Monday, February 11, 2008

Rebel with an 'et al'

The Wire has always been about the institutions we live and work in, and how no matter how much we rail against it, the institution always wins out in the end. You could even call institutions the villain of the series, the baddie who the audience loves to root against. But like every series that stays on the air long enough, you have to humanize the villain, at some point, sometimes even make him sympathetic enough to root for -- or even, as is often the case for professional wrestling, he becomes the hero. So here we are now, 56 episodes later, and I finally find myself rooting for the institution, something I never thought I'd do.

Detectives McNulty and Freamon have often danced around the laws and red tape rigidly set forth for them, but in the past, they had a noble purpose. This season though, between the cutbacks and the ruthlessness of their target, Marlo, the two have seemingly gone off the deep end, sliding quickly down that slippery slope McNutty started earlier. In their blind pursuit of Marlo, their big lie is now infecting other investigations and taking on permeations of it's own. The mayor now has another false crime to launch a campaign (see season four's witness murder,) this time for governor ("who would've thought... homelessness"). Meanwhile, Scott at The Sun is an unwitting accomplice, and finds himself on national television, being interviewed by Nancy Grace -- that had to be one of the oddest guest appearances I've ever witnessed. Does she realize that she's a target of satire? Is exposure, regardless of the context, that important for her? When she says "very rarely does a reporter end up being in the middle of a story - an ongoing story..." does she realize it's her they're talking about?

McNutty's (and now Scott's) big lie also means that other investigations take a back seat to finding this non-existent serial killer -- making the elaborate plan a nearly complete backfire. Bunk's always stayed in the lines, seeming occasionally like a stick in the mud to McNulty's charming rebel. But now Bunk's old school police work is slowly piecing it all together. Parallel that against McNutty making homeless Larry disappear and David Simon presents to us a paradox in viewer's expectations. We've learned to root for the rebel, but since the rebel's ends no longer justify the means, we the audience are in the awkward position of rooting for the institution.

Meanwhile, the main theme of the episode seems to be about the forgotten. Carcetti's speech illustrated how we toss the homeless under the rug, but it's more than just the homeless here. Nearly forgotten stevedore from season two, Nick Sobatka, makes an appearance, yelling obscenities at the Mayor's tape-cutting of the new Westport, in what used to be the pier that the longshoremen used to work. Finally there's Randy, one of the kids from season four, who returns long enough for us to fully realize the full scope of the tragedy that befell him last season. He had to harden himself up to overcome the 'snitch' tag, enough that the Randy we loved from last season is no longer recognizable. Besides being depressing as hell, it made have to ask, where's Namond?

And our superhero Omar? "That's some Spider-Man shit, there."

Playlist: The Wire - Episode 5.06
1. "Amerikkka's Pie" - Donferquan (AKA Qua) - Bunk talks to Randy
2. "Walkin' After Midnight" - Patsy Cline - Landsman in his office
3. "I'm Good There" - Mully Man - Omar steals the stash
4. "Turkish Song Of The Damned" - The Pogues - McNulty drives Larry to Richmand, VA
HBO track and scene info

More: The 'we'll have to do more with less' theme continues, this time we're even reminded again that our war in Iraq faces similar resource-strapped issues. But it's the crime lab that best illustrates how fucked the investigations are in the face of cutbacks. The simple misunderstanding of a small detail like 'et al' makes all the crime scene evidence nearly worthless. Makes CSI look like a fantasy world.

Previously: Get Out Your Hip Boots (Episode 5.05)

No comments: