The King stay the King – chess as a metaphor for the lives of inner city kids

The Washington Post has an interesting article on the use of chess in Washington D.C. to promote to inner city kids the idea of strategic struggle. Highschool freshman Marte Garner understands the game as a metaphor for life.

“I’m a pawn,” he says happily a few days earlier. “A pawn has power. You can never tell what a pawn will do next. A pawn can take anybody on the board.”

“I would — what do you call that word? — sacrifice myself for my family,” says the 15-year-old. “If my mother was in danger, I would put myself in front of her so she doesn’t get hurt. I would sacrifice myself for my mother.” And he is adamant that his mother is the king, the most important piece on the board, not the queen. Without the king, the game is over.

Reminds me of scenes from the first season of The Wire where D’Angelo is explaining the game to his crew in the low-rises and laying it out as a metaphor for their lives as drug dealers.

Which is the greatest TV drama ever?

Which is the greater televison series of Deadwood, The Sopranos and The Wire?

The House Next Door hosts a roundtable audio discussion of this question featuring Andrew Johnston (Time Out New York), Alan Sepinwall (The Star-Ledger, What’s Alan Watching) and Matt Zoller Seitz (The New York Times). Needless to say there be spoilers there.

My personal pick would be The Wire as I think Deadwood never got the resolution I felt was necessary it deserved a fourth season and though I think The Sopranos was a fine show it stopped being a must see show around about the fourth season.

They touch upon the effect that starring in such shows will have upon the actors in them and it occurred to me with some dismay that these shows are probably going to be the best thing that they will ever work on. The more seasoned actors like Ian McShane will be able to appreciate this I think but it will be a bit of a comedown for the younger actors for whom this might have been there first big job.

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The Wire: Eulogy

Season five of The Wire has come to an end with the episode titled -30-, a ninety minute long finale, which also ends the entire ‘televisual novel’. There will be no more of The Wire other than in our memories now, so raise a glass and lament the end of one of the greatest television shows ever.

What can one say about the conclusion to a show like this? Well I think I’ll let show creator and writer of this episode David Simon gives his own take by way of Jay Landsman’s eulogy at the ‘wake’ held for Jimmy McNulty.

He was the black sheep, a permanent pariah. He asked no quarter of the bosses and none was given. He learned no lessons; he acknowledged no mistakes; he was as stubborn a Mick as ever stumbled out of the Northeast parish just to take up a patrolman’s shield. He brooked no authority. He did what he wanted to do and he said what he wanted to say, and in the end he gave me the clearances. He was natural police. And I don’t say that about many people, even when they’re here on the felt. I don’t say that often unless it happens to be true. Nat’ral po-lice. But Christ, what an asshole.

And I’m not talking about the ordinary gaping orifice that all of us possess. I mean an all-encompassing, all-consuming, out-of-proportion-to-every-other-facet-of-his-humanity chasm — if I may quote Shakespeare — “from whose bourn no traveler has ever returned.” He gave us thirteen years on the line. Not enough for a pension. But enough to know that he was, despite his negligible Irish ancestry, his defects of personality, and his inconstant sobriety and hygiene, a true murder police. Jimmy, I say this seriously. If I was laying there dead on some Baltimore street corner, I’d want it to be you standing over me catchin’ the case. Because brother, when you were good, you were the best we had.

What was initially supposed to be a police drama based upon the experiences of former Detective Ed Burns became a great deal more and ended up as a treatise on the failure of the institutions in small American cities. David Simon says the show could have been set in a number of American cities as they are all experiencing similar problems to Baltimore but The Wire is very much a Baltimore show set elsewhere it would be a very different thing.

The montages in the finales of each season depict the fates and lives of the shows characters but also of the city itself through the ordinary residents of the city. With the overwhelming number of characters in The Wire a good argument can be made that the city of Baltimore itself is the central character of the series.

Although there is a kind of upbeat ending to the series with many of the characters getting the happy ending they may or may not deserve this is undercut by the revelation that for all the efforts and noble intentions to try and fix the system that the failed institutions remain as they are.

Is the City of Baltimore, and therefore the other cities like it, beyond repair?

The Wire: 5.10 -30-

In the same manner that was established in season one the last episode of this season is what would usually be the off screen postscript to a typical police drama once the police have caught and charged their suspect with the crime. But of course The Wire is more than just a police drama and this is the last ever episode of the series it is within this postscript that we see the resolution to so many of the storylines that we’ve watching over the years.

We start in the Mayor’s office with Carcetti speechless in apoplexy upon learning the truth behind the serial killer, Kima having gone to Daniels with the truth in the last episode. Aidan Gillen does a great job here and you can almost see the cogs spinning in his head as he grapples with this news and tries to see all the angles on how to deal with it.

There’s no help from Norman Wilson as he’s cackling at the sheer audacity of the detectives involved and the fact that they themselves have traded off the lie of the serial killer in order to strengthen Carcetti’s run for Governor of Maryland.

I wish I was still at the newspaper so that I could write on this mess. This is too fucking good!

Chief of Staff Michael Steintorf takes charge and explains that should the truth come out that they are all fucked. Rawls and Daniels as the senior police officers bear responsibility for the conduct of their detectives, State’s attorney Bond and ASA Pearlman for signing off on the illegal wiretaps and it cuts off at the knees Carcetti’s bid to be Governor. But of course things being the way they are only Daniels and Pearlman would lose everything as their superiors would be hurt but would ultimately keep their jobs through the sacrificing of their juniors.

Freamon unaware that the shit has hit the fan keeps on being the fantastic detective he is and finally through following the money trails uncovers the leak in the Grand Jury it is Prosecutor Gary DiPasquale and through him Freamon gets evidence implicating drug lawyer Maurice Levy. Unfortunately having gotten himself involved in Mcnulty’s idiotic fake serial killer scheme Smooth Lester Cool has ruined any chance he had in following the money trail all the way and taking down the drug lawyers of Baltimore.

Levy and Pearlman have a great back and forth with Levy thinking he has the upper hand with his knowledge of the illegal wiretap because of Herc’s betrayal of his former colleagues and a bit of digging himself. Knowing that the State’s Attorney’s office will not want this to go to trial he thinks he can get everyone off other than Chris who is going down for the unconnected murder of Michael’s stepfather. But Rhonda has ammunition thanks to Lester Freamon and plays the tape of him bribing Gary DiPasquale and with the threat of this one party consent call and DiPasquale’s cooperation coerces him into a deal that sees everyone but Marlo go down for the crimes they are charged with including the 22 bodies in the vacants.

So Marlo goes free as long as he stays out of the game otherwise the charges that have been shelved will come back and ever the business man he buys his way out of the game by selling off his connect with the Greeks for a cool $10 million.

The truth of the serial killer is agreed to be hushed up by everyone that knows of it in the police, state’s attorney and mayor’s offices, but Lester Freamon and Jimmy McNulty are not allowed to do real police work ever again at least nothing that would result in them having to go to court. I wonder if they think that all this shit was worth it well at least they are not likely to do jail time as there is nobody that really wants this all to come to light.

Great to see that Roland Pryzbylewski has found an environment to thrive in and now with beard is making a teacher respected by the inner city kids of his school even though the reason for Mr. Prezbo’s appearance is so that Duquan can lie to and beg money off him. It’s a damn shame as I believe that had Dukie asked for real help Prez could have sorted him out and got him back into school even if it did mean the horrors of the group home that Randy ended up in surely that’s better than living on the streets as a junkie.

It is the power of the writing and the fantastic acting of Jermaine Crawford that makes Dukie’s fate so painful. And as Dukie has become the new Bubbles his former cohort Michael has indeed taken up the mantle of Omar and become a smart talking stick-up man or perhaps stick-up boy.

Shit! You just a boy.
That’s just yer knee!

Yet despite the demise of Omar and thus the likely fate of Michael I was pleased to see what he’d become and there’s a sense that this was a happy ending for him.

A theme of the show has been about the cycles of life and society and that even though things change “Shit’s as it ever was!”, the players just change. And so it goes with Marlo who was for the past couple of seasons the new Avon Barksdale but is now the new Stringer Bell or at least what Stringer would have been had he survived to take that final tiny step out of the game. Yet I wonder if Marlo can ever feel comfortable in his new role post-game and the scene where he takes back a corner unarmed and wearing his smart new suit from a couple of corner boys that don’t even recognise him underscores this. In a way Omar has beaten Marlo as he’s become an urban legend but Marlo ‘my name is my name’ Stanfield is forgotten in a very short space of time.

Jimmy’s serial killer scheme has spawned a copycat or at least someone who wanted to divert attention by making his victim through tying a ribbon round his wrist look like a victim of the serial killer. The killer is one of the other homeless men and is not really fit to stand trial. A bit deus ex machina but it gives a credible reason for the department to close the serial killer case and with that final bit of business done both Freamon and McNulty take retirement.

Lester Freamon goes out with 32 years of service and so will have a very tidy pension, he has his model furniture sideline that he can now devote more time to and he has the love of a good woman Shardene. Despite not being able to go all the way with the money trail and not bringing down Marlo I think he can die happy.

Jimmy McNulty gets a great send off and mock wake at the Irish pub they frequent plus a fine eulogy by his Sergeant Jay Landsman. He goes out with only 13 years service and so ends up without a pension I guess he couldn’t stand to work in the pawn shop or another place in the department where he was likely to do no harm for the seven years required for his 20 years and full pension. So not as happy an ending as Lester but it looks like he may be able to salvage his relationship with Beadie and being out of the police will mean he’s no longer as self-destructive as he was. As Jay says Jimmy was natural police but what an asshole. “What the fuck did I do?”. A helluva lot Jimmy, a lot of good policing but also a bunch of fucked up shit. I’ll miss ya Jimmy.

With all the shit in the department dealt with Daniels thinks he can finally get on with turning the department around no more easy arrests just to improve the stats. But of course shit’s as it ever was and Nerese Campbell the likely new mayor should Carcetti become Governor somehow gets the dirt on Daniels from his past and declares that he either gets in line with her wishes or he’s out. So he leaves with his honour and puts his law degree to good use and Nerese gets the compliant Commissioner she wants in the form of Stan Valchek.

Bubbles has been one of the great characters of the five seasons of the show and having reconciled his feelings somewhat over his role in the death of Sharrad he gets the ending that he does so richly deserve. Mike Fletcher of the Baltimore Sun has been trailing Bubbles for a while and has now written a wonderful portrayal of his life both the bad and the good. Given a copy to read before publication Bubbles is in two minds about it as it is an incredibly honest picture of him and as he says to his sponsor Waylon he ain’t worried about the bad being out there and Waylon retorts are you worried about someone calling you good? Waylon then hands him a piece of paper that he’s been carrying around for a long time with a quote from ‘Fonzie Kafka’.

You can hold back from the suffering of the world. You have free permission to do so, and it is in accordance with your nature. But perhaps the holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.

This quote I feel is the crux of what the creators of The Wire were trying to do with the show. They embraced the suffering of the world and examined it by way of a fiction in a way that they believe the news media have failed to do.

So finally we get to the contentious portrayal of the Baltimore Sun in season five of the show. Initially I felt that perhaps David Simon was too close to this issue and had an axe to grind with particular former senior editors of the newspaper. In addition I thought that the Paper storyline seemed far too divorced from the rest of the show in the way that the Port, the School and the Hall hadn’t been in previous seasons. I have changed my view somewhat now I’ve seen all ten episodes.

The creators have always had an axe to grind about the institutions they have examined and laid bare in the show and so the newsroom is no different. I think the failure to develop the characters of Whiting, Klebanow and the other minor characters in comparison to their equivalents in the police department is primarily down to the fact that we’ve had 50 hours more of time over 4 seasons on the police characters. I wish that we had some of the newsroom characters in previous seasons particularly Fletcher as he has turned out to be quite a significant character at the end of this season and yet he still feels underdeveloped. Roger Twigg as the police reporter would have slotted in naturally somewhere in previous seasons and by having established characters at the Paper we would have had some fixture from which to get to know the others.

I think the disconnect between the Paper and the rest of The Wire is deliberate or at least I hope it was as it does work as a way of illustrating the purpose of the season i.e. that the news media are not covering the stories that matter. The Sun gets the big story of the season, the serial killer, and Templeton wins a Pulitzer for his coverage. But the Sun has missed all the important stories of the season, the political machinations and corruption, the significance of the murders of Proposition Joe and Omar Little, and of course the fact that the serial killer was fake and merely the creation of a couple of rogue detectives. If Templeton had been a better reporter and not gone down the route of embellishing his stories until it got to the point where he was so caught up in the lies upon lies that he needed to keep going and if the paper had kept Roger Twigg the veteran police reporter then they might have finished up with the real story of the serial killer.

However that seems to be the way of the world as like the police department and the city council it becomes a numbers game. The newspapers are suffering from budget cuts as sales fall and inevitably they will be predominately printing the easy stories as they will not be able to allow a reporter the time to get to the meat of a story and if they’ve laid of all their veteran reporters then they might not even have the necessary inside contacts to get the scoop.

With the fates of Gus and Alma we see the parallels yet again withe the rest of the world of The Wire troublemakers that undermine the games that the bosses play will get demoted or sidelined even if they are on the side of what is right. At least thankfully unlike the street this doesn’t mean they get offed. The cycle of life is present again with Fletcher cruising of the acclaim of his ‘beautiful’ piece on Bubbles into Gus Haynes’s chair as the new City Editor.

Back to the police and we see Ellis Carver continue in his deserved rise up the ranks as he is promoted to Lieutenant, he’s come a long way since the early days of rousting corner boys with Herc and is now very much real police in the mould of Bunny Colvin or Daniels. Leander Sydnor has somehow come out of the mess of the serial killer thing with no dirt on him at all thanks no doubt to his mentor Lester Freamon and now seemingly is occupying the McNulty role of doing the end run around the bosses and going to Judge Phelan. Hopefully more of Lester than Jimmy has rubbed off on him and lacking McNulty’s self destructive streak I’m sure Sydnor will be a real damn excellent detective.

To the street and we see Slim Charles finally step up and give Cheese the fate he so richly fucking deserves, it was a beautiful unexpected moment and oddly also a feelgood moment in the way that the equally unexpected killing of Omar by Kennard was gut wrenching. The montage at the end sees Kennard being arrested with Detective Crutchfield in the background so the pint sized assassin seems to have got his just desserts too.

Finally the feel good moment of the entire season was seeing Reginald aka Bubbles walking up the stairs out of the basement to eat dinner with his sister and her family. A well earned beautiful simple moment.

The Wire: 5.02 Unconfirmed Reports

Bubbles has been clean 15 months but he still can’t face his deomns and hasn’t gotten over the death of Sharrad.

This ain’t Aruba, bitch. – Bunk Moreland

Foreshadowing on Lester? “I could die happy”
Lecturing Sydnor on the attributes of such a career case. It’ll either make you or break you.

Snoop has an itchy trigger finger and wants to get on with enforcing some discipline only what with all the surveillance they can’t.

Fucking games’ rigged! – McNulty

Carcetti is not even thinking of finishing his term. But is thinking of running for Governor 2 years in. Echo what I said last week how the hell does he think he can do that without getting a result in turning Baltimore around? Is he hoping he can continue on the surge that saw him win the mayoral election?

Mother of four always catching hell. No statuesque blondes anymore.

McNulty arrives on a bus to investigate the death of a mother of four.

Whitting wants to depict the Dickensian aspects of kid’s lives. Meta commentary on season 4 of the Wire. Doesn’t want an amorphous series depicting society’s ills.

Avon and Marlo – Westside!
Nothing but love in my heart for West side niggas

Templeton has a hard time getting the baseball opening day story he wants.

The MCU can’t shop Marlo’s murders to the FBI because of Carcetti pissing off the US attorney.

Monk – Go west coast.
Snoop – Fuck those west coast niggas in B-more we aim to hit a nigga.

Although it’s not shown it is implied that Templeton’s solution to finding he’s wasted a day at the ball game and has no story to show for it is to make shit up and the lack of corroboration only adds to the sense of veracity of his fictional creation. Or at least Klebanow believes it but Haynes is thinking there’s something hinky.

Having dropped out of school Michael is now being schooled by the likes of Chris and Snoop in the art of the hit. Arrive early no surprises. But Michael has a conscience about killing folk especially for the slightest of reasons such as rumours floating about on the street that Junebug may have dissed Marlo. Meanwhile Avon has hooked Marlo up with Ivan so that he can help him set up a meeting with Vondas.

Bubbles needs a reason to live. Hope helping out at the soup kitchen makes him feel worthwhile and gives him some way to justify his existence.

Has Jimmy gone too far with this serial killer preying on the homeless shit? I’m not sure how he thinks that doing this will allow them to get back up on Marlo, even if the bosses do open up the faucet how does Jimmy think he can get away with diverting money and resources away from the serial killer case.

The Wire: 5.01 More With Less

So we return to Baltimore for season 5 of arguably the best show on television The Wire and we are straight into Bunk in the interrogation room with a young black man. Bunk and the other murder police prey upon the stupidity of their suspect by making him think that his mate has ratted him out and then they pull the old Xerox machine as lie detector gag that we last saw way back when in Homicide: Life on the streets. Apparently this is based on a real incident that David Simon wrote about in his book Homicide.

“The bigger the lie, the more they believe.” – Bunk Moreland

Seems that we may get some of the threads left hanging from season 2 of the show tied up as the credit sequence features a photo of the late Frank Sobotka and we get a mention about McNulty’s undercover vice operation that went all the way to home base shall we say.

Seems that in the year and a bit since the events of season 4 that Sergeant Ellis Carver has been given a promotion to Acting shift Lieutenant in the Western. I think Carver has come a long way since the early days when he was partnered up with Herc and has become a really good officer first under Bunny Colvin and now Lieutenant Dennis Mello. But he’s facing a tough time of it trying to maintain the discipline and morale of his officers what with the city fucking them over on the promised pay increase and the rescinding of overtime payments.

Why is Carcetti so fixed upon the idea of running for Governor so early? He believed he would damage his chances of running for Governor if he took the money from Annapolis, which would have meant kowtowing to the current governor. But in refusing the $50 million he’s fucked up any chance he had of actually fulfilling his pledges on cutting crime and so looks to have damaged any Governor bid he might be considering anyway. Surely he would have been better placed a few years down the line having turned the city of Baltimore around and the people of Maryland would not look toodisfavourably on his having down it with money from the state.

Wow Dukie’s grown some in the past year, he looks taller than Michael now although he still needs to fill out a bit if he’s to survive working on the corner.

It was great to have a weak Lieutenant on the Marlo case because it meant that Lester could run the case as he saw fit, but now the budget restrictions that weakness means that the Lieutenant is not able to support them and help them get their overtime pay for what must be the biggest cases that the department is running.

The cutbacks are not just restricted to the police in Baltimore as The Baltimore Sun like many newspapers in the US is facing the same fate. Took me a while to realise that it was Clark Johnson portraying City Editor Augustus “Gus” Haynes, I’ve not seen him on screen since Homicide in which he played DetectiveMeldrick Lewis, looks to be very well suited playing a journalist now.

Bloody hell Mayor Carcetti really is determined to burn all his bridges and refuse all possible outside help be it state or federal isn’t he even now that things look bleak after a year with a police force on a restricted budget.

The police may be on Marlo but they are still completely unaware of the existence of the co-op, if they’d been closer to taking down Marlo the cops may have unwittingly found themselves bugging the co-op and they might have had a chance to seriously cripple pretty much all the drug dealing operations in the city. However things in the co-op aren’t as harmonious as Prop Joe would like them to be as Marlo is stirring things up and is probably seeking to divide and conquer.

Reginald aka Bubbles has been clean since the accidental death of his protege Sherrod and though his life is somewhat better in terms of his circumstances he is not emotionally well as he is still feeling heavy guilt overSherrod’s demise.

Do more with less I think will be one of the underlying themes of the season as every institution in the show is feeling the pinch and ironically The Wire itself is having to more with less as they only have 10 episodes in this final season to tie up the storylines although this being The Wire you can’t expect everything to reach a conclusion as the reality of the world is everything is caught in an ongoing cycle. If the Major Crimes Unit do succeed in taking down Marlo then yet another player will rise to take his place as did Marlo after the fall of Avon Barksdale.

The show is definitely hooking back to Season 2 with Chris going to the court house in order to track down information on Sergei Malatov the ‘Russian’ hitman for ‘The Greeks’. Looks like Marlo is looking to deal directly and is trying to find a way in.

Finally the moral of the story seems to be if you are dirty incompetent police then you can do fine in the private sector as Herc has having been kicked off the force he is now working for the slimeball lawyer Levy.