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Night comes for the city

I had thought that as soon as The Wire's final season came to a close -- last night at approximately 9:35pm CDT -- I would want to run out and buy the available seasons on DVD and start watching the series from the beginning. The HBO drama, which ran five seasons, has been described as a fully fleshed-out police procedural, but what it was was an almost-complete portrait of a once great American city in economic and social decline. More than once, as I chewed my fingernails through an episode, I thought I could glimpse not only how so many of our cities, and citizens, became trapped in cycles of poverty and corruption, but how we might pull them back from the abyss.

But instead of heading to Amazon or Netflix, I'm in a sort of mourning period (come to think of it, I wore black today). Knowing what happens to some of the characters, who seemed on the verge of self-awareness if not outright redemption, it's too hard to jump back into their alternate universe -- sure, they're not real people, but the writing (with the exception of some of the opening dialogue in the final episode, titled, appropriately, "-30 -") and the acting often made the show feel like a documentary. It was frustrating in those final scenes to see compromise and patronage snatched from the jaws of victory, and to see how easily Rhonda Pearlman, for one, made peace with her quid pro quo, but the most tragic ending was Duquan's -- the sensitive, practically pacifist schoolboy left to the streets and addiction, where even a caring but increasingly jaded former teacher won't tread.

In an insightful eulogy, the New York Times observed that not only did the storyline come full circle, back to the land of troublesome wiretaps, but the movement of almost every main character was counterbalanced by another. Bubbles is off the street and clean, making amends with his sister, but Duquan is shooting up with the junk man who at first seemed to offer honest, if subsistence-level, employment. McNulty recovers his integrity if not his job, while a new rookie follows in a young Jimmy's once-idealistic footsteps. We are the system, and the system is us, regurgitating roles that will be filled by others when we move on, voluntarily or otherwise. Those who succeed are those who deal within the flexible limits of the law and their own morality.
If there is one line that could sum up The Wire's purpose, I think it comes when Bubbles asks the (honest)  Sun reporter what the point is of publishing his story of addiction and recovery. Maybe it'll change some people's minds, the writer replies. Maybe it will, and for that alone it deserves a place in every DVD library. Duquan, McNulty, Daniels, Lester, Snoop -- they're not real; they're stand-ins for their real-life counterparts, who are too busy just getting by to appear in person. So, I'll be getting the box set the moment it's available, but first I need a little more time to mourn.

Posted by Elaine Wolff on 3/10/2008
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