Episode: “More With Less”
Opening quote: “The bigger the lie, the more they believe.” —Bunk
Because there are so many things to talk about, we want to start out by talking about a character who barely appears in this week’s episode, one who doesn’t even have any lines. Beadie Russell, the Port Authority police officer who put Jimmy McNulty on the straight and narrow in Season Four, is apparently having problems keeping him there in Season Five. She puts in only a momentary appearance in this season’s premiere, as a voice on the other end of the phone while McNulty, a drunk’s drunk if ever there was one, unconvincingly claims he’s working late. (“I always slur when I’m tired!” he slurs.) Later we see her sitting up in bed waiting for him, finally padding to the front door and resignedly turning off the porch light. A moment later, we see the porch light come back on.
It’s a potent scene for a lot of reasons. One of them, of course, is that it reminds us how little The Wire offers its female actors to do; Amy Ryan, who plays Beadie, is currently a Golden Globe nominee and an Oscar front-runner for her incredible performance as an unfit mother in Gone Baby Gone, a role that, if it was played by a man, would be rich and complicated enough to appear on The Wire. Leaving that aside, though: Like many scenes in The Wire, Beadie’s quiet moment skirts dangerously close to a cop-show cliché but manages to find its own kind of authenticity through the power of its details. How many long-suffering wives have we seen on cop shows before, waiting up late for their husbands? But on the other hand, how many other cop shows would underline a moment like this with the tiniest of reminders of a throwaway moment three seasons ago, when McNulty first put the moves on Beadie but fled her house without closing the deal, made uncomfortable by the evidence of her children — the same children Beadie checks on now, before she heads to the front door to look for the man who hasn’t come home.
Anyway, there’s a whole new front opening up in The Wire; much as the real Baltimore Sun fears, David Simon’s clearly preparing to hammer his fake Baltimore Sun all season long. “Someday, I want to find out what it feels like to work for a real newspaper,” one editor mutters on a smoke break, and though the paper is populated by pleasant Simon archetypes — the wisecracking but wise boss, the ambitious youngsters, the old-timers just trying to do the job — that should be no comfort to journalists, since we should know from the past four seasons of our favorite show that no institution goes un-reamed in The Wire. And as many have pointed out, the reaming is likely to be more vigorous than usual, given Simon’s long-held and well-nursed grudge against the “white guys from Philly” — John Carroll and Bill Marimow, the top editors at the Sun installed by the paper’s new corporate parents who, Simon believes, ruined the newspaper. Just in this first episode, we get to see a silver-haired, clueless caricature of Carroll descend upon a “Metro”-section meeting, spout off about his friends in academia, and single-handedly ruin a story.
The ratings might not improve in this, the final season of The Wire — we imagine that any bump the show got from its strike-caused lack of competition last night should immediately evaporate as every new viewer watches the premiere, scratches his or her head, and next week DVRs American Gladiators instead — but this will undoubtedly be the most-loved season for the show’s No. 1 fan, the ink-stained wretch. It was already our favorite show, and now it’s about us? Talk about the perfect storm!
What else happens in this, the premiere episode? As is typical in season openers for this long, slow, chess match of a TV show, a whole lot, and almost nothing. Where other shows spend maybe the first ten minutes of a season opener setting the scene and offering exposition, The Wire spends a whole episode, or two, or three, doing the same job. (Also like a chess match, seasons often end in a frustrating draw.) Budget cuts shut down Colonel Daniels’s Major Crimes unit, sending McNulty and Kima back to Homicide. The mayor is pumping money into the schools and still pissing off everybody, but with diminishing returns. Bubbles (real name: Reginald!) is clean, for now; Marlo is untouchable, now and maybe forever; and Michael and Dukie are corner boys. Michael’s good at it and Dukie isn’t. Bunk is up to his old tricks, getting some poor mook to confess to a murder using the old Xerox lie-detector trick. And McNulty … well, as promised, McNulty is drinking again. Boy, is he ever.