There is not many shows I can binge watch from start to finish and back again. It is just something about The Wire that makes me rewatch it because of the different nuances I catch from each viewing. The Wire has so many layers to it, you cannot catch each nugget on the first watch.
The show is like a strategic puzzle, game of chess, or a brain teaser. It is a show on logic, but if you are not paying close attention, you will get caught up in the superficial entertainment. Maybe, I am just too much of a writer who over analyzes everything so you will just have to see for yourself.
I initially saw The Wire once as a kid while channel surfing some cable at my aunt’s house. All I saw was Black people in an area that looked familiar to my own neighborhood in Sacramento, and I was hooked. My attention span was short, so I did not watch long, this is probably a good thing because it just goes to show I did not know then HBO was not child proof.
I would not reunite with The Wire until early high school when I went to my local library. Someone had messed up by putting the box set of the first complete season. My parents were not hip because it just was not something they knew much about or cared to watch so I knew it would be me and my personal DVD player against the world.
As soon as I got home and settled, the first thing I did was pop a disc in to see if I would really enjoy it as I imagined. Ultimately, I was hooked from the opening scene because it felt so authentic just as I remembered the characters to be. Detective McNulty not understanding typical street politics and the young hustler trying to make sense of his version of “America” under the guise of a dice game gone wrong.
I continue to watch The Wire years later because it is more than a show of entertainment. The Wire breaks down the many layers of corruption in our “Great” America fabric, which to tell you the truth it has never been great. The Wire is a vehicle that dissects crime (police, drugs, and the criminal underworld), education system, politics, and media in a way even the most common person can understand.
The Wire is a bird’s eye view into what was happening then and now all over the world. The ecosystem of The Wire exists in places all over America. Shoot, I can tell you that this ecosystem exists in my hometown city of Sacramento right now. I am writing this post to continue the celebration of a show twenty years after its original airing to give flowers to everyone who made it possible from the lighting team to David Simon.
Everyone deserves praise including the late Michael “Omar” Williams who is gone but will never be forgotten.
This is especially for fans of The Wire everywhere because we still exist, and future fans I see you too.
David Simon is The Master Mind
HBO’s greenlight of The Wire from David Simon was one of the best things they could have ever done. It is not often that a spectacular show gets aired, especially these days, but every now and then the makers of TV come across a Golden Goose Egg. The early 2000s Goose Egg was none other than The Wire.
Don’t read too much into it just yet flow with me really quick.
Now before we get ahead of ourselves, we must put our thinking caps on first.
Finally, take a deep breath, and get ready for a tour of a fictional Baltimore, Maryland through the lens of The Wire with your favorite high energy, four-eyed Brainiac blogger Journey.
David Simon is the man behind the velvet curtain who gave the people an unforgettable show. The Wire is the brainchild of hands-on experience from both Simon’s years reporting on crime as a Journalist with The Baltimore Sun.
David’s writing partner Ed Burns (also a former source as a Baltimore homicide detective). I know what you are thinking…ah the irony of two white men painting a picture of Black narratives, but trust when I say it is deeper than that.
The Wire is far from a butchered caricature horror show. Every scene and piece of dialogue is strategic to the continuous cycle of money running the world, which in turn influences a lot of choices on the show. Rather they are bad or good somehow it is always business as usual. David Simon and Ed Burns’ decision to create like this in the early 2000s was daring and innovative not just from their pale skin, but their backgrounds of journalism and detective work make it even more interesting.
On those two characteristics alone people could have chosen to write this show off from the industry, society, and everything in between. How lucky you are if you are reading this and have not turned away yet because this show deserves more than surface level research, biases, or judgment from unsolicited nor credited folk. I went into watching the show for the first time without knowing who created it, so Black or White had not crossed my mind, I simply checked for authenticity.
Did it showcase authenticity or exploitation and how would this set us back in representation for people of color?
That was the question that ran through my mind watching this in high school and it still does because every piece of media is not perfect. Yet, The Wire is intentionally designed to view the inner workings of Baltimore through the lens of an ecosystem fueled by capitalism and greed that causes a breeding ground of issues for society. This framework is a lens I can work with because there are actually degrees of accuracy and relatability seen in the characters that frequent the Baltimore corners that mirror some of the streets, I am familiar with in my home neighborhood.
How can anything be just or operate correctly when the system is robbing each other from the bottom level to the highest level in a repetitive process and pointing fingers when everyone is a by-product of tremendous dysfunction?
Okay, I will spare you the long-winded analysis of America’s History of dysfunction for now.
Let us just say all this to say…Simon and Burns created a show that is helpful in documenting the vicious cycle of one root to a never-ending problem that has infected the way people are treated in society, the wide gap of rich to poor, addiction, and injustice while somehow managing to make it digestible enough to be packaged as entertainment.
World Building & The City of Baltimore
The heart of The Wire’s authenticity comes from the creators of the show building its narrative around the actual setting. Both David Simon and Ed Burns have lived in Baltimore for years, but not only that they shot the show in Baltimore. This is big because although many shows and movies may place a setting, they do not actually shoot in the places named because of this, that, or the other.
Some of the most interesting shooting locations have stood the test of time long since the final air date of The Wire.
What would make it more real other than shooting in the real Baltimore?
I say casting real life Baltimoreans is the next best thing.
David Simon and the casting directors were strategic with filtering in people from Baltimore to play roles in the show no matter the size of the part.
One of the most notable Baltimore power players featured was Felicia “Snoop” Pearson. Felicia is from East Baltimore, Maryland. She was cast after visiting friend Michael K. Williams (Omar) on set of The Wire.
Many may know Snoop from her roles in music videos or her time on Love and Hip Hop: New York for seasons seven and eight.
Snoop’s stellar portrayal of her character in The Wire makes one wonder where the real Felicia begins and ends. It cannot be a coincidence that she and her character bear the same name. I know she deserves more flowers for her role as an antagonist on the show.
Hell, if Stephen King says of Snoop’s presence, “perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series.” That is how you know you are on to something because praise is given where it is due.
In addition, David Simon saw fit to pour into the community by introducing some of his former peers that had worked at The Baltimore Sun to appear on the show. I do not know what could be more real…other than the fact that he recreated the Writer’s room from the newspaper to tackle the role of journalist and media for season five. This is one of the most slept on seasons because The Wire was ending so it was bittersweet.
Now that the full body of work is completed, I hope that people can see each season for what it was and if you have not seen it or still don’t get it lets break it down…maybe we just need a course on The Wire not just for scholars but open to the general public with everything online these days.
*SPOILER ALERT: If you wish to avoid potential spoilers skip past the next section and read on.*
Welcome To The Ecosystem Of ‘The Wire’
Season one is our introduction to the Baltimore key players of the chess board.
Everything that happens in season one is vital for all chain reactions moving forward because without The Barksdale organization no moves can be made.
The key players led by Avon have been at the top of their game running the Franklin Terrace in West Baltimore for a good year before cops start cracking down with the wire. They are like the untouchables with pagers and pay phones because no cellphones are allowed in their line of business. Now before you write the show off as typical “hood crime” guess again and follow along because from season one on you will be thrown for a loop.
Avon Barksdale is illusive almost like a myth because he is faceless to the cops when he is the true criminal mastermind who is not seen early on. Stringer Bell is the face and the brains behind the operation who is seen doing most of the moving and shaking. Overall, they make a powerful team that gets the dice rolling.
The foundation of season one sets the tone for “everything is business nothing is personal.” Literally ripped from the opening lines the main understanding is “This is America” so anything goes. Capitalism runs the world, crime runs rampant, and at the end of the day everyone is chasing that dollar.
Season two is not exactly a fan favorite because it steers the audience away from the hot blocks of Baltimore that we know and love, but it proves a point.
What point is that exactly?
Now that I have seen it more than once I can tell you because it was hard to grasp in the beginning I was just as shook as other viewers at first. Season two lets us know everything is connected. We are very much “following the money” and it just goes to show you that you never know where you are going when you follow the money.
The docks are a part of the smuggling of everything illegal you can think of under the complicit leader of the docks as union leader Frank along with his underlings that include his nephew Nick and elder dock worker Horseface.
All in all, anything is liable for a little money until it is not especially concerning major player “The Greek” and associates Spiros and Sergei.
Season three we are back to where we started in the field and in the game because the chessboard has been reset.
Stringer Bell has taken control while Avon is running things inside prison. This begins the fall of the Barksdale organization because the power dynamics are no longer the same. New players are introduced, while older players are now making major moves because Barksdale’s organization is growing weak.
Marlo Stanfield is the new young power player on the block and is not afraid to flex his growing power.
The outpouring violence, drugs, and crime is no match for the police under direction of police major “Bunny” Colvin who creates what becomes “Hamsterdam” a breeding ground for criminal activity to keep the stats down in the neighborhoods where crime typically happens.
This is nothing more than a recipe for disaster, right?
It is also in this season we began to see just how much city government, street politics, and law enforcement overall impede on society. We are fed statistics everyday as if that is the only thing that matters. People here numbers and that is what they run with not too many questions will be asked if the number sounds right.
Sadly, stats do not equal solutions.
Thus, season three is all about uneven power dynamics in the streets, city government, and law enforcement.
Season four is a great season because it gives the audience a little bit of everything as we go deeper into the Baltimore ecosystem of police, street politics, and government we become immersed in the education system.
The Boys of The Summer Daquan, Randy, Michael, and Namond show the youth perspective of all things street and books. The real risk is getting swept away by the streets because the education system is failing them. The allure of fast money, cars, and women increases by the day, and death is always around the corner either by way of the streets or police.
Marlo is now king of the Baltimore streets with his muscle Chris and Snoop. He is willing to do anything to stay on top and keep his corners strong. His only issues include Proposition Joe and Bodie (former member of The Barksdale Organization).
Politics are becoming more of a centerpiece with councilman Carcetti running for mayor on the campaign of justice and cleaning the streets up. He realizes he must do it from the inside out starting with inside the police department. More specifically, getting rid of the favors and promotion issue over real crime.
Season four overall prepares us for a deeper dive into the final curtain call for a final season focused on controlling the narrative.
Season five is the detour also known as the end of the road for The Wire where the audience gets to see how everything becomes reported upon and sometimes this includes “alternative acts” or fake news.
Mayor Carcetti has diverted city money toward education, moving away from the justice platform he has run under. As a result, the city suffers, and police are free to do as they normally did just the bare minimum. A domino effect is created allowing crime to continue to spiral out of control.
Proposition Joe and Marlo form a mentorship centered upon their criminal enterprises. The game is the same, the only thing that changes is the players’ names. Therefore, street politics continue to operate based on life and death. In conclusion, the series ends with a montage of sequences. It is implied that the cycle will repeat itself because the game is just that. The game is not particular to Baltimore, because it is happening all over the world…it is over for a season, but it is never over.
The Wire Through Journey’s Eyes
As you can see, I can go on forever when it comes to things, I am passionate about.
I am not shy about my enthusiasm for The Wire because it has taken me by surprise with all the complex elements. Also, in retrospect it has aided my creativity as a writer because of how many angles and perspectives you can see through the lens of the show. Everyone who worked on the show in each capacity whether a writer, director, producer, actor or otherwise believed in the vision and helped bring it to life.
One of the best components of the show is how unique the characters are. No two characters are the same. They each come with a perspective, motivations, and flaws.
I mean come on we still have people debating the ways of Stringer Bell (a businessman) and Avon Barksdale (a street general).
I know there are a lot of people out there with these two mindsets, just like there are the Narcissistic McNultys’ who think they are only doing what is best for the world.
In the end, I am fighting for the Bubbles of the world just trying to change their ways and kick addiction because I hold some people with similar stories close to my heart.
Retribution and karma sometimes come in the form of the game as Omar “The Big Bad Wolf” that is ready to blow the house down for the stash.
Everyone needs a good proposition every now and again or there would be no Proposition Joe.
Either way, the things that happen can only be charged to the game.
The Wire teaches that no one is safe, the players keep on playing like a game of musical chairs until seats are pulled, bodies chalked, and remains prepared for the morgue or funeral.
Your favorite character is never untouchable; it is just not his turn.
I could go on forever detailing all the characters, but the truth is they all serve a purpose.
The good, bad, and ugly it may not matter so much because each one has their moments. However, I would be doing a disservice if I did not mention Method Man’s performance as Cheese was legendary. I would agree it was essential to his journey as an actor.
The entire cast was amazing in bringing the characters alive making them feel real. I would not question that I might see a young Bodie, Poot, D’Angelo and Wallace in a neighborhood near me. The show just captured a rawness that we may or may not ever see again.
Fortunately, The Wire lives on through people all around the world.
Art lives on long after we are gone, it makes a statement, it lets people know we were here.
I often think about what my legendary status will be because life is short.
I desire to create things beyond surface level that can live on to stand the test of time, dissected longer after I leave this earth because I stand ten toes behind my mission whether it is alone or within a team.
I know that if David Simon and Ed Burns can create a masterpiece from written pages to television what is stopping me from living my dream fully?
They are a part of a fantastic list of creative influences who have moved the world by storm not just for me but for others.
In this world, you must be teachable. There is always something to learn or be inspired by.
I cannot wait to provide the same feeling.
I am no longer holding myself back.
My potential is unlimited, so I am just getting started.
Lastly, thank you again to The Wire (cast/production included), David Simon, and Ed Burns for your contribution to the world because not just twenty years since the original airing for the first episode of June 2, 2002, it has been nearly close to fifteen years since the final air date March 9, 2008, the show continues to permeate minds in 2022.