Almost everyone I’ve ever met with even a passing interest in television has had nothing but good things to say about The Wire. I went a long while before finally picking up the series for a few reasons. I’m the kind of person easily annoyed with people continually pestering me to try some tidbit of media they claim is just the best damn thing ever. Community, The Protomen, Tenga Toopa Loopa Gurpy Krogan (MITCH); everybody just fuck off and leave me alone.
Another reason is that due to Canadian content obligations (meaning that in order to broadcast in Canada, a certain percentage of your content must be Canadian), HBO didn’t come to Canada until around 2008. Until then, we had to make do with their very nice looking but unfairly expensive ($60-$100) DVD sets.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Wire up to the end of season 2.
Okay, so after our little detour down to Baltimore’s ports in season 2, this year the Major Crimes Unit’s focus returns to the west side drug trade and the Barksdale crew, who were the targets back in the first season.
In a way, it kind of feels like going home again. I’ve been taking my time watching this show, and season 1 seems like a long time ago now. Though I still miss that hideous orange couch from The Pit.
Beyond the Major Case Unit, this season expands the scope of the series into the realms of politics and civilian life. This story is far bigger than the previous two. The political angle had been briefly touched on during season 1, but had to be dropped when the higher ups in the Baltimore police department pushed the unit to close the case quickly.
The problem with trying to summarize a season of The Wire is just that it’s so fucking complex and dense, and there’s just so much going on. The show is often described as a novel for television, and that’s a pretty good assessment. Unless you watch from the beginning, you’re screwed. Just the way I like it.
It’s difficult to do it justice without skipping over a lot of detail or making this post a hundred and fifty pages long. Needless to say, it’s best to watch the series for yourself, even if you don’t like police shows.
I think it will be easiest for all of us if I break it up into summaries of the individual storylines.
First of all, we’ll touch on one of this season’s new additions to the Wire universe: the municipal government. There’s an election coming up, and the current mayor, Royce, is putting a lot of pressure on the police force to reduce crime statistics and make him look good.
City councilman Tommy Vercetti Carcetti is young, smart, outspoken, and he thinks that he’d really like to sit his ass behind Royce’s desk. Of course, that’s not going to be easy in Baltimore, a predominantly black city, going up against a black mayor. But he’s just so darn cute.
To make himself a more competitive candidate, Carcetti continually hounds both Royce and Acting Comissioner Burrell about cracking down on criminal activity, and how tremendously understaffed and under-equipped the police are.
While it’s clear that most of what Carcetti does is for political gain, his heart seems to be in the right place, and it’s a lot of fun to watch him be a real pain in the ass. He makes a decision at the end of the season doesn’t really sit well with me, so I’ll have to wait and see where the character goes in season 4.
There’s not much for Homicide to do this year, unfortunately. A great deal of their screen time is just them picking up the aftermath of the other characters. It’s a shame, after being such a prominent storyline in the first two seasons it’s fallen by the wayside. I miss resident fatass Jay Landsman in particular.
The Bunk fares better thankfully, getting a story to himself for a few episodes, even though it ultimately doesn’t go anywhere important. After an officer is killed in the line of duty and his gun is stolen by the perpetrator, Bunk is tasked with retrieving the weapon.
At the same time, he also does his best to investigate the aftermath of one of Omar’s many shootouts, but pressure from the bosses to find the missing gun prevents him from really getting anywhere.
The remainder of Homicide’s time is spent in COMSTAT meetings, poring over statistics while Rawls (newly appointed Deputy Comissioner) invariably tears them a new asshole no matter how well they do.
Avon Barksdale, having been imprisoned at the end of season 1, makes parole, comes home and has trouble adjusting to the changes in the drug trade. While he’s been locked up, Stringer Bell ran things for him, and made a lot of progress in getting the various drug dealers to work things out peacefully.
String believes, quite rightfully, that more often than not it’s the bodies that bring the cops down on them, not the drugs they sell.
Stringer’s a smart guy. He’s expanded the Barksdale family into legitimate business, rendered the drug trade relatively non-violent, and just tries to keep the streets as civilized as possible.
Of course, since this is The Wire, things get worse. A new gang is aggressively taking over territory and since Avon’s home, he’s no longer the man in charge.
Avon’s not a businessman. He’s a gangsta. Peace doesn’t matter to him, he just wants other dealers off his corners by any means necessary.
This was one of the best stories of the season. Stringer sees big picture. He has his eye on the future. Avon is very much focused on the present, and he wants to defend what’s his, despite the potential consequences. The difference in leadership styles, two fantastic fucking actors playing off each other beautifully. It’s this kind of enthralling shit that earns The Wire its accolades.
Major Case Unit
Despite being as close to “the good guys” as this show gets, MCU was one of the lesser stories this season. They’re the flipside to the drug story, trying their very best to catch Stringer on a wiretap.
Stringer, and by extension the Barksdale organization, are very careful people after having wiretaps used against them in the first season. They buy cheap, disposable phones, and throw them away after a week, making it next to impossible for the MCU to get a wire up, much less glean any important information.
They spend most of the season trying to find a way to work around the disposable phone problem, as well as work their way up the dealers’ communication network to get String or Avon on tape.
There’s really not much else to say. It’s more entertaining than it sounds, but if you’ve seen The Wire before, you know what to expect. Both for the audience and the detectives, McNulty in particular, this case coming together is essentially the (very rewarding) culmination of all the work they’ve done since the series started.
Omar is something of an anomaly in The Wire‘s realistic world. He’s a homosexual, shotgun-toting, trenchcoat-wearing, badass one-man army who makes his living stealing from drug dealers.
I can’t say much about Omar’s stuff in season 3 without giving away massive fucking spoilers, but I can say that he’s continuing his vendetta against the Barksdales for torturing his boyfriend to death in season 1.
Omar’s a pleasure to watch. Plain and simple. It’s a welcome break from the realism in the rest of the show. At this point, Omar’s become something of a legend, and someone to be feared. He has an almost mythic, old west gunslinger air about him. A lot of his scenes feel like something out of Pulp Fiction.
His dialogue’s great, and Michael K Williams is a phenomenal actor. You gotta give the writing team credit for creating gay characters who don’t fall in to the flamboyant stereotypes so often seen elsewhere on television.
Remember way back in the Barksdale section when I mentioned a new player in the drug scene? That’s Marlo Stanfield.
He’s just starting out, but he’s slowly but surely gaining power and causing a lot of trouble for the Barksdales. His crew is the sole holdout on the drug dealer peace agreement, and he gleefully puts caps into various posteriors to gain corners.
He’s young, and he doesn’t quite have a head for the big picture yet, but he’s definitely got the potential. With the way the season ended, I have a feeling he’ll become much more prominent as the series goes on.
Cutty is yet another new addition for season 3. He’s a former gangster released from prison around the same time as Avon Barksdale, who offers him work. Cutty tries to get back into the drug trade, but finds he no longer has a taste for it
At first, I found Cutty to be a needless distraction from everything else going on, but he really grew on me over the course of the season as he tries to turn his life around, and help street kids clean up, too.
This is the big one. The most interesting idea this season, by far. See, over in the Western district, Major Colvin has noticed that the war on drugs isn’t going very well. Violence and drug trafficking run rampant. Anyone arrested by the police are quickly replaced by someone else. Average citizens can’t even walk down their front steps sometimes. So, he decides to try something different.
He, in effect, legalizes drugs in his district. Colvin sets up three designated zones of abandoned row houses and lets the dealers, junkies, and other rifff-raff know that if they do their business nonviolently within the free zones, the police won’t bother them.
It does take some convincing, but soon enough, the drug trade relocates, and the neighborhood is clean and safe once more. Public health and charity workers hand out food, condoms, safe needles and administer HIV testing. Everything seems to be running smoothly, except for one thing: He neglected to tell any of his superiors what he was doing.
This is a fascinating idea. Absolutely genius. I can’t think of any other police show with the balls to do something like this. It keeps the streets safe for regular people, but in practice, Colvin’s created a ghetto. He took the problem and just moved it somewhere else.
I, for one, support the legalization of drugs. But not like this. I was thinking maybe age-restricted, behind the counter like cigarettes are now, or from a pharmacy. Hamsterdam may be a start, but it shouldn’t be the end goal.
The overall theme of season 3 is reform, both political and personal. Tommy pushes for reform on a goverment level, Colvin and Stringer on the streets, and even Cutty in his own life.
It’s by far the richest, most in-depth story The Wire has done so far, and objectively, it’s the best of the three seasons. The end of the season kind of tore down everything that had been building since the beginning, and the show could go anywhere from here.
*NOTE: ANY OF YOU FUCKS SPOIL THE LAST TWO SEASONS FOR ME AND YOU WILL DIE A VERY PAINFUL DEATH*