The end of The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke Mar 11, 2008

WARNING, **EXTENSIVE SPOILERS** ABOUT SEASONS 1-5. So, The Wire is over. The 60th and final episode of the show aired on Sunday night. I watched it last night and felt very sad afterwards. Sad that it's over and that doing a sixth season could not and would not work. A good chunk of my morning was spent clinging to the show's final moments; I must have read close to 50 or 60 pages of interviews and analysis concerning the end of the show. Here are a few of those articles worth reading:

Heaven and Here is providing their usual excellent coverage of the end of the show.

I don't know if Cheese's speech about the game was one of the more definitive the show's ever put forth, or the ultimate in dime store Wire-isms. I also don't know which way it was supposed to be perceived by the characters. But that it was immediately followed by a murder that contradicted everything it contained — one that went against a lot of what's been both depressing and demoralizing about the show — was kind of awesome.

Alan Sepinwall has the definitive end-of-the-show interview with David Simon. It's long but oh so good.

We knew that if we got a long enough run, all three of the chess players would be out of the game, so to speak. Prison or dead. We did not chart all of their fates to a specific outcome, but we knew that the Pit crew would be subject to an exacting attrition.

We knew, for example, that when Carcetti declares that he wants no more stat games in his new administration that the arc would end with his subordinates going into Daniels' office and demanding yet another stat game. Or that McNulty would end up on the pool table felt like Cole, albeit quitting rather than dead. Or that Carver's long arc toward maturity and leadership would begin with him making rank under ugly pretenses and then being lectured by Daniels about what you can and can't live with. (It's at that point that Carver slowly begins to change, not merely when he encounters Colvin's integrity.) We knew that the FBI file that Burrell would not be put into play in season one would eventually be used to deny Daniels the prize.

Sepinwall also wrote an extensive recap of the final episode.

Heather Havrilesky's interview with David Simon on Salon covers some of the same ground as Sepinwall's interview but is still quite fine. Here's David Simon explaining what the whole season five newspaper thread was all about:

[The season] begins with a very good act of adversarial journalism — they catch a quid pro quo between a drug dealer and a council president — which actually happened in Baltimore. Not necessarily the council president, but between a drug dealer and the city government. That whole thing with the strip club? That really happened in real life. It was news. The Baltimore Sun did catch that, it was good journalism, so I was honoring good journalism. It ends with an honorable piece of narrative journalism, about Bubbles. And the Baltimore Sun has, on occasion, done very good narrative journalism.

In between those bookends, which I thought were important, because in our minds we weren't writing a piece that was abusive to the Sun or any other newspaper ... the paper misses every story. They miss that the mayor wants to be governor, so ultimately the guy who was the reformer ends up telling people to cook the stats as bad as Royce ever did. Well, in Baltimore that happened. And they missed the fact that the third-grade test scores are cooked to make it look like the schools are improving, when in fact it doesn't extend to the fifth grade, and that No Child Left Behind is an unmitigated disaster. They set out to do a story on the school system, but they abandoned it for homelessness because they're sort of reed thin. Prosecutions collapse because of backroom maneuvering and ambition by various political figures, speaking of Clay Davis ... And when a guy like Prop Joe dies, he's a brief on page B5.

That was the theme, and we were taking long-odd bets that very few journalists would even sense it. That would be the critique of journalism that really mattered to me, because we've shown you the city as it is, and as it is intricately, for four years. It was all rooted in real stuff.

The last of Andrew Johnston's recaps for The House Next Door. He remains skeptical about the newspaper part of season five's main plot:

In my decade-plus as a professional journalist, I've seen a lot of people compromise their principles in order to stay employed, but never have I seen so many people compromise so much. At the risk of seeming terminally naive, I have to ask if things are really that much worse in the newspaper world than they are in the magazine biz (and now that I've raised the question, I'm sure more than one person will provide evidence in the comments below that yes, things are that bad).

Yanksfan vs. Soxfan views The Wire through the lens of Baltimore sports.

From the air, the picture isn't quite so romantic. The satelite image above shows the site that was once home to Memorial Stadium. An entire neighborhood is oriented in a horsehoe around it. But there's practically nothing on the site now. It's a void. The last remnant of Memorial Stadium came down in 2002. That was a concrete wall dedicated to the soldiers who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. It read, "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds."

The Orioles moved into Camden Yards in 1994. You'd think that, when the city agreed to build a new home for the team, there would have been a plan for the old site. But that's not how the development game works. A rising tide doesn't necessarily lift all boats. The money was downtown, and that's where it stayed.

Assorted other articles that I'll leave unexcerpted: AV Club interview with Simon, final episode recap from Thoughts on Stuff, and a letter on HBO's site from David Simon to the fans of the show.

And finally, a few other tidbits.

Now that it's done, I think we're going to cancel HBO and everything but basic cable. I doubt it'll be missed much...aside from sports and movies, The Wire was only thing we watched on TV.

Reader comments

JacobMar 11, 2008 at 4:10PM

Wow, what a great writeup of all the post-Wire recaps and reviews, Jason.

My girlfriend and I began watching the show with season one episode one last fall, and after seeing David Simon speak at the New Yorker festival, we quickly caught up with the show so we could be there for the finale. Like you, The Wire was the only show we watched on television. (Sheeeit, we haven't even sprung for basic cable. Watched the show via Netflix and the 'net, partner!)

The Wire was David Simon's eulogy for Baltimore, and like a lot of people, I was crying when it came time to put the casket in the ground.

And speaking of funerals... We're planning a wake for Omar in Baltimore in the next week or so. Newports and Honey Nut Cheerios, anyone?

Dennis GMar 11, 2008 at 4:14PM

Great episode. Have to watch it again, the second time is usually the best b/c it is easier to pick up on the small nuances.

I also noticed some references to David Simon's new HBO show, Generation Kill. While also watching the previews for that very show, I spotted Ziggy Sobotka driving a HUMVEE. Don't cancel your HBO for too long.

Winslow TheraminMar 11, 2008 at 4:19PM

"Now that it's done, I think we're going to cancel HBO and everything but basic cable. I doubt it'll be missed much...aside from sports and movies, The Wire was only thing we watched on TV."

Man, you really put one through the uprights!


EmMar 11, 2008 at 4:22PM

I felt that maybe Namond was on his way to becoming Bunk. This is based on the conversation between Omar and Bunk about their personal codes, where they find out they went to the same high school and had very similar upbringings.
Namond is from the same small W. Baltimore neighborhood that produced Michael (the new Omar) and seems to have escaped through a combination of luck, coincidence and personality.
I also thought given Randy's cameo this season in the group home and his shared last name that he would likely turn into Cheese. It was kind of rewarding to hear Simon acknowledge the father-son link.

We moved to Baltimore from the Midwest almost exactly a year ago and this show has been an incredible anthropological and emotional tour guide to our new home. I'm pretty sure we live in David Simon's neighborhood. I can understand why so many people love Baltimore, but at the same time, it is not necessarily an easy city to love. I feel like The Wire has been an enormous cultural gift to us as we learn our way around.

jkottkeMar 11, 2008 at 4:40PM

One thing I forgot to add: reading about the investigation of Eliot Spitzer reminded me of The Wire. Except that Spitzer probably isn't going to Clay Davis his way out of this one.

turbanheadMar 11, 2008 at 4:40PM

The most satisfying moment was indeed Cheese getting capped by Slim Charles - topped only by the other drug dealer responding "This sentimental motherfucker just cost us money!!"

krwMar 11, 2008 at 5:01PM

It was pretty much all the wife and I watched too. Now I'm going through withdrawal. I just finished Simon's books and now were stuck watching the dvds over and over until they disintegrate.

ps Great blog. You know/knew my wife as part of your past web exploits...

DavidMar 11, 2008 at 5:07PM

Now that "The Wire" is over, let's see some well wicked vids of dogs on skateboards!

John RodenbikerMar 11, 2008 at 5:12PM

Hate to be that guy but my wife and I turned off cable altogether in June 2006. Between broadcast TV, the Internet, and Netflix we have not really missed it.

When we travel it's a minor excitement to watch cable wherever we're staying. But usually it's just a reminder of how much crap is out there and how much more we can put into our daughter's college fund.

We are both convinced, and have convinced others, that TV on DVD/iTunes is the absolute best way to watch TV.

NoahMar 11, 2008 at 5:16PM

Despite what most people are saying, I actually think that the newspaper storyline was a good and necessary way to conclude the show. It had its flaws, sure, but it was an important part of the puzzle.

For me, the defining moment of season 5 was when the newsroom characters were discussing the proposed series on schools. Remember that scene? Whiting explained that they're going to use schools as a way of discussing society's ills. Gus (and maybe another character too?) argued that you had to look at the lack of parenting, the poor local economy, political problems, etc., all of which failed the kids before they even got to school. Whiting explains that the paper can't get "bogged down" in something sprawling and needs to keep a tight focus. Scott says that they don't need much context for a story on a classroom, and Gus says "I think you need a lot of context to seriously examine anything."

To me, that argument was what Simon wanted to say with season 5. The media tries to explain the American underclass by nibbling away at the edges, cherrypicking the accessible storylines. The Wire was taking the rare long approach, getting itself "bogged down" and trying to offer a lot of context. But I don't think Simon is trying to boast that his way is the answer. After all, I don't think you can look at The Wire as a whole as offering any particular solutions for how to fix all these problems. It's just trying to make a little sense of them. Offer some sorely-needed context.

(And if you really want to get meta about it, think about that last paragraph in terms of The Wire's ratings.)

ChadMar 11, 2008 at 5:26PM

I don't want to be a wet blanket here, but why is everyone (Kottke included, and a few of the above comments) celebrating Cheese's death? Cheese was a monster if there ever was one, but the open satisfaction I'm reading in blogs and reviews around the web is leaving me a little queasy. One execution does not cancel out another in some kind of cosmic balance of justice.

OK, wet blanket removed; The Wire was the best television show I've ever seen. It was shaming, beautiful, funny, and enlightening.

Joe CrawfordMar 11, 2008 at 5:40PM


Prop Joe, for all his duplicity, deception, and drug-dealing, was charming as hell. The delight in his killing I think stems from a feeling of revenge.

Joe CrawfordMar 11, 2008 at 5:41PM

"his killing" --> "Cheese getting killed"

Kirk FranklinMar 11, 2008 at 5:47PM

I wished that season five would be a Godfather II-style prequel

There were The Wire web prequels before season five started: Young Prop Joe (1962), Young Omar (1985), and Bunk and McNulty (2000).

JoeMar 11, 2008 at 6:23PM



jakeMar 11, 2008 at 7:43PM

The only quibble I have Jason is that I think Kenard is destined to be a Weebay/Chris type character, not Marlo or Avon.

I too will greatly miss the show. Piggybacking off the mention of Ziggy in Generation Kill (which will hopefully be reason enough not to cancel HBO quite yet Jason) I'm curious to see where this great cast of actors ends up. I hope they get the work that they deserve but I fear for them. Does anyone trust that Hollywood or tv producers (aside from Simon) have the smarts to find a place for Snoop?

Matt Zoller SeitzMar 11, 2008 at 8:47PM

Thanks for the link, Jason.

PS -- if anybody's interested, we made a screencap of David Simon's finale cameo and used it in layout for Andrew's recap. The article's here; the Simon pic is midway through.

KentMar 11, 2008 at 10:32PM

I'm going to miss the wire. IMNSHO it was one of the best shows in the history of television.

Farid MashhadiMar 11, 2008 at 11:24PM

"The Wire was only thing we watched on TV."

Did you mean: The Wire was the only show worthing watching on TV? I am going to miss The Wire as well.

KariMar 12, 2008 at 12:31AM

People who dont see how the decline of newspapers factors into all of the issues The Wire dealt with are naive at best. It's not surprising the news media was upset about what David Simon had to say, most journalists are caring individuals who tend to think of themselves as the good guys.

But as institutions newpapers have abdicated a lot of ground over the years. When I was in j-school, they taught us that we had to write to the fourth grade level if we wanted readers to be able to follow along. There was a lot of jingoism about the public's right to know, but the focus was never on conveying the complexities of American society. And even at the college level, there was a focus on prize winning and gotcha journalism.

The result has been the slow evisceration of newsrooms, which suddenly sped up in the past few years as advertisers raced to the Web and the corporations who own the media properties panicked and attempted to squeeze every bit of remaining profit out of the newspapers.

Narrative and long form journalism became the metier of good magazines, while newspapers began to ditch expensive experienced writers and editors - and when they had to replace them, they tried to do it with cheaper, less experienced workers. Daily journalism is even being outsourced to low wage workers in India to save money. Newspapers started focus-grouping their coverage to figure out how to give their readers what they wanted - instead of trying to give their readers what they needed, which was information vital to an informed citizenry.

So we got more Britney and more Good News and more comics and more blowhard commentary and less depth on the newsdesk. Which may not have been all that great to begin with, but it was better than we've got now.

And not to lay the end of civilization as we know it on the door of hard working reporters, but the results of all the dumbing down and downsizing do tend to speak for themselves. The vast majority of Americans were easily manipulated into believing that Sept 11 was connected to Iraq. And five years into a war in the Middle East, here we are.

Is it all connected? I dont know. I'm sure there's some contrarian out there right now explaining that America's actually smarter than it's ever been in the past, not dumber, and looking back at some of our actions and reactions, they may or may not be right. But one could argue that with the collective knowledge of the modern world being what it is, there's no longer any legitimate excuse for some of our ignorant policies and actions anymore. Yet even today no national politician will say we need to end the war on drugs because the policy has failed.

Maybe The Wire is proof that all is not lost, that people hunger for something greater. Too bad it just ended.

dougMar 12, 2008 at 2:49AM

Slim Charles shooting Cheese in the head was the most satisfying moment I've ever witnessed on TV.

Oh my, word. And let it be said that Royce wasn't as bad as we made him out to be, at least as far as measuring him up against Carcetti goes.

JamesMar 12, 2008 at 4:59AM

If you're counting Ziggy and Mouzone as a main character, then one was missed - Theresa D'Agostino

DanMar 12, 2008 at 9:30AM

Thank god that's over.

Believe it or not, many of your loyal readers weren't all that interested in "The Wire" and were getting really really really sick of hearing about it.

Kind of like when you're best friend discovers scientology and can't stop talking about it and you're like "Oh my God, will he ever just shut up" and you start thinking "If he doesn't stop, I'm not sure I can be friends with him anymore..." and then you're like "well who's gonna be my best friend now...Bill? He admitted crying at the last episode of "Everyone loves Raymond....what's up with that." And then you get all depressed because you don't know what to do.

But the show's over now Jason, and we're friends again and we're all done talking about it, RIGHT?

Dennis GMar 12, 2008 at 9:32AM

Next time anyone watches Goodfellas, make sure you watch it til the very end. You will see a familiar actor from The Wire talking to Henry Hill when he goes to pick up his brother at the hospital.

At any point in his few words, you expect him to blurt out "Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet." Just a small hint as to who it is.

Mike BelgroveMar 12, 2008 at 11:13AM

Me and the other writers over at Highbrid Nation loved The Wire. Actually, one of our guys just did a post today talking about how important The Wire was to viewers as well as the cast.

I think The Wire is one of those shows that most people won't truly get until years from now. 20 years from now people will look back on the Wire as one of the greatest shows ever created.

jkottkeMar 12, 2008 at 11:14AM

Believe it or not, many of your loyal readers weren't all that interested in "The Wire" and were getting really really really sick of hearing about it.

Please, go away. Seriously. If you're not interested, stop reading. Go outside with a favorite book or something instead. I thought my approach to kottke.org was fairly clear after almost 10 years: I DON'T FUCKING CARE WHAT YOU DO OR DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT. I post, you read, that's the deal. There's no "I'd like four graphic design posts, two book reviews, and something about photography with a side of bacon, hold the mayo". If you don't like my filter, there are literally millions of other blogs out there to choose from.

This probably isn't the last post about The Wire on kottke.org...adjust your expectations accordingly.

DanMar 12, 2008 at 1:00PM

Please, go away. Seriously. If you're not interested, stop reading. Go outside with a favorite book or something instead. I thought my approach to kottke.org was fairly clear after almost 10 years: I DON'T FUCKING CARE WHAT YOU DO OR DO NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT.

Hey Jason, I was merely making jest of a minor irritation shared by myself and a few others who LOVE your blog otherwise. I hope I made that pretty clear in the generally silly nature of my comment post above.

I respect your position, but I also think you could have responded in a nicer way.

jkottkeMar 12, 2008 at 1:27PM

Dan, my apologies. Your comments sounded genuine to me and I responded as though they were not in jest.

In any case, I encourage you to give The Wire a shot. :)

DanMar 12, 2008 at 1:32PM

Thanks, man. I appreciate the apology. I'll even give the wire another shot.

(thanks for fixing my html too.)

WahMar 12, 2008 at 4:43PM

Thanks for the great reading.

Great show, gone the way of so many others.

Ben EdwardsMar 12, 2008 at 6:18PM

I am still disappointed that the show is over. I don't believe in letting things fade away until the suck but I would have loved to see The Wire for a season or two more. Failing that, I am not sure I am such a big fan of the 12 episode season. I still think character development is cool and I like waiting for things I know (or think I know, will happen).

All that said, the 5 seasons that there were, were amazing. I loved how they mixed in so many walks of life and truly tried to give a cross section of urban life in America. I am going to miss Omar, Chris, Bunk, and Michael. I wonder what will capture our attentions next.

Thanks for the coverage, man!

KMar 12, 2008 at 6:43PM

You've Got To Watch The Wire

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.