Season Four was the hardest for me. I think it’s fantastic television – the writers, actors and directors are all at the top of their game – but S4′s like a wound I don’t want to touch. You can tolerate folks on the street rising and falling; it’s all in the Game, after all. But the kids didn’t make this world. They got born into it. And the absolute failure of public schools to save kids from the Game kills me.
You know The Wire‘s gone gritty when none of the kids we follow this season – Namond, Michael, Kevin or Duquon – ends up dead, and that counts as a success. Still, any decent writer could tell a depressing tale of urban abandonment and the generational cycle of poverty. But a truly masterful writer flips all your expectations by the time the season’s over. It’s Namond, Wee-Bey’s son, who gets out of the Game. It’s Michael, the strong kid with promise, who ends up hitting. It’s Kevin, the friendly entrepreneur, who falls into a group home. And it’s Duquon, who’s got the potential to outshine them all, who ends up on the corner.
The Carcetti / Royce race continues throughout this season. Carcetti’s harder to like this time around – he’s petulant when he’s losing, he hates the mundane details of fundraising and handshakes, and he’ll look for any opportunity to screw his opponent over. He spends the latter half of the season making promises to everyone who’ll hear him, the cops in particular. But by the end of the season, he learns that the View Never Changes. Even as mayor of Baltimore, he has to deal with a squandered budget, the machinations of the Governor and his unstable voter base.
Marlo’s crew takes center stage this season. Snoop Pearson and Chris Partlow finally get some character under their belts. Snoop shines in particular in the first episode: her exchange with the hardware store clerk (“you earned that tip like a motherfucker”) and her slow, silhouetted reveal on Lex’s killing*. Chris Partlow, heretofore just a stone-eyed sociopath, gives us just a hint of backstory when he beats down Michael’s stepfather (“sometimes you just gotta bust a nut, you know?” “I do”). And we come to recognize Marlo has some brutal cunning to him as well, if not the finesse of Barksdale or Bell. Handing out hundred dollar bills to corner kids might not be the smoothest move, but it serves its purpose. At the same time, Marlo drops a ridiculous number of bodies: killing people for snitching, for suspected snitching, for the potential to snitch, and just to send a variety of messages.
Omar, the invincible king of the streets, falls into some serious shit for the first time – alone in a prison full of people he’s robbed**. Fortunately he’s got Bunk on the case, who breaks down Andre the convenience store owner’s shitty alibi in about four minutes. Omar then proves he can work the angles as well as a shotgun, going back on Proposition Joe for using him as a cat’s paw, then playing yet another game on Joe to steal an entire truckload of product. It is his finest hour.
A lot of people’s lives are ruined in S4. Kevin loses his harsh but fair foster home thanks to a few incompetent missteps (by Herc and by Holley) and the relentless grind of the system. Duquon gets separated from the only friends he has by a public school that has to promote a certain number of people each year. And Duquette and Colvin’s program, to separate the corner boys and see what makes them tick, falls victim to standardized testing and budget cuts. As usual, there aren’t any villains operating behind the scenes – there’s simply the institution, cruel and uncompromising.
- An unexpected callback to Colvin’s advice to Carver in S3, when Carver and Herc go tearing off after some corner boys only for Carver to come to a screeching halt. “I know where half these kids live.” Carver knows his beat now. You know what that makes him? Good po-lice.
- “We’re giving them a fine education. ‘It ain’t even mine. It was just laying here when I came in.’ You know, this right here — the whole damn school, the way they carry themselves — it’s training for the street. The building’s the system. We the cops.”
- The parallel between the new teacher briefing on how to quiet kids and the Homeland Security briefing in the Western is a bit obvious. But that doesn’t cost it flavor.
- “Money Laundering? They gonna come talk to me about money laundering? In West Baltimore? Shee-it. Where do you think I’m gonna raise cash for the whole damn ticket? From laundromats and shit, from some tiny ass Korean groceries? You think I got time to ask a man why he given me money or where he gets his money from? I’ll take any motherfucker’s money if he given it away!”
- Omar is the kind of man who, when he walks down the street in his bathrobe and pajamas, will get stashes thrown at him in self-defense.
- “Let me let you in on a little secret: the patrolling officer on his beat is the one true dictatorship in America.”
- Tell me you weren’t biting your knuckles when Chris and Snoop went hunting Michael through that warehouse. With the paint guns, as it turns out, but still. God damn.
- “Just shut up and play dumb.”
“… I can do that. No problem.”
- I saw Sherrod’s death coming – the way the camera lingered on Bubs’ coat full of hot shots as he threw it over the cart; the way the camera stayed on Bubs and off Sherrod when Bubs woke up the next morning. That didn’t make it any easier, though: that heartbreaking cry, Bubbles’ half-hearted attempts at CPR, none of it.
- “You gonna look out for me, Sergeant Carver? Do you mean it? You gonna look out for me? You promise? You got my back, huh?”
* Which, when you think about it, is also probably the last sight of a lotta other motherfuckers in Druid Hill.
** You have to know whoever shot that episode read a lot of Watchmen growing up.