Since the alphabet is the building block of our language, the Powet Alphabet is the building block of what makes us geeks.

wireOkay, so while this week’s Powet Alphabet isn’t STRICTLY for geeks, it is just as relevant to geekdom as Transformers, Sailor Moon, X-men, or Street Fighter.  The Wire was an HBO series that ran from 2002 until 2008.  It was created by writers Dave Simon and Ed Burns.  Simon’s previous works, the tv series Homicide: Life on the Street (based on the novel of the same name) and the HBO miniseries The Corner (which he collaborated with Burns on) served as testing grounds for many of the concepts explored on the Wire.  Although it never got the viewership it deserved, it was critically acclaimed amongst fans from nearly every walk of life, and was even declared to be ‘The best show on television”.  The Wire is one of those works of fiction which has something to offer everyone.  Geeks will appreciate the intricate multi-layered plot, the cool kids will appreciate the hardcore gang members, many of which closely resemble or are inspired by real-life celebrities, parents will appreciate the underlying messages that the show conveys, political heads, both liberal and conservative will appreciate the show’s political commentary, and even the gay and lesbian communities will love the prominent roles that homosexual characters have on the show.  Click below to read more.  Just a fair warning, this article contains some spoilers, although I’ve tried to keep them to a minimum.

The Show
The Wire depicts the struggle between the Baltimore police department and the local drug trade.  However, to dismiss it as yet another crime drama (such as a CSI or Law and Order) would be to do yourself and the show a great disservice.  The show is so much more about the American city (in this case Baltimore), the different institutions at work in the city, and how they contribute (both inadvertently and intentionally) to the ever growing problems facing the inner city, not the least of which being drugs.  The show’s criminals are just as multifaceted and  three dimensional as the cops who pursue them.  The police department is often shown as being imperfect, inept, full of corruption and scandal, with its best officers being held down by red tape.  This isn’t one of those shows where a case goes down, the cops get a suspect, and by the end of the show they are behind bars and everything is okay.  Characters, including beloved main characters, die off, and plot threads take several seasons to resolve.  There is only one flashback during the course of the entire series, so if one doesn’t pay close attention, then they will miss important details. After the opening sequence, a quote is shown from one of the show’s characters which is spoken during the episode. The title of the show, while obviously referring to the wiretaps used by police to spy on the drug dealers also serves as a metaphor for a medium which allows the viewer to see the inside of a world that wasn’t intended for them to see.

The Music
Unlike most other shows, there isn’t much background music. Instead, the on screen music is provided by on-screen sources. The drug dealers’ radios play hip hop music, the bars that the policemen frequent play Irish music, and The Greek listens to Eastern European music. The one major exception to this rule are the montages that play, in particular, the season-end montages that show the continuation of the main characters lives. After a cold-open, then show opens up with the Tom Waits song “Down in the Hole” with a different artist doing a version of it each season. The Blind Boys of Alabama do the first season’s version (the most recognizable version of the song in my opinion) Tom Waits does the second version, the Nevellie Brothers do the third season, and the Baltimore youth singing group DoMaJe does the fourth season’s version of the song. Steve Earle, who also plays the recovering addict Waylon on the show, does the season 5 version of the song as well as one of the season-end montages. There have been two albums released featuring music from or inspired by the Wire. “All the Pieces Matter” features most of the music played on the show including all 5 versions of “Down in the Hole” and all the music featured on the season-end montages. “Beyond Hamsterdam” is a hip hop mixtape inspired by the Wire.

The Characters
wireseason1The Wire’s cast is made up of a diverse collection of characters.  Many of the characters were inspired by real-life police officers and criminals, people that Ed Burns knew from his days as a police officer. The show’s producers opted against using many bigger names, instead casting a group of actors who had a proven track record, but were lesser known.  Indeed, at the start of the series the most recognizable name is Wood Harris, who plays the drug lord Avon Barksdale.  Other notable members of the cast included Idris Elba, who plays Avon’s second-in-command Stringer Bell, Andre Royo, who plays drug addict Bubbles, and even rapper Method Man, who plays Proposition Joe’s nephew and second-in-command Cheese. Dominic West plays main character James McNulty, a troubled police detective dealing with alcoholism, alimony, and custody issues. His unconventional nature puts him at odds with his superiors, although he finds much success as a homicide detective. McNulty is often partnered with Bunk Moreland, a homicide detective inspired by real life retired policeman Oscar “Rick” Requer. Some of the characters are even played by people that Burns knew from his days in the police department. The Deacon, the community leader who befriends Major Howard Colvin is played by Melvin Williams a former drug kingpin who was arrested by then-police officer Ed Burns. His arrest was even covered by David Simon who was working for The Baltimore Sun at the time. Out of all the characters, one has managed to capture the hearts and minds of the viewing audience like no other. This young man, played by Michael Williams, is known only as…


omarThe majority of us know “The Farmer in the Dell” as a harmless kid’s nursery rhyme.  To Baltimore’s drug dealers however, the sound of one whistling it could very well be the most terrifying noise in existence.  To hear such a noise means that they are only seconds away from having their stash raided, or worse.  The perpetrator is none other than the trench-coat wearing badass, Omar Little.  Mr. Little is an interesting character to say the least.  He (and anyone who he works with) has a strict code of honor which prevents him from going after civilians, instead opting to rob drug dealers.  Omar is also a homosexual, and gets praises for one of the few non-stereotypical gay characters in fiction.  After his lover is tortured to death, Omar goes wages a one-man war against the Barksdale organization.  This war escalates throughout the first three seasons, coming to a climax at the end of season 3.  Afterward, events turn him against drug lord Marlo Stanfield during seasons 4 and 5.  Despite his ruthlessness, Omar has a strong sense of morality, attending church with his grandmother and making it a point not to use profanity.  It isn’t hard to see why so many people like him.  He’s almost a real-life version of Batman, if the caped crusader was black, had no problems with killing, and wielded a shotgun. USA Today referred to him as “one of the reasons they still love television”.

Useless but Cool Trivia:  Then presidential candidate Barack Obama stated in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun that not only was The Wire his favorite tv show, but Omar was his favorite character on the show.

Season 1
wirecastEach season of The Wire focused on a different part of Baltimore.  Season 1 introduces us to the city, its underground, and many of the major players who play both major and minor roles throughout the series.  The series starts with drug dealer D’angelo Barksdale on trial for murder.  However he is acquitted due to his uncle Avon’s organization having either bribed or intimidated most of the witnesses.  After being spurred on by Detective Jimmy McNulty, the Judge complains about the case, and a unit is created to investigate the Barksdale operation. The newly formed Major Crimes Unit is headed by Cedric Daniels. If the MCU was the X-men, then Daniels would be either Professor Xavier of Cyclops (and McNulty would be Wolverine). His unit includes Shakima “Kima” Greggs, a capable lead detective who lives with her domestic partner (that’s right, she’s a lesbian), Lester Freamon, an older detective, Roland “Prez” Prezbylewski, who has a reputation of being incompetent and inept, even shooting his own squad car in a panic and filing a false police report. The crew is rounded our by Thomas “Herc” Hauk and Ellis Carver, two bumbling former narcotics detectives who are sometimes used for comic relief. It becomes clear that this unit was only created to appease the judge, as it is assigned limited funding and incompetent officers. McNulty, who works with the unit, is alienating his fellow officers with his unconventional methods.  Still, the unit makes some progress, with several members of the Barksdale organization being incarcerated by the end of the season.  Meanwhile, D’angelo is being demoted to the block for his murder and the trouble his uncle had to go through in order to get him off the hook.  There, he finds himself having to struggle with his protege Preston ‘Bodie’ Broadus, who repeatedly challenged D’angelo for leadership and sidestepped his authority, such as one instance when he led the crew to administer a senseless beating to heroin addict Johnny Weeks. Although the Barksdale cartel tries to maintain its grip over Baltimore’s underground, the increased police attention along with Omar’s continued raids is causing problems for all involved. By the end of the season, both the Major Crimes Unit and the Barksdale organization take losses, and many of the officers are reassigned.

Season 2
sobotkaRather than focusing primarily on the drug trade, season 2’s focus was instead on the docks, the stevedores, and unions in a look at what the writers refer to as “The Death of the Working Class”. We also learn more about Proposition Joe’s operation and his Eastern European connection. McNulty was reassigned to the Marine Unit after ticking off his superiors in season 1. A new cast of characters was introduced as well. Frank Sobotka, is the head of the International Brotherhood of Stevedores. His docks have fallen upon hard times, and Frank is desperately seeking ways to revitalize business. One of his endeavors sees him working with the mysterious crime lord known as the Greek, and Frank, along with his nephew Nick and son Ziggy assists his illegal smuggling operation by allowing him to move boxes of his contraband undetected. However, this blows up when a policewoman discovers the bodies of 13 dead women in one of The Greek’s containers. Things continue to spiral downhill for him, his nephew, and son, as the police investigations increasing put pressure on his organization and his relationship with The Greek continues to sour. Things are going downhill with McNulty as well. His alcoholism is getting out of hand and his divorce is being finalized. Doing detective work is turning out to be one of the few things keeping him together, even as it continues to set him against his co-workers and superiors. The Barksdale organization has not been completely left out, as it’s struggles to hang on after Avon’s arrest last season are a season-long subplot. Many of the events set up threads for the events of the next season, such as Proposition Joe working with Stringer Bell, Omar being manipulated into going against the hitman Brother Muzone, and Avon and D’angelo’s deteriorating relationship behind bars.

Season 3

wireseason3Season 3 takes the series back to the streets, while this time focusing on the political scene. Thomas Carcetti is an ambitious city councilman who has aspirations of becoming mayor. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Police Department’s war on the drug trade is just as dead-ended as ever, as the drug dealers constantly change up their tactics, getting the better of the police. With the crime rate increasing, Major Howard “Bunny” Colvin comes up with a bold and risky move: legalize drug dealing. Colvin sanctions off a block of abandoned buildings where drug dealers are not arrested for dealing. Soon the newly dubbed “Hamsterdam” (named after Amsterdam of course) also handles HIV testing and needle distribution, reducing crime in the general. However, his ‘experiment’ is discovered and things come crashing down for him. Things aren’t any easier for the Barksdale cartel either. Even though Avon is out of jail, the rift between him and Stringer grows as the cartel is caught between Stringer’s relationship with Proposition Joe’s New Day Co-op (a collection of drug dealers banded together in hoped of reducing violence in exchange for the better quality product supplied by the Greeks) and Avon’s desire to ‘keep it gangsta’ and go to war with Marlo Stansfield, who has recently begun encroaching upon the territory. Things get worse between the two when Avon discovers, well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. Further complicating matters, is Omar’s increased raids against the Barksdale operation. This goes to a whole new level during the season, and eventually things come crashing down permanently for the Barksdale operation, just as they come down for Colvin. In the middle of it all, Dennis “Cutty” Wise, a former felon is released from the pen. After working for Barksdale for a brief period, he decides to turn his life around and do something positive, opening a boxing gym for inner-city youth.

Season 4
wireseason4With the Barksdale syndicate a thing of the past, Marlo Stanfield is now the new H.N.I.C or Baltimore’s drug game. He, along with his henchmen Snoop and Chris prove to be even more viscous than the Barksdale organization. Snoop in particular takes the place as one of the most terrifying female villains in tv. You don’t see her killing anyone on screen, yet you know she does it, because she shows no remorse. Not only that, she even laughs and jokes about it. The opening scene of season 4 shows her bragging about killing someone with a nail gun for crying out loud. The three of them make Marlo’s enemies, both major and minor disappear by stashing their dead bodies in abandoned buildings, prompting the BPD to investigate. However, after ruffling a few feathers, the Major Crimes Unit is dissolved, and its members are reassigned to other departments. The real story of season 4 is about the school system, and 4 middle school teenagers. Randy Wagstaff starts off as a happy-go-lucky foster kid who comes up with schemes to make money. Duquan “Dukie” Weems proves to be intelligent despite his parents being drug addicts. Unfortunately because of his living situation, there are few opportunities for him. Naymond “Ney Ney” Brice is the son of the incarcerated Wee-Bey, who was one of the Barksdale organization’s fiercest killers. His mother constantly tries to push him into the business, although it becomes clear that he is not cut out for it. Finally, Michael Lee is the de-facto leader of the group. Although all the adults from the drug dealers to the cops and teachers recognize the potential for him to become something greater, family issues cause him to be pulled into the world of drugs and crime that surrounds the school. After a troubled career as a police officer, Prez becomes a teacher, doing his best to reach out to the kids and have somewhat better success than a teacher. Season 4’s theme shows how the inadequacies of the school system, many of which are caused by bureaucracy (*cough*Nochildleftbehind*hack*), contribute to children being lost within their communities.

Season 5
wireseason5The fifth and final season of The Wire dealt with the media, and how it decides what stories are published and what stories aren’t. Season 5’s theme centers around a fictional version of the Baltimore Sun. It’s star reporter Scott Templeton is reviving critical acclaim for his articles, despite his boss Gus Haynes being skeptical about the validity of them. Mayor Carcetti is taking away funding from the police to the schools, leaving the MCU unable to pursue their case against Marlo Stansfield. McNulty, becoming increasingly despondent, concocts a scheme involving the homeless which refocuses the attention on the police, but will cost him everything when the fraud is discovered. Marlo solidifies his position at the top of the drug dealing food chain, however, all good things must come to an end…

The End
..And so it was for the Wire. After 5 seasons, the show came to an end. Not necessarily with a bang, but not with a whimper either. In fact, like in all things, life went on for the characters on the show. As I stated before, there are no happy ending guaranteed for anyone on the show, and things end in ways we don’t expect them to or even want them too. Examples of this include D’angelo choosing a 20-year prison sentence in order to stay loyal to the family (rather than taking a plea bargain and a chance at a new life), the MCU’s case against The Greek falling apart when they arrest several of his henchmen but not him, Senator Clay Davis being acquitted of corruption charges after giving an impassioned speech during his trial, and Wallace’s death towards the end of the first season. The producers of the show weren’t out to sell false hopes or dreams, it was meant to present life as it is.

That’s not to say that it’s all doom and gloom. Just like in real life, there also are happy endings. Naymond Brice manages to escape the drug dealing lifestyle that put his father behind bars and finds a new life with Colvin, Malik “Poot” Carr being able to leave the drug game that killed several of his best friends and get an honest job at a shoe store (not the most glamorous of jobs, but hey, at least he doesn’t have to worry about being arrested or killed anymore), and Cutty manages to find success with his boxing gym, hiring several trainers and being turn youth away from the criminal lifestyle. Most of all, Bubbles, the homeless drug addict who served as a police informant manages to defeat the addiction that claimed the lives of two of his closest friends and reconnect with his family.

Perhaps the main reason The Wire was so loved among viewers was that it didn’t sugarcoat anything or make false promises. In an era of TV where ‘reality’ TV shows are a dime a dozen (and you know the people on said shows would not act the way they do if a camera wasn’t in their face), The Wire was more real than any other show on television. There was never a show like it before and there will never be another one like it again.

The Wire Prequels

Young Proposition Joe

Young Omar

When McNulty Met Bunk

Now for some laughs:

The Wire: Simpsons style

The Wire: The Kart Racing Videogame