Season Three’s my favorite of the entire run. We meet a broad cast of new and interesting characters. We return to the same setting of Season One. We have just enough history on all of these characters that we can start fucking with expectations. And, interestingly enough, the show begins to engage in a sort of meta-dialogue with the audience, which I’ll elaborate on beneath the cut.
If S1 was about losing the War on Drugs, S3 is about counting the casualties.
Stringer is now the man under the Weight of the Lie this season. He has to juggle furiously to keep the co-op happy and to keep Barksdale from ruining everything he’s gained. On top of that come the added burdens of renewed interest in D’angelo’s death and the struggles of going semi-legit. Stretched in several directions at once, it’s little wonder that he gets pinned down and ends up dying alone. Though his death was inadvertently spoiled for me early on, that took nothing away from watching him play the season out.
Also under the Weight of the Lie is Major Colvin, who seems convinced that he’s safe from the Game (six months from retirement, pension guaranteed, etc). He also represents a sort of meta-dialogue with the show. “If the War on Drugs is so corrosive,” the audience asks, “what happens if we legalize drugs?” Hamsterdam is the unapologetic answer. The Wire doesn’t shy away from the downsides of the plan – concentrated vice, health hazards, and a general urban ugliness – but the message seems clear overall: legalizing drugs ends the body count. Of course, Major Colvin is not immune from the Game; the View Never Changes.
We also meet Tom Carcetti for the first time, a seemingly likable career politician who nonetheless has the ruthless ambition needed to reach for higher office. And the show doesn’t cut any corners here – Carcetti has to unequivocally shaft his good friend in order to siphon off black votes. He’s got a bit of a stubborn streak, but it’s hard not to root for him.
The final newcomer we follow in this season is Cutty, the ex-hitter who dallies briefly with life on the corner but ends up going straight. Losing someone like Stringer is regrettable, but (nearly) losing Cutty is the real hard knock – a man who’s got the chance to get out of the Game and doesn’t. Fortunately, he perseveres. Prison cooled off his hate at the world. Every now and then The Wire gives us hints of someone getting out of the Game. That’s the closest we get to a happy ending and boy does it taste sweet.
Colvin advises Carver early on to get to know the streets better. We start to see the hints of that in this season, as Carver takes the initiative and gets to know the kids on his block better. Daniels gave Carver a dressing down at the end of Season One – about how the men who served under him would follow his example. Carver’s been acting as a role model ever since.
Bubs gets his act together. He’s apparently cleaner, if not fully clean. He’s also gone from outright scamming to street peddling, making close to an honest buck. He loses his Season One sidekick only to gain another, the young boy Sherrod. Bubs doesn’t end on a much higher arc than he started, but for him that constitutes progress.
Kima seems to be mirroring McNulty’s arc as of last season. All she is (to borrow a line from Heat) is what she’s going after. The notion of regular hours at home and the responsibilities of raising a kid frighten her; she hides from it with office work and drinking. The Wire shies away from the storybook ending for her – by the end of the season, she’s separated from her wife and apparently dealing with it. No tearful reconciliation, no standing on the doorstep with a pleading look.
- “That’s good. That’s like a 40-degree day. Ain’t nobody got nothing to say about a 40-degree day. Fifty. Bring a smile to your face. Sixty, shit, niggas is damn near barbecuing on that motherfucker. Go down to 20, niggas get their bitch on. Get their blood complaining. But forty? Nobody give a fuck about 40. Nobody remember 40, and y’all niggas is giving me way too many 40-degree days! What the fuck?”
- Did Lance Reddick (who plays Lt. Daniels) request more shirtless scenes this season? The man’s chiseled out of wood! His torrid affair with ADA Pearlman reinforces something I’ve thought for years – that interracial relationships in TV and film do better when nobody comments on the racial aspect. Movies like Save the Last Dance wore their multiculturality on their sleeve and lost the impact. But movies like Boiler Room do a lot more for advancing the cause.
- “You only do two days up in here. The day you go in …”
“… and the day you come out.”
- McNulty is the kind of man who will say “Fuck loyalty!” and mean it.
- I want to include on my list of sequences that any director needs to see the following: episode 1, where Avon, Cutty and Wee-Bey exchange a few words before Cutty’s release. Cutty and Wee-Bey are standing along the fence, watching a softball game. Avon comes down the steps into the yard and cuts across the baseball field. Without anyone having to say anything, the game just stops. No words, no meaningful glances. No one even comments on it. But that right there says more about Avon Barksdale’s power than any monologue could.