For the past few weeks I've been struggling with how to encapsulate what "The Wire" means to me and more specifically how I'm going to say goodbye this Sunday.
And in all the previous drafts of this column I kept on coming back to the same concept - "The Wire" has essentially ruined television for me. I'll never look at the television I've seen before - and will see - in the same way again.
You see, at its core, "The Wire" is about choices and David Simon's lesson to us has been that everything we do directly or indirectly affects someone else. And when you wrap that lesson in a fable about modern urban life, the result is truly something to behold.
Simon's twist though is that it's not really a fable at all, it's actually based on his sociological observations from his years as a newspaper reporter in the very real city of Baltimore. And that makes it all the more heartbreaking.
Thanks to "The Wire," I get why our educational system is the way it is, why the drug war is the way it is, why the media is the way it is, why politicians are the way they are and why the hand we are dealt at birth pretty much determines our fate.
And the reasons behind all these aren't as grandiose and awe inspiring as my tone here would make you believe. The truth is it all comes down to the choices we make - the selfish, vain and egotistical decisions even the best of us find ourselves making. And even then you can't really pin it down to one particular moment, it's the end result of the domino effect created by all of them.
"The Wire's" drama then comes from how those choices come about and the intricate web they create. And if things weren't complicated enough - characters in "The Wire" aren't painted in plain black and white - cold blooded killers can express concern over their beloved pet fish while crusading detectives can cheat on their wives without batting an eye. In short, everyone thinks they are the hero of their own story.
But it's not an impenetrable sphere of choices and consequences. Each season we're giving a different way "in" to the story - a different subject and a different crusade. In the current season's case it's the media while previous seasons have focused on education, politics, economy and law enforcement. And with each season comes a new set of characters, our fresh set of eyes and ears as to what is going on.
And as the weeks tick by we start to get a sense of what Baltimore has in store for them and conversely what effect their choices have on it. We see how each season's crusade starts to build steam to the point that we think it will actually succeed (and in any other show or movie it would), only to watch it fall apart in the final moments. Now multiply that by all that we've seen and known from the previous seasons and you have hundreds of characters and hundreds of choices and hundreds of consequences.
Ultimately, you really get to see how Baltimore is a living, breathing thing. It literally gets to the point that the even the mere mention of a name or the briefest glimpse of a face can set off a chain reaction in your mind. There's a level of storytelling going on here that would take several doctoral theses to even scratch the surface of. That alone should make it worthy of being the called the greatest show in television history, but it's not.
The reason it should be called the greatest show in television history is that in spite of everything - the cynical, mind-numbing, oh-no-not-again, soul crushing portrait of how fucked life in Baltimore, and perhaps the world at large, is - there's still a small sense of hope for a better future.
(That and the scene in which McNulty and Bunk solve a murder by only using the word "fuck.")
And so as we approach Sunday's finale, all I can think about is how "The Wire" changed what I can expect from television. It can be that intricate. It can be that complicated. It can be that real. It can be that good.
So with that in mind I just wanted to tell the cast and crew of "The Wire":
Thanks for ruining television for me.