Sunday, March 9, 2008

You can survive, but you can’t win

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this unless you've seen the last episode of The Wire.

David Simon has told us, as long as we've been listening, that the good fight can't be won anymore. There's no justice, there's no stopping the tide. There's only principled stances against the flood of venality and cynicism. Tonight he took a principled stance for his own.

Most of our heroes beat a way out of their traps. Bubbles earns his way upstairs. McNulty destroys his self-destruction once and for all. Daniels escapes his ghosts with his back stiff and his head high. Carver earns his stripes, Pearlman her robes, Carcetti his office, Freamon his happiness. If it’s not a new day in Baltimore, then at least it’s a full moon.

But that doesn't mean they win. Survival may be possible, but victory never is. Our renegades walk away, perhaps even better for it, but they all lose their wars. To a man, they lose. (As Bunk says, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get in a war than it is to get out.) The stats stay juked, the corners still hopping. Levy keeps afloat, thrives. Innocents are destroyed. Michael might become Omar, Dukie might become Bubbles, Sydnor might become McNulty, but there’s no happiness in these outcomes. The trap closes tighter.

And for some, survival is another step towards annhilation. Our anti-heroes remain ensnared. Each time he embraces Carver, Herc gets dirtier. Valcheck—the man who destroyed a culture over a window—bears the shame of a hopeless institution. Templeton climbs higher but destroys H.L. Mencken’s paper and makes some dangerously just enemies along the way. Marlo returns to the street and the street spits him out. Chris and Wee-Bey play gangster together for the rest of their lives. Cheese walks away to make his move, but the street comes to collect, it always does. A man without a code gets got.

To me, Bunny Colvin and Bunk are the moral of the story. You either fight to win, fight the good fight, break all the rules because they’re dirty and cruel and wrong; and when the inevitable happens, when the trap closes, you dig yourself a foxhole, do a good deed or two, and save you and yours. Or you bunker down (pun intended), chomp on your cigar, do your job, and drink off the bitter taste of it all.

With characteristic hubris (you catch Simon and Burns placing themselves in their natural settings tonight?), Simon points to lofty inspiration, the Greek tragedies. Those who taunt the Gods will be smote. In the post-modern city gasping for air, our civic institutions are the Gods. There is no victory, only survival, and only once the Gods chew you up and spit you out.

Here’s to David Simon, laid on the green felt, a true free born man of the U.S.A. And here's to us, who picked up the paper one day and read something that felt true and right.

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