Lester is right: All the pieces matter

Both the Kinder and Polan articles note the mode of narrative transition in The Wire as cycling through a large ensemble of characters.  For Kinder, the shift from season to season and the characters within the institutions of focus allow for the city of Baltimore to be the show’s main character.  Instead of one protagonist, suggested as McNulty, that follows the traditional narrative arc, the characters are smaller unit stand-ins that help build Simon’s portrait of Baltimore.  Polan contends that the use of character substitution is an “implication that the future will be more of the same.”  It is not the singular storylines that form the series in its entirety, but the fact that these storylines are the elements of a cycle.

I found Kinder’s article to be complimentary of the ensemble cast because of the promise offered by the complex characters with “potential” that came from either side of legality.  For her, the emotional complexity of the series comes from these characters that act somewhat separately from Simon’s “systemic analysis.”  That is, we get to know these characters in the show’s environment that defies traditional television/film conventions for evaluation.  The freedom given to identify primarily with a character based upon their personalities and behavior is drawn from film conventions, rather than TV conventions.  By giving each character somewhat of a neutral introduction, we are able to see how they were condemned to their fates.  Kinder mentions Simon’s acknowledgement that the “primary dramatic model” of the series is Greek tragedy, in which “characters with potential are doomed by larger forces (in this case failing institutions rather than fickle gods).” (Kinder 54)  We see how the institutions fail these characters for no gain.

Polan gives praise to the show’s atypical conclusion because it fits in with the show’s focus on the city, rather than specific characters.  I agree that this is an effective use of the space offered in the television serial, as the unit of the season offers the freedom to separate elements from one another in favor of the big picture.  We are allowed to see how “all the pieces matter” by seeing all the pieces.

Both articles try to avoid focusing on the negative tone of Simon’s “urban experience” because it is this focus that discounts the meaning of the entire series.  Kinder brings up The Wire’s “foil,” CSI, to contrast the aims of both series, stating that while CSI may have mass appeal, this stems from its “escapism” from a real social context.  I think this is a nice way of saying that CSI is fairy tale, and while it is nice to have dependable stories in which bad is conquered by good, these stories have no place outside of the television set.  They disappear as soon as the program is over.  This is not true for the city of Baltimore, and the groundings in fact that The Wire has.  The cycle continues whether or not we continue to think about the series, or if we forget it.  I believe this is a helpful and meaningful use of television: using a medium that has the ability to make even the most foreign and outrageous stories seem possible and relatable to translate stories that our imaginations may have never considered.

One response to “Lester is right: All the pieces matter

  1. I like how you picked up that the series The Wire is like a Greek tragedy, where people’s downfalls are brought not by themselves, but by some external higher power that is beyond their control. This makes me think of the oedipal complex, where Oedipus is faced with a very strange dilemma that was brought on by his actions, but without his knowledge or intent.

    I can link this up to the detectives that find themselves in all sorts of trouble for solving a case that they were not supposed to solve. When trying to get to Avon Barksdale, the detectives land themselves in the middle of an illegal money transfer from the dealers of the wire, to a representative of the mayor’s office, which, according to the lieutenant and hierarchy of the police department, is not the case they should be solving. This is a good thing that they do, but it is not the right thing.