“A life, Jimmy, you know what that is?”
“…It’s the shit that happens while you’re waiting for moments that never come.”
(spoilers ahead) I finished up watching HBO’s The Wire last weekend, and this quote justly sums up the core of the show: watching life play out as we hope and wait for that which will never come. And while that sounds downright unfulfilling, it’s also what makes this show so brilliant. The Wire pulls no punches in challenging viewers in every episode with a very raw and real picture of the citizens of Baltimore. Whether it’s the race for the mayor’s office, the plight of the first-year school teacher, or the turf-war between rival gangs, the triumphs and defeats at every level of society are painstakingly detailed into existence. And almost every step of the way, the creator David Simon reminds us that this isn’t going to be the reality we’re expecting to escape to for television entertainment, this is the reality that is, that lives across the U.S. are experiencing every day.
Looking at the cast list gives only a glimpse of the tapestry of characters I’ve become attached to over five seasons, but it rarely ever gets boiled down to to simple cops and robbers. Neither are there ever any “main” characters. While one could argue about the centrality of Jimmy McNulty, he all but disappears during season four. And that’s part of the appeal, that each season is a self-contained chapter with it’s own stories and ambitions, yet cannot be fully appreciated until taken in the context of the other four. This is then in contrast to how characters’ specific story arcs are told, as they bubble in and out without any obligation to match typical episodic or seasonal storytelling. Until you see a bullet go through someone’s head, expect their story to continue, even if you think it’s over. This serves to build upon the realization that creeps up on you after the first season, that The Wire isn’t a show just about drugs, politics, crime, or schools. It’s a show that is simply about the citizens of Baltimore, the choices they make (or are made for them), and how this delicately weaves each individual into the same rich fabric of life, death, loyalty, greed, hopelessness, and justice, it all it’s varying forms.
And is there a payoff in the end? After investing hours and hours into a closer-than-you-think look at the city of Baltimore, can you walk away from The Wire feeling as if you’ve been given any sense of closure? Hardly. Marlo Stanfield, after achieving all the financial success and freedom that Stringer Bell sought for, ultimately returns to the street to hold on to the only thing he truly values, his name. Omar Little’s vengeance goes unfulfilled when he’s gunned down from behind by a child, and the only last rites he’ll ever receive is a coroner’s correction of a clerical error after recognizing his corpse. Randy Wagstaff (yes, he was Cheese’s son!) calmly resigns to his fate to have his innocence stripped away and chewed up by the foster care system. Even the happy ending for Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins ends on a somber note when following his odds-defying recovery from drug addiction (or “just doing what he’s supposed to do”), he is repulsed by the attention he gets knowing that there are others more deserving of praise who have conquered the same struggles he has.
But The Wire clearly doesn’t care about closure. With the end of each story arc, and ultimately the end of the series, we get the clear indication that for all these characters, life goes on. Nothing ends just because the bad guy has been locked up, the politician has been elected to office, or the detective has closed a case. Life will continue to trudge on with or without you, bearing the distinct scars and markings from all those who have come before, revealing the intricacies of how every one of us is connected to each other.