“When we took a chainsaw to the first season, choosing to begin the second story arc with an entirely different theme and different characters, you followed us to the port and our elegy for America’s working class… And when we ended the Barksdale arc and began an exploration of public education, you were, by that time, elated to understand that whatever else might happen, The Wire would not waste your time telling the same story twice.”

David Simon’s letter of gratitude to the fans amid the series’ conclusion emphasised the show’s originality. Indeed, many commentators have described it as one of the most innovative television dramas ever made. Equally, there have been a few detractors of the programme. The Guardian’s Grace Dent, for instance, complained that watching The Wire was sometimes “a slog”. So how original is the show and is its radical approach always a virtue?

The first scene of “Hot Shots” certainly appears quite unique. Two women (Kimmy and Tosha) are shown robbing some male street dwellers at gunpoint. And shortly before they depart with a substantial amount of cash, one of them declares: “Sorry it’s gonna have to go down like this baby, cos your ass is cute.”

The lack of sensationalism and casual violence displayed in the scene would surely prove startling for first-time viewers. However, long time fans of the show could potentially react to this scene with apathy, as its skewed treatment of such a dramatic moment is – by this stage – a staple characteristic of The Wire.

Moreover, consider the scene where Nick’s ex-girlfriend (and the mother of his child), Aimee, is giving him a haircut. She suggests that Nick acquires a purple streak in his hair. Nick dismisses this proposal, sarcastically asserting: “Yeah, and right after that I’ll just stick my tongue up some guy’s ass.”

Similar to the situation with the show’s distinctive brand of drama, there is a possible risk that viewers may also grow tired of its endless profanities and gritty dialogue.

The Wire, despite its laudable tendency to focus on a different sector of society in each season, ultimately maintained the exact same basic premise throughout – the corruption inherent to institutions. Furthermore, it stuck to the story of each season fairly rigidly. Therefore, some critics may accuse it of lacking the capacity to surprise once its modus operandi has been established. Conversely, The Sopranos, which Simon admitted to being influenced by, demonstrated a constant tendency to indulge in ambitious narrative anomalies. One episode of the mob drama, for instance, solely comprised of a dream sequence.     

Yet one of the aspects that prevents The Wire from turning stale is the manner in which the creators manage to consistently execute each scene so perfectly. In one instance during “Hot Shots”, Jay Landsman gently chides Beadie for wearing clothes which he considers inappropriate for a woman in the office.

Landsman’s frequently coarse behaviour is usually offset by the incredibly eloquent language he uses – in this instance, to express his disapproval of Beadie’s fashion sense. Actor Delaney William’s delivery and comic timing is as meticulously consummate as ever, as he somehow makes Landsman’s trivial intransigence seem charming.

In addition, I would argue that The Wire does indeed display a capacity to surprise the viewer – merely in a different manner to other much praised dramas such as The Sopranos. The Wire – as the viewer will soon witness with D’Angelo’s murder – is perhaps the only television show ever to kill off several of its most popular characters at will and more importantly, at the behest of fundamental plot requirements. In other words, unlike in rival programmes, the story – rather than the stars – comes first in The Wire. Even The Sopranos, great as it was, failed to emulate this refreshing approach.

Thus, due to such innovation, The Wire will undoubtedly have an enormous effect on television for years to come – in fact, its pervasive influence is already discernible within the contemporary cinematic stratum.

In this episode, McNulty is shown tirelessly trying to ascertain details surrounding the brutal mass murder that occurred in the season premiere. He perseveres in attempting to unlock the complexities of the case, despite the fact that he has not been assigned to work on it and thus, he is under no obligation whatsoever to engage in these activities.

However, McNulty – as has been noted numerous times on this blog already – possesses an addictive personality. He is plainly addicted to the thrill and feeling of danger which detective work invariably entails. And tellingly, this episode was broadcast a full six years before the extremely similarly-themed The Hurt Locker would be released in cinemas. The film’s protagonist, in particular, exhibits some very McNulty-esque proclivities for conflict. Therefore, perhaps Katherine Bigelow should have thanked David Simon in her Oscar acceptance speech, as his show’s immense originality becomes more apparent by the day. 

Random Facts:

  1. Series 2 of The Wire was the first major American drama since Elia Kazan’s 1954 film, On the Waterfront, to explore the lives of dock workers in detail. As a result, the two works bear a significant resemblance towards each other – especially because of their mutual sympathy for the deprived longshoremen and willingness to expose the corruption which habitually permeates the docks. 
  2. According to the William Burroughs’ novel Junkie, the “hot shots” referred to in the episode’s title are drugs that have been spiked with poison, normally in order to kill a police informant.
  3. The episode, in addition to being written by David Simon and Ed Burns, was the first of two to be helmed by the seasoned television director: Elodie Keene. She also oversees the very next episode – “Hard Cases” – incidentally.
  4. The bar scene in this episode constitutes the ninth time in which McNulty has been shown drinking so far over the course of the show’s history.
  5. McNulty’s kids’ Lord of the Rings-oriented argument is one of the more obvious literary allusions in The Wire.

Best Quote: “I am asking you man, out of love. It’s always love D.” Avon’s remarks to D’Angelo acquire considerable irony in light of the latter character’s impending murder.

Best Scene: Omar’s long overdue reappearance, as he demonstrates his trademark aura of effortless cool. He confronts two female criminals with gun in hand, while imparting the immortal words: “Spread the word darlin’ – Omar back.”

New Characters: Dante (Omar’s boyfriend), Aimee, Butchie, Ringo, Kimmy, Tosha.

WTF Moment: Ziggy’s inexplicable need to take a photo, or a “Kodak moment” as he puts it, following their successful negotiations to sell cameras illegally to the Greeks. George Glekas, infuriated by Ziggy’s churlish behaviour, takes his camera and smashes it to the ground.