30 Day Television Challenge: Day Six

Favorite episode of your favorite t.v show: 4.13 “Final Grades”

(“Lambs to the slaughter her” – Marcia Donnelly)


It’s weird to talk about an individual episode of The Wire because the show really shines as a holistic totality, not in its particular moments. Nonetheless, most fans would agree that the culminating episode of season four as the peak of the series. As I mentioned in my previous post on The Wire, season four is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television, and the final episode is especially brilliant. Here we see the final trajectories of the season’s tragic plot lines.

I use the adjective “tragic” on purpose. In the words of David Simon, “The underpinnings of The Wire are in Greek tragedy. The idea of fated heroes and anti-heroes. People for whom the ends are certain and the betrayals are certain. And in place of the Gods […] we have the American post-industrial, post-modern institutions.” Accordingly, in season four, we see how these institutions disenfranchise kids who’ve grown up in the poor sectors of America.

As I explained in my general post on The Wire, each season expands to examine a new part of the American city. In season four we see a continuation of the mayoral office, police politics, and the street corners, but the public school has also been added. Two former disgraced police officers, Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski and Howard “Bunny” Colvin, have turned to education. Prez is a teacher and Bunny is working on an experimental education program with a university prof.

Embodying the disenfranchised kids are Dukie, Namon, Michael, and Randy. There several other minor characters, but they are the central focus of the season’s plot in regards to the kids. The four make up a core of friends who are victimized by the drug trade and abandoned by the state in different ways.

Namon is the son of Wee-Bay, a gangster who was imprisoned in the first season. Namon is being raised by his dysfunctional mother, and is expected to follow in the footsteps on his father. However, he’s not cut out for the corners. Namon is a problem in class so he’s put in Bunny’s program.

Dukie, Michael, and Randy are less well-off than Namon. Randy is an orphan in a foster home. Michael and Dukie aren’t technically orphans but they are neglected by their parents. Michael is the unspoken leader of the group. Initially, he resists the lure of the drug trade, but is eventually drawn into Marlo Stanfield’s crew. Dukie, the most sympathetic of the group and the poorest, follows Michael’s lead.

Randy is probably the most tragic figure. He is a witness to a murder and is coerced into speaking to the police. However, the police throw Randy under the bus when an unwitting officer reveals Randy’s name as a witness to a gangster. Word is out that Randy is a snitch and he suffers the consequences.

(“They gonna study your study?!” – Bunny)

The failure of Bunny’s experimental outreach program has to be the most frustrating moment of the season, perhaps even the series.

Bunny is enlisted by an academic to try a new “socializing” program that would address the specific needs of at-risk kids. This means identifying problematic kids who are most likely to fall prey to the drug trade. Bunny and his fellow educators isolate these kids into a small group and teach them non-curriculum material – radical stuff like manners, working as a group, etc. In a previous episode, Bunny takes a few of the kids out to a restaurant and the extent to which they’re ill-suited for mainstream is painfully obvious. They have no idea how to even order food, or what utensils they’re supposed to use. In a word, they’re hopeless.

 As Bunny explains:

“You put a textbook in front of these kids, put a problem on the blackboard, teach them every problem in some statewide test, it won’t matter. None of it. ‘Cause they’re not learning for our world; they’re learning for theirs. They know exactly what it is they’re training for and what it is everyone expects them to be. It’s not about you or us or the test or the system. It’s what they expect of themselves. Every single one of them know they’re headed back to the corners. Their brothers and sisters, shit, their parents. They came through these same classrooms. We pretended to teach them, they pretended to learn and where’d they end up? Same damn corners. They’re not fools, these kids. They don’t know our world but they know their own. They see right through us.”

Bunny’s point is that these kids are being left behind anyway and they need to be helped in ways traditional curriculum can’t.

However, as the program progresses, there are definite signs of improvement. But come the final episode, the kids are being cut lose and released back into the wild. Bunny considers Namon to be particularly at risk with his destiny all but laid out for him. Bunny seeks out Wee-Bay and asks to adopt his son. Wee-Bay sees that this is Namon’s only chance and assents.

Unfortunately, the program itself doesn’t share Namon’s change of fate. City apparatchiks take one look at the program and dismiss its value almost instantly, criticizing it as “tracking” and its abandonment of school curriculum. Bunny speaks some inconvenient truths, as he is wont to do, to plead his case, but the brass will hear nothing of it. Just like Hamsterdam in season three, Bunny’s success won’t see the light of day.

To emphasize what’s waiting for these at-risks kids, we see Bodie’s arc come to an end. At the beginning of the series, Bodie is a likeable brat, but as the show progresses, Bodie’s character really develops. He has integrity and loyalty. Bodie isn’t a natural born snitch but is so disgusted by Marlo’s tactics and lack of decency that he agrees to work with McNulty on some homicides. However, Marlo hears of Bodie’s communique and orders him shot.

To the end, Bodie stands his ground.

(“You’re a soldier, Bodie.” – McNulty)

Even sadder than Bodie’s death is probably Randy’s fate. Having been outed as snitch, Randy is targeted by Marlo’s crew. To send a message, some gangsters light his foster family’s house on fire. Randy escapes, but his foster mother is badly burned and is in critical care. Because he doesn’t have a home left, Randy is in danger of being tossed back into the bowels of group homes.

Carver, a police sergeant, who has been looking out for the kids, tries desperately to get Randy into a new foster home, but keeps running up against the shortcomings of the system. Exasperated, Carver finally offers to adopt Randy himself. However, social services refuse.

In the end, Randy is put into a new group home. In what can only be described as the most heartbreaking moment I’ve ever watched on television, Randy tells a dejected Carver that it’s OK, that he tried his best, and lays a reassuring hand on his arm. An emotional Carver returns to his car, pushes his mirror away in disgust, and pounds the steering wheel in anger.

Meanwhile, over at city hall, on top of rejecting potentially valuable program based on a short sighted “No Child Left Behind” national policy, the mayor has declines a bail-out for a debt-ridden school system out of personal ambition. The state governor has promised newly elected Carcetti a loan if he appears in a press conference taking the hand-out. This is career suicide for Carcetti who is eying that exact position. Instead, he leaves the money on the table, promising himself he’ll do right by the school when he’s governor.

When do this shit change, indeed.

(“Yo’ we always in the market for a good soldier.” – Chris Partlow)

While this may all seem irredeemably bleak, The Wire isn’t a stick in the mud. There are individual moments of redemption and salvation among the characters, all of whom are sympathetic, or at least charismatic. The episode ends with Namon firmly ensconced under the benevolent wing of Bunny and his wife.

Namon sees one his old buddies having jacked a car out joyriding. It’s clear that part of Namon feels nostalgic and perhaps want to join, but instead he turns back into the house to get ready for school.




~ by braddunne on September 11, 2012.

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