The ending of The Sopranos last year left its rabid viewers feeling as if they’d been instantly and unceremoniously whacked. But on Sunday night The Wire ended its five-season run on HBO with an honorable attempt to wean us off of its especially potent storytelling narcotic. It had been a jam-packed, almost frantic year for the show, with only 10 episodes — as opposed to the usual 12 or 13 — to push its damaged Baltimore chess pieces around and give us the sense that the writers were doing justice to the texture of the characters’ frustrated, ambitious, sad, violent and hopeful lives.
At times this year, The Wire wore all this eventfulness like a slightly ill-fitting suit. But for the most part, this season provided plenty of raw power with its great subject: the cycles of dysfunction that society and institutions propagate. We learned how a street robber like Omar is unmade, and a new one is born. We saw an addicted, homeless man emerge — literally — from below to sit at the table of life, while a promising kid tragically took his place. We saw a freed gangster try on a cloak of respectability, only to twinge with delight when blood marred it. We saw scandal end some careers, a terrified bureaucracy fling others upward, and just enough obligation allow others to tread water.
And at the end, we watched a ballsy, rogueish, smart, self-destructive and conscience-stricken ex-cop stare at the city that thwarted him at every turn, and with absolutely no irony call it “home.” For all its narrative rigor and distaste for juiced-up drama, The Wire has always allowed itself one stylistic flourish at each season’s close: a social-realist music video of sorts, with a montage of all its characters moving through their lives, and a rootsy song layered over them like a cloud made of earth. This time, it happened as the show’s anti-hero Jimmy McNulty gazed solemnly at his Baltimore, almost as if these final glimpses at this series’ citizens were an ever-pulsating, instinctive beat in his battered heart. And here The Wire eloquently brought to rest its truest point: Whether we can see and hear it or not, everything is connected.
TV might never find anything like The Wire ever again. As for us, we just have to open our doors each day and enter the world.