When I say that HBO’s “The Wire” comes to an end on Sunday night, I mean it.
If your screen goes black in the middle of a scene, do not sit there cursing the darkness. Call the cable company.
As we’ve been reminded more than once in this fifth and final season of one of the best TV shows some of us will ever see, “Wire” creator David Simon is a newspaperman, an old-fashioned storyteller who believes in beginnings - or ledes, as we call them - middles and, yes, ends.
He’s so old-fashioned, in fact, that the title of Sunday’s series finale, “30,” is a joke even some reporters might not get, a reference to what those of us old enough to have produced stories with paper, not pixels, once typed at the end of our stories.
No one really knows for sure why we did that, so I won’t burden you with the theories. It’s enough to know Simon means it.
In an episode that runs about 35 minutes longer than usual, he and Clark Johnson, the actor who directed both “The Wire’s” pilot and its finale, bring one subplot after another in for a landing.
Some stories hit the ground harder than others.
There’s nothing quite as moving as this past Sunday’s “Late Editions,” in which Bubbles (Andre Royo) reclaimed his name and Michael (Tristan Wilds) saved his own life while giving up what made it worth living.
Nor is there anything as memorable as the death the week before of that wounded lion, Omar (Michael K. Williams), at the hands of a very small assassin, or as funny as the scene in that same episode, “Clarifications,” in which McNulty (Dominic West) heard an FBI profiler describe a fictional serial killer in terms that best fit McNulty himself.
We are taught in this business not to leave the best stuff for last, on the theory that people sometimes stop reading before they get there, and Simon has honored that, while giving viewers reasons to stick with him till the sometimes bitter end.
In five seasons of examining the many ways the city of Baltimore works, and why it and cities like our own so often don’t, Simon’s found plenty of reasons to be bitter, from an unwinnable war on drugs to schools that fail to educate.
A cop reporter whose book about Baltimore’s homicide squad inspired the series “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” he’s given us some of television’s most intriguing cops ever in “The Wire.”
But he’s also made viewers confront the humanity of people TV prefers to ignore, drug dealers and addicts whose world “The Wire” explored in ways that were seldom pretty.
This year, he took on the media, or more specifically, the Baltimore Sun, the newspaper where he worked as a reporter from 1983 to 1995, and that hasn’t been pretty, either.
Holding grudges isn’t exclusive to journalists, but we do it well, and Simon’s no exception.
If his vision of newspapers’ downsized mission has a flaw, it’s probably not that he went too far, but that he left the business too early to see what happened next: further cuts, the sometimes awkward attempts to adapt to a wired world that’s bringing in readers faster than it’s bringing in revenue, the shunting aside of even more of the principles embodied by “Wire” city editor Gus Haynes (Johnson, in front of the cameras this time).
It may yet work out, but I can forgive Simon his pessimism.
I could wish, though, for a bit more shading.
When “The Wire” moved into the Sun in Season 5, it felt as if the show took a less subtle turn, pairing a lying reporter, Scott Templeton (Tom McCarthy), with the lying McNulty.
No denying Simon was within his rights: This business has produced fabulists, and I’m not stupid enough to believe they’ve all been caught.
But Gus is so good, and Templeton’s such a drip. Is this the best the people who gave us characters like Stringer Bell and D’Angelo Barksdale, and, yes, Jimmy McNulty, could do?
Though perhaps finding himself lumped with the likes of Templeton may be just what Jimmy deserves at this point.
And their final confrontation - think bang, then whimper - is just one of the many things in “The Wire” finale worth sticking around for.
// Channel Surfing
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