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The Wire

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Season 2

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Credit HBO

The Wire - Season Two

If you haven't read my review of season one of The Wire please do. If only for the preamble where I explain the caveats I bring with me to the show.

Once more I'm not sure what I can offer that you won't have already thought for yourself or read elsewhere but here goes.

The Good: By the end of season one I knew I really liked The Wire and wanted to watch more and more. And even though I thought season two was less engaging in most ways, I still like the show more now than I did at the start of the season.

For anyone who appreciates television as a medium for telling stories, The Wire is extremely rewarding. The detail work remains outstanding and builds up believable stories piece by piece.  By spending most of the season away from them I actually found myself more invested in Stringer, Avon, Poot and Bodie because it was nice to see familiar faces. I definitely enjoyed the slow setup for season three as we watch Stringer try to go it alone without much success.

I was also pleased to see the "band get back together" as Daniels is able to reconstruct his team and install them as a permanent investigation unit. Seeing them all gather again under the same roof did make the show more like other TV dramas but I thought the writing did enough to cover for that. Daniels and Kima suffered at home because of their love for their work and Jimmy suffers in general when he has nothing constructive to do. I also loved the frustration Herc and Carver felt about being treated like lackeys by the "real" detectives. That story made perfect sense. They were liked and trusted by the team and no one thought about how they would feel remaining stationery in their careers. I also appreciate that we need Daniels' team in place to play good guys and be the consistent voice of frustration as criminals get away with their murders.

As for the Sobotka's down at the harbor, that was definitely a tragic story. Unlike Avon, Frank wanted to help others. There was a nice contrast drawn between them when Avon watched other prisoners die in order to shave time of his sentence. Frank on the other hand refused to give up any of his union men when he finally sat down to do a deal with the police. Frank's story had a really clear critique of capitalist society. Here were ordinary working men whose voice meant nothing to politicians because they had no money. The only way they could get a voice was to turn to crime to raise the money to pay campaign contributions and lobbyists. I thought Ziggy played his role well. He managed to be irritating and arrogant in a convincing way leading to his very sad meltdown after a life of being laughed at.

I liked so many of the little details again. I loved the fact that the prison guard knew Avon was lying but had to make the deal with him anyway to catch the smuggling prison guard. Similarly Frank's union friends worked out fairly quickly where he was really getting the lobbying money from. I loved Bunk saying "Nothing's easy" when discovering that the text message they had brilliantly tracked down was in Greek and would have to be translated. Best of all was Frank calling to pay his cell phone bill and the operator telling him they wouldn't disconnect him anyway because the account has been flagged. All those things felt like the opposite of every other crime show. There were no major twists, shocking revelations or Sherlock Holmes style leaps of deduction. Instead there was just endless vigilance, hard work and occasionally shoddy bureaucracy.

Jimmy McNulty took over from D'Angelo as the nominal main character of the show here for obvious reasons (see Best Moment). Jimmy was the only season one character to receive consistent characterization outside of work and I think it helped to see that. It allowed for the world of The Wire to expand just a little beyond the endless demonstration of a broken system. Seeing Jimmy's marriage breakdown and alcoholism provided good pathos and comedy.

If The Wire were a show built to make money and not tell a story then Omar, rather than Jimmy, would be our main character. It's easy to love Omar, the one gangster with a moral code. The show steadfastly refuses to overdramatize any scene and the closest they came to doing so was Omar on the witness stand. It was of course satisfying and entertaining to see him tell the court his true occupation, lie his ass off to make sure Bird went to prison and tell Levy "I got the shot gun, you got the brief case. It's all the game though right?"

The Bad: While last season I could barely detect a fault in the detailed storytelling this season allowed a couple of moments through the net.

FBI Agent Koutris was not clearly introduced or explained within the story. Koutris was supposed to be the crucial figure who was using the Greek as an informant on terrorism matters. His meddling allowed the Greek to discover that Frank had been talking to the police and so led to his death. If I weren't reading Alan Sepinwall's reviews (http://sepinwall.blogspot.com/) after each episode I would have been far more confused. I didn't think his involvement was well explained nor why Fitz was still sending him reports. Without the explanation I might have assumed he was corrupt or an inside man for the Greek.

The only outlandish character in season one was Omar and now he is joined in season two by Brother Mouzone. Mouzone plays the "gangster who uses his brain" in a different but similar way to Omar. I have no particular problem with the show having one or two more traditional made-for-TV characters but the details of Mouzone's story were sketchy. Mouzone had a fearsome reputation, so much that neither Stringer or Prop Joe will even attempt to assassinate him. Yet Omar gets to him instantly and finds him with only one bodyguard which kind of destroyed his rep in one fell swoop. It wasn't clear why Omar would believe a word Stringer said over Brandon's death either. It seemed to serve a very obvious purpose in turning both these wild cards onto Stringer's trail to spice up season three. I'm not even that convinced by the idea that Stringer would want to kill Mouzone in the first place. Couldn't he have attempted to just buy Prop Joe's product and let Mouzone's crew sell it for him? The whole Stringer-Avon mistrust story felt like a normal TV show and less like The Wire.

The Unknown: I can't exactly blame this on the writers but as with season one, I didn't feel emotionally engaged by what was going on with the stevedores. Once more I have to cry foul and admit that I knew we were only spending one season with them and so I suppose I never believed that Frank was long for this world. But again, as with season one, I didn't feel much for Ziggy, Frank and Nick as their world collapsed. I didn't feel much emotional up and down during any of the investigation. Is that because I know going in that The Wire was a show about why society fails to deal with its problems? Or is it because The Wire tells its story so methodically that my emotions aren't engaged?

I did have less sympathy for the Sobotka's than I did for D'Angelo and Wallace. The young black men seemed to me to have been forced by their families and economic situation into a position where drug dealing was their only way to make money. Here on the other hand Frank Sobotka was arguing a case that I'm not sure is true. I know there is an argument made by those on the political left that it's important to provide jobs which don't require higher education which can provide a meaningful and satisfying existence. However Frank managed to put his mind to securing large sums of money when he needed it. Was there really no other life he could have lived? He and his brother both could have pushed Nick and Ziggy toward different careers. Neither were any dumber than Herc and Carver can be. Thanks to Alan Sepinwall and others I know that The Wire is telling an important story about American life and the decline of industry and society. But TV shows work best sometimes when exploiting simple emotions and Frank's desperation to perpetuate a fading way of life didn't make me rally to his cause.

Best Moment: The death of D'Angelo was deeply sad and pointless. Not only was D clearly not going to turn on his uncle or Stringer but you could see that his years in prison were potentially going to lead him developing a life away from crime. His murder was what you would expect, swift and efficient. I found the simplicity and futility of it moving.

Conclusion: I thought this was a weaker season overall than season one. I suppose black guys selling drugs was a familiar story and easier to jump into where as the stevedores required more time and attention. However this season cemented me as a fan of The Wire. I can't wait to jump into season three and see where we are headed next.