Watching The Wire: Season One

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Today I'm going to look at the first season of The Wire as a complete entity and also look at the main characters, their roles, their journeys and their destinations. If you've not watched the show, this entry will contain spoilers for various episodes and I'd suggest just checking the first of the following links. For the rest of you this post will also serve as a header/page of contents for the first season allowing for easy access to the individual episodes.

Before I move on, let's just acknowledge that current president "Obama’s favorite TV show is.. : HBO’s “The Wire,” which chronicles Baltimore’s violent drug culture and the police who quixotically try to stop it." (Las Vegas Sun 25th Jan, 2009). I don't talk about politics here, but the man has taste in TV shows.

Watching The Wire: An Introduction
Episode One: The Target
Episode Two: The Detail
Episode Three: The Buys
Episode Four: Old Cases
Episode Five: The Pager
Episode Six: The Wire
Episode Seven: One Arrest
Episode Eight: Lessons
Episode Nine: Game Day
Episode Ten: The Cost
Episode Eleven: The Hunt
Episode Twelve: Cleaning Up
Episode Thirteen: Sentencing

Everything else will be behind the following cut

Read about the first season of one of the greatest shows ever beyond this link...

The more I watch the first season of The Wire the more I appreciate it's brilliance. There is no doubt that the show is somewhat inaccessible for the average viewer and as such that is it's greatest failing, but for those viewers who are willing and able to spend the time getting to know the show, to understand the characters and appreciate the unique method of storytelling this is as rich an experience you can get on television.

This show is culture, it's a modern Shakespeare, Dickens or Tolstoy and I'm sure that years from now it will be looked back on by media studies students and possibly even English students who will come to appreciate the depth and subtly of this season.

The story is so well told, the characters are so deep and well made that at times it's hard to remember this is a show and not a documentary. Occasionally there are more recognisable "TV Moments" the famous f**k crime scene is one of them, the flashback of William Gant is another, but overall the show holds a real tone and feels like life. There are prices paid by this, the dialog spoken by D, Bodie, Poot, Wallace and Bubbles is hard to follow originally, at times I'm thankful I watch TV with subtitles on and this is one of them.

The greatest thing about this first season of The Wire is that it's not the show at it's best at all. Despite it's brilliance I can honestly say the show just improves from one season to the next. General opinion states this is the third or fourth best season when compared to the other five, so if you've watched it and enjoyed it, just imagine how good the later seasons get. Personally season three is my favourite, but four is also exceptional.

Season two introduces some of my favourite characters, but before we get to meet them let's look over the first season's characters and their journeys so far...

The Characters:

Jimmy McNulty:
It's best to start with McNulty when you talk about The Wire, because along with D'Angelo Barksdale he's the intial pebble which begins the avalance. McNulty's purpose from a narrative viewpoint is pretty simple, he's a catalyst. The entire case was initiated by McNulty, who by his own admission did it just to show how smart he is. But his presence at D'Angelo's trial is not the only place where he catalyses events into action. He also does it where Bubbles is concerned -- unintentionally sending the man back into drug usage after he'd attempted to get clean -- and he's so self centered that he even beats himself up over Kima being shot despite not being directly responsible at all.

McNulty is without a doubt a brilliant detective, but he's a lousy team player and even worse at office politics. Without his egotistical drive the Barksdales would not have been noticed and would probably have cleaned up when selling the various properties for development, they were a great organisation as shown by the Narcotics division not even recognising the names involved.

But McNulty just doesn't understand or want to play the game as it stands, he's old school police and as such he cares only about the law. Unfortunately for him this means he makes a lot of enemies and as a result he ends up being exactly where he didn't want to be, patrolling on a boat in Baltimore Harbor. Kicked out of Homicide despite his brilliance because of pressure from people above him, most likely the Deputy Ops Burrell.

D'Angelo Barksdale:
D is the other half of the initial push which causes the Barksdales to come under investigation and additionally he is the root cause of the entire fall for the Barksdales. If he hadn't shot
"Poo" Blanchard infront of all those witnesses, if he'd kept his cool then McNulty wouldn't have been watching his trial and seen the intimidation and recanting of witness statements. Essentially D's own actions ended up placing him in jail. He's clearly a smart, intelligent young man as shown by his ability to turn The Pit around and make it into a solid profit making area. If he'd landed somewhere else in his early life, with a different family, he could have become a great businessman or indeed anything he wanted, but the circumstances of his birth locked him into this.

While you can argue he could have become anything he wanted with an uncle like Avon funding him, it's clear his mother Brianna is the main drive behind his landing into the life of a dealer. As shown at the end of the season she talks him out of a new life and a fresh start in order to protect her own life of luxury. As such D ends up charged with twenty years in jail.

Poot, Bodie and Wallace:
It's best to deal with these three together as while they're all important, they're really more supporting characters for D in this. Obviously the one of them who ended up with the worst deal is poor Wallace, shot dead by the other two during the Barksdale clean up. Bodie and Poot on the other hand learnt a lot from D and the final scenes for them show how much they've grown in the time spent under D's supervision. They've followed Stringer's orders and been rewarded when the man above them (D) fell. While Wallace will never breathe again the other two have moved up and as long as they don't suffer the same fate as their fallen friends they'll do well in the future.

Kima is the member of the Detail who paid the highest price for the investigation. Now she's easily the best street cop assigned to the job, able to put into action any task required by circumstances and more than capable of keeping Herc and Carver in line when she's with them. She is natural po-lice and very likable, but sadly circumstances do not play well for her and she ends up getting shot.

She's also the member who brought the two most useful informants into the case, Bubbles and Shardene. Freamon should thank her properly for that one shouldn't he?

But it's a testament to Kima how she copes during the recovery scenes we see her in; she's strong, doesn't place blame on anyone and is keen to talk shop. While her girlfriend Cheryl is clearly angry and upset about the whole shooting Kima remains calm and doesn't blame anyone. Also the second thing which impressed me about Kima is her unwillingness to finger Wee-Bey, she knows that it's him, the evidence all points that way and it would be totally understandable for her to give the ID. But she refuses because she didn't see his face, to hold up that level of integrity and ethics over the man who shot you just tells so much about your character.

Herc and Carver:
There is no doubt that Herc and Carver are the clowns of the detail along with early Prez, the pair of them seem to be little more than prep school jocks with badges. Herc in particular seems to be monumentally idiotic at times, Carver a tad smarter and sharper. But sometimes where Herc is concerned I find myself wondering if it's just a case of 'stupid mouth'

Herc didn't manage to make much of his time at the Detail career wise, he ends up being passed over for promotion. But he does learn quite a bit, especially from Freamon, Daniels and Kima. This is evident at the end of the season where he's unable to conceal his pride over the job. Carver on the other hand was willing to go behind the backs of the entire Detail and leak everything to Burrell. It's because of him the case was cut short when the main stash house was forced to be raided. He's the one who undermined the whole thing, and his reward? Promotion to sergeant, while he's lost the respect of Daniels he's shown himself to be a "team" player as far as Burrell is concerned.

Cedric Daniels:
Early on in this season Daniels is a worrying entity, he's a driven career man with something from his past to hide. But as the case progresses he makes a decision (prompted by McNulty) to put the case first and serve justice over the department. The transformation is a great one to see, and it's also one which benefits several other people. Carver benefits because he takes over leaking the information and the officer who gets the Major slot which was originally minted from Daniels also naturally benefits.

Daniels made the choice between the job and the career, choosing the job and taking steps towards McNulty's form of policing. There's no doubt he put together a heck of a case, but it's cost him so much. He's not been dragged as low as McNulty though and that is because he's a less inflamatory personality, his actions are judged in a different context to McNultys by his superiors.

Lester Freamon:
"Cool Cat" Lester Freamon, he's easily one of my favourite characters in the show with his miniature furniture, natural detective skills and smooth moves. Alongside Carver he's one of the two Detail members who actually benefited personally from the experience and while Carver was given a leg up through informing to Burrell. Freamon actually managed it through good old police work and making sure he was recognised for his skills. He's pulled himself out from the pawn shop unit and into homicide off the back of his own efforts -- Also teaching Sydnor, Prez, Herc and Carver a few things in the process.

As if that wasn't enough, Freamon also maneuvered himself into a lock with Shardene despite the efforts of and competition from the younger detectives. His combination of authority over them and the sweet way he helped Shardene served him well where she's concerned. Out of all the characters in the first season it's certainly Freamon alongside Carver and Stringer who do the best.

Prez is worth talking about here due to the transformation he undergoes during this season, most of it thanks to Daniels and Freamon. Initially we're introduced to, well frankly an idiot with a gun, a man who shot up his own car, then proceeds to shot the wall in the basement and pistol whips a young lad in hostile territory (something even Herc and Carver thought was uncalled for and at the time they loved putting on the brutality). Most people like that would be weeded out of the force, but Prez has a powerful father-in-law in Valchek and as such he's only detained to desk duty.

But this is where his talents come to shine. Freamon and Daniels set him onto the paper trail and he shows a keen talent for it. By the end of the season he's become a great investigator and improved no end.

Bubbles is a strange entity as far as the first season of the show is concerned. His story stands apart from the other two sides; he exists on the streets, part of it, but not a true criminal. Willing to break the law for personal gain he is also unwilling to commit major crimes and is more than happy to cooperate with the police. He even takes steps towards personal redemption, but just when it looks like he's turned a corner Kima's shooting and McNulty's poor handling of Bubs afterwards sent him back down into the gutter.

When I first watched The Wire, Bubs was the one character I couldn't quite get a handle on, I wasn't entirely sure where he sat in the show and why we were following so much of him. But I think it's not a spoiler to say his story is told over several season, not just one. So to properly appreciate Bubs you have to look at him once you've seen the entire show. It's hard to say much more without spoiling things further down the line, but Bubs is certainly an essential character for the first season, it's just not obvious how he fits on the first watch.

Omar is without a doubt the breakout character of the season, his freshness and almost unearthly nature of character leaves him feeling like a very different character to the rest. Where the circumstances of the show are dark and grim Omar brings an almost Hollywood role to the show. He's straight as an arrow where his objectives are concerned and follows a code. He's also pretty smart, ducking out of Baltimore when it was clear to him that Stringer's intended "truce" was nothing more than a front.

But the streets of Baltimore are in him and by the end of the season he returns, despite the price he's paid -- losing his friend and his boyfriend -- Omar abides.

Avon Barksdale:
Avon is a brilliant criminal, combined with Stringer the pair of them had a stranglehold over so much of Baltimore's drug trade and even managed to pull this off without alerting the police at all. He was cautious, careful and clever. In truth he would probably have managed to keep running for years without being caught, earning millions in legitimate money from the property purchases in the process.

Sadly for Avon he was brought down by a few mistakes, D brought the attention of McNulty and Stringer also provoked McNulty somewhat during the trial. As such the one cop who would care enough about this and care so little about his career was enraged. But, thanks to clever maneuvering Avon ends up paying a light price for his crimes.

Stringer Bell:
Of all the members of the Barksdale's organisation it's Stringer who ends up sitting pretty at the top of the pile. Despite his known involvement in the murder of Brandon there was no evidence to connect him and as such he's remained free and in charge. For all the successes of the Detail and BPD they couldn't get Stringer, even though they knew he was involved and they knew about his position in the organisation they couldn't even get close enough to try for an arrest. He's the living example of how hard it is to stop organised crime, you cut off one head and another rises up.


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