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Caught in "The Wire"

By admin Published: January 6, 2008

Clark Johnson

The great HBO show is back tonight. I have seen seven of the 10 episodes that will wrap up the series, and it is unbelievably good. More, some of it spoilerish, after the jump ...

There's a scene in one of the later episodes where, without giving away too much, two characters are talking with others in a room. Each character is sitting on a huge lie. As the discussion goes on, one of the characters recognizes the other's lie, while the other is left to wonder whether his lie has become the truth. Making it even more complicated, each lie benefits not only the liar but the other guy. So that, as well as the presence of the other people in the room, means that no one is going to be outing anybody. In fact, in that moment, both lies have become grand things, and will set great forces in motion.

I know, pretty vague. But you will know the scene when you get to it. And you will smile, both because of that moment and all that has gone before it. "The Wire" is brilliant that way. And just about every other way, too.

But I need to back up. In this fifth season, "The Wire" is still in its bleak landscape of crimininals and crime-stoppers, of politicians and agendas and all sorts of things that repeatedly keep justice from being done, that sink its setting of Baltimore even deeper into urban despair.

Within that framework, "The Wire" has also included ruminations on the big issues of our time. Last season, it was modern education. This time, it's the news media, especially the newspaper business embodied by the real-name-but-fictionally-portrayed Baltimore Sun, where "Wire" creator David Simon once worked.

The Sun is a paper with an urban crisis of its own in the form of ownership demands for better profits, which means staff cutbacks and a search for ways to bring back readers and advertisers. This is a story of just about every contemporary newspaper, not just the Sun's, and many of the details ring true. (For example, the newspaper bosses in "The Wire" keep referring to "doing more with less," a catchphrase that many a modern newshound has choked on.)

The newspaper scenes have prompted some debate among journalists, but I think a lot of them ring very true. Still, they are just part of the larger story of "The Wire," a morass of moral ambiguity that is riveting, if often demanding, television.

Of course, it most benefits those viewers who have watched the four previous seasons (all available on DVD, by the way). But with a little effort, you can fall into "The Wire" without a scorecard. And the reward for doing so is considerable.

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