Saturday, March 1, 2014

TV Series Review: The Wire

I would have never read To the Lighthouse beyond 30 pages or Catcher in the Rye beyond 20. I would have not sat through Goddard's films or American History X beyond its opening sequence. Along the same lines, I would have never finished Homer's Odyssey or Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali,.  There are some things you do because people tell that it is worth doing so. People vouch their sanity, sometimes even their existence to such works. The Wire is one such instance. In the medium of TV series, it stands  at the peak.

It takes time to warm up to the Wire. The first three minutes of the very first episode did not made any sense to me. But I went back to it after finishing the first season and  realized how it was just a cog in one giant wheel.  It even gets time to get used to various subtle accents. I preferred watching with subtitles on. But once you get the hang of the show, understand what it is trying to say, then what comes off is a magic. The same feeling that you get after reading through the first 40 pages of To The Lighthouse.  The writing flows. Stream of consciousness flows through you. You are eager to learn the next train of thought or imagination. You dig it. With The Wire, it is about 4-5 episodes. Interestingly, when The Wire asked critics to review episodes, it did not sent then one episode at a time, as it was the norm, they sent the entire season.

Once in a dinner conversation, a friend of a friend remarked that The Wire is discussed as a Homerian Odyssey work. Having read Odyssey, I had wondered how it would compare. I would still agree that the comparison is still a stretch but The Wire, with its grandiose scale and imagination,  has come the closest to its goal.

What is The Wire?
The Wire is a realistic portrayal of dysfunctional life in the city of Baltimore. It is a nuanced analysis of a system gone wrong and how it effects different people. It highlights the majestic design built into the system that hides its ills under a carpet and how all of us are fooled by it. The first season focusses largely focusses on the interplay of cops and drug sellers. It shows hierarchy in both the systems and it takes time to realize that the drug lords are much more organized than Police Commissioners and Majors. It is not that cops are good and drug sellers are bad. Cops beat people unnecessarily, they lie, sometimes steal and for the most part are not willing to do their jobs. And how can you hate drug sellers who are mostly small early teenagers, hope to be doctors, pilots or whatever will make them rich and are kind to their own people. There is no right or wrong in The Wire. There is only fact. This is what happens. Judging characters in Wire is akin to judging ourselves, our society and it is highly disconcerting.

The second season expands its scope by going one step up on the ladder of drug distribution, aka drug sourcing. We now look at life of people in shipping docks who are involved in smuggling trade in to Baltimore. The docks are dying, running off technology that is decades old and realizing that their skills  are not required in the new world. The next generation of dock children are lost looking for a future for themselves. We go more into the personal lives of our cops, or the lack of it.

The beauty of Wire is that it keeps on introducing new characters and yet each one fits the system. Season 3 goes back to the streets where there is a new attempt to legalize drugs in order to keep streets crime free. This season of The Wire starts going more into the political angles of the city, how police is controlled by corrupt mayors and how political players manipulate the system for their own good.

Many call the fourth season of The Wire as its greatest. One reason is that by third season, we are totally invested into this world,  we are comfortable being in it. We want to know what happens to our friends and what's new in store. The Wire does not disappoint. In the fourth season, The Wire takes on the education system by focussing on how our schools are failing. Reality is grim. It drains you all your energy by mere thinking about it. The system is fucked up that it is beyond anyone to set it straight. No one knows how to set is straight. And the worst part is that no one even wants to talk about it. Not David Simon. It is in this season that it hits us that this is the greatest strength of the wire. To take the ugly ,the broken, the untouchable and the untalkable and bring it into our living rooms, make it palatable although with huge gulps, to start conversations, to make us understand that the cocoon in which we live in is not the only world that is out there. Fourth season can be enjoyed on its own but to see it as a continuation of first, second and third season is something else. The paining which started on a handkerchief sized canvas is now covering the entire Berlin wall.

Fifth season extends on the fourth one by going into the dying print journalism industry. It has been called a very weak season but a David Simon blog post justifies the season. He writes that it is equally important to see what is not being said as it is to see what is been told. The meta takes a whole new meaning.

The Rage
The Wire is an outcome of a rage. The rage of David Simon. On perhaps the greatest country in this Earth, the system is so screwed up that it is beyond repair. If our civilization has to be collapse and thousands of years later if one has to study what led to its collapse, Wire will be one of the best sources to study. The channeling of this rage is evident in several characters. Several shades of rage come out sometimes in rants and sometimes in silences. Every episode starts with a line on an epigraph and each episode does feel like visiting yet another graveyard. With lines like "Maybe we won" and "Don't matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin' the same", there are shades of resignation and comedy.

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