Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 25 Greatest Moments in The Wire

Presented from the Best to the 25th Best... Your commentary is appreciated.

Warning: If you haven't seen this series in its entirety DO NOT READ THIS it contains nothing but spoilers. Seriously, even if you think you'll never watch it... don't read it because YOU NEED to watch it.

Best Scenes from The Wire

1) Avon and Stringer on the balcony
In a scene that is more powerful for what isn’t said than what is, the full dynamic of the relationship between Stringer and Avon comes to light. Stringer’s ambition collides with Avon’s loyalty to the game and it is clear to everyone, including the two friends, exactly how this is going to play out.

2) D’Angelo talks about the Great Gatsby + his initial decision to testify against Barksdale
These two scenes, despite stretching across two different episodes and two different seasons are essentially part of the same extended narrative. This is the redemption of D’Angelo, where he confirms for us what we’ve kind of known all along: the fact that he isn’t cut out for the family business and that the pressure to be something he’s not is killing him. If only he knew.

3) We used to have ourselves a community speech from Bunk to Omar.
Everyone’s favorite character meets his match in this scene. What throughout the series is seen as Omar’s perfectly consistent moral code is shown to be inherently flawed by an irate Bunk. Omar and his vigilante justice is as amoral as the corrosive violence of the series’ kingpins and the fumbling bureaucracy of the public institutions that enable them. This is a rare instance where Omar is rightfully humbled.

4) Bodie and McNulty’s conversation in the park, “I feel old”
In a series that is filled with tragically flawed villains and anti-heroes, no character aside from Bubbles attains the type of redemption that Bodie does. As he discusses his feelings toward the game with McNulty for the first time the viewer starts to see that the brash 16 year old from Season 1 is not a kid anymore… just as you realize it, so does Bodie and he utters what might be the most heartbreaking line of the whole series, “I feel old.”

5) The “Fuck” scene
Occurring early in Season 1, Bunk and McNulty dissect an entire murder scene using only derivations of the word Fuck. This doesn’t advance the plot much but it is the first point that the viewer realizes that the show’s creator David Simon has set the hook… from this point on you just get reeled further in.

6) Death of Stringer Bell
Is it okay to call this the most shocking death in television history? Of all the larger than life characters in this series none of them came close to the power of Stringer Bell. Perhaps what is most shocking is that the fierce Stringer doesn’t die the death of a soldier, he dies groveling… attempting to bribe his assassins before reluctantly accepting his fate.

7) Faculty meeting/Police meeting
Any public employee can watch this scene that cuts back and forth from a Teacher Work Week faculty meeting where an outside consultant inculcates the apathetic teachers with bullshit strategies that won’t work and a police department meeting where a Homeland Security specialist does the same can sympathize. The bureaucracy is made to protect the ass’ of superiors… to juke the stats… and we are left to deal with it.

8) D’Angelo talks chess
Would D’Angelo have been able to define the literary term allegory? Maybe not, but who cares. In a perfect preview of the basic theme of the series, D’Angelo gives it to his employees straight… in politics, drugs, unions, etc. the odds are and will always be stacked against the pawns.




9) Wallace gets his siblings ready for school
The care with which Wallace, already a drop out at 16, prepares his younger siblings for school is heart wrenching. Packing juice boxes, checking on homework… seeing this, a suburban white viewer gets new insight into the economic underpinnings of not only the American drug trade but poverty in general by seeing it in as real a depiction as TV can provide.

10) Snoop buying nail gun
Stephen King called Snoop the most terrifying character in the history of television. This is her big moment. The moment where you realize that she is a next level bad ass. What, after all, is she going to do with that nail gun? This scene also provides perhaps the best depiction in the series of the urban Baltimore world overlapping with isolated American suburbbery.

11) Dinner at Ruth’s Chris
Speaking of the urban world meeting isolated suburbbery dynamic… In this scene Bunny Colvin takes the winning group from a class project to a fancy steakhouse for dinner. Like Bigger Thomas’ character in Native Son it becomes clear very early in the scene that the children feel uncomfortable… cornered by the world into which they’ve been dropped. The formerly brash shittalkers suddenly become embarrassed and awkward teenagers when asked to dwell in a world with which they’re painfully unfamiliar.

12) Marlo murders Prop Joe
Who can’t Marlo get to? It is clear by this point in the series that the old guard gangsters from Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are being replaced by the indiscriminately brutal rule of Marlo Stanfield. But Prop Joe? Surely with his guile and elder statesmen status he will avoid a violent end. No dice. This scene is a stark reminder that truly, “the game done changed.”

13) Omar testifies against Bird and RAVAGES Maury Levy in the process
Is there anything as satisfying as seeing someone called to task for their hypocrisy? After watching this scene where Marlo humiliates super attorney Maury Levy, my answer would be no.

14) Bubbles’ AA speech
What does it say about this show that the only character for whom you root with no qualifications is a con man and heroin addict? In his final address to his AA group, Bubbles says everything that you’ve wanted him to say since the series began, and in a show that counts the possibility of redemption as a main theme, we are treated to what is perhaps the only fully redemptive moment from the character that we root for the most.

15) Bunk burning clothing
So oddly brilliant that it must be true. Bunk’s mumbling about the fibers on his clothes tipping off his wife to his numerous affairs is high comedy and McNulty’s “rescue” of him is classic buddy comedy material.

16) Bubbles is consoled by Waylon after overdose of friend.
After Bubbles suicide attempt in the police interrogation room, we see one of our favorite characters whose life has seemingly been comprised of one low point after another reach his nadir. Seeing Bubs silently break down into the arms of Steve Earle’s superbly acted Waylon through the glass of the mental hospital over the death of Sherod shakes you to your very core.

17) Policeman’s Wake for McNulty
I like to call this scene The Apotheosis of McNulty. As The Pogues’ “Body of an American” starts to play anyone familiar with the series starts to wonder just who died. You learn though that it’s more a matter of “what died” than “ who died” as McNulty’s career with the BPD is given a ceremonious farewell.

18) Chris and Snoop chasing Michael… with paintball guns.
By this point, it’s been well established that Chris and Snoop are this series’ angels of death. When you see them you best believe that someone is going to get got. That’s what makes this scene so disorienting and terrifying… you are left to think that Michael is ready to meet his doom. But… a paintball gun? really? Really.

19) 40 Degree Days
The man can construct a metaphor. The sarcasm and thinly concealed rage with which Stringer attacks his lieutenants for subpar performance is perfectly constructed. I find myself using the 40 Degree day analogy on a regular basis and it maintains its heft.

20) Omar buys Honey Nut Cheerios
One of the most fascinating and literary scenes of the entire series. As the episode opens, Omar, motivated by an almost childlike desire for his favorite cereal is forced to leave his apartment without his gun. At this point, the viewer has become quite attached to Omar and you are CERTAIN that he’s a goner as he enters the convenience store unarmed and unprepared. Ultimately, the whole ordeal ends unceremoniously with the only hiccup being the fact that Omar has to buy normal Cheerios this scene however takes on a new meaning in its eerie foreshadowing of Omar’s eventual demise.

21) Carver freaks out behind steering wheel
Really, any of dozens of scenes dealing with the school kids (8th graders which makes the whole story especially meaningful to me) could make the cut here. The scene however where Carver is forced to leave Randy at the group home is one of the few, but always powerful, moments where one of the main characters’ frustration with the dysfunctional system spills over. The silence of the scene created by the closed car door lends an otherworldly quality to the whole scene.

22) Bodie and friends see Carver and Herc at movies
Perhaps one of the funniest moments of the entire series and another one of those, “street world meets the world of the police and both worlds recognize how much they have in common” moments. Bodie’s line, “And you must be the lovely Mrs. Herc,” always slays me.

23) McNulty tears Breonna Barksdale a new one in the interrogation room
From the moment her son dies suspiciously in prison, you get the feeling that Breonna knows that there’s more to his death than meets the eye. Conveniently ignoring the circumstances and blindly trusting Stringer and Avon have allowed her to block this out… that is until McNulty shines the light of guilt directly on Breonna. McNulty’s obvious attachment and sympathy for D’Angelo makes this scene almost retributive in nature and seeing the consistently despicable Breonna realize the much of the blood in D’Angelo’s death is on her hands provides a strange sense of closure to the entire situation.

24) Khima Gregs’ Goodnight Moon
Simple, powerful, encapsulative of the entire series. Gregs’ own rendition of Goodnight Moon to the child that would have been her son is informed by the entire aesthetic of the show and serves as one of the most memorable final scenes of an episode in the series

25) Prezybylewski’s first day of school
This is informed more by personal experience than anything else but I think by in large, that’s what makes the Wire so appealing. No matter how bland and suburban you THINK your job is, The Wire explores that world as well, tackling the tedium of public bureaucracy better and more fiercely than any other artistic product… well… ever. As Prezbylewski struggles to reign in a room full of way-too-savy 8th graders, the teacher in me can’t help but cringe.

3 comments:

PTET said...

Great post :)

Golly gosh, I do love The Wire...

Anonymous said...

You left out one scene in my opinion, the end of episode 12 in season 4 where Randy is at the hospital after his house gets torched. Carver comes up to him to console him but Randy is reluctant to be comforted. As Carver leaves the hospital we hear Randy say "You going to look out for me Sgt. Carter?" Your going to look out for me? You promise?" Again we hear these words echoed a few times at the episode ends. Im not sure what it was about this episode but it tore me apart. Poor randy, the only level headed goodkid who wanted nothing more than to fit in while still following all the rules. And Carver who felt powerless to help a kid he knew was not like the other street hoppers.

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled upon this - some great choices there.

But I need to agree with the post above. Probably the best moment in the best season of The Wire (season 4) is the penultimate episode - Randy in the hospital, and Carver walking away from him, seen from behind, into the light. Like the last person, this whole episode tore me apart. It opens with the great scene where you think Michael is running from Chris and Snoop, only to see that he has fallen in completely with them, then you see how he reveals what he has become in his treatment of Kenard, and then takes out his own frustration and contempt on Namond, who is left with nowhere to go, and then, at the end, Randy's home is fire-bombed, and you have the scene with Carver. It is crushing - for me the very best episode in The Wire, period.

I would also like to add: (in no particular order):

1. Ziggy kills double G (S2). This is a phenomenal scene. Ziggy has been pushed and mocked and derided as far as he can take, then he snaps. Suddenly, he is not the butt of the jokes; he is revealed as deeply tragic character as he breaks down in the car.

2. Stringer tells Avon what really happened to D'Angelo (S3). The silence at the end of the scene, especially, and the direction that visually divides the characters with the pillar...

3. "Where the fuck is Wallace?" (S1) D'Angelo finally explodes at Stringer, and the first splits appear in the organisation.

4. The Montage at the end of S4, after Michael's first hit, where Chris's voice wakes him up from his reverie: the crushing moment where, in his head and his heart, he's holding on the last vestiges of his innocence, helping his brother Bug with his math homework.

5. The scenes between The Bunk and Lex's mother (S4). The tension in the room between her and the other guy (presumably Lex's father) and the gravity of what is not being said, but is hanging in the air between them.

6. The montage at the end of S2: Nick looks out over the docks and the abandoned industrial works, his uncle dead, his cousin locked up, his home torn apart and he himself in protection. This is the character who started the season out as the smart guy, the good guy. His conscience catches up with him throughout the season (when he rebukes Ziggy for dealing, or on the old lady's stoop, for example), but here, at the end, he is faced with what has really happened. It's like Greek tragedy.

I never caught The Wire on TV, but heard so many good things about it that I decided to get the complete box set. I have a lot of TV series on DVD, but seriously, this is the best thing I've ever seen. I read Zola, Tolstoy, Dickens and Dostoevsky, and to me this is just as good. In one of the extras on the DVD, one of the contributors says that The Wire should have won the Nobel Prize for literature. Sounds right to me. I bought the series just under a year ago, and I have watched it straight through, start to finish, 5 times in succession, without a break, over this time. Nothing else has been in my DVD player since I bought The Wire.