All good things must come to an end. HBO’s “The Wire” is no exception. It came and went like a flash of lightning, and its thunder will resonate for generations. David Simon gave us a show that we never asked for, because no one was quite ready for what they were about to watch. Terror. Death. Life. War. And a game that never ends. And the HBO masterpiece would have been nothing without its outstanding collection of characters, played by an indisputable cast of visionaries who brought to life exactly what this show is about: humans. The legacy of this incredible show would be nothing without its characters. Those who spoke to us. Those who frightened us. Those who we may never forget. “The Wire” gave us characters that will be remembered as pariahs but will always feel like family.
Much has already been said of James McNulty and the outstanding performance by Dominic West. But what of those who surround McNulty, those who care for him, those who work for him, or those who betray him? Just about everyone is either out to praise or kill James McNulty. Standing at his side is Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce), maybe the only person on the show who would never betray McNulty (and people betray McNulty like it’s the latest fashion). At the head of the major crimes team is Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick), a strict compliant to the system who also has an aching desire to make legitimate, pragmatic change. And then there’s Detective Shakima Greggs (Sonja Sohn), a tough woman in a game that is dominated by men, always willing to crack skulls for the sake of a case. Finally, there’s the unexpected hero of the first season, Detective Lester Freamon (Clark Peters), the aging detective who has been tossed around by the system, but brings true police work to the major crimes unit. There are other members of this unit that come and go, but this set of outstanding, memorable, and extremely complicated characters are those that we are supposed to root for, which most of the time we do. They’re the ones who go out of their way for the sake of good and take risks that I doubt many of us would even think to attempt. They’re tired and hungry for change. They are the heroes that we imagine all cops should be and never are because of their disrupted idealism.
And then there are our villains. The criminals. The vandals. The dealers. The disenfranchised. The lost. At the top of the food chain is Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), a charismatic soldier with eyes on power and his heart in the hood. He wants nothing more than to retain authority and take out anyone who stands in his way. He’s a man with a code; no matter how willing he is to pick up a gun, he also knows how to put it down. To his right is a man whose code isn’t as clear, Russel “Stringer” Bell, played by the extremely talented and renowned Idris Elba. He’s a more complicated villain, one that you don’t quite see coming, always playing the game on the sidelines while Avon is on the offense. One of the most interesting aspects of Stringer’s character is his connection with government and politics. He is definitely the white man’s friend, even though he may be one of the most brutal and lawless villains on this show. And then there is Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector), a calm, cool, collected tyrant, with his band of merry psychopaths, Christ Partlow (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Felicia “Snoop” Pearson (Felicia Pearson). Not much is revealed about Marlo, but one emotion can always be felt whenever he or a member of his crew is on screen: fear.
But just as prominent as the good guys and villains are the characters who are in the middle. The ones that you are not very sure you should support, or whose side they’re even on. Characters like Detective Thomas “Herc” Hauk (Domenick Lombardozzi), a bad cop who gets good results. Or Detective Roland “Prez” Pryzbelewski (Jim True-Frost), a good man who never should have been a cop. Or Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), a hardened man who is willing to break a few rules to help others out, even if it means getting in the way of our heroes. These characters are the ones who test us and present to us an ugly truth of life: People don’t always act like we’d like them to.
There are two characters on this show that will probably always be remembered as two of the greatest characters ever created: Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins and Omar Little. These characters have already been mentioned in earlier parts of this review, but they deserve more of a mention. They’re the two characters that really never asked to be involved in this game and are really making the most of what they can: Bubbles, a junkie who just wants a good life, and Omar, a gay black man in one of the roughest parts of America. These characters really test the bounds of strength and persistence through lives, as black men in America, that have been designed to let them fail.Bubbles is beaten, addicted, and left to die. And yet he keeps fighting. He never gives up. He never stops believing in himself. Omar is hunted, exiled, and hated for who he is. But he stands tall in the face of aversion and takes from those who can and will take everything from him just because of who he loves. Omar and Bubbles are two of the reasons that “The Wire” will always be remembered for its complex cast of characters.
And then there are the kids. As mentioned in an earlier part of this review, the fourth season of “The Wire” focuses on a group of young kids living in the crime-ridden streets our heroes wish to “clean up.” And these kids bring the show from fantastic to masterpiece levels. Not only do they each give surprising performances for child actors, they outrank maybe most of the actors on this show for how incredible they are at what they do. These kids are some of the best characters on the show. Lost and unsure of their futures. Wishing to live up to the legacies of their fathers, or trying as hard as possible to be anything but their fathers. The next generation of a world in chaos. To avoid giving much away about these kids, all that I’ll say is that they truly make this show what it is.
The number of great characters on “The Wire” really cannot be listed, and the same goes for the number of reasons that this show will never die. It went far beyond what David Simon originally intended in its inception. Not only has Simon created a show that will forever prod those in power to stop and think about the world they are living in, but he did so through brute force and beautiful horror. He thought up a history report that became a Shakespearian tragedy. David Simon is a bard for our generation. “The Wire” is a television show for the ages, and it would be a crime of humanity to let it be forgotten. Every single person should watch “The Wire.” The entire show is currently available on HBO.
This article is the fourth and final installment of a multi-part “The Wire” review, and is also a part of a weekly column called “Revival Reviews.” (Click here for Part One, here for Part Two, and here for Part Three). The column is primarily focused on shows that have aired over the past 10 years and intends to explore shows that may have been too mature at the time of their premiere for current Wes students.