Too Many 40-Degree Days: Thoughts on The Wire, Season 3

I know I’m a little late to the game, but I finally got around to watching The Wire. Like most people who start watching it, I’ve become completely absorbed and managed to watch the entirety of Season 2 over a five-day business trip last month. I just started Season 3 recently and, unfortunately, I’m just not feeling it as much. Yesterday, I revealed this heresy in a quick update via Twitter and expected it to be the ultimate in flame bait, drawing out the faithful with a flurry of arguments as strong as the adoration exhibited when my friends and contacts pounced on my mention that I’d started watching not too long ago.

The Wire

But the responses were much more tame and basically ranged from “Seasons 3 and 5 are the weakest of the lot” and “at the end of the season, you will be raving about it,” all the way to “give it a chance … out of all five, I think it’s a toss-up between Season 3 and Season 1 for best season.”

I posted a note to my Facebook profile to respond (who knew there was a character limit to comment boxes?) and after it elicited a number of comments I realized it was more content than I’d posted to my blog for awhile and that it also stimulated much more discussion than anything seen here recently. So, I figured it made sense to promote it and run it here. I hope you’ll forgive both the duplication and lack of polish.

[Warning to anyone who hasn’t seen the series up through Season 3, Episode 3: the rest of the post contains mild, big-picture spoilers.]

My complaints aside, I have no intention of giving up The Wire three episodes into Season 3. As one friend suggested, even a “bad” episode of The Wire is better than almost anything else on television. But from Episode 1, I felt like I’d missed something. Both Season 1 and Season 2 began by assembling the team and establishing the target. And both ended by disbanding the team and pulling down everything from the bulletin board (leaving only The Greek up there at the end of Season 2). Season 3 begins with the team appearing to be back together and working on regular detective work, business as usual. How did they get to that point?

But more than the ramp up (which can be forgiven mainly because we probably don’t really need to see those details this time, as long as we understand the point of what they’re doing together), I’m disappointed in what seems like a lack of purpose driving Season 3. While Season 1 was all about Barksdale, and Season 2 was, ultimately, about The Greek, I don’t see a similar focus yet for this season.

Granted, I’m only three episodes into it now (I’m moving slower, now that I have to Netflix them, and there are only two episodes on many discs), but I seem to remember the other two seasons having a focus figured out by this point, or were at least showing signs of a plan.

Perhaps this will be Proposition Joe’s season, or maybe someone else’s turn, but without a real target (just one guy’s face up on that bulletin board right now, and we all know he’s not going to really be the target), I don’t see the raison d’etre yet.

If the writers have a plan, they’re keeping it very close to their chest so far, and I’d like at least a peak at a few of their cards, just to make sure there’s something there. Without an eventual One Thing to drive the show, these first few episodes have felt to me like, as Stringer might say, “too many 40-degree days” (warning: the following clip features explicit language to colorfully illustrate this metaphor):

It doesn’t help that they killed off the most sympathetic of the “bad guys” in Season 2 (though they seem to be grooming at least one new character to fill this role), but if the final season is really considered one of the weakest, that isn’t a good sign to me.

Still, I can’t get enough, so I’m off now to watch Season 3, Episode 4, and hoping for the return of spring weather …