Thursday, December 27, 2007

Catching up with The Wire: Season 2

Ain't never gonna be what it was. - Little Big Roy

The Wire's second season makes a point right off to let you know that the same story will not be told, as the setting moves from the dealers on the street to the longshoremen on the docks. David Simon has said part of this reason for this shift is they "were very conscious of the fact that some white viewers may have felt a little bit smug about (the first season's criminals)."

By moving to the docks, they're not only able to show that the drug trade has crossed racial borders in Baltimore, but show some of the mechanisms that allow drugs into our country, along with telling telling the story of the slow death of blue collar work in America. The Barksdale story is still part of the mix -- thankfully, as there's still so much to say on that front -- but it's relegated to the background for the most part.

The story on the docks is actually an international affair, with Polish, Armenian, Israeli, Ukranian and Greek all getting their piece. The character known as "The Greek," it turns out, isn't even Greek, which has me wondering... is Greek a play on his mystery? ("It's all Greek to me.") Or is it more writer George Pelecanos' Greek heritage seeping into the storyline? 'The Greek,' himself, serves as a reminder that last season's Kingpin (Avon Barksdale) isn't really a King -- we were essentially playing checkers with a chess set. 'The Greek' is the highest that we see, and even he isn't a King on the drug trade's chess board. 'The game' is the same, but we're finding there's bigger pieces, and the board is a lot larger than the towers.

To further emphasize the change in scenery, the theme song to The Wire this time is Tom Waits' original version by "Way Down in the Hole," a drastic change from The Blind Boys of Alabama's version used in the first season, with Waits' growl serving as a nice parallel to the more 'blue collar' setting. The music in general shifts in tone as well, and I especially had to chuckle at the use of "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" in the first episode, with it's iconic opening lyrics: "There's a port, on a western bay / And it serves a hundred ships a day / Lonely sailors, pass the time away..."

Elsewhere, the late Stelios Kazantzidis has a couple key songs featured in the important penultimate episode ("Bad Dreams,") including a rare montage scene set to "Efuge Efuge." Kazantzidi was a hero to the working man in Greece, so he was an appropriate choice. The season ends with Steve Earle's "I Feel Alright," which was so right, not because of Earle's portrayal of Wayne from season one, more due to his lyrics, which wraps up the season nicely:
I'll bring you precious contraband
and ancient tales from distant lands
Of conquerors and concubines, and conjurers from darker times
Betrayal and conspiracy, sacrilege and heresy
Playlist: The Wire - Season 2
1. "Way Down in the Hole" - Tom Waits - Season 2 theme

2. "The Fall" - Blake Leyh - End credits
4. "Wooly Bully" - Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs - Ep 2.01
5. "Sixteen Tons" - The Nighthawks - Ep 2.01
6. "Search and Destroy" - The Stooges - Ep 2.01
7. "I'm Sorry" - Brenda Lee - Ep 2.01
8. "My Sharona (Live)" - The Knack - Ep 2.01
9. "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl" - Looking Glass - Ep 2.01
10."My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" - Waylon Jennings - Ep 2.01
11. "Gimme the Light" - Sean Paul - Ep 2.01
12. "The House That Jack Built" - Aretha Franklin - Ep 2.02
13. "Good-bye to Carolina" - Lyle Lovett - Ep 2.02
14. "The Cisco Kid" - War - Ep 2.03
15. "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" - The Velvettes - Ep 2.04
16. "I Promise to Remember" - Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers - Ep 2.04
17. "Ruler of My Heart" - Irma Thomas - Ep 2.04
18. "Magic Carpet Ride" - Steppenwolf - Ep 2.04
19. "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" - Tammy Wynette - Ep 2.04
19. "Maybe the Last Time" - James Brown - Ep 2.04
20. "Midnight at the Oasis" - Maria Muldaur - Ep 2.05
21. "Hand That Rocks the Cradle" - Akrobatik - Ep 2.05
22. "Love Child" - Diana Ross & The Supremes - Ep 2.07
23. "Transmetropolitan" - The Pogues - Ep 2.08>
24. "You Beat Me to the Punch" - Mary Wells - Ep 2.09
25. "I Walk the Line" - Johnny Cash - Ep 2.10
26. "Roadrunner" - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts - Ep 2.10
27. "To Psomi tis Xenethias (Bread in a Foreign Land)" - Stelios Kazantzidis - Ep 2.11
28. "Efuge Efuge" - Stelios Kazantzidis - Ep 2.11
29. "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts - Ep 2.12
30. "I Feel Alright" - Steve Earle - Ep 2.12
Compiled with help from Music Supervisor Blake Leyh's Ten Thousand Things, and Mandel Maven's Nest on The Wire

More: Of all the great scenes from season two, I think my favorite is Omar testifying in court in the case against 'Bird'.

Previously: Catching up - Season 1
Next up: Season 3

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