Wednesday, March 19, 2008

If The Perfect Could Lie Down With The Good

The Wire is over. Like millions (okay, thousands) of Wireheads, I am having a hard time facing a post-Wire world. It was the best series that television has ever produced, combining consistently engaging interconnected plots, impeccable acting, impeccable writing, a finite time to tell the stories (rather than dragging things out to meet network tv standards), a willingness to assume that watchers have enough intellect to infer certain plot developments, meaningful insight into its topics, and an enormous amount of heart for its subjects, ugly though they may often have been. It didn't have or need the dream-logic of The Sopranos, as great as that was. It didn't have or need the constant florid filth-poetry of Deadwood, as great as that was. It had the other kind of poetry, the everyday kind, and the other kind of logic, the Chinese puzzle-box kind.

This isn't to say that it didn't have its flaws. The final three episodes were fantastic, especially the penultimate one, but I wonder if their excellence would have shone quite so bright without the lackluster beginnings of the season. In the last season, the Sun story, in particular, never gelled, and the serial killer story could have worked better with a little bit more of a slow burn into it.

And this is where I'm going to do something stupid to prove my love for the show. I know The Wire made a point of rewarding hubris with downfall, but I'm going to offer my too-late suggestions to fix the final season, hubristic though it may be for do-nothing me to offer suggestions to those who drove The Wire. If you haven't seen Season Five yet, you may wish to stop here.

I get what Simon et al. were saying about the media. The Sun leadership was focused on the personal success to the point of indifference to the truth, the owners cut personnel without recognizing that higher-paid staff was paid more for a reason, and those who were left often missed the real story because they didn't have the necessarily knowledge and reach. However, by focusing on the fabulist Templeton and the saintly editor Gus to the exclusion of many of the other characters, Simon et al. missed an opportunity to dramatize some of the larger issues facing the media in the 21st century.

They needed several more characters, first off. They needed an ambitious TV reporter delivering stories both serious and light with the same lack of depth. They needed a blogger trying to write real news, but uncommitted to following through to ensure accuracy. I think by adding in those characters, even in the background, The Wire could have turned their indictment of the media's failings into a better story. I think they needed another couple of episodes for the story to gel. I think the Sun story should have focused more on Alma and given Templeton, Whiting, and Klebanow more depth. I don't have all the solutions, but here's some scenes that could have changed my take on the story:
  1. Somewhere in the beginning of the season, McNulty sitting in a bar by himself, watching TV. The TV reporter is talking with a director filming in Baltimore. He says his movie is about a serial killer stalking people around the Edgar Allan Poe House. Among the banter, one of them drops that serial killer movies make decent money.
  2. McNulty and Bunk catch a body near the Poe House. McNulty catches sight of the movie being filmed a block or two away. Bunk is bitching about the lack of pay for real murders.
  3. A young Carcetti staffer is talking to his friend at a bar about how he overheard his boss looking forward to Clay Davis's indictment. His friend goes home and updates his blog about Baltimore politics.
  4. Alma is reading the blog, Gus looking over her shoulder. He wants to know if they have a story about this. They mention that their online content is subscriber-only, anyway.
  5. More scenes with Alma and Twigg. She is the one who should realize that his sources have been carefully cultivated over time. Twigg shouldn't be forced out until a few episodes later, because Alma should feel out of her league without him.
  6. Templeton should have a crush on Alma. The early episodes should establish that Templeton is trying to be a good reporter, but he's not likable enough to get people to talk with him. When he decides to embellish something the first time, it should be a major moment.
  7. Alma should be flattered by Templeton's obvious crush, but unwilling to do anything about it. Their dynamic should allow for scenes where Templeton admits his secret ambitions and exudes a need to impress her. His first embellishment should have something to do with impressing her. Whatever it is, he needs to make some sort of note in his pad that will eventually lead to her realizing that he's a fabulist.
  8. Klebanow and Whiting should have a conference call with the Tribune where they fight for their budget and only reluctantly give in. It should be clear that they're both interested in the awards, but want to keep around the old-timers to help them achieve the prizes. Like Burrell with his ambitions, they're not at the Sun to dismantle it, but to use it for personal glory.
  9. When the serial killer thing breaks, the tv reporter should scoop the Sun at every turn until Scott starts making shit up. In fact, they should have McNulty more attracted to the tv reporter than to Alma, and not shift his focus to the paper until Templeton forces him to.
  10. When the Clay Davis thing starts to break, Tony Gray should reappear running for Davis's State Senate seat. Carcetti's staffer should quit his office to work on Gray's campaign, which feeds the blogger mostly true stories, but often obviously fake ones, about Davis and Carcetti.
  11. The Sun should kill a story for lack of sources that the blogger publishes. It should be clear that some of his stories wouldn't pass the institutional review.
  12. Templeton's notepad shouldn't be empty, but demonstrably false. By the end, Alma should want to believe the best about Templeton despite her doubts. Although Gus has the most doubts about Templeton, he should have confided in Alma beforehand. She should have stuck up for Templeton, but when Templeton throws the notepad at the desk, she should flip it open to the page from earlier where he's written something that she and she alone will know means that he's been embellishing the news.
  13. Earlier, Whiting and Klebanow should be under pressure from the Tribune to increase sales. The Tribune mentions the tv reporter's serial killer coverage and the blogger scooping them on local politics. This leads to Twigg's being let go. It should be clear that when they decide to back Templeton, they're doing so because they've already submitted his work for prize consideration. Someone other than Gus should bring this to their attention.
  14. Alma should work on a story that threatens to expose or contradict Templeton. Klebanow should get wind of this, and threaten her with dire consequences if she continues her research. She should end up passing the story to the blogger, who publishes it. Someone at the tv station should see the story and consider covering it, only to be discouraged because one of the Tribune's partners owns the tv station.
  15. When Alma is shipped off to the county, it should parallel Jimmy riding the boat as much as possible. We should see the blogger being hired as the Sun's online editor.
  16. At some point, Gus should be given a Sophie's Choice between saving Alma's career and saving something equally valuable to him. Just because his righteous indignation needs to be tempered by a little damnation.

I think that's it. More Twigg, more Alma, a bit less St. Gus. A more-nuanced motive for Templeton, Whiting, and Klebanow. Rival media sources providing shallower news coverage with less verification. The Sun's mistakes shouldn't merely be backing the fabulist, but cutting competent reporters with institutional knowledge, having little idea of how to do online content, and not appreciating that verifying news stories is more important than getting there first. Also, Jimmy should have gotten the serial killer idea from the media.


My photo
Cary, NC, United States
reachable at firstname lastname (all run together) at gmail dot com

About This Blog

From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

  © Blogger templates Brooklyn by 2008

Back to TOP