“A man must have a code.”

Over the last few weeks, DN and I have been re-watching the show The Wire, an HBO drama that began airing in 2002. I don’t think I had heard of this show until I moved to the mid-Atlantic, but its setting of Baltimore makes it rather beloved around here. Not that it paints Baltimore to be a wonderful place to live, or something — somewhat the opposite. The show, created (and produced, written, etc.) by David Simon, follows the drug wars of the Baltimore projects, as well as the corruption that runs from the street cops all the way up to state senators.

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Homicide detectives Bunk and McNulty

It is truly a good show.

I’ve written a lot about movies and shows that fall short; one of my personal pet peeves is when the theme of good and evil is deployed as a shortcut, or worse, is ignored altogether in favor of a sort of defeatist, cynical view that everything is bad.

On The Wire, there are good people, bad people, good people in bad situations, bad people in good situations, and everything in between — which is entirely the point. Bunk and McNulty believe that MURDER IS WRONG, but they’re also drunks and terrible husbands. The drug dealers, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell, are masterminds of crime who perpetuate — and profit from — the basically third-world conditions of west Baltimore. And yet, the show respects their business acumen, leadership, and loyalty. (Really!)

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Stringer Bell, played by a very appealing Idris Elba, and Avon Barksdale

And it is a nemesis of Barksdale’s crew, Omar, who shows Bunk and McNulty that even cold-blooded murderers draw a line: Omar doesn’t kill anyone who isn’t involved in the “game,” who isn’t connected to the drugs. As Bunk summarizes, “A man must have a code.” The complexities of those codes — and the Baltimore police’s unraveling of such codes and interrogations of its own codes — makes for a highly engaging show.

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The “pit” boys

Well, I highly recommend the show if you have access to HBO or even want to buy Season One on DVD. Watching too much at a time can get intense — I’m definitely more prone to bad dreams if I overdo it, but I think it is worth it. What strikes me the most is that, over the course of a season, all of the characters learn, grow, and change as they come to better understand the conditions in which they’re working. How often do we see that in television and film these days? Not enough!

Added bonus: if you watch long enough, you’ll get to discover the provenance of this oft-memed gif:

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