Great Expectations

To fully understand The Wire, I think you have to go way back. Back to Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. Back to The Corner.

Both of these books were created from David Simon having immersed himself into these environments for a year.

In Homicide, he spent a calendar year working with the detectives of the Baltimore city homicide department; with The Corner, he and Ed Burns spent a year by an open air drug market on Fayette Street in West Baltimore.

Homicide was truly gripping. You learned how the structure of the department didn’t really provide an environment that encouraged good police work. You followed the police, learned their idiosyncrasies, and you began to care about them. You learned to care about the victims, too. But the main characters were the murder police, silently, usually thanklessly doing their job.

In the “where are they now” epilogue, we find that the best a good murder police could hope for was a pension after twenty years, upon which he usually moved to the County, to a private security job, or maybe even Johns Hopkins. Some would become school teachers, some got kicked upstairs. Some stayed on, or got booted over to robbery.In any case, there weren’t really very happy endings.

As for The Corner, Simon upped the ante. The stakes are higher. I became much more intimately attached to the people in the story. They were real, with real human foibles, habits, charm, and humor. The lead character, more or less, was Gary McCullough. I wrote a bit about him before, but he just captured me. It didn’t help that the book included not only a map of the hood, so you could figure out the logistics of every scene, but it also included photographs of several of the characters. In the paperback version, they have the actors who portrayed the characters on the cover. Inside, though, you get the real people.

Gary at one point had been a very successful businessman, who lost it all to become a dope fiend. The toughest job there is. He gets a job working at a crab house, even though he’s allergic to shellfish. You cheer. You root for him to kick. You get your hopes up when he goes to the health food store, and when he goes to see Schindler’s List.You also learn about his ex-wife, Fran Boyd. You learn about his son, DeAndre McCullough, and his struggles. You learn about DeAndre’s brother, De’Rodd.

Then, at the end of the book, you get a where are they now.

Gary’s dead.

I cried when I read it, but Gary’s dead, he OD’d, just like you thought he would, just like my mother/sister did, just like everyone said he would. Still, that don’t make it no easier to read.

Fran is staying clean, DeAndre has ups and downs, and De’Rodd is doing well. Some got clean and stayed clean. But most of the other characters are long gone: Rita, Scalio, Fat Curt…

The point is: Do Not Expect Happy Endings.

The more episodes I watch this season, the more I understand that, just like in The Corner, the game is the game, and there are no fairy tale endings with it. And hell, The Corner was dealing with real people: The Wire is fiction — which do you think will be more brutal?

Remember when people got all pissed off that Stringer got capped? Well, happy endings are not the forte of this writing crew. When your favorite character becomes a victim of the game, whether it’s the game on the street, in City Hall, or at the paper, then don’t say you weren’t warned. When you’re trying to predict what will happen, keep that in mind.

There is one happy ending. This one brings tears of joy. Next time you watch the credits, look for about the next to last frame, and you’ll see the credit for Apprentice Editor. It is one De’Rodd Hearns.

He made it out of The Corner.



  1. […] of him as a cop, not a player. This is a mistake in a world where the game is the game (see Ashley’s post ). I forgot that nobody can have one side, good or bad, in this show. The cops and the crooks here […]

  2. Jesus, how I loved Homicide, seeing it for the first time. I lived in NYC then, working harder than I ever had, or have since, putting my ex through grad school. Fridays I would come home – end of the week at last, collapse and watch Homicide. It was like nothing else on television up to that time and in addition to the quality of writing and acting, and the in your face content, I loved the style of the production- the visual grittiness and the way they used music. As you remember, much like the Wire, it always seemed so iffy that it would survive another season, the sense was that so few people watched it, and there wasn’t yet the same level of internet community around television like now.

    The Corner was damned hard to watch. My ex was a social worker who specialized in work with IV drug users, and she wouldn’t watch the show with me. “That’s not entertainment, those are just more of my clients…”
    It was tough going for me to get through it. I was in awe that someone had made it and it was incredibly well done but, damn, it was hard and I can’t say I enjoyed it. I remember being relieved every time the ending credits rolled.

    I really ought to watch it again now, I guess.

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