“The Wire” was determined not to be another story of hero cops and faceless perps. No group on “The Wire” would be less fully human than any other. Every element of the drug chain was richly drawn, from the kingpins to the low-level soldiers holding the corners to the junkies. “The Wire” didn’t just have a cast, it had an ecosystem.
It also had an ideology. The drug trade, the show recognized, was capitalism in its most raw, potent, uncut form, with a killer product, a captive market and a disposable work force. No character illustrates this better than the gangster economics student Stringer, whose business training makes him both more pragmatic and more brutal: He’ll avoid violence if it’s bad for profits, but when he does go to war, it’s with a machine-like coldness. After all, it’s just business.
In a famous early scene, the gang captain D’Angelo Barksdale (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) teaches his corner boys chess, using drug-world analogies. The pawns — i.e., them — die early, advance rarely and win never. “The king stay the king.” But the parable that sticks with me comes when the young dealer Wallace (Michael B. Jordan), savoring a Chicken McNugget, says that the man who invented them must be rich. D’Angelo scoffs. Ronald McDonald is rich, he says. “Mr. Nugget,” he adds, is “still working in the basement for regular wage,” thinking of ways “to make the fries taste better.”
In the world of “The Wire,” everyone who’s not on top — police, drug dealer, bureaucrat — is in that basement, managing upward and hustling to find ways to keep Ronald McDonald happy. The clown stays the clown.
A tough sell
The first season spins a satisfying detective story. Then it asks: Did any of this matter? The gang keeps running, under new management. McNulty gets exiled to a police boat for ticking off his superiors. The money trail to local politicians is left hanging. The story you spent 13 gripping hours following is barely a Band-Aid on the city’s dysfunction.
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