30 Day Television Challenge: Day Seven

Least favorite episode of your favorite t.v show – 5.11 “-30-”


I chose the series finale not because I particularly dislike it. Rather, I chose it because I wanted to discuss the shortcomings of The Wire‘s final season. I’d also like to address some of my issues with the show in general *gasp*.

First, the episode and the fifth season. One of the things that I love about The Wire is that it ended when it should’ve. By the final season, the show had run out of steam. If the fourth season is the The Wire‘s peak, then the fifth season was a falling back down to earth.It ended the character’s arcs and various plot lines, thus bringing a sense of closure.

That’s not to say it didn’t have any valid ideas.

The fifth season’s motif was the plight of American journalism in the 21st century. Despite remaining profitable, owners are downsizing newspapers’ staff and infrastructure. Why? Because they can make just as much money, or more, hocking crap to American audiences with less professional rigor. Just look at Fox news. But this is nothing I haven’t said before in my post on The Newsroom.

So, with the industry in decline, opportunist careerists are taking advantage of this lack of rigor and sensationalizing stories – oftentimes making stuff up. Newspapers are also prepared to pounce on anything that will sell, regardless of its content.

Enter Scott Templeton and Jimmy McNulty.

McNulty is back to homicide and is eager to put away Marlo and his crew. However, because Mayor Carcetti didn’t take the bail-out for the schools, he’s had to make crippling budget cuts, especially to the police. Consequently, the brass take down the wiretap that was set-up on Marlo. This means that Marlo is out committing crimes and McNulty and the rest of his fellow detectives have no way of surveilling it.

Furious, McNulty devises a scheme to get his wiretap back. Using the corpses of homeless John Does, McNulty manipulates the bodies to suggest they were murdered. He then plants evidence to make it seem as though they were murdered by a serial killer. His plan is to divert the resources for the phony serial killer investigation into a clandestine wiretap on Marlo.

Local news reporter, Scott Templeton, looking to make a name for himself, picks up on the story and starts punching it up to attract more attention. Unbeknownst to each other, together, Templeton and McNulty turn the lie into a media sensation. Eventually, the plot gets out of control and McNulty has to come clean.

On the one hand, I like how David Simon illustrates the way newspapers have been gutted in the interest of profit margins. Also, I like how he critiques society’s perverse fascination with serial killers (there’s one brilliant moment where they reference Dexter‘s derivative storyline). While hundreds and thousands of people are being killed regularly due to the war on drugs and the conditions of poverty, we barely bat an eye, yet when a serial killer kills a handful of people in some pornographic fashion, we are titillated.

“It’s all part of the plan” I guess, to quote the Joker.

My issue is that given The Wire‘s commitment to verisimilitude, the fifth season’s plot line was just too far-fetched. Also, I think the final season just had that victory lap feel to it. With the supreme achievement of the fourth season, the series had no where to go but down.

(I’ve made a point of not discussing Omar. He’s a little overdone, to be honest. Still, gotta give some love.)

Slavoj Zizek has some critiques of the final season and the series in entirety I would like to consider.

Zizek disagrees with Fredric Jameson’s point on The Wire. Jameson states how in the series “Utopian elements are introduced, without fantasy or wish fulfillment, into the construction of the fictive, yet utterly realistic events.” Jameson’s point, convoluted though it may be, is that within the narrative of The Wire, we see a way out of the problems of 21st century radical free-market capitalism, though this path is only hinted at and never fully realized. Indeed, a great deal of the show is focused on illustrating how the system impedes these paths out of an innate drive for self-preservation. (source)

Zizek’s counter-argument is that, sure, The Wire shows these paths, but it doesn’t go far enough in illustrating how these paths out of radical free market capitalism can be realized. He cites the concluding montage at the end of the final episode as proof. Here, McNulty gazes out onto Baltimore and the camera cuts to all the different characters of the series. The camera shows characters adopting the roles left void by other characters. It also shows certain characters achieving personal happines, etc. Basically, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Zizek dubs this scene the “Lion King moment”. That is to say, McNulty, like Simba, is contemplating the circle of life in the modern American city. Some people are victimized and others take their place; some are crushed by the system, others find transcendence. Life goes on despite it all.

Zizek’s point is that this fatalism is far too much of a surrender, and The Wire ought to be more radical about its critique of free market capitalism. By resigning yourself to the “circle of life” you are justifying the inertia of the system. Zizek actually praises McNulty’s scheme, comparing him to Batman in that in order to achieve good you sometimes have to work outside the law.

I agree with Zizek’s point about McNulty in theory and I also agree that Simon may have let up on his critique of capitalism, but I also think Zizek is misinterpreting the show.

The greatest disservice of McNutly’s stunt isn’t that it cost him his job and inflicted very little damage on Marlo, it’s that it drew attention away from the greatest villain of The Wire: Clay Davis. Senator Davis is precisely what’s wrong with the American city. He is a corrupt statesman who helps legitimize criminals and perpetuates the inertia of the system. When Davis is brought to court on corruption charges, however, the public’s attention is drawn the McNulty’s circus. As a result, out from under public scrutiny, and without a proper news team to attend to him, Davis reduces his trial to a farce and escapes prosecution.

This is the greatest failure of the war on drugs. It has made an enemy of the poor whom we no longer need as a labor force. It eats up our police, law, and judicial powers, leaving white collar crime to run amok. Remember when drug dealers and gangsters ruined the economy, wiped out half the 401ks, took trillions in tax payer funded bail-outs, and ravaged the Gulf of Mexico with preventable oil spills?

Yeah, me neither.




~ by braddunne on September 13, 2012.

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