Major returning characters from previous seasons: McNulty, Bunk, Carver, Marlo, Freamon, Carcetti, "Beadie" Russell, Kima, Daniels, Sydnor, Snoop, Prop Joe, Carver, Rhonda Pearlman, Jay Landsman.
New Characters of note: Editor: Gus Haynes (Clark Johnson)
The Wire is easily one of the best shows that America (and possibly humanity) has ever produced. It's a pinnacle of storytelling that is for the most part unrivaled in the media. Only Dexter, The Shield and Six Feet Under come close to touching it for sheer perfection.
Sadly, this year will be The Wire's final season. This landmark television show that is hardly watched by the public will one day be discovered and held up for what it is. Seminal. But until then I'm going to mark the passing of the first of "The Trio" (The Trio is the nickname for the three best shows in the media right now, Dexter and The Shield are the other two) by reviewing , rating and commenting on every single episode this season. I'll duplicate these over at tv.com because I aim to review every episode of The Wire there (eventually).
Episode One - More With Less
The episode opens on one of my favourite characters; "Bunk" Moreland, interviewing a suspect. A section of the interviewing technique employed is one that first made it's TV debut in Homicide: Life on the Street (and additionally appeared in the book of the same title). While the scene is still funny even here, for myself some of the impact was lost because honestly - Homicide did it better. I feel a little dirty for even writing that; don't get me wrong Homicide is an amazing show, but The Wire is normally perfection. I guess that having seen the Homicide version last year, the humour just wasn't fresh. If you haven't seen it before elsewhere I'm sure it was more entertaining. For the record, I believe it originated from an actual incident at a police station - but don't quote me on that, I could be wrong.
Still as Bunk himself says "The bigger the lie, the more they believe."
I love that each season of The Wire has a new rendition of Tom Waits's "Way Down in the Hole". While it is still the First Season rendition by "Way Down in the Hole" The Blind Boys of Alabama that I love the most, this season's cover by Steve Earle is fantastic. It's got a real laid back feel to it that is simultaneously downbeat and lifting. It sets the tone for the show wonderfully and the title credits make it clear that the media is an important subject for this season (as previously indicated in various interviews).
The episode opens after the credits with McNulty and the rest in surveillance of Marlo's crew. Marlo is bright enough not to do anything in public and is even aware that the detail are keeping close tabs on him. Snoop continues to be one of the most unpleasant and detestable female villain characters in television history. I'm hoping she catches a nasty end this season, it would make putting up with her horrible voice and crimes all worthwhile. She's fantastic in this role as she's brought such a viseral response from me, I'd like to beat her (character's) head flat against the curb.
Meanwhile, Carver's promotion has proven to be a double edged sword. It is clear that his men have a lack of respect for him as their Sergant, but also they are in an exceedingly foul mood over the lack of overtime. Conversation hinted at in the previous scene becomes a hard reality as it becomes clear that the police department's moral is at an all time low. Considering some of the previous seasons, this is an achievement. The odds of being able to cover all of the police departments back pay AND future pay seem slim. Also, is Carver really wearing an official Baltimore Sergant's uniform? Cause I laughed every time I saw his hat badge. Regardless, it is clear the city and the police force are in serious trouble.
At Mayor Carcetti's office financial issues are clearly a massive problem for the city of Baltimore. Carcetti's response is to continue to cut and gouge the Police budget without providing any compensation for the force. It becomes clear that the major crimes unit is going to be disbanded in an attempt to save a few dollars. The FBI are also unwilling to get involved and help out unless Carcetti will release Clay Davies for federal prosecution.
The Baltimore Sun is a new arena for The Wire to tackle, it is where the issues concerning media will most likely be played out and it also gives us our first experience of Clark Johnson's character Gus. The same financial theme continues even here, with the staff concerned about layoffs. Clark's perfomance is immediately magnetic, if very similar to his perfomance in Homicide (but that is not a problem imo).
While the police force is struggling, life is continuing as usual on the street. Prop Joe and his co-op continue to go from strength to strength. But Marlo is clearly a disruptive element in this unit. He attempts to drive a wedge between Prop Joe and his Lieutenants. Something that may flare up later this season.
Also on the street, Bubbles is trying to get his life back on track. But previous mistakes and misdeeds mean it's hard for him to escape and move on. He is physically trapped in the desperation that many of the other characters feel. He makes ends meet by shifting papers on the street.
McNulty has discovered that Marlo's man Chris Partlow is interested in Sergei Malatov (a Ukrainian enforcer for the Greek from season 2). Does this show have a deep tapestry that reaches back into it's own history or what? I'm consistently impressed with touches like that (The Frank Sobotka posters are another such touch. I'd love to own one of those.)
In his private life he is still living with the lovely Beadie Russell, but various problems (including guilt over Bodies death) have caused him to return to previous form. He's drinking heavily and cheating on her. The shift back to homicide (where he started in this show) causes him to lash out. More than any other character McNulty has fallen since the previous season and if he continues then he's got a lot further to fall.
Herc has gotten out of the police force and is now working for Maury Levy as an investigator for the defense attorney. He's now sort of on the side of the criminals (helping defending them in court at least) and this could bring him (or his cop buddies) into serious trouble or conflict.
We end with McNulty back where he started, at his desk in homicide. Looking as fed up and depressed as many of the other characters must feel.
This season opener is less of a shocker - many shows like to open with a shock first episode - and instead it is in the traditional slow burn style of The Wire. Many potential conflicts and issues are groomed, it's hard to tell which ones will flare up and which will fizzle. That's part of the magic in The Wire, it's happy to tell a realistic story with human characters. People make mistakes, get frustrated, move on.
8.5/10 - Room for improvement in the pacing front. But that's to be expected in this show. A solid (if slow) start to what looks like an incredible season.