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'The Wire': Goodbye, farewell and amen

March 10, 2008 |  3:44 pm

Well, David Simon did it.

Faced with a bundle of intricate storylines, a season that at times felt flawed and hurried, and an audience that had come to expect a dramatic gut punch with every character's progress, there was some doubt if the end of "The Wire" could ever measure up to the sum of its parts. Yet somehow it was that same track record that made us all recognize Simon -- and above all his characters -- were fully capable of delivering something special. And this episode was certainly that.

In some ways the finale was the equivalent of a last-second shot from half court, a desperate and seemingly impossible prayer of undoing any disappointment this season may have inspired with one grand, overarching act. In approaching this episode, the only rule we learned up to now is the end surely wasn't going to be pretty. Even when good things happened in Simon's Baltimore, they came almost begrudgingly, and always cut with a grim bite of reality. Then, in the end, "The Wire" broke yet another rule, and without "coloring outside the lines," as Pearlman said.

While the harsh truth behind the real and imagined Baltimore remains unchanged (the drug trade still rules the streets, the inner city's systems are all failing), Simon picked his last moment to reveal the big heart that "The Wire'" had buried deep inside a dockside shipping container. With a few exceptions, the last episode was dominated by reasonable, even compassionate, measures of justice. Think of the many closing scenarios you might have envisioned prior to Sunday. Did many of them involve a vaguely content McNulty looking to make humble amends with his "kidnapped" serial killer victim? Probably not.

But for all its shockingly warm feelings, the episode began with tensions ratcheted high as the fallout from Lester and McNulty's scheme shook City Hall. Scene after powerful scene just kept coming: Daniels glaring at a shamed McNulty for a long, silent elevator ride. Rhonda Pearlman making the reptilian Maurice Levy sweat through a bare-knuckle negotiation. And, most beautifully, McNulty taking time from his ignoble end to call out and utterly decimate the still-fishing Templeton in a department office. These were the moments that the whole season, if not the series, had worked to establish, and they were all played flawlessly.

But after a grueling hour, the show's most rewarding moment arrived, and may also have been its most unexpected: A light and heartwarming goodbye. After saving his skin by catching a copycat serial killer with almost unbelievable ease, McNulty finally received what was coming to him: A rousing Pogues-scored roast at Kavanagh's bar that seemed to set the tone for the rest of the episode. In a giddy reprise of Season 3's rowdy and reverent barroom funeral, a detective that seemed hell-bent on reaching a terrible end laughed through a joyful "eulogy" as everyone from Landsman to Carver to Bunk paid tribute to a cop who, for all his demons, was ultimately one of Baltimore's (and the series') best. Natural police. Even Kima stopped by to come clean about having blown the whistle on the serial killer plot, only to be accepted with open arms before Jimmy -- Jimmy McNulty! -- left the bar early. The series, honestly, could have ended there, and beautifully so.

But there were still many loose ends to resolve, and "The Wire" used them to exercise a skillful, and still oddly uplifting, sense of transition. Neutered by a forced yet prosperous retirement that Stringer Bell always craved, Marlo found that Omar's name carries a lot more weight than his own on the corners. But even as a malevolent speech from Cheese threatened to tilt the show back to the dark side as the co-op angled to buy Marlo's connect with the Greeks, a curious and welcome sense of fairness returned. The gravel-voiced Slim Charles -- a level-headed veteran from the Barksdale days -- suddenly avenged Prop Joe's death by taking out his loose-cannon nephew. A short time later, a hooded Michael emerged from the shadows to rob Marlo's "bank" -- shotgun in hand, naturally. The new Omar has arrived.

Even at the department, things closed on what for Baltimore seems like a high note. Daniels walked rather than cook his stats for Carcetti, but landed on his feet as an attorney who at one point even looked to be trying a case before newly minted Judge Pearlman during the episode's traditional closing montage. Carcetti's people never forget to repay a favor, do they? And the new McNulty? As much as Bunk smoothly shifted into the same rapid-fire rapport with Kima, the slick Syndor was the one working a back-room deal with Judge Phelan in what was for all intents and purposes a reprise of "The Wire's" opening scene back in Season 1. A nice touch.

Not everything was daisies and doughnuts, of course -- the shot of Dukie tying off around the fire and Templeton's inevitable Pulitzer win were all specific examples of the larger scale tragedies at work, and proved the series didn't sacrifice its core to deliver a satisfying finish. But every grim angle seemed cut with a larger uplifting measure, instead of the other way around. Even the newsroom, an arena so close to Simon's heart that the level of drama fell short of the standard set by seasons past, allowed a few shafts of light to shine through. Though Gus was exiled to the copy desk for discrediting Templeton, his protege Fletcher advanced to the Metro desk on the heels of his cover story on Bubs. And hey, despite all the buyouts, it looks like he's still got David Simon typing away in the newsroom! How bad could things be, really?

It's hard to say if a finish this strong can forgive the few missteps earlier this season, but at this point it's a definite possibility. Surely the episode deserves a place next to "M*A*S*H" and "Mary Tyler Moore" in the pantheon of great finales, and easily bested its network cousin "The Sopranos" and its thoughtfully scored ambiguity. Though in the end it's terribly hard to say goodbye to "The Wire," there's something to be said for its ability to pull off such a great escape without sacrificing its ambition, and all without the dip in quality that inevitably plagues shows that overstay their welcome (see above). Where does the finale rank with you all?

Norman Wilson, Carcetti's cynical but light-hearted aide, may have said it best as he choked back the giggles during the revelation that the serial killer was fake. "I wish I was still at the newspaper so I could write on this. ... This [stuff] is too good." For 90 expertly crafted closing minutes, "The Wire" really was.

--Chris Barton


Comments () | Archives (21)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Kel Symons

I agree that this was one of the best finales fans could hope for, but I'm not sure I can agree that this season was so flawed. Hurried, yes. At times I thought the producers were trying to jam too much into each episode, and I felt as if the seemingly breakneck pace of the storylines could have been more effective if we slowed down and spent more time with them. While I loved the overall arc concerning the media, I expected more after I watched HBO's Season 5 promo about journalism. I also think we could have had more between McNulty and Beadie.

But this season had some of the best moments of the entire series. I can say this with a fresh perspective and a keen recollection, having come to the party late, as I watched seasons 1-4 in one month in preparation for the broadcast of Season 5. The moments that I cherish most are when McNulty jaw nearly drops when he realizes that Scott Templeton might actually be even more full of shit than he is, or when the FBI profilers virtually pick apart McNulty's psychology as they discuss the serial killer (also a bonus for having nailed the pompous lead profiler, even if on-screen for just for a few minutes, a likely nod to prolific and public criminalogist John Douglas).

The show will be missed.

Ofer Lion

Wire's Wake

The cadillac stood by the house
And the yanks they were within
And the tinker boys they hissed advice
'hot-wire her with a pin'
We turned and shook as we had a look
In the room where the dead men lay
So big jim dwyer made his last trip
To the land where his father's laid

And fifteen minutes later
We had our first taste of whiskey
There was uncles giving lectures
On ancient irish history
The men all started telling jokes
And the women they got frisky
By five o'clock in the evening
Every bastard there was piskey

Fare thee well going away
There's nothing left to say
Farewell to new york city boys
To boston and pa
He took them out
With a well-aimed clout
He was often heard to say
I'm a free born man of the usa

He fought the champ in pittsburgh
And he slashed him to the ground
He took on tiny tartanella
And it only went one round
He never had no time for reds
For drink or dice or whores
And he never threw a fight
Unless the fight was right
So they sent him to the war

Fare thee well gone away
There's nothing left to say
With a slainte joe and erin go
My love's in amerikay
The calling of the rosary
Spanish wind from far away
I'm a free born man of the usa

This morning on the harbour
When i said goodbye to you
I remember how i swore
That i'd come back to you one day
And as the sunset came to meet
The evening on the hill
I told you i'd always love
I always did and i always will

Fare thee well gone away
There's nothing left to say
'cept to say adieu
To your eyes as blue
As the water in the bay
And to big jim dwyer
The man of wire
Who was often heard to say
I'm a free born man of the usa

(Body of An American - The Pogues)

Warren Widener

I watched every episode of The Wire from the beginning and I was said to see it go. I think the last 2 seasons were a gift because I had read that it was supposed to end after season 3. David Simon really has a knack for storytelling and creating a balanced view from different sides...the street, the cops, the schools, the docks, the paper, the justice system and the political system.

I really enjoyed watching the characters grow amidst the different twists and turns. Probably the most surprising survivor was Bubbles. If you missed seeing his life get turned arund through all of this you missed the silver lining in the show. probably the biggest tragedy was McNulty, even through if was softened a bit by the "wake".

What struck me most about the final episode is how everyone that you cared about stayed true to themeslves, regardless of the consequences. McNulty refused to pin extra murders on the homeless man guilty of the last two, Daniels refused to juke stats, the newpaper editor outed the lying reporter and Marlo returned to the streets.

The last episode showed that you can "end" a series, while still providing the audience with a sense for what is still happening...the drug violence continues with Marlo, Bunk still works murders, Carcetti continues to rise politically and kids still turn to violence and drugs when the system fails them. The same thing happens over and over, just the faces change.

An excellent show that I am sad to see leave...

Katy

Great show, all 5 seasons were a gift. I watched the finale twice last night because I wanted to make it last longer. Thanks to everyone involved and who ever was responsible for making sure it didn't get canceled . I didn't discover The Wire till January of this year and own the first season on DVD and rented the others through NetFlix. I watched all 4 seasons on DVD and this past season on DVR and caught up just in time to see the finale live last night. I've been totally immersed in The Wire for the majority of 2008. I'm definitely sad its over and hope that it isn't the last show of its kind.

Katy

Great show, all 5 seasons were a gift. I watched the finale twice last night because I wanted to make it last longer. Thanks to everyone involved and who ever was responsible for making sure it didn't get canceled . I didn't discover The Wire till January of this year and own the first season on DVD and rented the others through NetFlix. I watched all 4 seasons on DVD and this past season on DVR and caught up just in time to see the finale live last night. I've been totally immersed in The Wire for the majority of 2008. I'm definitely sad its over and hope that it isn't the last show of its kind.

dachos

I felt the most compelling scene in the finale was the exchange between dukie and prezbo, where the emerging junkie taps his connections, slowly burning the bridges of his life- maybe circling back to bubbs' earlier days... it made the scene of dukie tying off in the ending sequence more poignant...

rukidding

I loved the Wire, all the more for having grown up in Dundalk. But I have to say I'm sick of the way liberal whites love the Wire. It's as if they're shocked to find out that inner city blacks have the full range of emotions and morals. As if they're saying, "Wow, those negroes are actually human! Who'd have thought?" As if they're proud of themselves for liking a show about "them." As if they want to brag about how they "get it." They understand the plight of the black man, or whatever.

Such whites are usually found out by asking which season they liked the least. They'll always say Season Two. Because it had the most well-rounded white characters, and wasn't solely about black Baltimore (believe it or not lots of whites still live there, and not all are yuppies).

As to the non-Season Two white characters, I can only say that I think David Simon has always tripped over himself to make them look bad. White reporter: corrupt. Black and Latina reporters: good. White newspaper management: corrupt. Black editor: good. White upper-echelon police: bad. Black upper-echelon police: good.

AJ

The author touched on many of the good aspects of this amazing drama's final act, with one glaring exception: I would have written the article with the following title and focus; The Wire Ends an Excellent Run on a High Note, Bubs Is Accepted Back Into His Family.

Waiting for the DVD

HEY! how about some freaking spoiler alerts! what's wrong with you people?

Tony

The final episode was very well done. I didn't think Simon could pull all of this off in only 10 epsodes but he did. The characters all ended up pretty much, where I figured they would, although you wouldn't fault Simon if Bubs relapsed or if Marlo was taken out at the end either.

Some people mistakenly think that Marlo decided to go back to the streets in the end. but I think that is not what happens. As with most people who was once 'The King', Marlo returned to the corner to see if he still was well known in the streets only to find that he was easily forgotten and unrecognizable. This was an interesting scene in that for all the bravado about 'his name being out there' when called on the carpet by Omar, Marlo soon learns that Omar had much more recognizable street cred than Marlo. Marlo's cred was borne more of reputation backed by Chris and Snoop rather than personal work put in. I thought that was poignant to say the least.

McNulty ends up better for leaving the police department. He's wears his heart on his sleeve which, while making him a great detective, also makes him a self-destructive timebomb when things don't go his way. Enjoy your life with your family. I'm sure he won't have any problems landing on his feet.

Some parting thoughts...
Michael took over as the new Omar. Couldn't think of anyone else who could do a better job...
Dukie was doomed to play out the junkie role. The Baltimore streets taught him well...
Sydnor becomes the new, and improved, McNulty...
Bubbles lands on his feet...let's hope this is a permanent move to respectability on his part...
and finally, Daniels leaves..I must admit I really hated this guy...good riddence

I will truly miss this series.

Marcus

Two scenes really stood out to me. The first was between McNulty and Templeton. When McNulty called Templeton out about how he is "Just as full of shit as I am." I thought that was brilliant. For the past 5 or 6 episodes, I wanted so badly for Templeton's fabrications to be shed to light. I wanted him to get fired and for Gus to be vindicated for all his suspicions about Templeton. But in the end, I really like the way it ended. It isn't a perfect world. Templeton won the Pulitzer, but we all know he was a fake and a liar. Gus got demoted to copy, but he stood up for what he believed in.

I also thought Marlo going back to the corner was an amazing scene. In the high-rises surrounded by suits, Marlo was in a world that he wasnt comfortable in. He said earlier that he wasn't a gangster, that he was a "businessman." Well it was obvious that he is no businessman. He went back to the corner, got slashed, licked his blood, and smiled. He was back in his element. He will never leave the streets. He wasnt in it for the money, he was in it for love.

Excellent ending to the best show of the decade. Simon was able to answer all the questions without really answering any questions. Without telling us in black and white, we all know where every character will be in 5 years.

gdewar

It's funny to read so many mainstream press people rip on the fact that Simon went after the Sun and the constant BS that is happening in corporate "journalism". I guess when the institution getting the once over from the Wire is Mainstream Cost Cutting and Declining Standards -oops I mean newspapers - it's a bit too tough to take.

Wish they'd kept this show around for a couple more eps, but it ended on a high note. High five to the writers.

Jim norton

"As to the non-Season Two white characters, I can only say that I think David Simon has always tripped over himself to make them look bad. White reporter: corrupt. Black and Latina reporters: good. White newspaper management: corrupt. Black editor: good. White upper-echelon police: bad. Black upper-echelon police: good."

Excellent observations. You sir are a thinking human being. For what it's worth I do think this was either a blatent concious decision or a corrupt subconcious/moral-liberal decision. Either way thanks for pointing that out. Just don't forget about MR. Prezbo. Be well.

Chris - LATimes

Couple of thoughts:
Waiting for the DVD -- Seriously? I mean, I feel your pain, but really what did you expect to find under a blog called "Showtracker" the day after the finale aired? Care must be taken online if you're not going to follow a show in real time.

gdewar - I have no problem with David Simon taking on newspapers, in fact I was more excited about the prospect of him taking on this season's 'institution' than any other. I just think his obvious emotional attachment to the issue (and the shorter season) made the storyline and its characters feel less complex and multi-layered than seasons past. I didn't think he was wrong in his analysis -- He just wasn't as good at delivering drama.

rukidding - I'm a bit troubled by your assumption "The Wire" is an inherently liberal show because it focuses on the problems of the inner city. You have to admit, it did so with a level of realism unseen elsewhere on TV. While it bums me out to even think of reducing the show to some racial scorecard, would the show really have been any better if the whites were responsible for more of the good being done and vice versa? Would it have been more honest?

Glad most everyone was as happy with the finale as I was. I miss the show already.

cptdkirk

Once again an observation is broken down along racial lines. Jim, the fact that you had to be reminded of the black/white tally, should tell you that it wasn't as blatant as you now believe. Who is surprised by Newspaper and Police upper-management might be dominated by white folk. I just think the stories in The Wire were too important to minimize them to a white bias. The biggest racial injustice in the series is the black youth trapped in the inner-city public school system. So that's 250,000 to your handful of poor whites execs.. I've always felt the biggest betrayal of us as a nation, is the absense of a real education provided to inner-city kids (white or black).

I started watching The Wire in season 3 so I'm anxious to go back and watch 1 and 2.

thrILL!

The faces may change but people's actions don't. I was surprised that Cheese never spoke of Prop Joe and Omar's ties and how that co$t the co-op money. Slim knew tho... I've been waiting all season for Cheese to be swissed.

Michael- stick-up kids iz out to tax! Glad to see he got some crew of his own.
Daniels- man, poor Cedric. Takes one for the team.

Glad to see Kima make peace with the boys.

Chris meeting up with Weebay! Chris instantly becomes the man with the most bodies on him and will make impressive muscle for Avon. Monk quickly follows suit and Avon becomes even more powerful in the pen.

Templeton wins the Pulitzer. US Weekly wins an EPPY.

Is Levy messing with Marlo by taking him to a party like that? Ha ha.

I loved how they made me look for Michael to step out of the shadows and blast the king. The king smacks a serf.
Funny because I'm sure the kid knew about Marlo but had never seen him in person. If Marlo announced who he was those 2 kids would've ran like Ray Lewis was chasing them.

Then again, there's kids on corners like Kenard. Loved that look on his face as he was taken into to juvey.

Thank you David Simon. Looking forward to hearing of any future projects.

Thanks Chris for this blog on a show that will be nearly impossible to touch. Sad to see it end. Plus, Breaking Bad had its season finale too.

At least there's the John Adams series with Paul Giamatti.

ray

I am very sad to see the Wire go. What a brilliant show, it is unmatched in it's intelligence and deep themes. Chris Barton notes season five seemed "flawed and hurried" (before the last episode). This is down in large part to the producers having only 10 episodes to play with, the number of episodes was cut by HBO. When you are used to having the plot patiently develop over 12 episodes, it is only natural to notice some haste with 10. i was really disappointed with the cut in episodes, the sopranos had 9 just for a "bonus". I guess HBO realised people would rather watch garbage like the Shield. It is a big shame we never got an actual full season. I agree with Chris, this episodes easily beat the finale to the Sopranos (another HBO masterpiece).

Mike

How cool was the ending for Marlo? He ditches a party full of White Collar stiffs to return to the streets to remember why he was in the game in the first place. "Do you know who I am?" was the simple question he asked to the corner boy, followed by a slick self defense to disarm the boy and send him running. It was just an homage to how the streets work and where he truly belongs. I hope that David Simon makes a movie (prequel) about The Wire. You know that it would be handled and written very carefully. No Hollywood junk, just straight real life. That is why most people loved watching this show. I will definitely miss this show.

Kate

"Such whites are usually found out by asking which season they liked the least. They'll always say Season Two. Because it had the most well-rounded white characters, and wasn't solely about black Baltimore (believe it or not lots of whites still live there, and not all are yuppies)."

I liked Season Two, but it took me a while to get into it--and it never connected with the rest of the series as well as it might have, in my opinion. I suppose that the point is that many of these connections aren't particularly close, but I don't know that the season made that point particularly strongly. Saying that liberal whites don't like season two because there are white characters is making a huge leap, IMO, and I don't know that there's much to support it.

Now that the show is over, I want to see the entire series as a whole. But I suspect that I'll come away with the feeling I have now--that my least favorite season is Season Five, because it was shortened and the plot and character development felt rushed for more than half of the episodes. I'm not sure what that has to say about race or ethnicity either.

Court

To, ruddiking and jimnorton, the commenters who are patting themselves on the back regarding the bad white vs. good black issue, I have one question: have you ever watched the show? Another question, if you have seen the show, did you understand what you were watching? Examples: Mayor Royce, Clay Davis, Burrell, black, black, black and bad, bad and bad. Heck in the beginning Carver was a bad cop, it has been alleged that at one time Daniels was as well. Frank Sobotka, for all intents and purposes was a family man, who got caught in a bad situation, while trying to help his family and co-workers. Landsman, was essentially a good cop, who in Season 4, felt genuine empathy for Bubbles upon surrendering himself for Sherrods death. Rogue that he was, McNulty was at heart a good, if not crazy at times, person. I feel kind of sorry for the two commenters who reduced this to a racial issue. You are pretty much missing the point of the show, which is why I asked if you truly understood what you were watching. Do yourself a favor and re-watch the show, and try to absorb what you have just read.

easy with the race card buddy

Hey rukidding - sometimes a great show is a great show, and should be left as such without going to the old race card. I know it's nice to have that in your pocket to whip out and flash from time to time, but dude this is neither the time nor place. A great show with incredible characters and impeccable writing, and you go the race card to satisfy your own paranoid agenda? How about you watch it and enjoy it, and absorb what you have read, as suggested by Court above? Man it makes me sick when people make everything about race. Just enjoy the gift David Simon has given us - one of the few truly spectacular shows in existence - and quit crying race at every turn.


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