Season two of the gritty HBO police drama takes on a new case set against the backdrop of the Baltimore waterfront, where the longshoremen’s union struggles to survive in a changing economy.
Year 3, Show #2, Season #2 (Total Shows—2, Total Seasons—8)
THE REVIEW: Television is an interesting medium because of the amount of time involved. A normal film will run around two hours whereas a TV show like The Wire usually has a runtime in excess of ten hours per season (season two has 12 episodes that run an hour each). Episodic shows have their place and can do a great job at telling smaller, self-contained stories each week. But the real appeal to a show like The Wire (or many other modern shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, you name it) is that every episode gets to build off the others to create one long story with a lot of detail and nuance.
In season one I mentioned how The Wire was a very “consuming” show. It was able to slowly rope me in before giving me a big push. By the third episode I was fully committed to the characters, their story, and the world they inhabited (that world being the City of Baltimore). It was the equivalent of a page-turner for a book; I just couldn’t stop watching.
For season two, creator David Simon tried something different; about as new as you can get without being a complete fresh start. All our main protagonists are the same including Detectives McNulty (Dominic West), Greggs (Sonja Sohn), and Lieutenant Daniels (Lance Reddick), but they all have different positions and with most of the Barksdale crew behind bars, we also get a new batch of antagonists and a new focus. McNulty is with the marine unit as we saw from the season finale, Greggs is behind a desk, and Daniels lost pretty much all power associated with his rank and is stuck in the evidence basement at a computer. And while drugs still play a part with Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) managing Barksdale’s people, our main focus rests on Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer) and his union of longshoremen who are put under investigation for possible corruption, smuggling, and drug involvement among other charges.
Despite all these changes, The Wire still feels the same as it did in season one (and that’s a good thing). There’s still a strong level of attraction that draws you in, though this time it happens much more quickly. By the end of episode one, “Ebb Tide”, I was hooked for the season. The longshoremen weren’t my favorite characters (Frank Sobotka in particular struck me as poor, I think in part due to Bauer’s acting chops) but the new setting and premise had me all in. Setting things at the docks and expanding the show’s focus to include more criminal topics (smuggling, corruption, etc. in addition to the drugs) is what makes this season so great. There are more mysteries, more connections you have to make, and a greater build-up to the reveal. It’s like season one was just child’s play and now David Simon brought out the big toys.
Even with this greater suspense and excitement though, it also feels like something is still missing. My complaint about season one had to do about minor throwaway characters like Daniels’ wife, Gregg’s girlfriend, and McNulty’s wife and kids. This complaint still holds as it feels like many of the scenes they appear in could be done without and you’d still have the same show. But as I also tried to reason with the last time, even these small moments can play a crucial role in the overall story. Seeing marital problems in the Daniels’ household may not mean a lot for the show and the investigation, but it says a lot about Cedric’s character. Same with McNulty and how he’s trying to change from the drunken asshole that he is into more of a father for his two sons. A major improvement in this second season is that we see more of these characters and their stories. Instead of being blips on the radar that make you question why they’re included, they take on a bigger role. This helps you see them as the important development pieces that they are. Still, there’s a disconnect between these moments and the investigation that commands the attention of the rest of the show. The line between the two is more blurred this season, but it’s still not one cohesive unit.
THE TAKEAWAY: Season two brings the goods for another round of investigations with the team we know and love. The Wire completely draws you into a story that covers all the angles and keeps you on the edge of your seat for an entire season. Even after two seasons I can say with certainty this is the best crime show I have ever watched and it still feels like things are ramping up. Watching The Wire will exhilarate, excite, and capture your attention in ways you never thought possible. You are right there on the front lines with Detective McNulty solving the case, but you also see behind-the-scenes what the criminals are doing. It’s interesting to get both perspectives and I’m dying to see where this show goes next and what topic will be in store for season three.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5