Series finales are a cruel assignment for anyone who has slaved over a show for years until its bell tolls. It's especially daunting for a rarity like "The Wire," a show that has burrowed deep into the psyches of its ardent, often evangelistic fans.
The characters have been so finely drawn and fully fleshed out over the previous 59 episodes. How can one final hour (or even an hour and a half) do them justice for all eternity?
For David Simon, the mandate for episode 60, "30," was the same as every other "Wire" episode. Tell the story as truthfully as possible for the characters and their situations, and don't pull punches, even when you want to. That's why Dukie wound up shooting up in one of the final scenes. That's why Alma and Gus got demoted at the Sun for complaining, and Templeton got his Pulitzer. That's why Carcetti made it to the governor's mansion on little more than a trumped up serial killer case. That's why lawyer Levy managed to turn his own bust into a win for Stanfield that only enhanced his reputation as the reigning legal eagle for Baltimore's drug kingpins.
And that's why the seg -- written by David Simon and Ed Burns and helmed by Clark Johnson (who was such an electrifying addition to the cast this year as bloodied-but-not-bowed city editor Gus Haynes) -- opens with Mayor Carcetti flailing around in his office trying to wrap his head around the magnitude of what has gone wrong in the police department while Carcetti's media whiz, ex-Baltimore Sun staffer Norman Wilson, can't stop laughing. He may be in PR now, but Wilson's hasn't lost his reporter's calculus.
"They manufactured an issue to get paid. We manufactured an issue to get you to be the next governor. Everybody's getting what they need behind some make-believe," Wilson sez of the faux homeless serial killer case. "I wish I was still at the newspaper so I could write on this mess. It's too fucking good."
You can't say that "Wire's" finale was just another slice of life in a rotting city; it was definitely grander in its scope, story and commentary. But there was very little sentimentality for itself or the characters -- not that we needed to worry that much with this show -- and that made for a meatier swan song overall.
Last season's school-centric story line had so much emotional pull because of its agonizing depiction of how so many of the kids' fates seemed to be sealed before they left elementary school. This season, there was no magic transformation or sudden windfall of funding to help the Dukies and Michaels stay in the system -- far from it. There was only Carcetti's politically minded visit to an Urban League student debate (where we do see one success story, Namond, who once looked like he was headed for the thug life) where he uncomfortably tries to apologize to one of the educators who lost what little funding the city had kicked in for efforts to stem the crisis.
The ethos of the show, and this seg is encapsulated in two scenes toward the end. The chilling scene of the drug co-op leaders discussing the post-Stanfield business landscape in a vacant lot included a notable speech from Cheese about the law of the jungle ("ain't no nostalgia to this") and how they need to step up and seize their moment. And then he's dropped by a bullet fired into the side of his head by another dealer, Slim Charles, standing a few feet away -- one who wasn't buying Cheese's speech and had doubts about whether Omar really did kill Proposition Joe, as the Stanfield mob maintained. There's a moment or two of quiet and then the older man who handled money for Stanfield laments the loss of the money Cheese was kicking in to help them buy out Stanfield. "This motherfucker cost us money," he says in Charles direction.
The other pure "Wire" moment comes just before the dealer summit, outside McNulty's Irish wake at Kavanagh's bar as the Irish wake for McNulty winds down. Kima Greggs walks up to McNulty and Freamon on the corner (life happens on streetcorners in this show) and tells them -- with no preamble, no hyperventilating, no waterworks or even a nervous twitch -- that she's the one who told the top brass about their bogus serial killer.
"Detective," McNulty sez, paying her the ultimate respect, "if you think it needed doing, I guess it did."
There's much to "think on," as Bubbles would say, about this episode, and what the concluding plot threads say about the entirety of the storylines for McNulty, Freamon, Greggs, Bunk, Daniels, Bubbles, Carcetti, Omar, Michael, Stanfield and more central figures. No way this can be digested in one night.
For now, some highlights from "30" that struck me as mighty-fine work:
**"I'm a fucking joke, and so are you," McNulty fairly spits at Templeton, after he no longer needs to keep up the ruse about the killer. Actor Tom McCarthy does an incredible job of looking like a guy who's freaking out inside but trying to keep calm. "You lying motherfucker," McNulty needles. "At least I know why I did it."
**Scene between McNulty and Freamon after they've been busted but before the boom has been lowered. They suss it all out in Kavanagh's with the Irish jig playing in the background. "We got almost as much on them as they do on us," Freamon sez in a very Freamon-esque way.
**Exchange between Bunk and McNulty after the latter's been busted: "How are you not in jail," Bunk sez. "The lie's so big people can't live with it, I guess."
**Gus' warning to the mealy-mouthed managing editor Klebanow after Gus fights the decision to run Templeton's latest bogus serial killer story. "Maybe you win a prize with that stuff; maybe you end up giving it back."
**Carcetti pulls an Elvis after learning there's another homeless killer and throws his remote control at the TV set in his office -- but not before we're shown news footage of Greggs, Bunk and McNulty arguing over the victim in the copy-cat kiling.
**Gus meeting up with Alma in the Sun lobby after they've both been demoted for speaking out against Templeton. They converse in front of the oversized quote from H.L. Mencken about news reporting being "the life of kings." "The pond is shrinking, the fish are nervous," Gus tells Alma.
**Barrel-shaped police sergeant Jay Landsman paying his highest tribute to McNulty at the wake in declaring him to be part of the rare breed of "nat-chrel po-leece."
**The glimpse we get at the very end of Greggs and Bunk now working together as partners, and Greggs scolding Bunk to "watch out for that shell casing." "Wire" isn't known for providing a lot of laughs, but it does have its moments. Bunk's cigar-chomping shtick in this brief scene is a cross between W.C. Fields and Redd Foxx.
**The montage scenes in the last 10 minutes or so of the faces and places of Charm City. I've never once been to Baltimore, but I feel like I know it, thanks to this show.