In bad movies, the villain tells the hero, “You’re just like me!” The hero tends to disagree, or at least get upset about being in a movie with moral ambiguity. Now the hero is less of a good guy and/or the bad guy is less of a bad guy. Now the moral ambiguity is laid out for everyone to see.
The better way to imply moral ambiguity is what The Wire is doing.
The parallels between the two factions in The Wire are plain enough and the series doesn’t need to call attention to them. But what keeps getting me — this is only five episodes into the first of how many episodes of how many seasons? — is how consistently the characters are humanized instead of pigeonholed. How they’re like each other, or like other people we didn’t expect them to be like. Omar is the hardened always-one-step-ahead bad-ass, Brodie is the weasley punk, Herc (thanks for the heads-up on the spelling last week!) is the abusive asshole white cop, Bubs is the redeemed junkie, and Pryzbylewski is the good-for-nothing fuck-up consigned to the basement.
But wait, there’s more! Omar is gay (I like how Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell take this fact in stride, very matter-of-factly, as a data point instead of a revelation) and in a loving relationship, which is a much bolder choice than Kima being gay. Brodie and Herc play pool and enjoy an easy banter while waiting for some duty officer to show up. Herc even bought him a sandwich. Bubs goes from dismay to eagerness when his friend in rehab says he can’t wait to get high again. And those quick shots of Pryz whiling away the time playing word search puzzles pay off. I value few things in storytelling as much as I value the unexpected.
My favorite shot of the episode:
It recalls these shots that made quite the impression on my teenage brain many years ago:
But why couldn’t he have been whistling something besides The Farmer in the Dell? Public domain is for chumps.
Finally, as I watch The Wire, I can feel draining from me the awareness that Idris Elba has a British accent. With each episode, that fact get more and more remote.
(Wondering what’s all this stuff about an old TV show? If you support my Patreon campaign for $10 or more, once a month you’ll have to opportunity to assign me a review. The first season of The Wire won one of the recent drawings.)