Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Train kept a'rolling all night long

In preparing my "Why The Wire is the greatest thing since sliced bread" column for this Sunday's paper, I listened to a few of the commentaries on the season three DVD set (it comes out on Tuesday). During one of those famous McNulty and Bunk drinking on the train tracks scenes, David Simon marvels that not a single critic has bothered to analyze the symbolism behind that recurring visual motif, and challenged anyone listening to give it a shot before season four begins.

So dared, I gave it a lot of thought, but the best I've come up with is the idea of Jimmy constantly getting in front of oncoming trains (i.e., the Burrell and Rawls administration). He may think he's strong or smart enough to stop them, but the train's just gonna keep on coming.

But that's just my theory. I figure I'd open it up to the room; if your theory makes its way into a column, I'll be sure to credit you, and I'll definitely send Simon a link to all the responses.

Fire away.

11 comments:

dez said...

The other thing about trains is that they're always going somewhere and usually on time/schedule. If you don't like where you're at, you can get on the 4:15 to DC and make a big change.

McNulty may like to challenge the power of the oncoming trains, but I bet he also likes their reliability because they always give him something to do or to rebel against, not to mention a means of escaping whatever he feels the need to escape should he decide to ride the train instead of trying to destroy it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's a wrong/right side of the tracks metaphor, the line McNulty straddles. Remember he takes Kima there when she starts to turn into him.

Anonymous said...

Then again, Simon is always saying that the series is a meditation on the rise and fall of the american city.

Maybe they drink and reminicse at the train tracks beacause the train represents the hayday of the industrial city.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe it's a symbol for constancy - the police keep fighting the war on drugs and violence and corruption, but that train keeps rolling along; one train goes out of service, another one takes its place, much like how "the game" works.

s said...

My guess, from the general theme of the show, is that trains represent the institutions that Simon is so critical of and that McNulty and Bunk represent, well, themselves, the individuals going up against those institutions. Not only are they dwarfed by the size of the institution, but the only protest they can offer is to take a piss in its direction and then meekly step aside as it passes on. To quote the matrix, the sound of inevitability...

Anonymous said...

I think the train represents the institutions in "The Wire." You can't stop them, and you can't change their direction.

~ Jim

Anonymous said...

...if you're lucky, you can just manage to jump out of the way before they run you over.

~ Jim

thekeez said...

Is it a black/white thing? There's a lot of segregation - racial and socioeconomical by railroad tracks. It's even a cliche - "wrong side of the tracks."

Here we have two men from the different "sides" of the tracks coming together as equals - equalized by their work, their calling, their respect born out of years of working together, of being good police.

Beaten into substance abuse by the despair of their environment, they meet at those tracks, at that border, that separating line, that barrier to anesthetize their pain.

Sheesh - who knew I was feeling so melodramatic today...thekeez

Goolash said...

It's a penis. Why else would Simon be so coy? It's the ferocious masculinity Jimmy tries to embody in his drinking and womanizing, but in the end he has to get out of the way like everyone else.

Or maybe it's a code for tacit man-man love between him and Bunk.

Jack Nicas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sanfrandan said...

These are great answers. Did David Simon ever say what his intent was?