Complex TV

p. 330-331: THE WIRE

Season 5 asks us to reflect on the process of storytelling and our own culpability in privileging the big lie. The season’s most meta moment, from the episode “Unconfirmed Reports,” portrays the newspaper editors debating how best to tell the story of the city’s failing schools. The heroic editor Gus Haynes argues for a series of articles showing the interconnectedness between institutions rather than just “beating up” on the schools, saying, “I think you need a lot of context to seriously examine anything,” a line that could serve as a mission statement for The Wire itself. But the villainous publisher James Whiting warns against ending up with “an amorphous series detailing society’s ills,” a succinct negative gloss on what some skeptics might say the series amounts to. This metacommentary extends as McNulty’s serial killer stands in for the sensationalist crime dramas that get ratings buzz, with allusions to series such as CSI and Dexter peppered throughout the season, while Bunk’s Wire-like “real police work” goes unnoticed and underfunded. Meanwhile Templeton wins awards for his lies while Gus and Alma are demoted for their refusal to play along, a not-so-veiled commentary on The Wire’s lack of Emmys and other industry accolades that had been given to more conventional fictions. The final season portrays the downfalls of the gangsters Proposition Joe and Omar Little, while the Sun misses both stories and chooses not to cover their deaths. The season’s most emotionally powerful story, Bubbles’s recovery, is highlighted by the rare act of quality journalism in the form of a long-form narrative feature, but we can appreciate his understated triumph in climbing his sister’s stairs only through the lens of fictional drama.

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