Tuned In

Wire Watch: Whatever a Spider Can

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Carcetti meets the press. / HBO: Paul Schiraldi

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched last night’s Wire yet, jump out the window now, while you still have the chance.

“Don’t seem possible. That’s some Spiderman sh_t there.”

If you’d forgotten how funny The Wire can be, the manhunt of Marlo’s crew for Omar had to remind you. Marlo’s line about Omar’s getaway was a classic, but the topper had to be the transparently phony “police” questioning of the neighbors, on the pretense that a woman had been attacked in the neighborhood: “Is the woman all right?” “Yeah. Yeah, she good.”

It’s hard to laugh, though, at Omar limping after Marlo and his crew, however thrilling it is to see him getting the drop on soldier after soldier and sending Marlo’s crew’s take up in flames, to try to force Marlo into the open to prove his manhood. (Can you shame the shameless?) Throughout The Wire, Omar has been the superhero, the one figure who is allowed to be larger than life and omnipotent. I have to worry that–with the main storyline of the fictionalized serial killer making McNulty the larger-than-life player–Omar is going to be revealed as human after all.

If Omar can’t bring Marlo down–and mind you, this is not based on any inside, spoilery knowledge–can Lester? Can Bunk and Kima? (Or will Marlo be brought down from the inside? Did he overreach at the Co-op meeting by boasting about knocking off Prop Joe and raising the price of the package?) It turns out that even McNulty’s outlandish plan to become the police department’s money-tree-shaker is no magic bullet; he’s running into roadblocks and getting frustrated with Lester’s projects just like the bosses that he used to rail against.

And by the end of the episode, with McNulty “borrowing” a mentally ill homeless man to sweeten his case in the media, you have to wonder if he hasn’t become totally unmoored. For him, of course, it’s always been less about pure justice than winning–“They don’t get to win. We get to win”–but now it seems as though “winning” his fictional case has become an end in itself, rather than bringing the real case that the scam is meant to support. The only person possible capable of showing him perspective, it seems, is Kima: when she’s offered up as manpower for his fake case, he leaves her working her real triple, a reminder–if he’s capable of hearing one–that he may be jeopardizing real police work.

On the City Hall and Baltimore Sun fronts, meanwhile, could we have just spotted that elusive beast called nuance again? The Wire has always beeen dedicated to the idea that, just as it is possible too frame a guilty man, so can a person be both corrupt and righteous, calculated and sincere. When Tommy Carcetti goes on a media counteroffensive over the serial-killer embarrassment, yes, sure he’s granstanding–as he says, he is a politician, God help him–and yet underneath his maneuvering and speechifying and self-pity, you actually do get a sense that his homeless “crusade” touches some part of him that drove him into politics in the first place.

So too with Scott, who may be a weasel aggrandizing himself on Nancy Grace, but is also capable of going out and getting a real story (the homeless Iraq vet). Which I’m glad to see, because if The Wire’s critique of the press is going to work on the systemic scale that The Wire does so well, it has to be about more than one bad apple. In a perverse way, I’ve written repeatedly, the press likes scandals like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair, because they deflect attention from the systemic problems of journalism.

Meanwhile, justice keeps hobbling forward, with a crutch made out of a pushbroom. Will it swing like Spiderman, or get squashed like a bug?