Friday, November 20, 2009

Down in the Hole

Tonight, my husband and I watched the final episodes of The Wire. I'm pretty sure I've said it before about other shows, but this has got to be the very best that television has to offer. I finally understand why people spend money on premium cable channels like HBO, because the quality is exceptional to the shows on regular television.

Unlike other police dramas that solve a case within the span of 60 minutes, The Wire focuses each season on a particular aspect of Baltimore's drug culture, interweaving plots and characters from the police department, City Hall, the school system, the local newspaper, and beyond. Over the course of five seasons, which in HBO time is more than five years, viewers come to know the intricacies of the characters so well that, at times, watching them live their lives on television is physically painful. Like watching a close friend make a bad decision or fall into the trap of a jealous boyfriend. I can't remember how many times I made my husband pause the show so I could grab a couple of tissues to wipe the tears from my eyes.

Like when Kima is shot in the middle of an undercover operation in the show's first season. When Prez loses his job as a police officer, only to emerge later as a math teacher with a heart of gold. When Carver drops Randy off at a group home, after his foster mother is injured in a fire. When Duquan goes hungry while his parents get high. When Omar, a sort of Robin Hood who preys on drug dealers, is shot to death by a child. When Bubbles, the lovable drug addict, comes to terms with his addiction after the death of a friend. And on and on and on.

And in the middle of all of it is Jimmy McNulty, the anti-hero you can't stop rooting for. Just like my other favorites, NYPD Blue's Andy Sipowicz, The Sopranos' Tony Soprano, and Deadwood's Al Swearengen, McNulty's arrogance makes it hard for you to like him, yet there's nobody else you want on your side. Like in the words of the opening song, McNulty digs himself into a hole so deep by the show's end that there's nowhere he can climb but up, and that's how we last see him.

As his former boss eulogizes McNulty at his faux wake, "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."

And so it was with The Wire.