The Wire – Season 5

Lots of spoilers in this one. If you plan to watch still, especially season 5, skip this post.

In case you missed them, see my posts on seasons one, two, three and four.

Season 5 was an abbreviated one, with just 10 episodes. This show was not as popular as The Sopranos and seemed to struggle to stay on the air throughout its run, which no doubt contributed to its constant “in limbo” status. Season 4 is heralded as possibly the greatest season of television ever, and while it’s very good, I don’t think the rest of the seasons get enough credit, particularly season 5. Some of season five got a little wonky, but it’s by no means bad. And ultimately the series closes with a very small difference in quality between the best and worst seasons. Contrast that to something like Friday Night Lights and the horrible season 2 plot, seasons 5 and 6 of Mad Men, and some of the later seasons of The Sopranos and it’s clear that The Wire appears to have basically no peers when it come to consistent quality.

Let’s start with the bad and get that out of the way. The newspaper storyline is a little weak, and as other’s pointed out this is likely due to season five being a little rushed with just 10 episodes. The fake serial killer story is one of the most ridiculous stories this show has thrown out there, but as David Simon and Alan Sepinwall pointed out, this is the same show that produced Hamsterdam. If nothing else, McNulty’s scheme was really clever.

Carcetti’s rise to run for Governor seemed a little rushed, although maybe the lesson there is that you can’t really fix/change how things are, so everyone is just better off moving along and worrying about themselves. It was also interesting that there was never a callback to the shot of Rawls in the gay bar. I don’t think there is another show on television that would have showed that and never had it come into play later. That might be a perfect example as to how great this show really was.

Character evolution in this show is definitely a strong point, as the “slow burn” feel of things doesn’t make things feel rushed, even though Daniels rise to the top was probably a bit fast. Carver’s rise from Detective, to Sergeant, to Lieutenant by the shows end was nice. He was one of my favorites by the time it all wrapped up. Going back and re-watching this will be interesting to see his evolution after knowing where he ends up.

Bubbles probably had the happiest ending, and truthfully one of few happy endings on this show. He came a long way from junky informant in season 1 to walking up those stairs in the last scene. There were lots of things he went through over time, but it was very clear that he was a pretty sharp guy, and was certainly aware of who he was. After he accidentally killed Sherrod, the wake up was enough for him to try and get clean.

It’s impossible to talk about this show, or season, without talking about Omar. I’ve never taken the time to identify my favorite character ever from a TV drama, but it’s safe to say that Omar would be the leading candidate at this point. The reality is that Omar’s character didn’t have a ton of depth. It was really just the recurring plot of stealing drugs from dealers, and exacting revenge on those who hurt someone close to him. We knew he was gay, and was protective of the couple of his boyfriends we saw. He was also very street smart, and was as knowledgable as anyone about how the game worked. But beyond that there wasn’t a whole lot we knew.

But it’s no doubt another big accomplishment for this show to take a seemingly shallow character and turn him into one of the best characters (arguably) in television history. Like Tony Soprano and Walter White, he’s a guy that does bad things, but you find yourself rooting for him because the only people you see him hurt are worse people. When he get’s clipped buying cigarettes, it unfortunately wasn’t a shock for me because that was one of the spoilers that was unavoidable over the years. In fact, for 5 seasons I kept waiting for it to happen, and when it did the only real surprise was the way it happened, which again was just masterful. Having the cops kill him, or having him die in one of the many gunfights he was in would have been too predictable. Instead it made more sense for it to happen when his guard was down, and by someone who wouldn’t have cracked the top 50 people most likely to do it1.

In the end, The Wire lived up to the hype. It’s right up there in the discussion with The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and (a fading) Mad Men. I am not in a rush to say it’s #1 because I think that’s difficult to determine. Breaking Bad will close it’s run out before the end of the year, and we can see where that is then. The Sopranos was such a different show that focused much more on one guy. The Wire presents the more consistent experience though, one that has no peer. Perhaps The Sopranos should get more credit for making 26 more episodes, but at the same time there were a few lulls along the way. Regardless of what is truly #1, The Wire was an amazing series, and completely worth anyone’s time.

  1. I probably would have had Bubbles and the ghost of Stringer ahead of Kennard []