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A Bittersweet End to HBO's The Wire, One of Television's Great Dramas

It’s all over for HBO’s The Wire, by many estimates the best television drama ever.  The finale didn’t generate a Sopranos-like frenzy.  Mass audiences shunned the series, put-off by the  intricate plotting.  But loyal viewers who devoted time and attention to The Wire were enriched beyond measure.

There were moments of redemption, moments of heartache in the finale.  There were sweeping, devotional shots of the city - a sunrise over the port.  There were also no real surprises either, since most of the outcomes were clearly fated.  However, watching the inevitable unfold on screen was mezmerizing.  In the end, the natural, interdependent order of poverty, drug dealers, politicians, and award-hungry journalists and their editors, was maintained - an ecology built on lies, ambition and money.   

Baltimore’s mayor seemed to run a numbers game in his head where every decision was carefully calculated to support his run for the governor’s office.  Baltimore was a mere convenience, a stepping stone.  In this imperfect world, the mayor finally steps up.

After Detective Jimmy McNulty is demoted for conducting an illegal wiretap, colleagues hold an Irish wake for his career and sing a rousing chorus of the Irish folk-rock song, "The Body of An American."   The an audience sang along in their hearts, mourning the last light of a great series.

Baltimore’s real world mayor, Martin O’Malley, performed the song on-stage at the Festival of Baltimore as reported here by the Baltimore Sun.

(Like the fictional mayor on The Wire, O’Malley has since gone on to win the governor’s seat.)

The Wire’s fictionalBaltimore Sun editors chose to overlook mounting evidence of fabrications by reporter Scott Templeton, instead submitting his tainted material for a Pulitzer.

The lazy brown-nosing Templeton is rewarded and talented young reporter, Alma Gutierrez, is marginalized for whistleblowing.

     Nevertheless, tantalizing breadcrumbs remain.   City Editor Gus Haynes warns his bosses that they might have to return their awards since Templeton was headed down a road paved by Stephen Glass. 

Busted drug kingpin Marlo walks because of McNulty’s illegal wiretap.   But since the drug bust was a feather in the mayor’s cap, the scandal is hushed.  A backroom deal is brokered, and the case is iced.  (What’s a little obstruction of justice when you’re gunning for governor?) 

The terms of the deal require the ruthless Marlo to give up his "crown" or else, his lawyer was warns, the case could be re-opened.  The mayor would have little incentive to quash the case once he achieves his political objectives.

So Marlo sells his "business," offering his "connect" to a street consortium for $10 million.  But he soon lands on the alien planet of Baltimore’s real estate development crowd, dressed in bespoke suits and trailing his lawyer like a puppy at upscale cocktail parties.  Helplessly, he returns to his corner in West Baltimore and after re-establishing his dominance, he sniffs the air of the Baltimore streets like a dog.

      Yet, like a sunrise over the port, we are left with one transcendent story - recovering  drug addict Bubbles.  Bubbles lived in the dark hole of his sister’s basement, forbidden entry into her comfortable home, the door always firmly locked in his face.  But last night he proudly walks up the stairs and joins his sister at the dining room table. 

The irony, of course, is that the reconciliation was facilitated by a thoroughly researched profile of his journey, written by a young Baltimore Sun general assignment reporter - unheralded, unglamorous, pavement-pounding work probably overlooked by the big guys.

Oh, The Wire.  I miss you already. 

The Pogues, singing "The Body of An American."