Saturday, August 23, 2008

A quick note on the fifth season of the Wire (spoilers)

I am finally watching the fifth season of the Wire (four episodes to go), and also reading some of the old press about it. The fake serial killer plot to generate police funds is often cited as a willing suspension of disbelief problem, but I wanted to say this: the serial killer is the perfect counterpoint to the Wire. The serial killer, so popular in film and television, is attractive because evil is localized in this one figure -- take out the figure and the evil is gone. But just as Lost is about mysteries, and Battlestar Galactica is about character, the Wire is about systems: evil -- if you want to call it that, and probably shouldn't -- is diffuse, living in the structure people find themselves in. You cannot get rid of the problem by removing a bad guy -- you cannot even destroy the drug trade without taking into account the schools, the ports, and the press, and probably a dozen other things. Nothing highlights the Wire's stunning accomplishment demonstrating that you have to see the contexts, the big picture of systems, than the inclusion of the serial killer plot, which is nothing more than a convenient fiction both for the characters on the show, and in real life.


Voice Of The Eagle said...

I think "sin" is the best term for it, lower-case and in the broadest way possible.

But sometimes "evil" is the only phrase possible.


louobedlam said...

I suppose my problem wasn't with the inclusion of a "serial killer" into the show, but rather that for that to happen, several characters had to go outside, what I consider to be, what I knew about them. I found the lengths they went to strained credulity. I heard myself, on several occasions, say, "oh no way {so & so} would go for that, or do that."

I bought the city's response, but not the characters' actions that led there.

louobedlam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc said...

Sorry I'm coming to this a week late, but I think the fake serial killer plot was a much bigger problem than Geoff acknowledges. The criticisms about willing suspension of disbelief are often just shorthands for more complicated consequences that resist easy description.

For one thing, just as it's hard to write a cliche without descending into cliche and it's hard to joke about unfunny jokes without becoming unfunny, it's hard to devote an entire season to convenient, distracting fictions without also getting distracted by those convenient fictions. Irony and condescension never provide enough insulation. The serial killer plot takes too much attention away from the legitimate police investigations and bureaucratic anthropologies that were the previous seasons' bread and butter. And it doesn't provide much in their place: sure, it shows us how corrupt and incompetent the police bureaucracy is, but that isn't exactly news after five seasons. And while it's a great example of a compliant media getting duped by a trumped-up threat (draw your own analogies, kids!), the media criticism part of the season never amounts to much either (mostly b/c that plot has its own problems).

The serial killer plot isn't just flawed because it shows characters acting in unexpected ways, which is the most common criticism I saw. (For my part, while I thought Jimmy's initial act was too unbelievable, everyone else followed through exactly as we should've expected them too, including Lester.) The fake serial killer violates the show's tone (too absurdist) and drags it too far away from what it does best. That's not quite a violation of suspension of disbelief--it's far worse.