Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Wire - The More Things Change... Season Three Review

Any fears I had about The Wire turning into standard TV vanished within an episode or two of Season Three. Having seen Season Four as of this writing (but not Season Five), I think Season Three is the strongest of the series so far.

At risk of spoiling the show for the five to ten people that might ever read this review, I have to share some specific details.

Like previous seasons, The Wire continued the threads of the previous seasons while adding an assortment of new ones. The main plot of S3 is the continuing investigation of the Barksdale drug organization. Despite kingpin Avon Barksdale's incarceration, he still runs the show, with partner Stringer Bell running things on the outside. The beauty of this show, and the epic, tragic scale of this show comes from these two characters interaction and season-long dance.

Avon is an old-school banger, and despite the massive amounts of money their organization has accumulated, he can't move past that thug mentality. Stringer, on the other hand, wants to take that wealth and move into more legitimate business, having taken business courses at college and buying up real estate. Increasingly, he has to do this without Avon's knowledge or approval.

It all is working okay until Avon works a way to get himself out of prison early. He returns to the neighborhood to get everything back in order, and that's when he and Stringer start to butt heads. Compounding everything is Det. Jimmy McNulty's personal investigation into the prison 'suicide' of Avon's nephew (and Season One main character) D'Angelo Barksdale. D'Angelo's death was ordered by Stringer (without Avon's knowledge) because D'Angelo was planning on flipping and turning all of them in.

So the amazingly tense conflict for this season ramps ever higher episode by episode. Our sympathies as the audience shifts from scene to scene, as we admire Stringer for attempting to move out of the drug trade. But we sympathize with Avon because of Stringer's betrayal and ordering the murder of D'Angelo. But we side against Avon because he can't pull himself out of the lowest-common-denominator lifestyle. But we like Stringer because he's the only person on the street with a plan. But we side against him because of how D'Angelo's mother was lied to about his death. But we side against HER because she is the one that convinced D'Angelo not to flip on the organization. And on and on and on.

I marveled constantly at the airtight plotting that allowed these shifts to occur and to be so powerful. And much of the conflict has its roots all the way back in the first episodes of Season One.

For anyone remotely interested in writing TV (or anything for that matter), this show is a masterclass on plotting and dialogue. It doesn't cut corners or go for the easy story at ANY time.

All the while, the good guys' story is compelling as well, but not nearly to the extent of Avon vs Stringer. These two kingpin's ultimate fates is pure Greek tragedy with a healthy dose of Shakespeare. Brilliant.

I could go on for days exalting this show. It just never makes a wrong step.

The ultimate compliment I can pay it is that I have to steal from it now. The Wire has the exact tone I was seeing and hearing and feeling in my head as I worked on "Going Nova". I want that kind of uncompromising honesty in my story, regardless of how unpleasant it might be or how bleak (for some characters) it might prove. Because if nothing else, The Wire has me thinking about drugs, crime, education, politics (and the News industry, I'm sure, after I watch Season Five) in a completely different light.

It's going to be hard watching regular TV ever again after experiencing this show.

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