Wood Harris as Avon, Idris Elba as Stringer. In the reflection: Dominic West as McNulty, Sonja Sohn as Kima.
By Andrew Williams
January 22, 2013
Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).
Now, this is a story all about how… The Baltimore Police force is still after the Barksdale drug-dealing organisation, even as their personal lives seem to be falling apart. Meanwhile, Major Howard ‘Bunny’ Colvin (Robert Wisdom) tries a new approach to the drug war, and local politician Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) has his eye on a higher office.
Robert Wisdom as Bunny.
Happy days? As far as the creative team knew, The Wire’s third season would be their last. While the fourth would eventually go to air nearly two years later, there’s an air of forward momentum and finality about this batch of episodes that elevates it above even the two stellar seasons that preceded it. You get the feeling that if David Simon wasn’t going to be able to tell the full story he wanted to tell, he was at least going to say everything he wanted to say.
That included a further evisceration of the way institutions smother and suffocate new ways of thinking with an Iraq war allegory thrown in for good measure. (For a show often praised for subtlety, The Wire is often just the opposite; the last episode here is called Mission Accomplished.) I especially admire how Simon demonstrates criminal organisations to be as much a victim of institutionalised thinking as the police force or the government; they may be on opposite sides but they have the same shortcomings. These themes are still as relevant as they were back in the mid-2000s, and they’re especially strong in the ‘Hamsterdam’ storyline, in which Wisdom gives a commanding performance as aspiring drug reformer ‘Bunny’ Colvin (one of the show’s all-time greats).
The final frontier: If this had been the last season, it would have been a more than appropriate finale: full of heartbreak, surprising deaths, great dialogue, and a touch of hope. Fortunately for all of us, there’s still two to go. But, it would be hard to top this. A masterpiece.
Top three episodes: 8) Moral Midgetry. An epic, long-simmering confrontation between head honcho Avon Barksdale and second-in-command Stringer Bell explodes verbally and physically in a brutal, brilliant final scene. 9) Slapstick. One of The Wire’s supporting characters has his redemption ripped away from him through a devastating combination of misfortune and human error. 11) Middle Ground. A crucial journey ends the only way it can: fatally.
Worst episode: The 'third episode' curse is broken - courtesy of Stringer’s ‘forty-degree day’ speech - so the dubious honour is here bestowed on Episode Seven (Back Burners), which spends most of its time setting up the belter of an episode that follows.
Season MVP: The uninitiated might know Idris Elba only from his supporting roles in comic book movies, but he’s never topped his cold, calculating, charismatic performance as Stringer Bell. He might be The Wire’s most emblematic character - a man trying to think differently about the world of drugs and crime - and Elba plays him brilliantly.
Check out Andrew Williams' previous instalments:
The Wire - Season 3 is available on DVD. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.