Done with the series. My final thoughts:
While I was watching the show, I was simultaneously reading the blow-by-blows at Television Without Pity
to make sure I got all the details right and to find some much-needed levity. The recap of the final episode ended with a description of the final montage and a statement that deserves to be Quoted For the MotherFucking Truth:
It's a love letter to the city from The Wire, though really, you could argue that the entire show was, even the grim, unsavory parts. To truly love something, you have to know its flaws and hope against hope that things can always get better. Sometimes, they actually do.
Here are some other statements to sum up The Wire.
1. Shit always rolls downhill.
2. You can shine a turd and call it gold, but it's still a turd.
3. Spend your entire life playing a game and you won't easily learn how to play anything else.
4. Bureaucrats rise above their level of incompetence.
5. No man is an island.
Ultimately, I think that the real genius of this series is in its pacing. Pretty much every other television show in history has been about getting to the next scene or set piece, trying to cram a movie's worth of story into an hour of screen time with a pretty bow tied on at the end. But because The Wire was focused more on seasons than on episodes, the stories were given thirteen hours apiece to breathe. This allowed for longer and therefore more detailed set-ups in plot and character development. In turn, this led to greater pay-offs on all fronts.
Of course, I'm not saying that every TV show should be done this way. In the hands of lesser showrunners, there would either be too little to carry an audience through those dozen-hour runtimes or too much material to keep from spinning out of control. I wish I knew how David Simon and company did it, but they somehow managed to take hundreds of speaking roles from all walks of life in Baltimore and steer them through so many story threads, all of which were managed and edited with precision until they dovetailed into a perfect whole.
The only major caveat, in my mind, is the newspaper storyline in season 5. In a series filled with weaving plotlines moved forward by characters who were morally ambiguous, flawed and easy to root for and/or sociopaths who were deeply enjoyable to watch, it was painful to sit through a storyline comprised of characters portrayed in such one-dimensional, black and white terms.
Still, I don't regret a minute that I spent watching this show. The ride wasn't always easy, but it was a trip worth making.