There's something about the unrelenting, downbeat nature of "The Wire." And that something is this: Sometimes, it really, really brings you down.
Part of the allure, of course, is that the bleakness of West Baltimore, the futility of the war on drugs, of inner city crime itself and that nature of underfunded, underappreciated and mismanaged institutions meant to add something of worth to society (police, the press, politicians) is so brilliantly portrayed in its realism. "The Wire" is the ultimate example of failure analysis in a drama. Going on the ride is thrilling in its dramatic twists and its dead-on indictment of all that is wrong.
But eventually, well, it just brings you down. Talk about a punch to the gut in this, Ep. 9 of 10. Just as the cops appear to have their biggest victory yet - almost all of Marlo's crew goes down, including the slippery Marlo himself - but the episode ends with the case appearing to be very much in doubt, thanks to Kima outing McNulty's elaborate, ill-advised ruse.
Damn. I haven't watched the finale yet. I've held off, to savor it. I didn't watch any promos, of course, because I have this on DVD. So I have no hint of what's to come. And HBO has promised not to air the last episode On Demand, so that everyone will see it at the same time and the spoiler parade that has plagued this series will be slightly stemmed.
But it looks, just on the face of it, that Kima clearing her conscience could unravel the entire affair, spell enormous trouble for McNulty, Freamon and Sydnor and possibly put everybody - sans Chris - back on the street. (All hail Bunk for old school po-lice work.)
So you get the much-delayed gratification of having the police win one - smiles all around (haven't seen those in some time) - reduced to the ultimate in premature positivity.
Then, as Bubbles appears to be the lone character David Simon and company are going to let off with some redemption, a positive story amid the unrelenting bleakness, we're left with the suggestion that Dukie is the next Bubbles. And the cycle continues.
At least Bug looks to be safe. But what happens when that cash stops coming? Doesn't it look like Michael himself knows the end is near? In a wonderful but heartbreaking scene, he sends off his brother to a possibility of happiness and safety (but no older brother left to lean on), then turns and drops off his best friend at what is, for all intents and purposes, a dead end life. As a viewer, you're just left gutted.
And over at the Baltimore Sun, even though Gus is closing in on Scott, you just have to know that won't end with satisfaction. It can't. Gus will get him on a pattern of lying and if the McNulty fabrication goes public, that gets Scott pulled in even deeper - but still. Simon has talked about serial fabricators skating with the lightest of punishments, so don't expect anything too close to justice on that end.
(By the way, it's just sad to read the Baltimore Sun TV critic write story after story about how bad the ratings are for "The Wire," and saying it could have something to do with a less than compelling newspaper storyline. It's almost like you can see management's puppet strings. "The Wire" has never been about ratings. And every critic knows that ratings are no indication of quality. Besides, in this final season, ratings are of no importance at all. The series is done, in the can, over. Its legacy is not mega-viewers. It's quality content, well-told over five seasons. Period.)
Now, back to the story and, well, where to continue? The return of Namond? Bunny Colvin? The Kenard story being replaced by three outside thugs with machine guns blazing - a story getting bigger, no doubt, every time it's told. Is Herc back to messing things up again?
Oh, and Michael killing Snoop? Yeah, there's that.
The only ray in all of this, and it may be something so small as to be inconsequential, is that Lester could end up getting something on Levy and the leaked grand jury papers that might, just might, prevent the whole Marlo bust from coming completely unraveled. We'll have to see. In the meantime, some quick thoughts:
+ George Pelecanos wrote this one. Stellar.
+ “Deserve got nothing to do with it.” – Snoop. Yeah, except that she deserved what she ultimately got.
+ “The case is in the phones.” – Freamon.
+ “Marlo runs a tighter ship.” – Levy on the difference of how being shot in the line of duty applies to cops and bangers. His people are back out there.
+ Loved the smiles on all the cops faces after finally having some success. Loved Bunk lighting up the cigar.
+ Also a great look from Freamon to Marlo, as if he was thinking, mo-fo, I’m so mad at you right now I can’t even smile. And Marlo, ever the slightest look of being down.
+ One of the most stunning elements of this episode was Marlo coming completely unglued. He totally lost his long-held cool when he found out Omar was calling him out. "My name was on the street?” And getting louder and angrier. When Chris said he didn't need that on his mind, Marlo just explodes. “What the fuck do you know about what I need on my mind, motherfucker.” Man.
+ “My name is my name!” Yep, and Marlo is just now realizing that Omar left him a little present on the street. Maybe Kenard - and all the little Kenards just like him - don't have the same fear of Marlo now. And when they don't have the fear, down comes the crown.
+ “I don’t see the boy snitchin’” – Chris. Marlo: “Neither do I. But you’re ready to bet your future on that?”
+ Landsman says they’ll get more arrests because Chris went down on Bunk’s good po-lice work…And they’ll get more. “And from what? From the Bunk! Just workin’ a file.”
+ “There you sit, like a genital wart. Come on McNulty, show me something.” But McNulty looks like he's got nothing left, literally. Not even the urge to take a drink. One of the well-played directions in this episode was to leave McNulty on the sidelines, everything crashing in front of him.
+ Kima to Jimmy: “Fuck Marlo. Fuck you.”
+ “The Dickensian aspect.” – Scott. “Exactly.” – Whiting. You don’t think that’s going to be repeated in newsrooms for the next few years, coast to coast?
+ Freamon on why McNulty seems so down: “Post-partum depression. It’s the journey, not the destination.” Well, not for McNulty. He wanted the destination to be filled with glory.
+ Good to see Lester tie one on and let it out. Daniels asked him to be up on stage there but he wouldn’t do it. (And maybe that's a good thing if Lester falls, too...)
+ “No need to bring your 9.” – Snoop. Well, Michael can’t be that stupid. He learned from Chris.
+ Naimond! On the Urban Debate League. In a tie, no less. Still got the hair, though. And Bunny. Proud Bunny. Great to see.
+ And yet, Carcetti comes in and looks to steal glory. If the writers wanted to send a strong message about the stench and desperation of politics and politicians, well, message recieved. This was not a good episode for Carcetti.
+ Bunny Colvin is not going to shake the mayor’s hand. No how.
+ “Me, I’m just small potatoes.” – Clay Davis, who, as it turned out, talked about how he bled Stringer Bell dry. A good call back.
+ Freamon just gave Davis a little bit of the old business. A turned table, that’s all.
+ “Reginald? Reginald? I’m you’re fucking sponsor and I don’t believe I ever got a Christian name out of you.” – Walon.
+ Ah, the Bubs speech. Ladies and gentlemen, that's your feel good survivor - probably the one and only - of this hard, cold series.
+ Snoop: “How my hair look? Michael: “You look good, girl.” Sounded like Chris. And: Bang.
+ Dukie watching “Dexter” and laughing. Funny.
+ “I don’t.” Michael choosing not to remember his innocence. And THAT made Dukie sad. He knew then that they could never be on the same level anymore. There's no trips to the amusement park for Michael anymore. He's lost forever.
+There may not be anything more heartbreaking than Dukie's ongoing story. And now, the next Bubbles? That might be too much to take.
And so here we are, on the verge of the finale. I expect a lot, but maybe not all, of the storylines to be wrapped up. The question is, how are you going feel next Sunday at 10 p.m.?