from now. Shoot.

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6 Responses

  1. Michael gets got.

    Bubs kills Dooky with hotshots.

    Poot runs a slice of the game from his shoe store.

    Rawls and Omar’s boy get it on without any knowledge of the intricate web that connects them.

    In a moment of schoolyard chaos, Prezbo shoots a student.

    (I have the utmost respect for the writers of The Wire.)

  2. You forgot: Carcetti loses the race for U.S. Senate when a mic catches him saying, “Shee-it” during a speech.

  3. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about McNulty, and I think that he tries teaching. Both Bunny and Prez have given it a shot, and Beadie approves. He’s sharp, but he’s not a man who could envision something too far off the beaten path for himself. But I’m not convinced that he sticks with it. And then, right when he’s learned that he can’t handle the job, Marlo get caught up and he and Lester get pulled back into it. I have no crystal ball for that proceeding, but if they get clear, McNulty teaches at the Academy. If he goes to jail…yikes. No idea. Does he get got on the inside? Does doing time make him stronger or worse? That’s too far out for me to see.

    Marlo can’t keep off the corner. He tries to go straight a few times, but it can’t last.

    I don’t think Duquan makes it. He doesn’t even have the support system Bubs had. Maybe he’s alive in 3 years, but in 10? No way. That kills me.

    I wonder how long Daniels lasts as a Public Defender. I mean, there’s a lot of shit to eat there, and he’s not a guy who likes to eat shit.

    I also wonder about Randy – we didn’t see enough of his new group home life to know whether he’s wearing a mask or what. But maybe he’s still going to school, maybe he’s still a stoop kid at heart. In some ways, I like his odds better than Michael or Dukie’s. Maybe he gets out. Maybe.

    I think a lot of the other arcs are pretty quiet and predictable. If anything, the change I see coming for some of them means fleeing to the County because no matter how noble Carver or Cutty or Prez are, how long can they (can anyone) keep it up in the face of day to day soul crushing misery? In some ways, that’s the one way in which The Wire has to necessarily fail us as a work of fiction. How many times can you tolerate one little girl stabbing another little girl in your class? 5? 8? 20? More? How many time can you watch good kids walk away from your gym and into the game forever before your heart gets too broken? How many times can you see the department turn over and play the same bullshit games over and over again before you split for law school? I dunno. I just don’t know.

    A Few Other Quick Points:
    – I liked a lot of the quotes this season. “This Ain’t Aruba, Bitch” springs to mind as a smart ass one, but the one you highlight as terrible was one of my favorites. Derivative or not, I think it’s such a nice penultimate sentiment about the show. We’ve seen the glorious humanity of all of these characters, murderers and innocents and those in between, and it’s hard for me to say that any of them deserve the endings they get. Gus doesn’t deserve the copy desk. Snoop, despite all her murdering, evil ways – when I see her asking about her hair and finally dropping her guard – how can I say she deserved the lot she got in life? She didn’t have a chance. Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

    – There are some other nice cameos this season too. Aside from the more obvious one like Auggie Pogue in Evidence or Poot in Foot Locker, there’s a forensics guy who shows up in season one and this one. Low level dealers like Spider have been around since at least season three. The officers in the Western have been there since season 1. And it is in this way that they built a city. Consistency and the greatest attention to detail. When I think about the logistics involved in doing something like that in a non-conventional production town like Baltimore and the mind boggles.

    – Cool Baltimore Cameos: The nurse who takes Bubs’ blood in the Clinic is Fran Boyd, from The Corner (real life, not an actress). And Tommy Flannigan, who Levy wants to introduce Marlo too, is reputed to be the for real head of the Irish Mob in B-more. I went to school with his extremely awesome son Pierce. Perhaps a sequel show in the making?

    – Neatest for us: The business card murderer is Ptolemy Slocum, founding member of Neutrino New York! All of us First Gen Neutrino types have done a show with him, so you’re like two degrees away!

  4. I gotta throw a flag on your call as Marlo as the next Stringer. String had no love at all for the brutality and bodies that go with the Game, even if he didn’t shy from it. He would have never left the real-estate developers thing with Levy early to go start shit with some random corner boys. He might have felt the same discomfort as Marlo, but would have absolutely stuck it out as his whole self esteem was based on his belief that, given half a chance, he could be a peer in the legit biz world.

    Chris Partlow and Wee-Bey chillin’ in the yard. Nice touch, though I would have worked Ziggy Sobotka in there (and you can take a wild guess where he’d be in the prison food chain).

    “Gimme a dollar, Jimmy. Make it look right.”

    I had a feeling the writers would steer the fates of several characters toward those who had come before them a la Sydnor-McNulty, Slim Charles-Prop Joe, but I didn’t think they’d be as explicit as they were. Don’t get me wrong — I applaud them for it. I actually had pegged Michael and Duquan to become the new Avon and Stringer, and Randy, already a pariah on the street for his undeserved rep as a snitch, to be the new Omar.

    Carcetti earns notoriety as Emperor’s Club V.I.P. client #10.

    Rawls is arrested in a men’s room at BWI.

    Prez becomes school principal, and is well on his way to becoming Superintendent of Baltimore Public Schools. The beard gives him instant intellectual cred, and the mayor ,with designs on Annapolis, will jump at the chance to hold press conference to announce putting a former cop in charge of schools.

    Kenard (my pick for most underrated character) becomes the new Marlo at age 14 or so.

    Kima gives an f when it’s not her turn and spends the rest of her career on the pawn shop desk.

    And Gus? Gus teams up with a disgruntled vet of the Baltimore PD (McNulty? Maybe Daniels?) and creates an hour-long cable TV drama about the phallacy of the war on drugs and the slow death of their beloved city.

  5. I loved the FBI profile of the “serial killer” so. much. I was a little surprised when Kima didn’t say, “Hey, that sounds a lot like you” on the way out of that meeting. (Except that would have been a little too comedic.)

    The Duquan storyline was truly heartbreaking. He surely knew as soon as he hopped on that cart he was taking up with a feen, but what else could he do?

    I did applaud when Michael turned up as the new Omar. At least he’ll know to look out for Kenard, I guess?

  6. Valchek as the new Rawls, not the new Burrell, is my guess. Acting Commissioner until they can bring in a minority from below… Carver?

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