This season is amazing, partially because we get Amy Ryan all season.
Season 2 was my favorite season going into this rewatch. My first viewing of the wire started halfway through the original run, so it wasn’t until later I saw the first 2 seasons. This was the last puzzle piece, for me. Now, rewatching this program, I have to say that season 2 is both better and worse than I remember.
On one hand this is the season that hits what the rest of the seasons will look like with not just cops and criminals but another storyline thrown in throughout to contrast the police investigation. But this is also the first time they really try that so it doesn’t really land perfectly.
This season sees the move from their characters being just characters in three dimensional worlds more towards having tragic and heroic characteristics as they push forward stories filled with Homeric irony. The viewer can see the tragedy of this second season coming a mile away, but the way the show remarks on everything is where the show really starts to stand above TV at the time.
Last time I said to think about where you were and where TV was ten plus years ago. This was a pre-Lost show, pre-Breaking Bad, previous to all those things. The Wire isn’t just a show that doesn’t look much like other programs at the time but it also doesn’t sound like them. It was a sort of nascent form, and at the time it’s “speaking truth to power” format felt exhilarating. For years people in many different sectors had been bringing up the problems of the drug war, the problems of the two Americas, and yet this wasn’t really what we saw on the news or TV in general.
Generally these were considered radical discussions, no matter how much medical research or statistics were professing that the drug war has failed us, that schools have failed us, that police and politicians have failed us, the debate felt like something not worthy of discussion on the news. The reality is though, sadly, that as the mainstream newspapers fell into oblivion the internet really hasn’t had any sort of power in this discussion. It isn’t the same role. So now we have a neutered mainstream news with trivial following, and this disparate online news situation.
This is what makes me sad about The Wire, it was sort of this last gasp, and within a few years a lot of the arguments it made were null. How our society functions has irrevocably changed.
The first season of the show blew me away on the rewatch because so much was questionable now. Like would they have shown so much police brutality now or would they have felt it could get in the way of their story? Because pretty much all the cops beat up people kept in their custody. While it is an important narrative device in the story there’s a real unease that comes over me now watching these events.
The second season does away with the more boring elements of the police investigation. They’re still shown being bored or stifled, but it doesn’t create the weird rhythm of the first season. There’s also a grand story going on, the police are just one part of the thing, and there’s a helplessness expressed in their story. A scene early on shows several different agencies trying to keep from having to take on responsibility for multiple deaths.
The story for the season just feels like it was mapped out better. The conflicts seem more well defined, the connections between the realms reverberate more, and the bigger ideas the series wants to focus on are given more of a chance to be seen.
So there was a comic video online a while back where someone played a Wire video game, and when they get to the second season they use a warp whistle to skip the season. The joke being text popping up saying “you missed literally nothing”...I have to disagree so completely. There is a sense that the Barksdale story is pulled back, it obviously isn’t the most important part of the story, though there are some big developments in that world.
The second season is where the show really pulls the veil off and says “this is our point.” The absurdity of the police investigation is brought up in advance. The case is brought about because of a feud between two Polish men trying to get a stained glass window in a church. The world view of the stevedores is horrifying, going to meetings where they’re shown how machines are going to take their jobs or constantly dealing with the city selling off property for condos. There’s a deindustrialization going on and they can see it coming. There’s this unreality they deal with ever day that creates a weird tension on rewatch.
To help their situation they get involved in lobbying. To pay for the lobbying they start letting containers through. Things get bad. Then they get worse.
A motif of this season is following. I won’t say much more on that, but it was really interesting when I found that. God this show is good. Like there’s this interesting look at the espionage of these operations and government corruption. Also we begin to see the Department of Homeland Security start swallowing up dozens of other organizations. Like I said this really is an artifact of this particular time.
Looking at this season I have to say I have a lot of respect for what they did. They broadened the scope of the show, but didn’t lose the focus. They set up the format for all the remaining seasons and yet this is considered the odd man out. Since I’m already on season 3 in real life I’ll just add that the show is much better in season 3. I know that certain things are coming so I can say that I know it’s going to be an eventful season, but it’s not just that. Every episode just seems even more well paced with strong production values and giving the Barksdales more time feels smart.
In season 2 the Barksdale story feels like a side story. In season 3 every story thread feels vital, or at least more balanced. While D’Angelo is still an important character in Season 2 Ryan’s Beadie Russell is the heart of the show. On one hand her “new kid on the block” nature lets the police explain basic elements of investigation without coming off as bizarre exposition. Gone is the issue of season 1 where they explain something about the law to Daniels, the only member of the team to have a law degree. All those little moments seem better dealt with in season 2.
Beadie has this glimpse of the working class life in an interesting way. Also if you really watch her she makes this impossible faces throughout the season that kind of wreck every scene she’s in. It’s amazing but cute. She genuinely wins you over as an audience member and to the very end she still wants to see this situation diffused in as close to a happy ending as possible. But this is The Wire.
Also this season Bubbles gets sober for a bit. It’s one of the more important elements of the series and hopefully we’ll look at addiction a bit more later on.
Next time we look at season 3. The show now has 2 seasons of character development and storytelling under it’s belt so things are really picking up. Also in general it feels like they have a better idea of what works for both the look of the show and the feel of it. Also the show gets political, so there’s that.