A couple of years ago, after much encouragement from my brother, I watched season one of The Wire. It's one of those shows that everyone is always telling you you have to watch. My brother promised me that season one and two were kind of slow but three to five really paid it off. And there's Idris Elba, so why not.
The first season took me awhile to watch: The Wire is also one of those shows that require you to pay really, really close attention. You can't watch while you do your laundry or browse Twitter. So it took some time. Season one is well done but not the most exciting television, as it frankly and honestly shows how a wire tap is slowly and meticulously set up on an organized crime group in Baltimore, Maryland.
Season two starts off by throwing all that was built up in season one away and starting from scratch. According to Pajiba, this is why this season is so great - it forces the show to abandon the comfort of season one and leave its comfort zone, paving the way for even better television in later seasons.
Season two follows the organized crime at the docks, starting with union leader Frank Sobotka who helps get contraband goods to local mob boss The Greek. The Greek's organization is also involved in the plot, including a local electronics store owner who sells the stolen goods. Then there's also a bit of prostitution, which is what brings in the homicide unit from season one. And then the drug group gets brought back in to the story, slowly.
Here are my thoughts on the season as a whole.
We catch up with the heroes from season one and they're all over the place, generally fallen from their positions in last season. Herc is working undercover, trying to get a bunch of white drug dealers. His response? We should have different laws; affirmative action for white drug dealers, to make it fair. Kima is pushing papers at a desk while McNulty escorts rich people on party boats. Daniels has been relegated to the basement.
The entire police investigation into the docks start off so petty: Frank has arranged for a stained glass window in the local church depicting dock workers and a local cop is pissed because he wanted a cop window to go there. The two poke at each other first, as the cops target the dock workers for parking tickets. But it quickly ramps up - Frank sends a stolen surveillance van around the world, literally, while the cop initiates the investigation that ultimately drives the plot of the season. It's sad that this is probably really how things get prioritized - personal vendettas against inconsequential shit like church windows.
But then thirteen dead whores show up in one of the shipping containers. Again, it's sad to see the mechanics of the police department. The girls are assumed to be a lost cause and they get bumped from one department to the next; no one wants thirteen unsolved homicides on their list. But the show does give us a moment of humor and levity among this death and corruption: McNulty is the one who painstakingly ensures the girls end up in his old boss's department as the ultimate 'fuck you,' first proving these were murders rather than a big accident, then proving when they died, and finally, based off currents, where the boat was during the murders.
McNulty might be entertaining and good at his job, but the show keeps reminding us: everyone is dirty. Tilgman, the corrections officer who becomes a pain for Avon, is selling drugs to inmates. Sure, Avon kills five people just to get this guy out of his hair, but he didn't make Tilgman sell the drugs. Similarly, our hero, McNulty, takes bribes from a rich dude to keep his boat in the water. Bunk and McNulty spend a good portion of the show wasted or hungover. Just as the team starts to get ahead, the FBI gets involved and of course The Greek has a friend in the FBI who informs him immediately. The corruption destroying the city isn't limited to the streets.
Speaking of which: on the street, the drug business is just like any business, but illegal and not LinkedIn-appropriate. Throughout the season, Stringer works on his MBA. At one point, he calls his Wall Street trading guy and makes a series of trades based off cell phone observations. Another time, he uses his economics professor as a sounding board for his drug trade problems. Business is business and money is money.
Fan-favorite Omar returns in episode three, which is always great. In this season, he's primarily a side story. He continues to be the Robin Hood of the streets, stealing from drug dealers. For a good chunk of the season, McNulty is trying to find him (well, he doesn't try that hard) to serve as a witness from one of last season's arrests. His final performance in the courtroom demonstrates the source of his popularity, starting with his tie and ending with his chat with McNulty afterwards (do you really want to know if I saw him?). As the defense's lawyer tries to attack him and prove him an unreliable witness, suggesting Omar is leech of the drug trade, Omar shoots back - how is that different from you?
The docks are honestly interesting. Just the logistics of it. There are a few shots of shipping containers from Hamburg - I've been there! Their harbor is huge and super impressive! Back to the plot. Frank's intentions seem to be in the right place. He just wants his people to have jobs. He's honestly upset when he realized he may have been somewhat responsible for the deaths of the girls. At one point, he tells Nick: don't do anything I wouldn't do. But where is that line? Taking money from the Greek is okay, but don't sell drugs? But his illegal actions end up destroying the union and nullifying progress he had made on the grain pier project. He sounds like Tony Soprano in The Sopranos pilot, suggesting he came in after the good times were gone, when he declares: "We used to build shit. Now we just put our hands in another guy's pocket." He is killed by The Greeks, of course. Ned Stark can tell him what happens to people with good intentions.
There are good cops and bad cops. Good criminals and bad criminals. Ziggy is one of the worst. Just really dumb. He buys a duck and then the poor things dies of alcohol poisoning. He is perpetually taking his dick out, saying the wrong thing, trying to impress the wrong people. But in the end he fucks himself over, killing one of the Greek's men for terrible reasons, then sits and waits for the cops. He ends up where he probably should be - jail. His cousin Nick on the other hand, is a little too adept at illegal activities. Nick's arc is interesting as he slowly, piece by piece, gets further into crime, until he's a total drug dealer, abandoning the more honorable 'dock worker' profession entirely.
In the end, the prostitution trade starts the investigation but is only a sideline from the organized crime and smuggling as a whole; at the end of the season, they've solved the murders, but the girls are still coming in. At one point, a statistic of 50,000 women comes up. Beadie's response is on point: they need a union.