'The Wire': The Last Edition
There's no such thing as a happy ending in this world. The wicked don't always get theirs. The good find that trying to do the right thing is, at best, a quixotic quest. There's no such thing as karma, because in David Simon's cynically humanistic view, cause and effect intersect in perverse ways. The existence of Crime does not mean there will be Punishment.
In other words: Yes, Marlo walks.
Scott wins the Pulitzer.
Gus is "exiled" to the copy desk.
And not all is well in the world.
There were no Clay Davis sightings last night, no moments of His Royal Corruptness stretching out the sibilant sound of his favorite expletive to musical effect. (Did you guys catch the HBO On-Demand Clay medley? Brilliant stuff.) Still, Clay's presence was felt, a sort of unseen Greek chorus -- because this is a Greek tragedy, remember? -- commenting on the action:
You think Carcetti's not above juking the crime stats, the better to seal his bid for the big house in Annapolis? (Insert Clay expletive here.) You think the muckety-mucks at the Sun will care that their golden boy Scott is a fiction writer? (Clay expletive here.) You think that Levy will be disbarred once it's revealed that he's a mendacious son-of-a-gun who's not above bribing the good officers of the court? (Triple Clay expletive.)
Here, even the good ones have a whole bunch of bones in their walk-in closets. Everyone from Carcetti to Rawls to Cedric to Rhonda knows that McNulty's homeless serial killer is a mere figment of his whiskey-soaked imagination. But to "out" Lester and McNulty is to let fly Pandora's box: Carcetti would look stupid for using the serial killings as an excuse to open a can of "whup" on the governor. Rhonda, through no fault of her own, could end up getting fired for authorizing the illegal wiretap that she didn't know was illegal. McNulty and Lester won't be prosecuted for doing their dirty deeds because everyone else would go down with them, the guilty and the innocent alike.
The result: the coverup to end all coverups. All is tainted, from the cop shop to City Hall to the Baltimore Sun to the Corner. Or, as a laughing Norman puts it: "[McNulty and Lester] manufactured an issue to get paid. We manufactured an issue to get you elected governor. Everybody's getting what they need behind some make-believe." (Reg E. -- the man's got a way with words.)
Cedric's pressured to "swallow the lie," and so he does. But he remains resolute in his determination not to cook the books, as Burrell did. Except there's the little matter of some dirty dealings he did back in the day with his wife. He could expose the City Hall coverup and let the chips fall. But he loves Rhonda, and he doesn't want to see her hurt. So he's faced with a choice: Put out or quit. He quits.
So though there are no happy endings, there are tempered ones, cautiously optimistic ones with open-ended possibilities. Prez makes a brief appearance with a new look and a new attitude. He's no longer at the mercy of his students, and maybe, just maybe, he can make a difference. Or not.
McNulty and Beadie make up, sitting on the front stoop of their house, leaning in close and watching the clouds pass across a full moon. Will they stay together? Will McNulty stay sober? It's anyone's guess. Bubbles agrees to let Mike Fletcher (the fictional counterpart of my colleague, the real Mike Fletcher) print his story and reconciles with his sister, who finally lets him out of the basement; Bubbles ends up eating at the dinner table with his sister. Will he and his sister continue to break bread together? Will Bubbles stay straight? Again, it's anyone's guess, but we hope so, we really do.
There are semi-happy endings for those who like to see the wicked get theirs. Kennard, the homicidal preteen, torturer of alley cats and slayer of Omar, gets busted. Chris does serious time with no hope of parole. (And what are we to make of his confab with Cutty in the prison yard?) Cheese, talking smack and wielding a gun, gets taken out by Slim Charles, who tells his twitching corpse, "This is for Joe." (RIP Joe.)
There are bittersweet endings for those who like to see life in shades of mottled gray. By a weird twist of fate, a homeless guy kills a couple of his vagrants, tying a ribbon around their wrists when he's done. He's a copycat killer, and he's perfectly willing to confess to whatever McNulty wants him to confess to. Rawls is perfectly willing to let McNulty hang all the "serial killings" on the homeless guy. But that's one line that McNulty won't cross.
McNulty and Lester don't get indicted. They don't get fired, either. But Rhonda makes it clear that they can't ever do real police work, either. So they quit . . . to do what? We're not sure. But after a riotous send-off at Kavanagh's Irish pub, they both make peace with the cards they've dealt themselves.
Gus fights the good fight for journalism. Gus is armed with evidence of Scott's misdeeds (Scott faked a kidnapping of a homeless guy! The cop shop called to complain!) only to be told by the managing editor, "This is getting personal between you and Scott and it's affecting your judgment."
"Maybe you win a Pulitzer with this stuff," Gus tells him. "And maybe you have to give it back."
Next thing we know, both Gus and Alma, who had his back, have been punished for whistle-blowing on Scott. All Gus (acted by the wonderful Clark Johnson, who also directed this episode) wanted to do was be a witness to amazing things, and then write about it. In case we miss the point, Simon has him making this speech to Alma against a giant quote by H.L. Mencken: "As I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than any other enterprise. It is really the life of the kings."
There are heartbreaking endings, inevitable endings, for those -- like me -- who know that Simon is painting pictures of what's really going down in the streets. Michael takes over the void left by Marlo by ripping off Marlo's money man. "You're just a boy," the money man tells Michael. Bam! Said money man falls to the ground, crying in pain. "And that was just a knee," Michael tells him.
And we when we last see Dukie, he's hanging with the junk man, the man we thought would be Dukie's ticket off the Corner. He's hanging with the junk man, and the junk man's horse is hanging with them, too. And Dukie's wrapping a rubber band around his arm, and he's grabbing a needle. I watched that scene over and over again, rewinding and fighting the urge to cry. Because even though I know that there's no such thing as a truly happy ending on "The Wire," in this instance, I really wanted there to be one.
And we're left to wonder who came out older but wiser:
Scott? He might have won a Pulitzer, but that showdown with McNulty in the copshop was enough to make him fly straight from now on.
Marlo? The street might still seduce, but he's not trying to do time. He'll stick with being a "businessman."
McNulty? He just barely escaped being indicted. Beadie welcomed him back with open arms. He might not be a cop any more, but he'll always have Baltimore.
We welcome your votes, your comments and your memories of the show.
Editor's Note: Teresa Wiltz discusses the "Wire" finale at 12 p.m. ET.
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