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David Simon Ties Up Loose Ends on “The Wire” in Satisfying Finale

Observer Scene | Thursday, March 20, 2008

When dealing with creatures as complex and unpredictable as human beings, any artist would be foolish to create cookie-cutter characters who are all good or all bad. That has been the best part of seeing “The Wire” all the way through to its conclusion in the series finale – the show never insulted its fans’ intelligence.

Even in a city as defined in as black-and-white terms as Baltimore, the world of “The Wire” painted itself in shades of gray, and that shadowy moral characterization combined with creator David Simon’s unwavering commitment to presenting a realistic and gritty street-level view of his city made the show one of the best ever.

Fans following the series wire-to-wire no doubt left the final frame feeling bittersweet. The good guys won some and lost some, as did the bad guys. In the end, while the names changed and the time slipped by, nothing really changed, and that is Simon’s message. For every fall of an Avon Barksdale there’s the rise of a Marlo Stanfield. For every Wee Bey Bryce you lock up, there are two Chris Partlows and Felicia “Snoop” Pearsons waiting to take his place. And for every Cedric Daniels who sits on the cusp of police commissioner, city politics will see to it that Stanley Valcheks get the job instead.

As Simon said in a letter written to fans of the show and posted on hbo.com: “We tried to be entertaining, but in no way did we want to be mistaken for entertainment. We tried to provoke, to critique and debate and rant a bit. We wanted an argument. We think a few good arguments are needed still, that there is much more to be said and it is entirely likely that there are better ideas than the ones we offered. But nothing happens unless the [expletive] is stirred.”

That’s the central strand of “The Wire” in as many words – the show withheld making judgments or observations and simply presented things as they are on the streets and back alleys of America’s inner cities.

As far as the final episode itself, the conclusion no doubt left the audience surprised and satisfied. Fans of Stringer Bell no doubt must have felt pangs of grief upon seeing the Machiavellian drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield achieve in retirement what Bell dreamed of doing in life – leaving the street behind in favor of a clean career as a legitimate businessman. But Simon knew better than to domesticate his uber-lion into a house cat. Even with an embarrassment of riches earned through dealing death and drugs, Stanfield couldn’t resist the allure of the streets and so for him, “giving up the crown” as the king of the streets was a fate worse than death.

Given Simon’s somewhat pessimistic if not cynical views on life, fans must have felt surprised to see him spare McNulty and Freamon from prison time, leaving them with only the loss of their jobs instead of their freedom for cooking up a fake serial killer in order to do the real police work budgetary and political handcuffs prevented them from doing.

Likewise, it appeared that the number-crunching business executives who took over “The Baltimore Sun” would axe Gus, but in the end poor Alma lost her job while the lying con artist Templeton won a Pulitzer Prize.

Without a doubt, the most satisfying moment of the final episode was Slim Charles’ point-blank sayonara to backstabbing thug Cheese.

Watching Michael rob Marlo’s mentor Vinson of his riches at shotgun point must have brought a smile to Omar fans grieving the loss of their erstwhile hero. Although Michael put in work as part of a trio with cold-blooded murderers Chris Partlow and Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, just as Pearson says before Michael kills her, “[he] was never one of [them].” Watching him become his generation’s version of Omar made sense – both men dealt in death, but both had a code.

On the flip side, Omar Little’s death earlier in the season made little sense. The man who had a code died in an act of violence, laid low by the vicious street rat Cunard. Fans of Little no doubt took the death of the gay gunslinger hard. Watching the virtuous vigilante get gunned down in cold blood while purchasing a pack of his favorite Newport smokes was tough to watch, but made for poetic justice.

Similarly, watching Duquan descend into drug abuse and homelessness was hard to watch. Of all his friends, Duquan showed the most promise during his brief time in school and the most compassion.

Over the course of seasons four and five, we saw one of his friends, Namond Bryce, make it out of the self-fulfilling prophecy for black youth living in the drug-infested crime- and war-zone of America’s inner cities. We also saw one of his friends, Randy Wagstaff, who didn’t.

We saw the rise of a promising young politician in Tommy Carcetti, only to see him fall into the muck of the politics of governance and its half-truths and storytelling even as his star continued to rise all the way to the governor’s chair.

We saw Wee Bey again, linked up with Chris Partlow in the chain-linked confines of Jessup’s Prison yards. We saw two murderers, one charismatic, one cold-blooded, both locked up for all of eternity for his crimes.

The audience had the privilege of meeting white people, black people, gay people, straight people, gangsters with good hearts and policemen with bad ones. Most importantly, it all looked, felt, smelled, tasted and talked like the real deal.

David Simon built the city from the street up, put all the pieces together and showed us how they work. He built a fictitious Baltimore that looks, feels and breathes like a real city. In the end, fans will remember that they were sad to say goodbye not because they didn’t like how things turned out, but that they ran out of time to stay and visit his world.