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Category: The Wire

Lance Reddick's 'precarious position'

February 25, 2009 | 12:47 am


Lance Reddick doesn't get to smile a lot on the job. 

As  federal agent  Phillip Broyles in Fox's hit drama “Fringe," he is icy -- and possibly sinister -- as the head of an interagency team investigating a pattern of bizarre, deadly incidents.

Flip the channel and you might also catch the Baltimore-born-and-raised actor in his recurring role as the stern and smartly dressed Matthew Abaddon, whose last name may be a fearful omen for the survivors of the plane crash of ABC's “Lost." 

And he was rarely happy in his  best-known role as the ambitious Lt. Cedric Daniels  in HBO's "The Wire," where his character was  trapped between the political miasma of the Baltimore Police Department and the never-ending wave of drug dealers wreaking havoc in the inner city. 

Given his strait-laced gallery of characters, it's almost surprising to see Reddick  flash a real smile away from the cameras. In fact, he's almost unrecognizable from his on-screen personas, appearing younger, less worldly and a bit self-conscious. 

Read more of the story here.

(Photo by Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

'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

'The Wire': Endgame -- predictions and polls

March 7, 2008 |  6:58 pm

Well, this is it. No matter how hard we try and fight it, somewhere around 10:30 or so Sunday night "The Wire's" intricate little universe will draw to a close. And with promises that this whole "Dickensian" marvel of a show is actually going to tie everything together in a neat little bow at the finish, we couldn't resist passing along our half-baked predictions, judgments, hopes and dreams about this season. After the jump, a chance to cast your vote in our all-encompassing poll for how this crazy thing is going to end. Vote early and often -- and while pondering the many ways this could wrap up, don't forget to read Matea Gold's fantastic roundtable discussion with many of "The Wire's" cast.

Now, onto the predictions. And please feel free to weigh in with thoughts and predictions of your own in the comments.

From Patrick Day, "Wire" fan and "Lost" show tracker:

I’m probably going to be shouted down here, but I have a feeling “The Wire” will end on some small note of hope. We’ve had five seasons of nothing but a dark, gloomy view of inner city Baltimore, so there’s no reason on earth that David Simon and crew would go back on their well-earned cynicism right at the end. But after the seemingly perfect arrest of Marlo Stanfield in the penultimate episode, I’m thinking maybe we’ll get a peek, but just a peek, mind you, of a hopeful future for the city.

That’s not to say I think everything will turn up roses for all the cast members. Nothing but bad things await McNulty. He’s gone too far off the deep end and been too much of a self-involved heel this season for his life to suddenly turn out all right. Will he live? Probably. But I don’t see him being a cop anymore.

From Philip Michaels (a.k.a. Mr. Sobell) from Television Without Pity:

Because this is "The Wire" we're talking about, the question really shouldn't be how's it going to end -- depressingly, for the characters and viewers alike -- but just how depressing is it going to be watching everyone we've grown to care about get ground down by the remorseless boot-heel of fate while society crumbles around them. Will it be an "I just listened to Elliott Smith CDs for three hours" kind of depressing? A bury-your-face-in-a-pillow-so-the-neighbors-can't-hear-your-sobs depressing? Or are we talking about a full-on dim the lights, pull the shades, and sit motionless in the Barc-o-lounger for days while you contemplate the meaninglessness of it all-type situation.

Because I deal in extremes, I tend to think we're due for a series finale where David Simon & Co. crank the ol' Futility-Meter up to 11. So how do things play out in this grim world view?

McNulty's serial killer fakery is exposed, of course, dragging down everyone foolish enough to even have had a conversation with him at any point during the last five seasons. Kima, Bunk, and Freamon will be drummed off the force -- the latter will take to traveling from town to town doing odd jobs and helping locals solve their problems until his true identity is discovered and he's forced to move on to the next city. Daniels will be booted from the deputy of operations post, stripped of his rank, denied his pension, and stricken from any departmental records. Curiously, Herc will be rehired, cited as "the sort of person we need more of around here."

Ever the opportunist, Carcetti will cement his gubernatorial bid by denouncing everything that happened in the city of Baltimore ever, except for anything he did. He will also lead an unsuccessful effort to return Baltimore to the British. When that fails, Baltimore is kicked out of the Union. Marlo Stanfield becomes the first president of New BaltimoreLand, whose leading exports are heroin-stuffed refrigerators and Royal Addicition clothing.

I do not even want to contemplate what happens to Dukie, but suffice it to say, mimes will be involved.

Perhaps, most disappointing of all, Templeton is not brought down by scandal. Rather, through a crafty manipulation of the facts, he's able to produce a series of articles on corruption and sedition within the ranks of the Baltimore Sun that lands Gus Haynes in Gitmo. For his stellar work, Templeton wins the Pulitzer, which is promptly renamed the M. Scott Templeton Prize for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Free-Form Journalism.

Also, the show will end with a musical montage of some sort, with a song by either Sisters of Mercy or Raffi.

And finally, from yours truly:

Predicting "The Wire" is tricky. Thinking about where we're headed is half the fun, but the show has such a high standard of yanking the rug out from under any expectations that I'll feel disappointed on some level if I'm actually right. But, here goes: I have to believe McNulty's headed for a big, messy fall, and somehow, someway, he's going to wind up dead. Given his erratic behavior this season, I can see him taking a guilt-fueled potshot at Marlo if he ends up walking, which will most likely just get himself killed in the process. Either way, it's tough picturing him coasting into forced retirement or a reassignment. He just doesn't seem, um, wired that way. Lester of course will go down right with him, but at least he has his tiny furniture to keep him occupied.

As for the rest of the show, I keep coming back to the theme of nothing changes in Baltimore as long as the game exists in its current form -- a game Simon's repeatedly said is rigged. So, given there's no way the war on drugs will be won Sunday night, there will be a new Bubbles, a new Marlo, and a new Omar to come as the series closes. I see Dukie, unfortunately, getting himself a nasty smack habit since he's now living on the streets -- or worse, becoming the junkman's Sherrod. Now on the run, Michael will do what he needs to survive, be it robbing or killing, though he will live by his own code -- that sound like anyone we know? Marlo will fall, but not for his crimes. Instead of jail, I think the street will claim him, and maybe Michael will be the one pulling the trigger. But he won't take over the drug trade -- maybe that's someone from the old co-op, or someone even nastier than Marlo we haven't met yet. As for who becomes the new McNulty, my money's on Sydnor. He learned enough at Lester's knee to carry on coloring outside the lines at the Western.

Elsewhere, Carcetti is headed for governor, Daniels will somehow still wind up police chief, and Templeton is a mortal lock for the Pulitzer over at "The Sun" (particularly given how rooted-in-fact that storyline seems), despite Gus' best efforts. This means St. Augustus of Metro is finished, -- he'll either walk, get laid-off or fired. But hey, he can always turn to a career in television.

Now, onto the poll:

Continue reading »

'The Wire': David Simon schools USC

March 4, 2008 |  5:07 pm

Simon200 There may be no more pitiable position on a university campus than to be an overconfident twentysomething approaching David Simon with an ill-conceived comment on "The Wire."

After watching Simon lead a lively talk at USC about the relationship between journalism and the public, a fresh-faced young man in rumpled khakis started speaking to Simon about the "Machiavellian" nature of a few of this season's characters. As the post-chat reception continued around him in a narrow law school hallway, you could see Simon's wheels turning.

"It's not Machiavellian. You're misusing the term," he said flatly, tossing aside the rest of the young man's statement. Simon then outlined the finer nuances of the "very specific" behavior characterized in "The Prince," and though the student weakly tried to defend his usage, Simon would have none of it. "[The characters] are ruthless, but they're not Machiavellian," he finished with a slight smile.

Such are the risks in squaring off with David Simon, who in an affable and engaging talk in the bowels of USC's Musick Law Building also shed some light on the roots of "The Wire," its controversial newspaper storyline and his own attitudes toward the uncertain future of journalism.

In a few opening remarks, Simon repeatedly cited Greek tragedy's influence on "The Wire," explaining that in the place of the meddlesome Greek gods who randomly ruined people's lives he subbed in modern institutions. In what seemed a preemptive nod toward any outraged Omar fans in the audience, Simon also leaned on the same source to explain the fate for some of his show's most popular characters. "Those who want to know why Omar had to die, why Stringer had to die," he said, "Strap on a helmet, get in the game and read Antigone. Read Medea. It had to happen."

After revealing the powerful influence Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" held over "The Wire" ("It's the only important political film . . . Watch the movie before every season and you'll get it."), Simon touched on his well-documented time as a reporter for the Sun and its impact on Season 5. After initially asking the audience what they thought the heart of the newsroom arc was, he finally explained the central message wasn't Templeton's fabrications, Gus' heroics or the paper's out-of-touch editors -- the key was what didn't happen.

"This is why I'm the king of meta," Simon said with a mischievous grin. "Everything that you know about 'The Wire' up to this point never appeared in the newspaper." He then recounted the many plot points taken from Simon's real-life Baltimore experiences -- the corrupt mayor asking for cooked crime stats, the elementary school test scores spawned from students being taught the tests, the deaths of Prop Joe and Omar -- all indicators of the city's real problems that never appeared in the Sun's pages, in reality or on HBO. "Watching a TV drama to get the truth, that's the real joke," Simon added.

An interesting insight, certainly. But as clever as this fun-house mirror sleight of hand may be, is it enough to forgive what still played like lesser drama in Simon's undeniably personal but less nuanced depiction of "The Sun's" newsroom? The finale -- and repeated viewings on DVD -- may ultimately decide.

Regardless, Simon has no regrets. He even made a point of exonerating HBO for "The Wire's" shorter run this season by explaining that if they truly needed more time to wrap up their story (which initially included the revelation that Randy is indeed Cheese Wagstaff's son), HBO would have provided it. But he feels the tighter story is stronger for it. In Simon's view, "The Wire," its characters, and to an extent the complex issues plaguing Baltimore itself have ultimately been served.

"Until these problems become the currency of debate, the 'other America' will keep being the 'other America," he told the crowded classroom as his talk wound to a close. "Except now they won't have a show because 'The Wire' is gone."

-- Chris Barton

Photo by Chris Barton / LAT

'The Wire': The Western strikes back

March 3, 2008 |  6:00 am

Wait -- did we just see what I thought we saw?

Mcnulty200 There's all kinds of room for this to fall apart (more on that later), but watching Marlo Stanfield's reign-of-terror ostensibly collapse continued "The Wire's" Lazarus-like rise from this season's earlier, muddled malaise. Once again zigging when everyone expected a zag, Sunday night's installment found Lester and Sydnor engineering the series' biggest, most beautiful bust since Avon Barksdale. But for all the marvelous tension from Syndor's initial call through the nerve-racking buildup to the arrests, everything went down smoothly, probably the most by-the-book, feel-good arrest the series has ever seen. Ironic, isn't it? And what is this bizarre sensation that rose up as Lester looked down at Marlo on the sidewalk? Pride? Satisfaction? Justice? Where am I, and what's happened to our hopeless Baltimore?

For better or for worse, that's exactly where we're at -- not some glittering, network-born land of Law & Order where everything ties together neatly. There's still the small matter of Kima going to Daniels about McNulty's serial killer, who in turn went to Pearlman from the DA's office, and now it's decision-time for two of the show's most ethical, least tainted figures. Just after Mayor Carcetti and the whole department take a curtain call for the biggest "dope on the table" bust in memory, is Daniels really going allow Marlo to bounce from jail because the investigation was dirty? Given the emphasis "The Wire" -- and the world, for that matter -- places on politics and appearances, I can't possibly imagine that being allowed to happen, even if it may come at the expense of Daniels'  conscience.

But as those who watch this space know, there's been a whole lot of wrong written here before. One thing we can all agree on, however, is McNulty is utterly doomed. Which is a shame because after all he's gone through building his case (and Lester's for that matter), his long-dormant conscience didn't  let him enjoy Marlo's arrest -- he even spent the night sober, in one of the evening's biggest upsets. But if Daniels and Pearlman can't hang someone for the sea of unethical excrement that engineered this bust, I'm afraid he and Lester are in for something far worse, though I can't imagine what. Jail? Pension-garnishing termination? Public flogging? Whatever the result, it should provide plenty of the grim and empty feelings this show generally specializes in.

Which brings us to Michael -- and, by extension, his pal Dukie. As good as it was to see great debater Namond bouncing back (along with Bunny Colvin with what felt like a forced and pointless face-off with Mayor Carcetti), the redemption tap has seemingly run dry for the other corner kids. Michael's a cold killer now, and even though Snoop insisted he was "never one of us," Michael's soft-spoken turn on her proved he may be something more. We'll miss you, Snoop, but not as much as we're going to miss Michael, who seemed on his way out of town after see Bug off at a mysterious, middle-class aunt's house. (Anyone else remember hearing a word about her before this?) As for his friend Dukie, not even he can come where Michael's going. For you, Duke, we have deluxe accommodations in a hellish shooting gallery with your junk(ie) man boss. Best of luck!

Wherever Michael's headed now, Snoop's death is only going to confirm Marlo's suspicions about the identity of the police's imaginary informant. But with one of his enforcers dead and the other in jail, who's left to hunt him down? Kenard?

But for all the waiting for the other shoe to drop elsewhere around the episode, including the continued referencing of Levy having a source in the courthouse and Gus Haynes' overwrought quest to discredit Templeton before the Pulitzer committee gets there first, something has to be said for what we saw out of Bubbles last night. For the most part a forgotten man despite (or maybe because of) his rehabilitation, Bubs' -- I mean Reginald's -- one-year anniversary speech at group again upped the ante in a season that seems to have no shortage of brilliant moments despite all its flaws. Watching Bubs' eyes well up as he finally, truly shared about his loss of Sherrod was one of those scenes you want to drop in front of everyone who hasn't yet watched "The Wire" to explain what they've been missing.

We're in the homestretch now. More to come this week as we prepare for the super-sized finale, including some predictions, polls and whatever else we can dream up to prolong the inevitable. Crank up the Pogues' "Body of an American," we're headed for a proper wake once it's all said and done.

-- Chris Barton

Photo courtesy HBO

'The Wire': React quotes, Vol. 2

March 1, 2008 | 12:14 am

With only two more episodes before "The Wire" wraps up for good (or, well, maybe not), anticipation is building for how the whole thing is going to end. So while we wait for this weekend's installment with only Lake Trout and our bitter dreams as our comfort, here's a sampling of reader mail that's come into Showtracker Plaza the last few days. As always, we welcome your feedback, diatribes and commentary -- not to mention any half-baked theories on how this whole thing finishes.

Can you tell me why "The Wire" has never got the national publicity of other HBO shows? I don't think I've ever seen any of the actors plugging the drama on any talk show. Nor do I think they ever got their just due at the Emmys. Can you fill me in on this? -- David Melcon, Westwood

David, I wish I could. From the beginning of this season I've been mystified why there hasn't been more of a marketing push behind a show as consistently good as "The Wire," especially given this is its final season. There's really a sort of chicken-and-egg aspect to it, I think. Given "The Wire" attracts a small, devoted audience -- and isn't particularly kind to those who dare to try to pick it up for the first time this season -- HBO probably figured there was little to gain by a big promotional push. But, how much of an audience could have been gained for the last five seasons if people were as aware of "The Wire" as, say, middling-to-abominable efforts like "Big Love" or "John From Cincinnati"?

Factor into this the seemingly boundless critical love heaped upon the show in magazines, newspapers (hello!) and blogs, and you could argue that promotion of the show is already taken care of in some respects, and all without HBO spending a dime. A shame, definitely, but one that's hopefully cut by the prospect of the show taking on a second life when watched on DVD. It's how I got hooked.

And finally, from Charm City, a theory for how it's all going to end...

I am pretty sure we have been set up. My guess is that 1) Marlo will come down by the hand of one of his own people; or that 2) absolutely nothing will happen to Marlo because that is exactly what happens to the drug king pins in Baltimore, absolutely nothing. -- Mary Spiro, Johns Hopkins University

Good theories, Mary, and I tend to agree. If "The Wire" has taught us nothing else, it's that while crime may not pay, solving crimes certainly doesn't seem to pay, either (in either the literal or emotional sense). I'd be surprised if Marlo survived this season -- he's just too evil a character to not be punished somehow, even in David Simon's cynical world -- but most likely not because of anything Baltimore PD accomplished. (Though it's not difficult to imagine McNulty just hopping fully into the abyss and taking a shot at him if things really come off the rails). But regardless, as you alluded to, the Baltimore drug trade will still be open for business. The only question is, if Marlo goes, who replaces him? Cheese? Chris? Or, as some have mentioned, Michael?

Thanks again to you all for writing. More to come Sunday.

-- Chris Barton

'The Wire': The Fall of Spiderman

February 25, 2008 |  6:00 am

Omar Let the record show that the true beginning of the end is underway in Baltimore.

No doubt, there are plenty of unhappy Omar fans out there right now. While talking over the final season, one "Wire"-watcher I know said, "Whatever happens, as long as they don't kill Omar." Well, all right then. But that, for better and for worse, is not how this show works.

Omar's end played like the opposite of Prop Joe's shooting a few weeks back. But where Joe's end was excruciatingly and almost lovingly slow under Marlo's watchful eye, Omar was gone in a flash, with an almost insulting level of anonymity from a person who at first just seemed a random kid in a liquor store (but after a quick rewind became Kenard, the wee bundle of undiluted hate from Michael's corner). Apart from the ominous build-up of Omar furiously prowling Baltimore's vacants in the unforgiving midday sun, there was little indication something like this was coming -- other than the unsettling momento mori of Kenard trying to light a cat on fire as Omar passed by. In short, wow.

Still, those who have been with "The Wire" from the beginning can't be surprised for long. Everyone in David Simon's Baltimore is a potential casualty, regardless of how many leaps from tall buildings in a single bound Omar pulled off. Just ask Stringer Bell. Still, for one of the few times this troubled season, an episode's impact has lingered well past the closing credits until finally, after running the full gamut of the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, acceptance has been reached. Given all "The Wire" has established up to now, would it really have been more satisfying to watch Omar mow through Marlo's crew one by one before a final, High Noon showdown? Maybe it all could've wrapped up with Omar enjoying a victory Newport backed by some "Don't Stop Believing" while the closing credits roll -- would that have been preferable?

Of course not. As good as the above might have felt for everyone who loved West Baltimore's most fascinating export, this ending feels right. There will be no Jerry Bruckheimer finale with a hail of hot lead and venom for Omar, only a cruel moment where someone's guard was let down for a split second too long. That was enough for everyone who crossed Omar's path, and so it's enough for Omar.

So that begs the question: If Omar can't get Marlo, who will? Does anyone truly believe the law is the fastest horse in this race? Baltimore's finest are closing in, however, with Bunk in the lead thanks to new DNA evidence against Chris for his killing of Michael's stepdad. But, thanks to Lester's understated secret weapon, Leander Sydnor, the Greeks' code seems to have been cracked. And it's, um, the Baltimore Thomas Guide? Really? If indeed Lester and his rapidly swelling ranks of his "shadow" Major Crimes unit (thanks, McNulty!) are on the right track, it will be interesting to see where we go from here. But it's hard to picture Marlo's end coming with something as simple as a pair of handcuffs. Justice, for all its tantalizing appeal, is not "The Wire's" way.

Speaking of McNulty, things aren't looking good for our "hero." He spent much of the episode crumbling under the strain of his false empire, confessing his sins to everyone from Kima -- who might blow the whistle on the whole weird scheme -- to the long-suffering Beadie, who finally got his attention by bailing out for a night. Maybe hearing Quantico's psychological profile of his "killer" hit a little too close to home, but McNulty finally seems to be recovering his senses, which at this point just seems horribly sad. As great as it is to see McNulty's character regaining its nuance, redemption seems about as common as a Passenger Pigeon in Baltimore -- unless your name's Clay Davis, of course.

Have to say, if this episode is any indication, there's reason for optimism for how the series is going to wrap up. The pacing this week seemed far more natural, and even the troublesome newspaper storyline seemed less over-the-top than usual with Gus' brusque stand against Templeton. But is it all too little too late? Have we been set up for the ending we've been waiting for? Or have we just been set up?

-- Chris Barton

(Photo courtesy HBO)

'The Wire': The Dominic West perspective

February 18, 2008 |  6:01 am

With only three episodes to go in "The Wire's" final run, the biggest question remaining is simple: Are you in, or are you out?

Because much of the show's final season -- the believability-straining fake serial killer, the ax-grinding and thinly drawn newsroom story, an overall feeling of the whole season being rushed -- has added up to a somewhat disappointing swan song so far, at least when compared with the last four seasons. But, for all its faults, this is still David Simon's Baltimore we're talking about: a self-contained, intricately crafted universe still offering moments of sheer brilliance, and with them the lingering prospect that the whole thing could be drawn to a satisfying close.

Last week, I spoke with Dominic West about all of the above and more, including his character's whereabouts in Season 4 and the tantalizing possibility of there being more "Wire" to come after this season. A familiarly dry, McNultian wit was in full effect yet served with West's still-surprising native British accent that sounds light-years removed from Baltimore. Actors: They're a tricky lot.

(Please note: There are, in the broadest sense, a few lines below that could be considered spoilers, especially for those who believe "The Wire" is heading toward a happy ending. Tread wisely.)

So are you now purged from feeling the Jimmy McNulty in your head?
Yes, I mean I think so. Though I seem to be talking about it more now than ever before. It’s sort of taking off on the U.K. side last, so everyone I meet is saying, "Oh that’s what you’ve been doing all this time!" No one ever gave two hoots about it when I was out there, but now I seem to be fielding a bit of interest, which is always nice.

Was he kind of a hard character to let go of? Are you going to miss being that guy?
Yes and no. Well (laughs) we’re trying to get the movie made; we’re trying to persuade David Simon, and he doesn’t need persuading -- he just needs a story. Because Wendell (Pierce), who plays Bunk, and Sonja (Sohn), who plays Kima Greggs, are really pushing to get a movie made because it would be great, so David said, "Well, it would have to be a prequel." And I said, well, in that case I would have to have surgery, and you would have to write in that McNulty looks astonished the whole time. So I don’t know, I don’t feel like I’ve really said goodbye yet.

So that’s exciting that you guys are trying to keep the show going in some respect.
Well, yeah, there’s just so much material and so many plot lines to go on, and I think Wendell thought, why not make a movie? There’s a ready-made audience, and I think a lot of us feel it will be a long time before we get to act such great writing and with people we like as much as we all like each other.

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'The Wire': Hell's around the corner

February 11, 2008 |  6:00 am

Mcnulty Well, if McNulty hadn't already booked a personal sauna in Hell before this week's episode, he's guaranteed himself an E-ticket at this point.

Just as I'd gotten somewhat adjusted to the idea that the backbone of "The Wire's" police department could make the leap to inventing murders to fund investigations, now Jimmy's expanded his oeuvre to include kidnapping the homeless and shipping them across the country. Sure, why not?

We're nudging the ragged fringe of suspension-of-disbelief again, but it's at least encouraging to see the whole game taking its toll. Still unable to wring more than a single detective from the department to send Lester's way (even after Carcetti's blustery press conference), McNulty had been taking out his frustrations on everyone from Lester to a stern-looking statue on Baltimore's waterfront (any Charm City natives out there who can identify who that was? *** I looked everywhere). McNulty even appeared appropriately shaken after arranging for his pathetic 'victim' to unwittingly be shipped off to Cleveland. Still, as perfect as his whole plan seems for getting Lester an equipment upgrade to crack Marlo and the Greeks' picture messages, I'm curious how many people are still buying into the whole storyline. Is McNulty's amoral madness flirting with a little criminal deus ex machina?

I'm still along for the ride, but that may have to do with all the fantastic storytelling and policework blooming elsewhere. First, the Bunk is back. Finally tired of his thankless work as the ignored angel on McNulty's shoulder, Bunk's chasing Marlo's bodies from the vacants again, and like everything else this season, things are moving fast. Some readers had asked why the police hadn't yet caught on about Prop Joe's death, but that big body finally turned up somewhere -- and with it, the knowledge there's a leak in the DA's office since Joe had a bunch of sealed grand jury documents in his desk. That's Rhonda Perlman's worry for now, but Bunk kept busy, first with home-hardened Randy from Season 4, then with Michael's strung-out mom. Watching Bunk in that interview was pure investigative artistry, but he's still queued up behind "the serial killer" for any department resources. Now it's a question of who will get to Marlo first: Lester and McNulty's dirty wire or Bunk and his hard-nosed police work?

(And hey, speaking of cameos, how nice was it to see Nick Sobotka heckling Mayor Carcetti down at the docks? Ah, Nick. Glad to see you're bouncing back.)

At any rate, the smart money on who will catch Marlo first has to rest upon "Spiderman" Omar. Forgetting for a moment how improbable it is that our hero found the one janitor's closet in the building just out of sight from Marlo's very motivated crew, it's been fantastic to see Omar back in his element. Sticking up crime bosses, wrecking havoc on Marlo's deliveries -- these are the pleasures you just can't get in tropical hideaways. And this time, it's "not about the paper" -- Omar wants all of Baltimore to know he wants a showdown with Marlo.

While I can't imagine the bloodless Mr. Stanfield being silly enough to face anyone man-to-man at this point, this week's shot of Omar holding his trusty shotgun and vowing revenge while an Escalade burned to the ground behind him was stunning and worthy of the best of the old Clint Eastwood westerns (though what first came to mind for me was a scene from 1993's goofy "Tombstone" but with better facial hair. Seriously, though, watch the clip). Hell's coming with him, Marlo, and something tells me the co-op you just dissolved won't pay much attention to your upping the bounty on Omar's head.

Meanwhile, back at "The Sun," Templeton is "the Jimmy Breslin of Baltimore" thanks to his and McNulty's creation. Whiting and Klebanow, David Simon's hapless Glimmer Twins of the newsroom, were indeed tumescent through much of the episode, but even Templeton had a minor change of heart and did some actual reporting while spending a night with the homeless. Ignoring the undeniable fact he finally found his notebook once an approachable white homeless man crossed his path, Templeton's piece on an Iraq war vet even wowed the un-wowable St. Augustus of Metro, who said without a trace of irony that it "looked like the real deal." Here's a theory: Templeton will eventually get caught cooking at least one of these stories and, aw, shucks, his one true story will get tainted.

I hope I'm wrong. Not because I don't want Templeton to get his due, but more because I hate thinking I can predict where the unpredictable "Wire" is headed. Besides, it may not be cynical enough. Any more half-baked theories out there?

*** UPDATE: Mystery solved! Russell Fine, Director of Photography for "The Wire," has gotten in touch to explain that the statue is of Major-General Samuel Smith in Federal Hill Park. Certainly an appropriately authoritative figure for McNulty to consult. Thanks again, Russell!

(Photo courtesy HBO)

'The Wire': Crossed liars

February 4, 2008 |  6:39 am

Wire Finally, after weeks of buildup, "The Wire" got the showdown it was waiting for.

Not Omar finally (and unfortunately) making his move on Marlo -- we'll get to that in a moment. I'm talking about the conference room lie-a-thon between Templeton and McNulty, though their battle of wits was a bit like watching a horsefly take on a Buick. The meeting was made a little more special since the two had met beforehand as Templeton "pulled" the details on the serial killer's M.O. from a faux-begrudging McNulty while "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" filled the bar. Not long after Templeton saw the story -- and his headlines -- cooling off, it was just a matter of time before his phone magically rang.

Seriously, has there been a better moment this season than watching McNulty, eyes wide as he's listening to his own lie being spun right back to him, finally lock eyes with Templeton in front of the Sun's editors and confirm that the police had received a similar phone call? The fact that Jimmy looked like he was gnawing through his own lips to keep from laughing made it that much sweeter. There's the dark humor you were looking for, wirerookie. That whole sequence was poetry.

So now we're rolling. Just prior to all this Marlo shared a park bench with Vondas, who broke down the basics of going Greek. Marlo got a cellphone, which Vondas was very specific about only using to discuss non-business matters, then showed him some snazzy trick of how the Greeks would use it to contact him. Whatever that was, given the show's past use of codes, it's going to be complex.

But we'll soon find out, thanks to the previously oafish Herc, who's suddenly become a conscientious cop now that he works security for uber-sleazy Barksdale/Stanfield attorney Maurice Levy. Marlo drops off his new cell number, Herc passes it along to his former running mate Carver to make amends for being an investigative waste of space for four seasons, and Carver passes it over to Lester. Add one fabrication-addicted reporter and, presto, some money is flowing to McNulty for his headline-grabbing serial killer and the show is back to living up to its name.

But it can't be that easy. As much as Lester seems to have all the bases covered as he's squirreled away in that empty office (give a shout, by the way, if that whole wiretap-hookup sequence seemed fuzzy), it's going to get messy, and not just with the bizarre (encrypted?) transmission that came through Marlo's phone at the episode's end. Maybe I'm conditioned by the show's track record of ironic failure, but five more episodes is plenty of time for things to completely fall apart.

Which brings us to Omar, who unfortunately had been staking out his own ambush all this time. Half of Marlo's crew was waiting inside that condo with guns blazing, but it takes more than that to nail Omar. Omar fans, you shouldn't be too worried. Five stories off a balcony amid a hail of bullets? That's nothing. Outside of Batman, Omar's probably the only character who you could say now has Marlo right where he wants him. But . . . where did he go?

I also need to take a moment for two smaller storylines that have gotten lost in the shuffle: Dukie and Clay Davis. Still the target of beatdown after humiliating beatdown, Michael's lanky friend went looking for help at Cutty's gym, but all the ex-con can offer is "hopes and wishes" -- which I think in West Baltimore carries about as much value as the Swedish Krona. It didn't get any better when Dukie tried his hand with one of Michael's pistols. Does anyone see a light at the end of the tunnel here? Probably no one's more deserving of escaping to "the rest of the world" in the "Wire"-verse than Dukie, but that seldom carries much weight in how these things play out.

Meanwhile, Clay Davis, who this week may have broken the small-college record for number of syllables used in a four-letter-word, is far from dead in the water. He took his case to the streets, inspiring waves of support with a few homespun appearances on AM radio and a vocal endorsement from his former -- and equally crooked -- boss at city hall, Clarence Royce. And the people, in their wisdom, have spoken. Have to say, if there's been a more depressing singalong of "We Shall Not Be Moved" than when all of Davis' supporters lifted every voice on the courthouse steps, I've never heard it. Good luck at Tuesday's primaries, everyone.

-- Chris Barton

(Photo courtesy HBO)

'The Wire': React quotes, Vol. 1

January 29, 2008 | 11:35 pm

As we take a breather before Sunday's episode, I thought I'd take a moment to respond to some reader mail received here at Showtracker Plaza. As always, feel free to send any comments via email or the handy-dandy "comments" link below -- we welcome any and all thoughts, feedback, screeds and diatribes.

Let's get this party started. First, a sampling of concerns about Sunday's post:

Thanks to you and your editor for making sure that anyone just glancing at the entertainment page today would be sure to find out about the killing of a major character on a highly acclaimed show. Thanks for ASSUMING  that anyone who is interested in watching the show ALREADY SAW IT. . . Some of us are too busy to build our schedules around watching a show the first minute it's available. Thanks for your consideration. -- Charles Webb

But wait, there's more:

Gah! I was scanning over the site today and I stumbled across the promo for your latest "Wire" post, in which I happened to learn right away that something bad happens involving Proposition Joe. Something involving a gun and Chris? Or Marlo? I tried to look away as quickly as I could, but I feel like the damage has already been inflicted. -- Patrick Day, fellow Times employee and "Wire" fanatic

Dear Charles and Patrick (and all the rest): First of all, I apologize. While I have no regrets about leading a Showtracker post with what was, naturally, the biggest news out of the episode, the way it was promoted on the Entertainment page was a definite spoiler with a capital "S." While that wasn't my decision and the team regrets any hard feelings, I must caution you that the Internet is a very, very treacherous place when dealing with the aftermath of serialized programming such as "The Wire," "Lost" and even "American Idol." The story has advanced, and those who still cling to what's become a relatively archaic standard of "appointment TV" generally want to discuss or read about an episode shortly after it's aired.

We'll definitely do our part to keep the "common areas" of the site free from specifics from now on, but by the same token when you've got an episode simmering in your TiVo (or, however improbably, your VCR), it might be safest to be exceedingly selective with your Web browsing. Entertainment and TV-related sites are fraught with peril, and it might be best to just stay away until you've caught up, as harsh as that may sound. When I missed an episode of "Lost" last year I did everything short of throwing a bucket over my head and hitting it with a wooden spoon whenever I logged on -- you just never know where this news is going to be discussed. While that may be extreme, the Internet is an unforgiving place for those who fall behind. We'll do our part moving forward -- just be careful out there as well.

Elsewhere, a question looking for a bit of background:

Tnx very much for today's column re "The Wire." We just started watching this year, and it's very difficult for us to understand what is going on. Your column helps. One thing we can't understand is what is happening vis a vis the Greeks. Much money is being brought to them in a briefcase -- looks like a great deal of money -- but they don't want it and try to send it back. Why? What is expected of them in return for this money? If you could let us know by Reply email or include it in your next column we will be grateful to you.-- Barbara and Ethan

First, kudos to you both for jumping on "The Wire" bandwagon late. As much as I love the show, it's not particularly forgiving to those who haven't been there from the beginning, so what you guys are trying to do is commendable. But even then, some of the interplay between the characters can be really subtle. For instance, in the case of the Greek (who, in another fun twist, isn't even Greek), Marlo presented Vondas with the briefcase of dough as "a gift" -- or, more specifically, a big sum of money to declare his intentions to buy his way into being their new point-person for drug distribution in Baltimore. Marlo wanted to be -- and now is -- the new Prop Joe for the Greeks.

Now, here's where I'm even a bit fuzzy. As you guys pointed out, Vondas repeatedly tried giving the money back, which from what I gather was a test of Marlo's resolve on really wanting to do business with them. While Vondas seemed perfectly content to continue to do business with Prop Joe as they had for years, something about Marlo changed the Greek's mind at the diner. Was it just that he kept coming back? Is that really all it takes it to just be a pest? Even what Marlo saw as approval for him to kill Prop Joe -- the acknowledgment that there was a viable need for "insurance" on Marlo's investment -- was cloaked in very nonspecific language. Given how security-obsessed every criminal figure in "The Wire's" world is, this shouldn't be a surprise. But was anyone else a little mystified initially that the Greek had, in fact, given Marlo an endorsement to move ahead with his plan to squeeze out Prop Joe?

More of this to come as the need arises. In the meantime, keep listening.

-- Chris Barton

'The Wire': Requiem for a Proposition

January 28, 2008 |  6:50 am

Joe Say it ain't so, Prop Joe.

In the annals of unexpected deaths in "Wire"-ana, Prop Joe's execution Sunday night ranks somewhere behind Stringer Bell being gunned down by Omar and somewhere above Stringer ordering a jailhouse hit on Avon Barksdale's nephew. Still, Prop Joe's single-shot killing at the hands of Chris while an eerily reptilian Marlo talked Prop Joe through his demise ranks as among the series' most memorable deaths, if for no other reason than how unpleasantly intimate it seemed. "Relax, breathe easy," Marlo said gently, and Joe closed his eyes as Chris raised a muzzle behind him. Brrrr. Never one to play the son role, indeed.

But for those out there feeling a little misty-eyed about Prop Joe's betrayal at the hands of his nephew  (what is it with nephews in this show?), I'd argue the professorial crime boss was dead long before the trigger was pulled. Joe built the New Day Co-Op with his bare hands, uniting Baltimore's disparate equivalent of the Five Families in the hopes of minimizing casualties and maximizing profit, all noble goals consistent with the character's pragmatic nature. But Marlo had been tearing it down since he reluctantly came on board, and the most Prop Joe could say was some mumbled, soft-pedaled advice to learn how to work with people? Really, that's as stern as the guy with his hand on the tap for Baltimore's drug supply can get?

But I'll miss Prop Joe's kind criminal heart the rest of the way, the sort of heart that had the presence to write "Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil" on Butchie's funeral wreath -- a neat summation of much of the season. Marlo, Cheese and the surviving figures on Baltimore's streets won't be nearly as thoughtful -- but perhaps that's why they're still alive.

At least for now because, after all, Hurricane Omar has touched down, and there's no Prop Joe around anymore to keep things from spiraling completely out of control. Marlo may have sucked all the knowledge and legal advice out of Joe's head before taking him out, but whether it's made him smart enough to hold off Omar and his sawed-off friend remains to be seen. Let's hope not.

Meanwhile, McNulty and Lester began the ghoulish business of hunting for a new victim for McNulty's serial killer (and it's going to remain McNulty's until Lester starts choking a dead man). I have to say, Jimmy's mercurial accomplice may just get him through this ridiculous stunt without being garroted in the public square by Episode 10. OK, not likely, but at least he's keeping McNulty honest by convincing him to put in the fake-legwork along a madness-ridden underpass straight out of the Fisher King. Plus you have to admit, working a pair of falsies for some bite marks on the latest victim is going to grab some headlines, but for all of Lester's help isn't it a little sad to see McNulty giddily citing his serial killer to get him out of a confrontation with Beadie? Listerine's not covering up the scent of this one, Jimmy.

Elsewhere in Baltimore, Daniels has settled into his new role as police commissioner heir apparent, but not before dodging the bullet from Burrell revealing the secrets from his past -- something about drug money and the Eastern District -- and all it took was a six-figure pat-on-the-back gig in Washington from Carcetti's people to keep him quiet. Isn't politics magical? And at the Sun -- or rather, at the Post -- it seems noted fabulist-in-training Scott Templeton will be plying his wares in Baltimore for a little longer. Seems his clips weren't quite strong enough to play with the big boys in Washington. Keep your eyes on the papers, everyone.

-- Chris Barton

(Photo courtesy HBO)