Friday, February 01, 2008

Wheels Within Wheels

Let's get a few thoughts about season five of The Wire out the way.

When I finished sobbing over Prop Joe's not-exactly-untimely end, I saw the parallels between him and Burrell. Not direct parallels -- don't be misled by that classic global collision between Joe and Herc in Levy's office -- but yet another moment in the show when we get to compare and, in this case, contrast police work with the drug trade.

There was a scene in season 1, maybe season 2 where Carver (?) sees Bodie and his boys beating down some other corner kids and comments that when they fuck up, they get hurt and when cops fuck up they get promoted. Back in those happier days, the Barksdales weren't exactly the model of efficiency, but they handled their business more than well enough to embarrass the Baltimore PD by way of juxtaposition. It took a few seasons, but the twin falls of Joe and Burrell give the flipside of both these situations.

Burrell got a golden parachute, but he also got publicly humiliated. In civil service (and in management, really) it's not that hard to fail your way to the top, as long as you kiss the right asses and work just a little harder than the next man. But the higher you rise in a broken institution, the more you expose yourself to its faults.

On the streets, you pretty much have to outmaneuver all threats to excel, which means being on point for as long as you are in the game. The further you get, the higher the stakes. Being at the top, Joe erred slightly and got shot in the fucking head for it. It's a sad commentary that the error in this case was having the audacity to think he could be Henry Higgins to Marlo's Eliza Doolittle.


Anyways, as for Joe's actual demise, I really can't fall into the "what goes around comes around" camp. Dude had been bargaining his way out of trouble his entire career and when the chips were down, made it clear he would be happy to hand over his entire empire to save his own life. He was basically the only character on the show besides Omar who was able to keep it entirely business. (As opposed to, say, Cheese, who sold out Butchie because "that faggot put a gun in my face.") No white whale tendencies.

Biggie said it and a whole bunch of people said it before that: you deal drugs long enough, you end up either dead or in jail. Cool. But The Wire isn't and has never been about proving that SELLING DRUGS IS EVIL, as much as proving that a society that leaves almost no viable economic alternatives to THE EVIL PRACTICE OF SELLING DRUGS for tens of millions of its people is even more evil.

I'm not saying Joe didn't have it coming, somehow, eventually -- keep in mind what actually got him killed was being strategically nice -- but this just seems like another case of no good deed going unpunished in the quasi-fictional Baltimore streets. Season 5 has gone way off the rails anyways. How much does reality even matter?

Any character up for emotional investment will meet a tragic end. We know that by now. The Wire has slumped into the mopey denouement where the highs have lost their thrill and everything is one slow, unpleasant decline. Don't get too excited about the way Dookie's eyes maybe sorta kinda light up when Cutty tells him there's more to the world than the streets. Omar's feud with Marlo will take out Michael one way or another, as he is the lone likable member of the Stanfield posse. It's possible Dookie and Bug's sole purpose this season is to make his inevitable death that much more painful.

Tune in next week, when I consider whether or not the same shit is happening with Lost.

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