My God, where to start? So much happened to so many people, both in this extra-length episode and this magnificent season, that I feel the only way to do the finale justice is to go character-by-character and look at where everyone of significance wound up, followed by some other finale thoughts.
The boys: Look at that picture. Hard to believe that was from only eleven weeks ago, how happy and full of hope our four boys were. (Well, maybe Dukie wasn't so hopeful, but he also didn't know what Mr. Prezbo was about to do for him.) Now the season's over, and where are they? Michael's a murderer twice over, once as an accessory and once directly, running a corner and seemingly lost to the streets forever. (Or until he has a Cutty-like rebirth decades from now.) Dukie's a drop-out and low-level member of Michael's crew, not to mention Bug's new caretaker now that Michael doesn't seem to have much interest in his own brother. Randy's been swallowed up by the system, put in a position where, even if Carver follows through and gets certified as a foster dad in four or five months, that smile of Randy's is never going to shine quite as bright.
Only Namond gets out, completes the transformation from corner kid to stoop kid that Bunny and Dr. Parenti envisioned when they began their study. And that salvation only comes through Bunny going far beyond the call of duty, not to mention the availability and wisdom of Wee-Bey, who deep down knows his son could never be a soldier.
At the start of the season, or the mid-point, or even the end, if you were to ask me which of the boys I'd most like to see saved, Namond would have been my last choice. Randy had the smile, the generosity of spirit and the work ethic. (Like Gary McCullough from "The Corner," he's also the most relatable to this suburban white guy.) Michael had the loyalty and courage, not to mention that intangible leadership quality that brought out the inner mentor of every man he met And Dukie had the brains, not to mention the lousiest hand of cards possibly dealt any character in the history of this show. Namond? Namond was a spoiled brat at best, a bullying wannabe gangster at worst. Even after he fell under Bunny's guidance and started revealing his sweeter, more genuine side, I still had a softer spot for the other three, especially Randy and Dukie.
But I think that's the point. To quote William Munny in "Unforgiven," deserve's got nothing to do with it. In the world of "The Wire" -- and the real world it so eerily models -- good things, when they happen, come not to those who've earned them, but those who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Like Namond, Randy had a responsible adult trying to take him in; the only difference is that Carver had to wade through too much red tape and the inflexible child services system, where Bunny was able to go directly to Wee-Bey. Randy could have owned his own store, Dukie could have gone into computers (or, hell, policework like Prez), Michael could have become a fighter or something else, but it's probably too late for all three. And in the end, Namond's probably going to turn out okay so long as he has Bunny to kick him in the ass thrice-daily.
Is there a certain level of feel-good sentimentality to Namond's rescue? Yes, but it was important for two reasons. First, Simon and Burns had to illustrate the extraordinary efforts, not to mention good fortune, that can be required to get an at-risk boy into a stable environment. Second, it's one thing to tell a story of adults (say, the port guys) where everyone has an unhappy ending, but when you're dealing with 13-year-old boys, bleak endings across the board would have been too much to bear.
We're obviously going to see Michael and Dukie again next season (Michael even made his way onto the MCU cork board as "Unknown"), and the whole thing on the HBO website about Cheese maybe being Randy's father has me hoping that he'll turn up again, but I have a feeling we've said goodbye to both Namond and Bunny. They got their happy ending, or as close as a disgraced ex-cop and an unofficially orphaned corner kid can get, and better to imagine them enjoying that than to bring them back in for potential doom and gloom.
Tommy & Norman: Tommy, Tommy, Tommy. Morning in Baltimore lasted, what, two weeks? We can argue all day and all night about Tommy's motives going into the election, and even after he won -- I still say Tommy's good intentions narrowly outweighed his selfish ones -- but the woman from the DNC talking up the governorship is the worst thing that could have happened to Tommy, and to Baltimore. His weak-ass "in two years, I can do so much more from Annapolis" rings so false when we see how much terrible change can come to boys like Randy and Dukie in the space of only a few months, let alone two years. How long before he starts blindly chasing stats and getting deep into bed with Clay Davis?
As for Norman, this season's best addition, Non-Juvenile Division, I would have more trouble with his disbelief at Tommy's feet of clay if the show hadn't established that he usually runs campaigns, not administrations. Easy to only see the good in a candidate when you get to walk away before he has to make any real decisions.
The MCU: The need to fold the election story into the show proper instead of doing a separate miniseries gave short shrift to a number of regular characters, none moreso than the Major Crimes Unit itself. It was gutted in episode three, populated by dimwits and petty bureaucrats for most of the season, and only started returning to its former glory in the last three episodes. While the boys' stories all received some form of closure, the MCU's pursuit of Marlo has barely begun. The amount of danglers from this story put the lie to any attempt on Chris Albrecht's part to suggest fans wouldn't be upset if the show ended without a fifth season.
Fortunately, we'll get to see Lester and company (including, despite last week's "Are you happy here?" scene, Kima) try to put the wood to Marlo and his people. They have more juice with command than ever before, thanks to Daniels' ascension and the headlines generated by all the bodies. But as I asked last week, how the hell do you get a crew as cautious as Marlo's? They kill anyone who even might be snitching, they don't use phones, meet only in public places with guards who can spot anyone trying to plant another camera like Herc's, and now they're in the practice of disposing of every weapon used in any murder. This seems an even taller task than closing the murder of the dead girls in the can from season two.
Ah, well, at least they again have access to the powerful mind of...
McNulty: If you've watched this show long enough, you know that a character's about to be in a whole lot of trouble right around the time they give a big speech looking ahead to their future. Kima did it while out drinking with her friends and got shot. D'Angelo found a parallel to his life in "The Great Gatsby," then got strangled. When Jimmy began telling Beadie about how things would be different this time, how the love of his good woman would keep him straight even as he went back to the job that made him into an alcoholic bastard, I wanted to tell Beadie to politely ask him to leave and immediately change the locks. Does anyone here honestly believe Jimmy can have his cake and eat it, too? At least he has a nobler motive this time than his usual "Let me prove how much smarter I am than the rest of the world" approach, because of what he owes to...
Bodie: Son of a bitch. That's how a soldier dies, for good and for ill. He wouldn't live on his knees, wouldn't die on them, either, the first man all season to not roll over and let Chris and Snoop walk him to his death inside a vacant. I used to look at Bodie without much affection. He was the hot-head always in need of a lecture from D'Angelo or Stringer, not to mention the killer of Wallace. But while he wasn't as mistake-free as he tried to suggest in his speech at the arboretum, he did learn from all those lectures -- he was the only victim of Hamsterdam to recognize entrapment when he saw it -- and if Stringer had lived and stayed on the street, Bodie had a chance to move on up and become, if not a king, then a knight like Slim Charles. Instead, he goes down, guns blazing, on the pathetic piece of real estate he turned into a thriving concern, and leaves Poot, of all people, as the last free and surviving member of the Barksdale empire. (I don't count Slim, who was a mercenary.) RIP, Preston Broadus.
And for the record: Michael did not -- I repeat, did not -- kill Bodie. I know it's a dark scene, and there's some resemblance between Bodie's killer and Michael, but it wasn't him. Per David Simon, "Michael does the murder in the montage. One of the other kids who was training with Chris and Snoop is the shooter of Bodie." When Marlo suggests that Michael be the one to take out Bodie, don't forget, Chris says it would be better for Michael's first kill to be a stranger, and Marlo agrees.
Bunny: If I'm right that we've seen the last of the ex-Major, then at least he went out well. He couldn't bring some sanity to the War on Drugs, or to No Child Left Behind, but he was able to save one child -- and as we learned over and over this season, that's no easy feat. And, in a way, Hamsterdam Jr. made its mark. Zenobia and Darnell joined Namond as kids who seem capable of being students again, and the dead silent response to Albert's "your worst nightmare" joke in Prez's class suggested that the kids not only have gotten used to life without the troublemakers, but may not be as willing to tolerate their disruptions in the future. Not the worst legacy for the show's resident unpopular truth-teller.
Wee-Bey & De'Londa: Bunny knew the right way to frame his argument for Wee-Bey, but I credit Wee-Bey for having the wisdom and lack of foolish pride to see the truth in Bunny's words. At the end of season one, he happily confessed to several murders he didn't commit, partly out of self-preservation (it likely spared him the death penalty), but mainly out of loyalty to Avon. Five years gone, and the reality of life in prison has made itself very apparent to him. He's tough enough to handle that weight, but he now sees that the family business is nothing worth pushing his son into.
De'Londa, on the other hand, continues to Not Get It on a massive scale, even assuming that Wee-Bey's interest in her would vanish the second her child did. Sure, some players in the game are like that (D'Angelo never had much time for Donnette outside her being his baby mama), but she clearly understands her man about as well as she understood her son. Feh. I understand why she is the way she is, but that woman can't be off my TV fast enough.
Cutty: He began the season having a fun, sexy time with every mother who wandered into the gym, not realizing the effect this was having on boys like Spider and Michael. He ends it with a bum leg but a less controversial love interest, courtesy of a character reference from Bunny. Is his story done, too, do you think, or will he play some kind of role in whatever's coming for Michael next season?
The Bunk: He bookended the season with the Lex case, and in between saved Omar from Marlo's clutches. The man continues to have a gift for taking people on a guilt trip, in this case getting probable cause out of Lex's mom by pointing out that it's her own fault her son's remains went undiscovered for so long. If I'm right that Jimmy's flying back to drunken bimbohood, then I'm sure Bunk will be happy to play wingman.
Carver & Herc: Carver's growth over the course of the series -- hell, even from the start of season three to now -- is amazing, but that maturity brings with it the price of a conscience. Herc has no idea what he did to Randy and Bubbs, nor would he care, while Carver is crushed by having failed Randy and Miss Anna, even if his only failure was in trusting Herc. (Randy trying to absolve him of any guilt as they entered the group home only made things worse, of course.) I wonder if he'll have the perserverance to actually get qualified to be Randy's guardian, or if he'll let himself be talked out of it with the passage of time and a whole lot of beers.
Herc, meanwhile, becomes that rare "Wire" character to get something close to the fate he deserves -- assuming that I read the disciplinary board scene right and that "conduct unbecoming" is a firing offense -- even though he's being punished for an entirely different crime. Those sergeant's stripes transformed him from lunkheaded comic relief into a very dangerous person, and the only thing I feel bad about is that he'll never really understand what he did.
Bubbles: Andre Royo breaks my heart on a regular basis, never moreso than in this episode. His confession to Landsman, and especially his breakdown at the mental hospital (in front of his AA sponsor from season one, in case you didn't recognize the shaggy biker guy), were just devastating. They say an addict can't quit until they hit rock bottom, and I can't fathom a rock lower than the one Bubbs is trapped under at the moment. We saw that he had a very fragile support system in place when he tried to get clean in season one; maybe Sherrod's death will be enough to keep him going forward this time, even if he suffers a setback like he did when Kima got shot. God, I hope so.
(And why am I sitting around expressing so much hope about the future of fictional characters? Why does this show do this to me?)
Omar: As a poster in last week's thread put it, "Omar and Renaldo are the real Major Crimes Unit this season." With some old-fashioned surveillance techniques, they acquired high-level intel and put the kind of hurt on the Baltimore drug trade that Lester can only dream about. But as Butchie said (shortly after flashing a Randy-level smile while contemplating what his adopted son pulled off), "This ain't over." Just as Bubbs' life has nowhere to go but up from here, I can't see Omar's fifth season arc traveling anywhere but in a downward direction.
Prez: As Ms. Samson says, he'll be fine. He's always going to have his awkward moments because that's just who Prez is, but he connected to his kids -- not just Dukie, but everyone -- much faster than he had any right to. He looked devastated at seeing Dukie on the corner (maybe also feeling guilty for taking Ms. Donnelly's advice too far and essentially blowing off Dukie when he came by?), so perhaps he'll find some tangential way to get involved in Lester's work next year.
Burrell & Rawls: Now that they're back in their relative positions of power, can I start calling them Beavis & Hack-Boy, or is it an insult to this show to drop any kind of "Studio 60" reference in the middle of it? As I said a couple of weeks ago, Burrell being Tommy's political operative isn't the worst thing in the world, but I worry that he's going to start sabotaging Daniels and the MCU to hang onto the throne. How long before Ronnie and Cedric get replaced with Burrell and Clay Davis at Tommy's lunchtable?
And, as I said at the top, any theories on who wrote the Rawls graffiti? I imagine whoever wrote it has no idea how true it was, but after all the wild-eyed speculation when we saw Rawls in the gay bar last season, I'm amused that this was the only follow-up of any kind this year.
Marlo, Chris & Snoop: Whenever an interviewer suggests that Marlo is a sociopath, Simon always points to his loyalty to his people. And so far, all of the murders we know Marlo arranged have been of people either on the fringes of his organization (Old-Face Andre, Little Kevin, Bodie) or outside it altogether (Lex, the security guard). But the simultaneous discovery of two dozen bodies is enough heat to melt even someone as ice-cold as Marlo; if faced with a choice between giving up Chris and losing his empire, what would he do?
Like everyone else, I had more empathy for Avon and, especially, Stringer than I have for Marlo. But as with De'Londa, I understand why he is who he is, and he's a worthier adversary for Lester and the MCU than I think any of us were imagining last year.
Prop Joe & Vondas: Well, here's a sight I never thought I'd see again on this show: The Greek's right-hand man, back in Baltimore. During my pre-season interview with Simon and Ed Burns, I expressed surprise that Vondas would be willing to come back to a city where the cops had paper on him, not to mention a photo I.D. Ed laughed, pointing out that paper doesn't matter much when the case is so many years removed, and when the subject of that paper is such a slippery character to begin with. That said, they told me this wasn't just a gratuitous call-back to season two, and that they brought Spiros back for a reason. It's not this show's style to tie everything up with neat bow, even with a series finale in mind, but I'm hopeful that Spiros isn't going to slip in and out of Baltimore without crossing paths with Lester or one of the other MCU cops from the port case...
...that is, if Marlo doesn't go all season three Avon and try to wage a war against a foe he can't beat. The Greek and his people are, if anything, even colder and more efficient than Marlo's crew, though the expansiveness of their operation gives them vulnerabilities that Marlo doesn't have. Could be an interesting irresistible force vs. immovable object battle, if that's where they're headed.
Either way, having The Greek in his corner is basically the only thing Prop Joe has going for him right now. Omar cost him a lot of money, but worse, he may have cost him the relative peace of the empire he and Stringer created with the co-op. The co-op is built on trust, and on the other members' respect for Joe; without that, how long before the east side gets very bloody? And yet Joe's still enough of a hustler to con Marlo and the others into paying 30 on the dollar when Omar sold it to him for only 20. Gotta admire that.
Landsman: I've compared him and Ms. Donnelly before as the two quasi-sympathetic guardians of a terribly flawed institution. Jay's not a bad guy, but in the past he's always chosen to protect The Board above all else, so it was stunning and more than a little heart-warming to see him throw away a gift-wrapped clearance because he recognized the pointlessness of it. Could this be a turning point for our favorite hardcore connoisseur? Nah; I just think, like the rest of us, Bubbs gave a stronger tug at his heartstrings than he could handle. Jay was back to his usual self by the time he saw that column on The Board so long it had to be extended with paper. (Who's primary on all these, by the way? Lester's technically not part of Homicide anymore, so Bunk?)
Some other random thoughts:
- You make the call: was the giddiness of Cutty's neighbor over hearing Al Swearengen say "cocksucker" a dig or a wink at HBO's other profane drama? I have to say that I got a bit of a dig vibe, especially over the way the guy seemed so excited just at hearing "cocksucker," regardless of usage. (Also, can anyone tell whether Cutty was watching "Soap" or "Benson" later on? I'm not that much of a Guillaume obsessive.)
- "Kids don't vote." Fuck you very much, nameless budget guy.
- Always interesting when we have more information than the cops. For instance, we know that the bodies found on the east side were the handful of New Yorkers that Chris and Snoop killed as a favor to Prop Joe, but the MCU is now going to waste time expanding the search to the rest of the city when all the other bodies are on the west side.
- Snoop and Chris cuffed at curbside was the first time all season that we've seen those two look even the slightest bit afraid of anything. A very weird sight.
- Another unexpected sight: the complete surprise on Marlo's face at seeing The Ring -- which, as far as he knows, Omar last had -- around Michael's neck. Michael wouldn't even take it off while losing his virginity. (And poor Dukie, having to listen to the headboard banging.)
- The season's final lesson: Chris arranges Michael's first kill, then tells him he can look anyone in the eye from now on. I know the two of them have suffered terribly in the past, but damn.
- It would be funny if it wasn't so damn sad: Randy offering to pay $235 for a foster placement. Interesting that Randy, who had always seemed softer than even Namond, was able to throw the first punch against his wonderful new roommates. Continuing to search for a silver lining: if these kinds of beatings continue, can't Carver get Randy out of there for his own safety?
- Landsman on Lester: "He is a vandal. He is vandalizing the board, he is vandalizing this unit. He is a Hun, a Visigoth, a barbarian at the gate clamoring for human blood and what's left of our clearance rate."
- Mello explaining the nail problem at roll call: "Listen up, you mutts, this is complicated. I mean it isn't complicated if you went to college or, I don't know, your mothers actually stopped drinking while they were pregnant, but for Baltimore city police, this is complicated.
- Bunk on hearing what Herc's in trouble over: "Son, they gonna beat on your white ass like it's a rented mule."
- Bunk & Snoop: "I'm thinking 'bout some pussy." "Yeah, me too."
- Kima on whether Bubbs' suicide attempt was a cry for attention: "Bubbs got some problems, but insincerity ain't one of them."
- Royce's ex-chief of staff, Coleman Parker, to Norman: "They always disappoint. Closer you get, the more you look. All of them."