Watching The Wire: Season Two

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A New Case Ends...

With this we close out the second season of Watching The Wire, a season focused on the loss and decay of the American blue collar industry and the death of it's ports. It's also a season which introduces many new characters, including one of The Wire's most complex and interesting ones.

Episode links:

Season Two: Introduction
Episode One: "Ebb Tide"
Episode Two: "Collateral Damage"
Episode Three: "Hot Shots"
Episode Four: "Hard Cases"
Episode Five: "Undertow"
Episode Six: "All Prologue"
Episode Seven: "Backwash"
Episode Eight: "Duck and Cover"
Episode Nine: "Stray Rounds"
Episode Ten: "Storm Warnings"
Episode Eleven: "Bad Dreams"
Episode Twelve: "Port in a Storm"

The rest of this post - which will be placed behind a cut to avoid spoilers - will look at the season overall and what's happened to the characters over this season.

Read on...

First up will be the individual characters, then a look at the season in it's entirety.

Frank Sobotka:

You can sit and talk about how the main characters of the show are individuals like McNulty, Cedric Daniels and so forth. But the second season's main character is Frank Sobotka, the second season is all about Frank and his union. Frank is, without a doubt, the deepest and most complex individual in the entire show. Across all seasons he is the one with the strongest characterisation, the most intriguing motivations and the finest story. There is no doubt for me that Frank Sobotka is one of my favourite characters, which is incredible if you think about it, he's present in just the one season; he makes no appearance before this season and he dies before the end of it. But he is still a well rounded and realised individual who has a great story in the Shakespearean tradition.

While the script and story writing is the backbone of Frank's appeal, it's Chris Bauer's performance which sells the whole package. He gives a wonderful, low key and realistic performance which brings home one of the core messages of The Wire. How institutions dictate the actions of the individuals involved in them and how they can corrupt essentially good individuals. Frank is at his core a good man, the money he makes from the various illegal shipments isn't used for personal gain. That's part of what made it so hard for the Detail to nail him, he's not a traditional criminal out for wealth. He's doing all this for the people who work under him, people who rely on him. People like the stevedores, the union, his family.

For them he was able to turn a blind eye to the Greeks and their operation, while he knew stolen goods and drugs were being moved through his port he justified that the end was worth this. Saving his dying work place, his responsibility, was worth the risk and the price. He could bend his ethics that far, but as shown by his reaction when he found out about the dead girls, that was as far as he could go. While he was implicitly involved in their deaths, he wasn't responsible, at no time was he asked if human trafficking would be an issue. Now yes, he did turn a blind eye to what was in the canisters - assumed a don't ask policy - and it was foolish for him to trust the Greeks not to push and expand their shipping business once they had a foothold. But he's not a criminal type, he probably didn't even think that anyone would actually transport women in a canister - let alone murder them and dump them on his dock.

Ultimately the bottom line is that for all his efforts Frank failed, because he got into bed with terrible people and then went and upset Valchek, his pride was a little too high there. If he'd thought about it at all he would have realised that Valchek is a petty and mean individual who can't take a single slight without dispensing revenge. If you're in the business of crime, you don't want to put yourself on the radar of a police office. But Frank was naive about things like that, and unfortunately he didn't live to learn the lesson.

There is so much more which can be written about Frank, he's one of the best realised characters in fiction, full stop. There's so much you can draw from him and learn, I'm honestly surprised that schools don't have people watching and analysing the second season of The Wire as they do Shakespeare, he's a character on that level of depth.

Nicky Sobotka:

Nicky is another character I'm really fond of, he's a smaller and more reckless mirror of Frank. While Frank was careful enough not to get fully involved in The Greek's operations Nicky was too eager, too desperate and too naive to realise the path he was headed down. It took Frank's death to wake him up and show him the truth.

For Nicky it was about emulating Frank (who is clearly more of a father figure to him than Nicky's real dad Louis) while protecting/providing for his family and weak willed cousin Ziggy. Nicky actually had a lot of business sense and the skills required to deal, given time and the right circumstances he probably would have become a part of the Greek's organisation. Especially as his desire for a strong father figure resulted in a pseudo-father/son bond forming with Vondas - the man who would eventually kill Frank.

At the end Frank's insistence that Nicky stay behind saved him and opened Nicky's eye to the truth of what he'd been doing. There's no doubt that Vondas would have murdered Nicky as well if he's come along with Frank.


Ziggy is a character who provokes a lot of negative reactions from people who watch the show, which is hardly surprising because that's what he's there for. Ziggy is a deeply troubled individual suffering from arrested development and a lack of a strong father figure. While Ziggy is the one of the pair who is Frank's son it's clear that Nicky is actually the favourite "son".

There's also the case of when Ziggy talks to Frank about how their blood doesn't run the same. The HBO site now says that it's because Ziggy was adopted. But I'm sure that's not the original intent of the writers, it's a misinterpretation of the words. Ziggy was talking about how little they are alike, but Frank's response assures Ziggy they are alike. It seems that Frank was probably immature like Ziggy for a long time as well.

Of course, Ziggy is now in prison and will be there for a long time. For someone like Ziggy it's going to completely change who he is, it's possible he might come out of it straighter and stronger, more like Frank. But he could also be completely broken from the experience, Ziggy isn't really a hardened criminal, he's just a fool, and prison could either make or break him.

The Police:

As this story is less about the police force and more about the Stevedores, it's easier to write about them collectively. For the most part things haven't changed too much, and in fact many of them receive a bit of a reset back to their status at the start of the first season. Kima goes from being at a desk back to working cases, McNulty recovers (despite himself) and goes from being stuck on a boat back to working cases. And Daniels pulls himself out of evidence control and into heading his own Major Crimes Unit and Beadie grows up from a clock puncher into a capable and skilled detective - she's fantastic when shadowing Vondas. For the police the fall of Frank and the stevedores is contrasted by their own rising fortunes. While they do have a tough time, and the case ends with several failures - most notable are the mistakes involving Ziggy's shooting (Landsman screwing up again), letting Frank out on his own recognisance and most things involving the Greeks; individually they all win out - apart from Daniels' marriage and Kima's relationship, which are both looking very rocky now..

The only exception would be Herc and Carver, who spend their entire time feeling like they're being dumped on, in the end they move on to other places. Hoping they'll be appreciated for their talents. But the truth is, unless they grow up and start taking their job seriously they'll always be something of a joke.

Stringer Bell, Avon and the Barksdales:

Somewhat sidelined this season, there's also not so much to write about when you get to the Barksdales. Their story tends to simmer in the background while building up towards the third season. The one exception to this is D'Angelo, who I will write about separately below.

On the whole the story of the Barksdales echoes the one of the police, while they do have various setbacks along the way they do recover. By the end of the season they have strong product, Avon is close to wangling a way out of prison early (after setting up the hot shots) and ultimately the only one of them who's made poor decisions is Stringer.

Stringer often makes poor decisions when dealing with 'the game', he's great at handling the product and acknowledging when compromises must be made. But he's not so great when dealing with problems, the way he handled D'Angelo and Brother Mouzone in particular are things which could come and bite him at a later date.

In the end Stringer's actions bring Kima's attention back onto him, Stringer got away from the Detail last time, but now they are the Major Crimes Unit and he's back on their radar (along with Prop Joe). Which sets things up for the third season.


Each season of The Wire tends to chart the fall of at least one character, the first season had Avon and D'Angelo fall hard. But the second season went one further, dropping D'Angelo and Frank Sobotka all the way to the bottom. There's a lot of parallels between Dee and Frank's stories, both were ultimately killed by people they worked for to silence them. They both suffered fates much like The Great Gatsby (the story Dee was talking about in book club before he was murdered).

There's not a lot more I can write about Dee here, except to say that his murder was quite shocking the first time I watched it, Dee was a character I'd come to like, the gangster with a heart looking to turn himself around is always a great story (and one The Wire will revisit) and Larry Gillard Jr. gave a fantastic performance as Dee.

Omar Little and Brother Mouzone:

These are the two characters who are larger than life in The Wire, they operate in a different plane of reality to the rest of the show. Both of them are big characters who seem to have strolled right off the pages of a different story and inserted themselves into The Wire. But I do have to say I'm exceptionally thankful for them, at times The Wire is so harsh, so hard and so bleak that characters like these are great because they give us some relief from it all.


The second season relegates Bubs to little more than a guest star, while Andre Royo's name remains on the opening credits Bubs himself isn't as focused on as he was in the first season. So there's not a lot to write about here. Then again, it's a natural thing if you consider; most of the action takes place in the dock area, which isn't a normal hang out for Bubs, so we would see less of him. As such he's not a lot of help as an informant for Kima. But rest assured, with the focus of the third season swinging back to the corners Bubs will become more important again.

The Greeks:

Last, but certainly not least, we have The Greek, Vondas and their organisation. They're one of the groups in the show I like most of all, while they are ruthless criminals who won't hesitate to kill anyone who threatens them they are also compelling characters with a dark attraction to them. In part it's the mystery, Vondos uses an assumed name and The Greek is only known by his alias. They're a secretive and well organised group who are so careful and well entrenched that they're almost beyond the scope of the Baltimore Police Department.

But having said that, ironically it's the involvement of the FBI which actually alerts The Greek to the situation. If the FBI hadn't been called then Koutris would never have gotten involved and The Greeks would have been caught. Instead they managed to get clear, losing Sergei/Boris, Eton, GG and Ivana - but keeping their core intact. Vondos and The Greek escaped, assumed new identities and remain at large to continue their business. And if I'm honest, I like that.

The Second Season:

The more I watch, think and write about the second season, the more it grows on me. It's an amazing piece of work which is filled with triumphs and failures, some huge and some small. It really gives the feeling of real life, there are few simple characters in it - most are very deep and realistic, as are their lives. We (the viewers) are buoyed up into their world and left to experience an incredible sensation - we watch the big and small events as they unfold - and as Cool Lester Smooth reminds us "All the pieces matter". It's all the little things which Frank, Ziggy, Nicky and the stevedores do which makes it all feel so much more real. Many drama shows skip out on the mundane and just deal with the pertinent facts for the story, normally storytelling is stripped down to the essentials to move the plot on fast.

But The Wire dwells on the details, it lingers around Dolores's bar and hangs about down at the water front. It takes it's time to savour the lives and characters. Giving us fun moments like Ziggy and Maui ragging on each other, or Boadie reflecting on the situation at the towers, it has time for characters like D'Angelo to make a statement about life even moments before snatching it away from them. It looks at not just the careers of the characters, but their personal lives as well. Showing how Daniels and Kima choose their job over their relationship and how McNulty just can't function without something to chase - to prove how smart he is.

It also revisits the first season, building on events and mythos set there, Freamon and Shardene are together. Boadie and Poot have learnt the lessons Dee attempted to teach them. Omar is still chasing for revenge over Brandon, and his van remains burnt out in street after Stringer had it burnt. It's attention to details like this which bring everything to life, what's happened before isn't forgotten about, the lessons of history might be doomed to be repeated in the cyclic nature of The Wire, but they aren't forgotten.

The second season is a masterpiece of modern storytelling and an exceptional piece of media. It's a triumph which is only overshadowed by the seasons which follow it. The third and fourth seasons of The Wire are even better than this one was. Be prepared...


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