The finale of The Wire was provisionally titled ‘The Life of Kings’ which is taken from an H.L.Mencken quote. Mencken was a reporter on The Sun and said ‘… as I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.’
It’s a fine quotation but it wasn’t really appropriate to the episode as Haynes ends up getting screwed by the bosses and Templeton goes on to garner glory and awards.
Instead the episode is titled ‘30’ which is somewhat oblique and apparently refers to the way that old school reporters mark the end of a piece of work and there’s no denying that this 90 minute episode marks the end of the season.
I’m not going to get into a blow-by-blow of the episode but here are the highlights.
After Daniels has made the bosses aware that McNulty has faked the serial killer Carcetti is in shock. He’s been beating up the Governor about crime that turns out to be non-existent. His people decide that the best strategy is to keep everything under wraps and to quietly wind down the serial killer investigation. After the election Daniels and Rawls can get shot of McNulty and Freemon.
Daniels isn’t happy but goes along with the plan to prevent the wrecking of Rhonda’s career. It’s a bleak moment as no-one cares about the truth or doing the right thing which has been a recurring theme in season 5. Daniels and Haynes are the only characters who want to play it straight and neither comes out of it too well.
As McNulty tries to wind the case down two more homeless murders are committed but McNulty rapidly pins them on a homeless man who is clearly deranged. Rawls is keen for him to pin the four fake murders on the guy but McNulty refuses to comply. Daniels is shocked at the suggestion but Rawls is taking a practical view. The guy killed two people and is clearly whacko so what does it matter if he cops to six murders instead. Rawls is an odious man but he has a point.
Lester has found that the leak at the courthouse is a clerk Gary DiPasquale who has ‘a bear of a gambling problem’. He flips as soon as he is confronted and names a bunch of lawyers including Levy. Lester passes the evidence to Rhonda who meets Levy for a show-down. Levy has figured out that the cops had a wire tap running on Marlo as they had their warrants prepared yet they had no connection to Marlo until the clock codes were broken.
Rhonda uses her knowledge about Levy buying Grand Jury documents to pressurise him into a deal. Chris Partlow has to plead guilty to all of the vacant murders while Marlo’s lieutenants take the fall for drugs. Marlo walks away scot-free so long as he vanishes from the Baltimore drug trade. It’s a good deal and Marlo offers to sell his connection to the co-op for $10 million.
The various threads of the story are gradually tied up. Daniels refuses to play ball with the politicians by faking the crime figures and chooses to resign. McNulty and Freemon also resign to draw an end to their problems.
Fast forward to a montage of shots that play over an up-tempo version of ‘Way Down in the Hole’. Lester is making model furniture, the corner boys are banging away as usual, Templeton collects a prize, the Greeks are talking to the new drug guys, Stan Valchek is Commissioner, Carcetti is Governor, Rhonda is a judge, Daniels is a lawyer, Rawls is running Maryland State Police and Bubs is allowed into his sister’s house for dinner.
Life goes on.
There’s no Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shootout or, heaven help us, the schmaltz at the end of NYPD Blue.
It’s far more satisfying than the dismal end to The Sopranos and it is noticeable that there is nothing that would prevent HBO from making another season of The Wire. I doubt they’ll do it but there’s always hope.