I’m so happy I finally starting watching this show. I’ve been putting it off for so long for 2 main reasons. One is I don’t watch a lot of dramas; I much prefer comedy. I also feared how the show would treat women (I was right). But since I had spring break and I was in a show slump, I felt like spicing things up and decided to take the plunge. And it was totally worth it.
The Wire’s intriguing first episode follows the trial of D’Angelo Barksdale for the murder of a gang member. Soon the trial expands into a deep, dark rabbit hole of the illegal narcotics organization of the Baltimore projects. What follows throughout the entirety of the season is an emotionally charged and urgent chase by the Baltimore police department to arrest and convict the ringleader, Avon Barksdale. The show alternates between the POVs of the detail following the case and the people on the streets. The main theme threading throughout the show is “playin the game”, referring to essentially the rules that govern the world they live in. On the streets, the game is to “play or be played.” All of these characters are enslaved by the game even as they furiously try to win and make a place for themselves within it. Ironically, the unspoken rules of the game did not stop on the streets. Corruption runs abound at the police department. McNulty, the main detective, is fed up with police officers only looking to go up the ranks instead of doing the actual work of a police officer. His chain of command continually tries to dissuade him from continuing the case and orders him to make quick arrests to increase their stats. After a few episodes, you are left wondering if the police department, the people sworn to protect, are anything morally better than those who sell drugs for a living. How does a corrupt institution foster further corruption? This juxtaposition is one of the reasons why the Wire is so compelling, every single character walks a fine line of gray yet never steps beyond the unbelievable.
Why does this show continually show up as one of the greatest shows of all time? Well for one, this show could have been self indulgent in its violence and darkness as shows of this dark subject matter tend to do. The Wire doesn’t need to flaunt or prove its grittiness. Most of the violence is done off screen. The tension mounts subtly, often just through character conversations. As the police make more arrests, the Barksdale group get more desperate in covering up their secrets. The drama doesn’t need to scream for you to notice. It trusts that the amount of time it spends on its characters builds a foundation for emotional depth and tension throughout. There are so many scenes of them just discussing the case or taking pictures of the suspects on rooftops but it’s in those moments that reveal who they are. You also feel as if you are there with them from day to day.
The Wire excellently paces its tension and themes throughout but truly it would be nothing without its character building. The characters show their humanity in closeups, in the dialogue, and the phenomenal acting. This is what the Wire does best; it’s the epitome of nuance. It finds ways to creatively show and build a character’s perspective on life. One of my favorites, Wallace, is often referenced by the others as not “hard enough” for the streets. He lovingly takes care of the kids under his charge and is sensitive to the brutal killings done in the name of Barksdale, often hinting that he wants to leave the game. Of course you root for him, innocent as he is and wish him the best. When he gets called into the police station to be a confidential informant, he offers a licorice to a Lutenant Daniels. The small scene reveals a ton about him because the other ones often curse at and insult police officers when taken in for questioning. Little things like that make a TV show great. Supposedly, the first season is suppose to be the worst one according to critic reviews. If that’s the case, I’ll be in for a real treat in the next seasons. It’s definitely not your typical TV show but for me, it was well worth the risk and I don’t usually even like crime dramas.