09 July 2010

The Wire (season 2)

A couple of my friends, if memory serves, call the second season the best season of the best TV show in the history of both seasons and TV shows. I'm not really willing to go that far with it, but it's pretty fuckin' good.

Seems like all I ever do with this blog is come on here and answer a quick checklist -- does the story advance through character? does the story have a unifying theme that is explored smartly? is the structure smartly put together without feeling inorganic? and so forth. I usually write down thoughts in a bit of a hurry, more interested in whatever the next thing I'm going to watch is, or else I'm writing hours after the fact if I wasn't near something to write with when I saw the thing in question. So instead of delving into any kind of clearly thought out, brilliantly written and researched piece on any of the films I watch, I revert back to checklist, answer yes or no, use a lot of adjectives, say what I like or what I would have done differently, and then leave it as such. Well, hell, I guess I'm going to do it again, aren't I? (It's my blog, after all.)

Compared to Season 1, the plot here seemed driven by an awful lot of coincidences and cases of very lucky (or very unlucky) timing. For something so procedural, so detail-oriented and plot-driven, I can't lie: that's a little dissatisfying. The first half of the season has our heroes split apart, each working unrelated cases, each getting lucky with clues, and it all dovetails into a single case in a way that just smacks of television writing. Maybe I'm remembering it wrong, but Season 1 never felt like that to me. From the get-go it was more focused on D'Angelo Barksdale, and anything that came into the case was icing on that cake. Season 2's D'Angelo was Frank Sobotka, and the number of things that all happened at once to draw attention to him, the Greeks, the stevedores' union, and the drug and human (and fenced goods) trafficking were too numerous to get into. It was all over the place, and things wrapped into a single package too neatly for my money, even if the show's smart enough not to wrap up all the plotlines and criminal cases nearly as neatly. The second half of the season, once the story had legs, was for the most part smoother -- though not without an awful lot of coincidences on both sides of the fence. Maybe that's part of it, maybe there's a theme here that so much of investigative work is luck -- I'd buy that, but when it keeps happening and nobody seems to become aware of how lucky they are or how many coincidences factor into the investigation, it still ends up looking an awful lot like -- dare I say it -- kind of sloppy plotting, maybe even lazy writing.

Now, in defense of Season 2, the characters and the themes from the first season are expanded on here nicely. The villains from last season evolve and splinter in complicated and interesting ways. The new villains come in the same two flavors we remember from last year, giving us variations on a theme: they are either cold businessmen with the triumph of will on their side, or they are desperate, cornered people with moral centers bent and twisted by years of self-rationalization and a lack of good options. In other words, they are either "evil" out of greed and self-preservation, or they are "good" and believe that the sins they commit are in aide of something better than themselves (family, unions, community, love). Naturally its this second category that makes the show special, as intricate and three-dimensional relationships develop around and between intricate and three-dimensional players. How bent can your moral compass be? The Wire suggests to us that the answer is pretty damn bent, and since I'm inclined to agree I find that part of the show pretty brilliant. So while the plot feels all around more contrived this season, the characters were at least as fun to spend time with, if not more so.

I'll take a couple of days off, if I have the willpower, and let this one settle before I jump into Season 3, about which I know even less than I did about Season 2. Though it looks like Daniels got his detail permanent, and the merging of Proposition Joe and Stringer/Avon's powers is going to bring the action back into the drug trade in the towers. It'll be interesting to see which seeds from this season continue to grow and evolve into the next, if any -- and I'm hoping some do. Now that I'm two years into this and getting a feel for the way it moves, I don't want any season to feel like it exists within a vacuum. It needs to keep rippling forward, with characters moving in the background (and eventually back into the foreground) of each year's "new" storyline or investigation. After all, it's the Russian Novel of TV shows, right?

One last thing: I love the shit out of Omar. He's such a fearless wildcard free-agent character, just a ball of rage and barely concealed hurt, but he's also the closest thing the "bad guy" players have to a noir anti-hero, a man who transgresses all moral codes except his own. He's one part Robin Hood, one part Holy Avenger, one part Tormented Lover. And nothing scares that motherfucker. And all for a fallen boyfriend, which only adds another interesting layer to this laser-focused character. Where else is there a broken killer of a man who's an openly gay black thug? I love it. More Omar! Thanks.

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