Early in The Wire’s fifth and final season, after years of drug abuse, sometime informant and perpetual junkie Bubbles takes his last best shot at staying clean. At an AA meeting he attends, we hear from a stringy young woman who talks about the impossibly hard task of living with her inner addict. “That bitch wants to kill me,” she concludes.
It’s an angle on the drug game you never get from cop shows. The show that initially seemed to be about a simple game of electronic cat and mouse ended up being among the most ambitious social critiques of our time, attempting to touch on all aspects of our society affected by drug use. The direct combatants — the fiends, pushers, kingpins, suppliers, stick-up kids, beat cops, detectives, the feds, the city council, the mayor — were intricately drawn and rivetingly portrayed across the board. The side players and cannon fodder — dockworkers, school kids, teachers — though not given as much screen time over the course of 60 episodes, were often more poignant, hinting at the hidden reasons so many poor youth resort to pushing and the tragic collateral damage.
It wasn’t perfect, and it ended with a wimper. Season five was flawed. The über-controversial (among journalists) journalistic subplot was thorough but strangely hollow. As if the death of the daily paper is even close to as tragic or poignant as the deaths of addicts or the state of our schools.
That’s what The Wire did, though, it found cracks in individual gears and attempted to explain how these lead to fatal systemic flaws. For that The Wire was always a slow burner. A friend of mine half-observed, half-complained that the episodes don’t pull you along. There are no cliffhangers.
I always admired that. In a show this fraught with gun-play and the life-and-death consequences of actions, there was never a shortage of opportunities to make big, gripping cinematic statements. With the exception of the series finale — to their immense credit — creator David Simon and his team almost never went the cheap route of visual bells and whistles, choosing to make Wire’s statements moral ones. Those statements, in the end, stick with you. Or, at least, we should hope they do.
I’m not going to pretend I know what real addiction feels like, but four days clean I’m already trying to figure out how I’m going to live without The Wire. My inner addict is in full-on withdrawal. •
Lost America is dying to know: Will this be the week the season gets good?
(ABC, Thursdays, 9 pm)
Election coverage Watching the handheld shakey-cam hone in on pie charts emblazoned on 200-inch flat screens while wonks talk in grave tones about the severity of Obama’s NAFTA flub offers an absolute clinic in how to wring drama from a stone. Judging by last week’s Nielsen’s, people are watching. NBC should be taking notes. (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC; in perpetuity)
Saturday Night Live The frequently mediocre sketch marathon finds a political backbone and gets props from the press to the candidates themselves. (NBC, Saturdays, 10:30pm)