Friday, August 28, 2009

The Wire, Season 2, Episode 12: "Port in a Storm" (Newbies edition)

And so we've come to the end of our look back at "The Wire" season two, and that means it's the last time (for this summer, anyway) that I'll have to tell you that we're doing this in two slightly different versions: one for people who have watched the entire series and want to discuss it from beginning to end, and one for people who've only gotten through season two (or, at least, haven't made it all the way to the finish line) and don't want to be spoiled. This is the newbie version; click here for the veteran edition.

Spoilers for the season two finale, "Port in a Storm," coming up just as soon as I look at a table full of heads...
"The world just keeps turning, right? You guys move onto something new. No one looks back." -Beadie
"Always" is a word that comes up several times in "Port in a Storm." The episode's epigraph is of The Greek, amused, telling an airline ticket clerk that his travels are about "Business. Always business." When Prop Joe expresses concern about the dope Vondas is leaving on the docks, Vondas assures him, "Always, there is more." And when Avon is lecturing Stringer about how the rules of business school can't always be applied to the drug business, he tells him, "The street is the street... always."

David Simon (who co-wrote the script with Ed Burns) is a former newspaperman who chooses and uses words carefully. There's a point to that repetition of "always," and that point is driven home in the closing montage(*): There is no changing any of this. No matter how clever or well-meaning the cops might be, there will always be men like The Greek ready to exploit human weakness. There will always be people looking to buy and sell guns, and drugs, and even human beings. There will always be little guys left behind by progress. There will always be toughs and gangsters and soldiers, and there will always be a new case for people like Lester and Bunk to move on to, no matter how hard that is to process for someone as relatively un-jaded as Beadie Russell.

(*) This season's montage brought to you by Steve Earle's "I Feel Alright."

There's a sense of hopelessness throughout "Port in a Storm," which is structured much like season one's finale, "Sentencing." The detail gets some mid-level players, but the big targets get away, and it's clear that our heroes didn't even make a dent in things. The FBI's presence causes more problems than it solves, the death of a key witness (Wallace last year, Frank this year) prevents the detail from getting to the major players, and a talented investigator (first Jimmy, now Beadie) is wasted aimlessly driving a vehicle around the port. And there's also time devoted to setting up the following season's storyline, as Bubbs turns Kima and Jimmy onto Joe and Stringer's new business arrangement.

But in many ways, it's even grimmer than "Sentencing." While it seemed obvious that Frank was walking to his death at the end of "Bad Dreams," we (and Beadie, and the stevedores) still have to get an up close and personal look at his mutilated corpse. (And damn if his eyes don't seem to be looking right at Beadie, even as Chris Bauer is doing a good job of playing dead.) And where the season one montage at least climaxed with a laughing Omar - the one character on the show who follows the rules of more traditional filmed entertainment, and the one allowed to exist outside The Game - sticking up a drug dealer, here we end on a grieving Nick shuffling through the rain, trailed by the U.S. Marshal who's preparing him for a new life far away from the one he's always known.

As I asked last year at this time, why do we watch this show if it's going to give us nothing but tragedy and despair? And as I answered myself, we watch it because it's so profound, and moving, and funny, and well-acted, and thrilling even as we know things aren't going to end well except for the worst of the worst.

This was a controversial season at the time it aired, and it remains one. The port story was such a jarring shift from the drug case of season one. And (don't worry, newbies, I'll be vague here) most of these characters will be ignored, or only seen briefly, in later seasons, creating the sense that this season had little to do with the larger picture of the series.

Me? I love season two. The performances by people like Chris Bauer, Al Brown and James Ransone are among the best the show will feature in roles big or small. Sobotka is one of the more complex characters on a series that prides itself on giving depth to even the worst people (like Vondas' affection for Nick). There are so many standout moments from this year that come to mind when I look back on "The Wire" as a whole, whether it's Ziggy struggling to light his cigarette after killing Double-G, or Frank under the bridge, or Brother Mouzone going all Dirty Harry on Cheese, or Jimmy trying to recreate his car accident.

And whether or not the stevedores factor into the narrative down the road, I think this season is just as important thematically as any other. This is not just a show about drugs, or cops, or gangsters. It's about a city, and it's about America, and it's about showing how the system is letting so many people down, whether they're black dope slingers like Bodie or underemployed white guys like Nick.

But even if you want to focus on the drugs, season two is an essential part of the puzzle. Season one is about how a drug crew operates, and later seasons will show how cops and politicians have failed to adequately deal with the drug problem, how kids grow up to be soldiers, and how the media's failure to cover this (and the public's disinterest in the small bits of coverage) allows the problem to perpetuate itself. Here, meanwhile, we get a sense of how the drugs come into the country in the first place, and how men like Vondas and The Greek enable men like Stringer and Prop Joe. Like the poster says, it's all connected, and even if Nick Sobotka and D'Angelo Barksdale never got to meet before one went into witness protection and the other was killed, their lives were as intertwined as they were parallel to one another.

And because "The Wire" on so many levels is a critique of a purely capitalist society, attention must be paid to a season in which the chief villains represent capitalism at its purest and most cruel. They're fake - Vondas is using an alias, The Greek isn't really Greek, the rosary beads are just an affectation and not something he cares about, etc. - in every way but one: they will do anything and hurt anyone to keep the money rolling in.


Because I've been on vacation most of this week, and because I've hit a lot of the larger plot and thematic issues in my reviews of the previous episodes, let's move straight to the bullet points:

• Getting back to the idea that Frank's death prevents the detail from nabbing Vondas and The Greek, does it really? I know it seems that way, but even if he had shown up at the detail office the next morning, he doesn't know The Greek's name, nor Vondas' real name, nor does he know what hotel they could be found at. They only discover the correct hotel because Lester and Bunk are able to scare Sergei with the death penalty, and the timetable on them gathering all the evidence to make that work wasn't really affected by Frank's death, was it? Nick gives them the Philly info on the same day Frank would have.

• The focus on the port story meant that some of season one's characters got short shrift. Omar is gone for most of the season's mid-point, and the finale is the first we've seen of Bubbs and Johnny in a long time. Meanwhile, the appearance by Detective-turned-Officer Santangelo leaves Sydnor as the only surviving season one character of note to not pop up at any point this season.

• One minor quibble with the finale, though I acknowledge it's something that had to be glossed over given everything else that was happening: given the difficulty the detail had even finding, let alone tailing, Stringer and Avon a season ago, how did Kima and Jimmy get a tail on Prop Joe and/or Stringer so easily?

• Though Valchek may be the petty bastard who set much of this tragedy in motion, and though his absolution of Prez is tied up in his own pride (the apology letters have to explain that Stan could only be hurt by a sucker punch), he does have a very human moment when he looks at the latest photo of the surveillance van and realizes he did, in fact, have some affection for Frank. Can anybody translate what he says in Polish at the end of that scene?

• Robert Colesberry, the series' lead non-writing producer, made his directorial debut on this episode after a long and distinguished career behind the scenes, but not behind the camera, in movies and TV. As the man whom David Simon credits the most with helping come up with the series' visual style, Colesberry unsurprisingly was a natural in his first stint in the director's chair; I especially love the shot of the stevedores standing over Frank's corpse, and the way Nick's confession to the cops is shot with Frank's photo directly over his shoulder, with the shot shifting focus between the living nephew and the dead uncle at various points. Tragically, Colesberry - who also dabbled in acting on the show as bumbling Homicide veteran Ray Cole - died before season three really got up and running.

• Frank's death, and Ziggy's incarceration, and the disintegration of the union are among the season's bigger tragedies, but on some level I'm just as upset at that shot of Beadie driving aimlessly through the stacks. She went from someone who didn't know or care much about being a real cop to someone who displayed a real talent, and at times passion, for investigation. Emotionally, she's probably better off - the crimes always weighed harder on her than they did on the rest of the detail - but it still seems like a waste.

• I wouldn't call Pablo Schreiber a weak link exactly, but because the show's casting is so uniformly good, and because most of the other actors come across so naturally, Schreiber's more mannered performance as Nick often seemed a half-step out of sync. But the man really brings it in the finale, both with the rage burning in Nick's eyes as he sits in Frank's trailer and thinks about killing Vondas to the anguish on his face as he stands at that fence and contemplates his past and his future.

• As I said when Agent Koutris first appeared, some fans initially believed that he was corrupt. But the idea was always supposed to be that he was an honest agent who had done a moral calculus and decided the intel he thought he was getting from The Greek was worth more than whatever crimes The Greek committed because Koutris kept him on the street. The fact that Fitz is mad at himself, but not at Koutris, once he realizes what happened, suggests that this is just the way things work at the Bureau.

• One of my favorite things about the storytelling style that Simon, Burns and Colesberry created is that they're happy to simply stop and show characters thinking. There's a lovely extra beat after Stringer asks Brother Mouzone who shot him, and you can see the very sharp Brother wondering why Avon's number two is so curious.

• Again, the show is always very fair about seeing multiple sides of issues. Even though it's very clear that the writers are in favor of the patient, cerebral Ed Burns style of policing, and even though Herc and Carver are supposed to represent the reckless, pointless head-busting approach that's largely ruined the Baltimore PD, their frustration at having to play pack mule for the detail is understandable - and funny. I think anyone would be justified in asking for a transfer after spending an entire case doing the scutwork - note who had to do all the hard labor for the warrants judge a few episodes back - and after being left sitting on Nick's house long after Nick had turned himself in to a member of the detail.

• The brief scene at Daniels' home confirms what was already clear back when he assumed responsibilities for the 14 Jane Does in "Backwash." His marriage to Marla is over in everything but name, as he's now sleeping in a spare room and she couldn't possibly be colder to him. The irony, of course, is that Daniels' unit did turn those 14 red names to black, and in the process boosted his standing with Burrell and Rawls, but Marla has already decided that the man running the newly-official Major Crimes Unit is not the man she thought she married.

• The scene where Louis Sobotka shows up at Frank's trailer and tells Nick "Let's go" is a real testament to the economy with which "The Wire" creates characters. Here's a guy who's had only a handful of scenes throughout the season, but we know him (and we know the Sobotka family) well enough by this point that it's a big moment when he tells his son it's time to stop messing around and face the consequences of what he's done.

Well, it's been fun. With any luck, we can finish up the series next summer with a look back through season three, which was the last one to air before I started my second career as a blogger.

What did everybody else think?


Q Ball said...


Great job Alan, thanks for doing this. The Wire is by far the best television show ever produced and deserves the great analysis and attention to detail that you provide.

I'm one episode into season 3 and even though I was slightly underwhelmed by the season 2 story arc, I can tell that down the road I will look back and realize how profound the season truly was.

I'm looking forward to finishing the series and reading the veteran's edition of your Wire blogging.

Lauren said...

Thank you do much for convincing me to watch The Wire. It's an amazing show and I've enjoyed reading your posts as we've gone along. Now I can hardly wait for next summer and season three.

Stav said...

First of all: thank you so much for these great reviews. They make the enjoyment of watching a finely crafted show even better.
Also I thought the funniest part of Herc and Carver thinking that their policing skills were being taken for granted came from the fact that the bad guys knew they were staking out Nick, but they did not notice that bad guys were on the stake out too.

Finally, forgive me for my selfishness, but we have to wait til next year for Season 3 reviews?

Joshua said...

Thanks for the Season 2 blog, which has been a great companion this summer. My wife and I enjoyed the show so much though, that we're watching too fast, and are now more than half way through season 3! To avoid spoiling anything, I don't even want to say anymore, because my memory of what happens in which season is blurring. But it's great stuff all around.
Thanks again.

Paul C said...

I just want to say a massive thanks for all these posts. I finally sat down to watch my boxset of boxsets (currently at the end of Season 3) and have not been disappointed. I really love that each episode is about 1 hour compared to the usual 43 mins, so you get that much extra enjoyment. Each episode has so much depth to it and these posts have really helped to flesh things out.

For me, Season 2 took a wee bit to get going but once it did, things started motoring on. 'All Prologue' was probably the stand-out but there was a real high quality throughout.

The thing that gets me about the show is the cruel timing of things - the detail executes their raids just the morning after all the drugs gets washed away and the paper trails scrapped; they find out The Greek's hotel but he had left earlier in the day; if only they hadn't of told Frank to come back the next day and got him to wait around. Then again, if things wrapped up happily with a nice little bow it probably wouldn't be as great a show.

Frank's death was beautifully handled and credit to the writers that we feel sympathy for him (and D'Angelo too) even though they fell into the 'bad guys' camp. I also found a twisted irony with the closing montage music as Nick doesn't "feel alright" given he has lost everything (totally awesome song, by the way).

A question though Alan: Would the links to the Seasons 4 & 5 on your blog be considered newbies or veterans? And are they breakdowns of each episode or should you wait until the end of each respective season before reading? Many thanks once again.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Paul, I wrote those reviews as each episode initially aired, so they're more or less Newbie style. Because I had watched season 4 in its entirety before I reviewed any of it, some people complained that some of the early reviews were too colored by what I knew was coming. There's probably some truth to that, but I got that under control quickly, and there's certainly nothing of me referring to events in season five, since I obviously hadn't seen that yet.

Karen said...

Well, OK. I get that the Greek was an asset for Koutris, and that he did his mental calculus. But...what does that mean? Does he know the Greek's real name? Does he know how to contact him still? Is it not a professional courtesy to tell Fitzhugh that he's going to undermine his case? To quote Oman, it don't feel right.

One minor quibble with the finale, though I acknowledge it's something that had to be glossed over given everything else that was happening: given the difficulty the detail had even finding, let alone tailing, Stringer and Avon a season ago, how did Kima and Jimmy get a tail on Prop Joe and/or Stringer so easily?

I didn't think so much about that as about Jimmy sitting there so exposed, peering out his open car windows, with Kima snapping away. No one calling "5-0"? No one notices them at all? It seemed implausible.

Getting that close to Stringer, though--isn't that a sign of just how exposed he is now? He said it himself: Wee-Bey, Stinkum, Bird--all gone. He doesn't have muscle. He barely has a posse. Bodie is the highest-ranking, most competent support he's got. I think it makes a lot of sense that he's easier to get close to, because his operation has suffered a lot.

The closing scene, with the fast cut photo montage of Baltimore's decayed/decaying industrial infrastructure just about killed me. You said in an earlier recap that the show is about the death of an American city, perhaps of the American city, and this finale really sent that home--you can feel the death of the auto industry, the decline of the steel industry, everything that gets written about in the NYTimes summed up in that one montage. It IS heartbreaking to watch--but compelling. This is our story. This is our history.

Lane said...

I want to echo the sentiments of thanks to you Alan for introducing me to The Wire this summer (I watched the first 3 seasons, pretty much over the span of a few weeks) - and the best thing is my library had 'em all.

You also got me into Chuck, so thanks for that as well.

I've started Deadwood (and kicking myself for not watching it when it was on HBO originally, wtf was wrong with me?) (the library had that as well) while I am waiting for Wire s4 to arrive.

femmeperdue said...

I'll echo the thanks for taking on this project for those of us late to "The Wire". It's been a pleasure reading your take on things and I'm looking forward to whatever else you bring to the table!

Paul Montgomery said...

More thanks for these newbie reviews, Alan. The local free-to-air networks down here in Australia just started showing the first series this week, and after seeing the first two episodes I had to go out and rent them all. These reviews have been excellent.

Yo, you should work this shit for reals, dawg! :)

callmekbro said...

These guides have been like my little companions through each episode. I like to sit down almost straight after and read your posts, they have helped crystalize my own ideas on the show and now, as I move into s3, I find that I am so much more astute and "trained" in watching The Wire, so thank you for writing these newbie posts and helping us along! (I'm not American and so these posts have helped immensely with both the street language, rankings and allusion to politics/history.)

Some thoughts on this last episode, Beadie sitting back in her car looking sadly at the old club house was very painful to watch. What could become of her, given some time and investment in her future? After all, if it wasn't for her shrewdness, those girls in the can would have never been found...

The way that Sobotka's body being dredged up while all the stevedores stood around staring, dumbfounded, was absolutely horrible to watch. Beautifully executed, it felt like the cruelest of revenges to dredge him up out of the harbour he so badly wanted to see dredged too...

And up until Prop Joe was watching those Russian girls walk out of the can, he was one of my favourite characters- every line he speaks makes me crack up. But there is something much more sinister about trafficking girls than drugs, even though as Beadie sadly confirms earlier on- it's not even really a crime to sell girls, the drugs have much more cache. Especially in a place like Baltimore, ravaged to its core by them.

I'm now 2 eps into season 3, but I find myself unable to disconnect how horribly s2 ended for nearly everyone. *sigh*

Unknown said...

Awesome as always, hope to see you for season 3.

freak said...

As it seems nobody answered your question, Valchek says "rest in peace" in a quite bad Polish accent;)

BTW thank you for these posts, which are a great companion to the adventure that is the Wire.

Greetings rom Poland

Anna said...

Alan, just wanted to thank you once again for posting these. I'm looking forward to reading through your thoughts on season 3 whenever they are posted.

Just one thing I don't understand... After Wallace's death in the previous season, was it really THAT difficult to predict that Frank Sobotka might have been in danger after leaving the detail???

Unknown said...

Alan, good job reviewing season two. It was especially helpful to read that Koutris was not corrupt, as I assumed he was. I do think Fitz put things together unrealistically quickly at the end there though.

Overall, a wonderful season, but I did have a few quibbles. Although the brother Mouzone side plot was enjoyable as a set piece, I found it too out of character for the show to be really integral to the season. Omar, may be larger than life, the ultimate gunslinger/existential hero, but he still seems believable as character that would inhabit that world. Brother Mouzone, on the other hand was pure caricature, and while it was funny to see him dialoguing with "Mr. Cheese" or demanding his Harper's, it was ultimately more distractio than anything else.

More importantly I actually was disappointed with the ending. The first season ended with such a great portrayal of the futility of all the risk and hard work -- as good as the end of Costa Gavras's Z . This ending, which essentially had the same message seemed both a little too rushed and pat. I think we all get the point that great results and sweeping changes are fairy stories. I'm sure that message will continue to be presented in future seasons, but I do hope each season doesn't end with a pat balancing of the small victories against the bigger losses.

Overall, though a very good season with some great performances and excellent new characters, especially Frank Sobotka and Beadie. Episode 6 was just masterful.

I also loved the irony of the FBI being so hell bent on breaking that union when the union was on its last legs as it was.

Thanks again, can't wait to see what you have to say about season 3.

belinda said...

I'm even sadder ( in a good way) by the end of this season's run than S1. Don't think I've ever been so depressed from watching a TV show ever before. And that's a compliment, as depressing as that sounds. Again, like the end of S1, I feel spent and exhausted with the weight of all the thoughts the show has put in my head. Remarkable, awful, depressing, but also a fantastic feeling, if that makes any sense.

And we (and the detail) still knows absolutely nothing about The Greek whose influence spans so far and wide (and linking back to S1, as the origin of the Eastside drug industry too). The Sobotkas never had a shot once Frank made the fatal decision to work with them. Which is just tragic.

Question: I know the S3 rewatch reviews won't come til 2010, but when I get to the S4,5 reviews (which would be quite soon, if the time it took to devour S2 is any indication), will those be all essentially 'newbie' editions (that won't spoil anything after the episode that was reviewed)? It would only make sense that they are, but I wanted to make sure. Thanks.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yes, Belinda. While I had seen all/most of seasons 4 & 5 before I began writing those reviews, they were written for an audience who were watching them one week at a time. In a few spots, people complained that I was letting my knowledge of what was coming color the reviews, but I think I tamed those tendencies quickly.

Alden said...

As someone watching a few months out of sync with your reviews, I wanna thank you profusely for them, Alan. They got me through season 1 when I was still finding my feet in how to watch the show, and even when I was following season 2 better your insights were invaluable to my enjoyment. By the last stretch of episodes, I was even able to watch 2-3 at a time without using your writeups as a crutch. Though I'd love to wait until you've gotten through reviewing S3, I hope you see it as a compliment and testament to your work here that I may not be able to!

Can't wait for new reviews in Summer 2010. If they're half as interesting as these, they'll be gold.

Rachel said...

Thank you so much for these reviews, Alan. I just finished season 2, and it's so frustrating that my friends haven't had time to invest in The Wire yet, or have seen all five seasons and can't discuss them with me.

The only problem I had with this season was how flat the foreign drug-smugglers all seemed. In season 1, we spent nearly equal amounts of times with the detectives and the drug-slingers. This season, they seemed like caricatures for most of the season. For a show that takes such nuanced views of every other side, them doing it for pure capitalism seems awfully...easy.

That being said, I'm running, not walking, to find the season 3 DVDs!

Beth said...

I watched the last three episodes in a row, and I have to say I didn't anticipate the end, and that by the end, I had the most sympathy for Ziggy out of him, Frank and Nick. After episode 9, I "got" Ziggy better. The Springsteen comment in your review totally put Ziggy in context for me and I agree with another commentator who put Ziggy in the Nebraska album.

When Ziggy breaks down in his car after shooting Double G, it's honest and I got the sense that he couldn't believe he had just done that--like snapping out of a fog, and having a moral wake-up call with a chaser of self-disgust and regret. Now I understand Frank is complicated, and I applaud the writers for it, which allows me to say that I think Frank is still lying to himself when he's walking to the end of the pier to meet the Greek. Yes, he's going to do the right thing and go with the cops, but he's still excusing himself for all the moral compromises he has made by saying it was for the Union, when he did it as much for himself and having the glory of being the one to save the Union --just the fact that he won't let go of the Union leadership undermines his character in a way that the smuggling, the treatment of his son, etc. didn't.

One more comment--by the end of the season two things really struck me. First season 2 set up a white working man's world to season 1's black working man's world. Here's what happens when legitimate work disappears. Men will still work, whether they're black or white, they'll just find work in the underground economy. Second, the FBI (the Bush year's FBI?) hates Unions almost as much if not more than drug gangs and smugglers. Wow.

Alan, I'm going to really miss reading these posts as I go into season 3, but I can't wait until this summer to watch the remaining seasons. Thanks so much for this.

Debsa said...

Thank Alan, fantastic job on Season 2 of "The Wire"...I am sad about Season 3 but eager to start Season 4 and 5 with you...

nickcoulter said...

Alan - a rather late comment, as I've only just got around to The Wire, despite having it on my computer for a couple of years! Just finished season 2, which I have been viewing with your newbie reviews as an excellent post-episode complement. I just can't wait until the summer to watch season 3 so I'm going to miss the simultaneous experience your commentaries for that season, but look forward to synching back up for seasons 4 and 5.

All the best and thanks for your dedication!

Steve Day said...

Many thanks for these great write-ups. Just got to the end of Season two, watched on DVD straight after season one. I'd watched bit of it on The BBC last year but never had time to watch it all.

One question I wanted to ask, when they killed Frank Subotka, why didn't they cut his hands and head off? "If he had hands and head, it wasn't us!"

bethysketch said...

I'm just finishing Season 2, and loving the posts to go along with each episode.

I loved the entire season, and this episode was great, but I found myself wanting to see at least a few seconds back at the church, where the season's conflict began. The stained glass windows, the Catholic priest... I figured with Frank's death, we'd get to see at least a shot, but nothing. I wanted that loop closed, or at least re-visited. It's a rich visual, one that was abandoned at around episode 3, and ties the community together (cops, stevedores)... seemed like a lost opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Alan, thank very much for the reviews, i enjoy them immensely.

Quick question for you or anyone else:

When Fitz told Daniels that it was his guy (Koutris) that was the leak, there was a quick pan to Herc and Carver. Do you think Daniels had them on crap detail as he was wary of one of them leaking something? He already had trust issues with Carver in season 1.

Rob said...


I wanted to add my voice to the people thanking you for doing this who got to the Wire late. I've been hearing how great the show is for years from people I respect, but could never get past the first few episodes. The reviews really helped ground me and now I'm convinced of what a masterpiece the show is and am looking forward to watching Season 1 again once I'm through the run (and reading the other edition of the reviews).

Thanks again

Devin Mitchell said...

The shot of the girls being loaded out of the can in the final montage sequence really hammers home the "New faces, same game" aspect. Ultimately, all the detail did was accelerate the decline of the stevedores and the downfall of the Sobotkas. The importing and marketing of drugs and women will continue "same as it ever was."

Amy V said...

Thanks for adding another layer of enjoyment to my experience of watching "The Wire" for the first time. I don't have much more to add, except that what (surprisingly) brought tears to my eyes in the closing montage was the groundbreaking ceremony for the Grain Pier condos.

Manuel said...

Thank you very much, Alan, for writing these reviews! Since "The Wire" was never aired in Switzerland, I have never seen the show before I bought the complete DVD box set a few weeks back.

I do not agree that the finale of season 2 was depressing and that nothing was achieved. Ok, the "Greek" wasn't arrested and the Game goes on (it always does...). Nobody here expected otherwise, right? But after episode 11 I was really expecting them to fail completely. Yet Daniels really got his new unit; they made a few arrests and everybody seems to be fine :)

Overall, without having seen seasons 3-5 yet, I think that season 2 fits in very well. Not only is it connected to the whole drug business (as you correctly mention); it also broadens the scope of the wire beyond the low and high rises.

I'm looking forward to watching the next seasons and reading your reviews.

I hope that you'll write an essay one day comparing the Wire to other excellent shows like Lost, BSG, Mad Men etc. Why I'd like to read that? It always strikes me how differently I respond emotionally to these shows. Lost, for example, did a great job of making me cry the whole finale. Here, I think I'm less invested (albeit it was hard to see Wallace, Dee and Frank getting killed), despite the excellent performances and scripts. I guess it is the realism of the Wire, the missing "mythology", that has this effect on me. Enough for today :)

Cecily Cardew said...

This was an extremely eventful finale but one minor sub-plot stuck with me: the cut to Herc and Carver at the bar immediately after Fitz reveals to Daniels the actual source of the purported leaks. My take was that Daniels then intentionally left them out of the loop while they haplessly waited outside Nick's house. Daniels, for all his talk about being open to working with Carver again at the beginning when the detail was being assembled, obviously hadn't gotten over his trust issues. It was sad to see these two put it all the grunt work (more ignominious this season with the window washing) and end up as the chumps on yet another 'career building case'.

Also, am very intrigued by Brother Mouzone's cryptic reaction in the hospital to what transpired with his shooting. When he tells Stringer that he will handle the matter himself, does he mean he will exact his retribution against Omar or Stringer for playing them? I hope his code or whatever causes him to forgive Omar. They can't kill off another one of my favorite characters, they just can't! :(

Speaking of String, it was both sad and satisfying how he got taken down a peg by Avon, who bluntly reminded him of how petty, low down and dirty 'the game' actually is - no amount of discreet and well-planned strategy or erudite macroeconomic theory is going to change that. I almost feel that it would do him more good to be mentored by cold capitalists such as The Greek, instead of dealing with all this ego and gang reputation bullshit that Avon and crew are fixated upon.

As a side note on 'near misses' (which 'Dexter' is pro at...aargh), I would have thrown something at the screen had Lester somehow missed overhearing a ready-to-confess Nick Sobotka speaking to the officer at the desk at the station!

All in all, I liked Season 1 better than Season 2 but as you implied, this season was more important overall because it placed the show in a much larger context. As you and others pointed out, the character of Frank Sobotka was especially moving. He perfectly captured a sense of obliviousness and helplessness for an incoming wave of change that I'm sure is prevalent in so many sectors in the country now. In a way, I'm almost half glad they killed him off because the thought of his growing desperation as the years pass and he and his beloved union become irrelevant just depresses me. And this was 2003! All ports are probably wayy more mechanized than the Rotterdam robot revolution eight years ago!

Oh no I'm so devastated that there will be no more newbie reviews from now on. Will just have to do the veteran version at the end then, thanks a ton for doing them so far. You still have at least one very dedicated and grateful reader 3 years after you wrote these :) On to Season 3 Episode 1!

Grover said...

I just wanted to chime in with everyone else, even after the fact. Thanks for doing this Alan, it's been fantastic going through some of the best shows of the past half decade and recounting them with one of your posts after. Especially for a show as dense as this, or even Mad Men, it's been tremendous to find someone leading a civil, thoughtful discussion like these have been to help "debrief" after. I can't watch an episode of anything anymore without critically thinking about it or thinking of a "coming up just as soon as...". I'm rambling now, but again, thanks Alan! It's been greatly appreciated!

Oaktown Girl said...

Just got done watching season 2. I haven't commented until now, but since I see I won't be the fist to post in 2011, what the hell? Anyway, nothing deep, just a few thoughts from this season:

- The first thing that stood out to me from episode 1 was this: it may be a demotion, but damn Jimmy looks handsome in a uniform!

-Chris Bauer played a pedophile in 1997's "The Devil's Advocate" so convincingly that every time I've seen him since (including in "True Blood"), I've never been able to get that out of my head. This is the first role I've seen him in since then that I was not thinking "Ah! Pervert!" every time he was on the screen.

-Even if I didn't love this season as much as season 1, I'm really glad they took the time to show the importation side the drug game.

Anonymous said...

Another terrific recap, Alan. I just started watching The Wire for the first time this month (I'm not two episodes into season 4) and I've been using these episode recaps to help guide me through the show. I love how insightful and well-thought out they are. Oh, and as for what Major Valchek said in Polish, it was "spoczywaj w spokoju," which basically means R.I.P. (referring to Frank Sobotka). Just wanted to add that since I haven't read another comment on this newbie post that already answered your question.

Dad Burger said...

Alan, I'm not too sure if you come back to read these comments but I wanted to thank you for your reviews of S1 and S2.

My wife and I are finally watching The Wire from start (S1) to finish (S5) as our Winter project. We're just about to start S3.

Your reviews have been really helpful for confirming what we think is happening in the story - but most importantly, for reassuring us that although episodes start slow, they come to a crescendo at the end of a season. Thank you.

Although I didn't find season 2 as satisfying as season 1, I have to say that the performances made up for it. Chris Bauer as Frank was so much fun to watch; Such genuineness to his scences. I was blown away.

I agree Pablo Schreiber wasn't as strong as some of the other players, but to me it fit in with the fact that he was the little big man: Trying hard to be something and measure up to something but falling flat. I wonder if that came into consideration when he was cast. To his, and the writers credit, I was amazed at how quickly I could switch from really liking him as a character to hating him by the final episode.

I really can't believe how incredible the writing is. I enjoyed The Sopranos for the same reason but as someone as already said, The Wire's strength is in the fact that you often know what is going to happen but you're glued to the screen to see HOW it happens. Amazing.

Anyhow, thanks again.

no said...

One small note: what the greek leaves behind is not rosary beads but a koboloi.It has no religious value and is just used to keep the hands occupied.

chris said...

What a great show. What a great set of blog posts. What a great set of comments.

This is such a superior way to enjoy television - find great content, watch it at your own pace, get expert criticism and commentary from a pro (Alan) and the fans (commenters).

Season 2 was really great. I'll never forget that duck and poor Ziggy. And Beadie, back at the harbor, uniformed up and clicking away the hours.

Unknown said...

Alan, I just wanted to let you know that there are still a few of us out here who are just now discovering this great show. I'm glad you've left these recaps up all these years later for us late-coming newbies.

lyla said...

Thank you Alan!

As a real latecomer I started watching The Wire a month ago, and just finished Season 2. I found your commentaries early on, and enjoy coming here to read your thoughts after viewing each episode. It really adds so much for me. Looking forward to the remaining seasons.