As the summer continues to wear on so too does my viewing of HBO’s all-time classic series The Wire. While the first season focused on the Baltimore drug trade, season two shifts focus to the blue-collar workers down at the port. I’ve watched eight of the season’s twelve episodes and have a review coming right up…
THIS REVIEW FEATURES SPOILERS.
“Today we got ships, uncle Frank, today. But the writin’s on the f***in’ wall.“ – Nicky
“F*** the wall.” – Frank
The Wire is a massive show. It features numerous characters and plot lines and takes a very deliberate approach to its storytelling. So how does a show like this not crumble under its own weight? Better yet, how does it continue to tell a story featuring characters we already know while introducing an entire crowd of new ones? Thankfully, David Simon and his writers knew the answers to those questions so we don’t have to wonder. Season two of The Wire continues to build on the events that took place in season one while opening the book on a new chapter of the city of Baltimore.
Season two finds our favorite drunken Irishman Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) banished to the BPD marine unit as punishment for his actions in season one. He’s profoundly unhappy, as is to be expected. Naturally, trouble seems to follow McNulty around when he finds the body of a dead girl floating in Baltimore harbor and of course he can’t let that go. We also see familiar faces like Kima and Lt. Daniels adjusting to their new circumstances post Barksdale investigation.
Meanwhile we’re introduced to Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), his son Ziggy (James Ransone), and nephew Nick (Pablo Schreiber) who work as stevedores(*) down at Baltimore Harbor. Frank is fighting to preserve his union’s way of life and in doing so, pisses off BPD Major (and Prez’ father-in-law) Stanislaus Valchek. While Nick and Ziggy struggle to make their own way in a world that doesn’t have much use for stevedores.
Things get rocky when a port police officer (Amy Ryan) stumbles upon a shipping container filled with 13 dead girls. This discovery, along with the body McNulty finds and the feud between Frank and Maj. Valchek form the main drive of the season’s story.
(*) A stevedore is a person employed, or a contractor engaged, at a dock to load and unload cargo from ships. Thanks Google for the definition!
In addition to all of that, season two continues to follow Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) as he continues to run the Barksdale drug empire. We also see a fair amount of Avon and D’Angelo as they serve out their prison sentences. This part of the story is largely disconnected from the main plot at the port but it is no less compelling. Thanks, in large part, to our existing investment in the characters connected to this story.
Time waits for no man, and that is most definitely the case in season two. Frank is fighting with all he has to preserve his union and their way of life. The problem is, the world is moving on and that leaves precious little space for stevedores. The main theme of season two is nicely summed up by the lines that I quoted above. Frank has little to no interest in changing his life. This is all he has ever known and forget what anyone else says about it. I suspect that rigid view of things will be his undoing.
A large part of the story of The Wire follows characters as they attempt to change who they are only to be sucked back into a destiny that was chosen for them. Case in point, the story of D’Angelo Barksdale. (Big Spoilers here). D’Angelo spends much of his time in season two trying to distance himself from his family and the drug trade. Eventually this is seen as a threat and Stringer moves to have D’Angelo(**) killed. It’s a heart breaking and tragic end to one of many characters who had little to no choice in the direction their life took. This is a theme all to common on The Wire but it illustrates just how hard it is for someone to truly change themselves.
(**)I have to mention that D’Angelo’s final episode features a moving parallel between The Wire and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby. Pay attention to that scene.
As with the first season, season two begins by laying a lot of ground work. Several episodes go by before much progress is made with the investigation or in the other storylines. However, this pays off in spades once the latter half of the season begins. Just like with the members of Avon’s crew in season one, we spend a lot of time getting to know Frank and the other stevedores. Because of this, you come to understand each of them and their various desires and flaws. The appropriate amount of time is taken to establish each character so that their storylines carry weight.
That same care is once again given to the investigation as well. Every episode doesn’t feature a massive break in the case because we are watching these detectives (who are all very good at their jobs) build a new case piece by piece. The process is made all the more interesting because we are watching characters we have come to know very well do what they do best. The detectives featured in the show are more than just their badges. We have seen them beyond their work and have come to know why each of them is where they are. It’s astounding how much I care about each member of this ensemble.
Season two of The Wire continues the shows deep dive into the city of Baltimore. By focusing on the port, it expands the scope of its already massive story in an organic way while also continuing with the themes established in season one. In short, The Wire continues to astound me. The level of care placed into this story is nothing short of incredible. Once again, you need to watch this show.
Some other thoughts:
- Lester Freemon a.k.a “Cool Lester Smooth” continues to be one of my favorite characters on the show. Clarke Peters is amazing. Then again, so is the rest of the cast.
- The imagines featured and the singer of the opening theme are different this time around. The imagines have changed to reflect the change of focus to the port.
- This was supposed to be “a short post.” With The Wire, that isn’t possible.