I am not good with goodbyes. And neither is David Simon, which is why he left us back at the beginning back where it all started. He dropped us off on the sidewalk stairs and told us to go. And we didn't wave or smile, we just turned and walked away like a 5-year-old on their first day of school. And then he got back in the car and pulled off. And we were left standing at the doorway, with mitten clips and a lunch box, to figure it all out on our own.
The beginning is the end and the end is this: The children don't win. The cops don't get their man. The streets don't care about the world and the world doesn't care about the streets. The newspaper didn't get the story and lies aren't a side of the story, they're just lies.
And that is where The Wire left us, somewhere between truth and lies in a slate-gray space of middle-ness. Not really on one side of the story or the other, just smack dab inside it all: the murkiness of corruption inside the government, on the street and the newspaper. And the only thing we are left with is that there is no truth.
Lies are what had us believing that Stringer Bell would actually become a legit businessman in Season 3. Lies are what Dukie tells Prez to get him to come up off $200 dollars so that he can get high. McNulty and Templeton feed off lies to further the own selfish goals. Countless people got smoked because the lies caught them up in the end.
And somewhere inside all these lies is us, the omnipotent viewer. Not watching from above, but from the inside. We are standing on the street when Dukie rides by on his horse carriage to go get his tester. We are inside the house when Prop Joe closes his eyes for the last time. We know that Clay Davis is juicing Stringer Bell, but we are silent as we watch these transactions. And that is what The Wire created us to be: an ongoing piece of the melodrama. These people are not fictional they are archetypes. All of the actors aren't actors (at least not before The Wire) they are real-life bad asses. The line between television and reality got altered and blurry and somewhere in there is something about us, something about how we view this life.
That's why Season 4 is the most heart-wrenching season because this is where we see how the street cycle starts. We meet the kids and then we watch them become the characters that we have grown to love. We see first hand the painful transmutation of street-tough, little-brother-loving Michael into a younger version of Omar. We watch Dukie struggle in school, struggle on the corner searching for acceptance and ultimately digressing into Bubbles (pre-recovery).
But one thing we learn is that the cycle is the cycle; it doesn't matter the scene. Make too much noise on the street and you get killed. Make too much noise in the newsroom and you get cast off to the Siberia bureau. Make too much noise in the government and you get forced out of office. And that is what The Wire has taught us; that the process is the process and it is bigger than life. That caring about the people in it isn't enough to save them. That knowing the difference between right and wrong doesn't always mean you advocate goodness. That in the end, there is no end, just a new start for someone else who was waiting in the wings to take their turn.
I doubt there will be another show that invest this much energy into finding the problem and holding a magnifying glass there long enough to see close up, but also close enough to burn. The Wire rubs you raw. It makes you uncomfortable. It is an oxymoron from conception to conclusion and it is probably the greatest piece of fictional journalism ever written.
It mirrors life and I couldn't help but think in the scene where young reporter Michael Fletcher and Bubbles are talking about his article about him. Bubbles asks if he thinks that the story will make a difference to which Fletcher answers, "I don't know." I wonder if this is what David Simon felt at the very beginning when he sat down and decided to craft this narrative about fictional characters that would change our lives.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a Washington writer.