“we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”

[I know 56 -The Dickensian Aspect is old news but I need to get rid of this post that’s been rattling around in my head, that I threw away more than once but still won’t leave me alone.]

The first thing we see at the beginning of the teaser is exactly what we do expect and want least to see: a body.

The thing is, it should not be coming from inside the condo, from upstairs. There should be a body right there in front of us already, and it should be Omar’s.

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One, two, three different characters, plus the camera itself, do the double take: up, then down. We almost expect the camera to shake its lens in bewilderment.

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“It don’t seem possible.”

“It don’t.”

Indeed, this is some Spiderman shit.

Paradox is nothing new on The Wire. The paradoxical nature of reality, and even more so, of the crueler ironies of American experience, have underpinned this show from the first episode.

That said, Episode 56 isn’t just trying to illuminate or play off paradox and contradiction in the lives of the characters, it is showing us how paradox itself functions, how institutions and individuals experience, and also exploit, contradiction and ambiguity.

Up front we have the contradictory threads weaving through the clusterfuck of the serial killer police case and newspaper story. Related to that, Baltimore’s homeless population is put under a microscope, exploited for political and personal gain, and yet remains invisible to the public at large.

Freamon, McNulty, and Carcetti all make grand pronouncements full of moral determination and resolve, none of which seem connected to the actions they subsequently take, while Bunk also draws some rhetorical lines in the sand of his own, only to be thwarted at every turn.

And of course, there’s Omar, playing out the classic myth of the hero’s fall from grace, literally: leaving his fabled duster behind, he hobbles away on the most Dickensian of crutches as the camera (again, completely self-consciously) pans upward to show us how the mighty have fallen. The hunted warrior, he’s able to hide in plain sight, just another homeless man, rendered invisible by misery.

One of the things that makes Season Five such a meta-rabbit hole is that it’s telling a story about story-telling. The story isn’t just about the telling, but even to a larger extent, about the reception of the story. How do those telling the story(ies) get over on their audience?

Which brings us again, to choice, to knowing versus believing: knowing the irrefutable reality versus choosing to believe the subjective experience.

Why and when do we choose — as human beings, as citizens, as participants in, and beneficiaries of, institutions — to believe what we believe?

More importantly, why and when do we choose not to believe what we see right in front of us?

Most importantly, why and when do we choose to not to see what’s right in front of us?

Do we as individual agents still have the ability, much less the obligation, to exert free will and choose the truth over denial even when competing external forces overwhelm our very perception of the world around us?

This is the meat of Season Five, this is the taste Simon/Burns, et al want to leave in our mouths after the story is over.

“What I saw happen with the drug war, a series of political elections, and vague attempts at reform in Baltimore….What I saw happen to the Port of Baltimore, and what I saw happen to the Baltimore Sun—I think it’s all of a piece.” Should his premonition of the American empire’s future—more gated communities and more of a police state—come to pass and were someone to say he didn’t know it was coming, Simon said, it will at least be possible to pull The Wire off the shelf and say, “‘Don’t say you didn’t know this was coming. Because they made a fucking TV show out of it.’”

6 Comments

  1. Said much better than I could.

    I was thinking about this in relation to Nicky Sobotka’s seeming “cameo”, heckling during Carcetti’s redevelopment presser. When Carcetti asks “who was that?” he’s told “It was nobody, Mr. Mayor. Nobody at all.”

    The irony is that Carcetti’s current public focus is the plight of the homeless, and as we know, one of the homeless living under the bridge is former stevedore Johnny Fifty. And former stevedore Nicky may or may not be one bounced check away from homelessness himself.

    There is little difference between the two men, and yet one is officially a “nobody” and one is officially “the primary focus of Carcetti’s administration”. The face that Carcetti has never and will never actually meet or get to know either man is beside the point. It’s the story that’s important, and as long as the story makes sense and has themes and plots and symbols, we are all happy to consume it. Regardless of the fate of either Johnny or Nicky. Easier to care about “the homeless” than to care about “a homeless person named Johnny”.

    The Wire shows us that nobody knows the whole story. Even The Wire doesn’t show us the whole story…what it shows us is that the whole story is unknowable, all the pieces so spread out and so interconnected that the machine cannot be perceived by any one person. Carcetti dedicates a new waterfront development which put people out of work and made them homeless so that Carcetti can publicly display righteous anger at their plight…while being proud of the investment that made them homeless in the first place.

    Mario Savio tells us:

    “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.

    But The Wire tells us that, man, you don’t even know where the gears are at. Those things you think are levers are fakes, the real apparatus is both invisible and hiding in plain sight, and the gears…fuck, you’re a gear. Give up.

  2. I was thinking about this in relation to Nicky Sobotka’s seeming “cameo”, heckling during Carcetti’s redevelopment presser. When Carcetti asks “who was that?” he’s told “It was nobody, Mr. Mayor. Nobody at all.”

    even more ironic because it’s fucking Krawczyk that says it-he’s like the white collar crime Zelig of The Wire- he’s got his hand in all the pockets, yet he blends into the background and never gets caught.

    Re Nicky being a paycheck away from homeless, remember when we last saw Nick, he was entering the fucking witness protection program!!!! He really is Nobody, or he should be. This is the last place he should be, yet for some reason, he’s returned in broad daylight, only to be referred to as “nobody.”

    And the vet, poor bastard can’t get over the image of “look ma, no hands.” Instead of knowing that at least he’s better off than the man with no hands (“I met a man with no feet”), he says, “He’s doing better than me.” They can spend thousands to give a man his hands back but they don’t even believe in what it is that destroyed the other man’s mind. There’s a story there. Randy has a story, Nick has a story, so does his friend under the bridge, so does every single person under that bridge. So does Larry, now known as Donald.

    t’s the story that’s important, and as long as the story makes sense and has themes and plots and symbols, we are all happy to consume it.

    see also spocko’s comment here

  3. Great post and comments! I keep breathlessly anticipating every new episode this season more than any previous season, and I will now stop wondering what is wrong with me for not wringing my hands over the supposed lack of realism of Omar’s “Spiderman shit” or the newspaper storyline. I will not allow the nitpickers and detractors to take anything away from what is shaping up to be the most resonant season of “The Wire.”

  4. Everybody has a story, but are they not told because we don’t want to hear them, or are they not told because no one wants to tell it?

    Stupid little chicken-and-egg that simplifies the issue way too much, but this post got me thinking about it and I honestly don’t know the answer.

  5. What a great post, VT! Geez, how come I haven’t read that CJR piece before now? Awesome piece.

    About Omar’s jump. I like how so many are locked into the “doesn’t seem possible!” aspect of it, but really, how many of us have any experience falling from 4 stories up? How do we know what is and isn’t possible? It doesn’t seem possible!? Well, Omar just jumped, you almost thought he was trying to fly across to the next building. What happened after he jumped didn’t matter so much, because he had a lock on the outcome had he stayed at the upper elevations in the gunfight…he’d be dead.

    Being able to analyze his possibilities and leap to an uncertain fate – that is Omar, still. An ultimate calculation he seems uniquely qualified for. Heh.

    The “meta rabbit-hole” is so perfect a phrase… yet how we are telling the story of our time is choking off the oxygen to a whole other world of possibilities, including solutions that might actually help. This idea leads to the meat of that wonderful CJR piece. One example there, focus on some people with SSI who aren’t THAT disabled, get a bunch of people cut off SSI; but ignore that some people got on SSI at the tail end of some other cut back so they wouldn’t starve to death or wind up under a bridge.

    But now we as a society are living with the fact that an entire segment of our population is homeless, under a bridge, and a whole other segment is a paycheck away from it. We live with it, but we don’t see it, and for most of us, we choose not to.

    And the bigger lie is: it isn’t important we know or care too much about it, and homelessness/poverty doesn’t affect us, even as less than 10 percent of the population takes control over more than half the nations wealth. Know what they say about the bigger the lie, right?

    The end quote from CJR wins with me, and I did love all 9 pages of the article. Although it is a shame the right story isn’t being told in the newspapers, The Wire tells us a story as important as anything being said, in any medium we have. How long before “gated communities and a police state” enters mainstream discourse? Not soon enough…

  6. the most Dickensian of crutches

    Those really are just like Tiny Tim’s little crutches, aren’t they?

    “God bless us, every one. Indeed.”


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