- Buy the DVD
All photos © HBO
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
f there’s one show guaranteed to go down in history as being criminally underappreciated, it’s David Simon’s “The Wire.” Though the series has often been dubbed the best drama ever made, it has never won an Emmy, and has only been nominated twice… for best writing. Most fans of the show have become accustomed to seeing their favorite program snubbed year in and year out, but that doesn’t make it any less wrong. “The Wire” is a masterpiece that, despite faltering some in its final season, still managed to rise above the quality of everything else on television.
After being lured back to Major Crimes with the promise of taking down Baltimore drug lord Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector), Det. James McNulty (Dominic West) is upset to discover that things aren’t going exactly as planned. When a citywide budget cut leaves Mayor Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) unable to overtime to city police officers, the investigation into Stanfield is suspended indefinitely. Curious as to what this means for Marlo and Co., Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) stakes out the gang on his off time, only to find that they have already resorted back to their old ways. On the top of that list is convincing the Greeks to cut out the middle man (in this case, Prop Joe) and deal directly with them, and perhaps more importantly, luring Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) out of hiding.
With officers unable to solve cases without overtime, McNulty gets the twisted idea to create an imaginary serial killer – with the hope that if the case earns national attention, the mayor will have no choice but to lift the overtime ban. Urged by Lester to sensationalize the killer by giving him a nickname and an M.O., McNulty’s Frankensteinian creation eventually becomes the Red Ribbon Killer, a murderer who only strangles homeless white males, leaves bite marks in inappropriate places, and ties little red ribbons around their wrists. Of course, there’s really no such man – McNulty is just using dead homeless men as his “victims” – but when Baltimore Sun writer Scott Templeton (Thomas McCarthy) pretends to have received a call from the killer in an attempt to get a story out of it, McNulty is more than happy to play along. Templeton’s editor, Gus Haynes (Clark Johnson), is less than approving of the situation, and though he doesn’t have proof that Templeton is making it all up, he suspects that there’s more to the story than pure luck.
While the world of “The Wire” is simply too big to contain in a single review, there are plenty of other subplots that should at least be mentioned. Carcetti’s decision to axe Police Commissioner Burrell (Frankie Faison) and fast-track Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) into yet another promotion plays a big part in the first half of the season, while Bubbles’ (Andre Royo) five-season journey to get clean offers up one of the show’s more emotionally rewarding storylines. Michael’s (Tristan Wilds) increased role as part of Marlo’s crew also delivers some interesting developments along the way, and though he’s not the only one of last year’s quartet to be featured in this season (Jermaine Crawford’s Duquan gets stuck in a Bubbles-esque downward spiral), he is the only one directly involved in the show’s major plotline.
The rest of the cast drop in and out like you’d expect, but with the addition of a completely new set of actors for the Baltimore Sun crew, they’re given even less time to shine – namely Wendell Pierce and Sonja Sohn, who played such a large role in the first four seasons that it’s a shame to see their characters tossed to the backburner for the final year. With the return of Dominic West to full-time status, it might not matter to some, because the English-born actor is the heart and soul of “The Wire.” Still, not even he can keep the engine running on his own. Although it would be nice to see West nominated for his work on the show, there are plenty of other actors who are just as worthy, including Clarke Peters, Michael K. Williams, Aidan Gillen and Reg E. Cathey as Carcetti's right-hand man. The worst infraction of them all, however, is Andre Royo, who pulls off Bubble’s micro vs. macro relationship with the city so well that it pains you to see his name left off the list.
The same goes for the series as a whole. While the fifth season had its share of criticisms, there’s no doubt that “The Wire” deserved far more recognition than it received during its time on the air – and even more so following David Simon’s gift-wrapped season finale. After the inadequate closure of other such highly-acclaimed shows like “The Sopranos,” most people probably didn’t think it possible to get a finale so right, but Simon delivered everything you could ever hope to see, and in doing so, only made you miss the series even more. All good things must come to an end, but when it’s as great as “The Wire,” sometimes it’s hard to let go.
Special Features: Following in the footsteps of past box sets, the four-disc release of season five contains six audio commentary tracks (including Dominic West on his directorial debut, “Took,” and co-creator David Simon on the series final, “-30-”), as well as two very different documentaries. The first one, “The Wire: The Last Word,” takes a look at the role of the media in the series and the real world, while “The Wire Odyssey” serves as a series retrospective with interviews by the cast and crew talking about their favorite scenes and characters, and reminiscing about auditions for the show. Both were previously made available via HBO’s OnDemand service, so it’s strange that the three prequel minisodes (used as promotional material leading up to the series’ final season) weren’t included as well.