The new – and final – season of The Wire opens with Bunk Moreland and Jay Landsman questioning a low-life murder suspect who is tricked into believing that the office photocopier is a lie detector. The photocopier spits out a sheet of A4 with the word ‘False’ in huge letters, the suspect crumbles and the cops walk away triumphantly. As Bunk lights a huge cigar he imparts two pearls of wisdom:
‘Americans are stupid people by and large. We pretty much believe what we’re told.’ and ‘The bigger the lie the more they believe.’
This second point is the key to the fifth season of The Wire as it focuses on the media and specifically on the journalists at The Baltimore Sun. The episode gets its title ‘More With Less’ when the suit in the corner office at The Sun tells the staff that they’ll ‘just have to do more with less’ to which nonsense the Editor replies that you can only ever do less with less.
Season five picks up a year after the end of season four and re-introduces most of the characters that we know and love. Marlo Stanfield is running a large part of the drugs trade with his attack dogs Chris Paltrow and Snoop Pearson held on a short leash. Detectives Jimmy McNulty, Kima Greggs and Lester Freamon are present and correct and Tommy Carcetti is still mayor of the city.
The only face that’s missing from Episode 1 is Omar Little and he’s due to make an appearance in a few episode’s time so it’s going to be happy families once again.
David Simon has a policy of mixing it up in The Wire with a different theme for each season. This moves the focus around and avoids getting stuck in a rut and it also means that a single character or actor has no chance of hijacking the program. The Wire isn’t Jimmy McNulty, Crime Fighter but instead puts Baltimore in the starring role with a whole lot of nasty stuff going on.
In the first season we met the police and the drug gangs in Baltimore, the second season was set in the docks and showed the passing of the working class, then we had politics followed by education. Turning to the media in season five should, once again, hold a mirror up to society but in The Wire it has another part to play. In the past when Kima crossed a police line to investigate a murder you could pretty much ignore the newspaper reporter shouting a question such as ‘do you have a suspect?’ In season 5 you can bet that The Wire will follow both the murder and the reporter from The Sun to show two sides of the same story, and that’s something you don’t see in The Bill, apparently.
This first episode opens the final season of The Wire superbly but it also sets the clock ticking for the end of the finest show on TV and that’s little short of a tragedy.