Framing Season One

15 Nov

After watching the final episode of the first season of The Wire, it is really interesting to note how good a job the season does of framing itself by paralleling events from the first episode.  For instance, just as in the beginning, we get a scene in the courthouse which features Jimmy McNulty and Stringer Bell, and as Stringer exits, he quips to McNulty, “nicely done”, as McNulty has succeeded in putting away Avon Barksdale, albeit not for as long as he would have wanted, and without having successfully put away Stringer as well.  “Nicely done” is, of course, the same thing McNulty says to Stringer in the first episode after Stringer intimidates witnesses out of testifying against DeAngelo, and by throwing in this line, The Wire brings the season full circle to some degree.  Similarly, in the beginning of the season, when McNulty is starting to stir up trouble in the police department, Jay asks McNulty where he doesn’t want to be, warning him that that’s where he’ll end up if he keeps this up.  Later, Lester Freamon tells McNulty that when he stuck his neck out too far, the brass asked him where he didn’t want to be, which got him stuck in the pawn shop unit.  Sure enough after all of this foreshadowing, Rawls tells McNulty in the last episode that he wants to see him land on his feet, asks where he doesn’t want to be, and sure enough he tosses McNulty exactly where he doesn’t want to be:  the boat.  There are other examples of this, such as Poot teaching the same drug exchanging methods to a younger dealer as DeAngelo had taught him in the beginning, and McNulty and Bunk’s repetition of their mottos:  “what the fuck did I do?” and “you happy now, bitch?”  All of these work well with the general message at the end that not much has changed in the police department, in the government, and in the drug world by the end of the season, and not much ever changes.


Still, it got me to thinking back to the Brunsdon reading, and more specifically about the conversation regarding how this show was meant to be watched.  I noticed the parallels between the first episode and the last episode because I watched them within a week of each other, having binged on the series for this class, but would I have noticed all of them if I had watched these 12 weeks apart, as those who watched the show from start to finish did?  And if I might have missed them, does that mean this show is meant to be watched in a binge, or is it David Simon’s intention to have many things go over many people’s heads?  Additionally, I am led to question the value of re-watching such a show.  I have been through the entire series once before, so I noticed all the foreshadowing, from the scene where Lester tells McNulty about his experience of being asked where he didn’t want to go, to all the events leading up to Wallace’s death, and I spent those scenes this time trying to remember if I saw the future events coming the first time I watched.  Regardless, I will encourage anyone I know who has watched this series once to watch it again, as the re-watch value is extremely high.

4 Responses to “Framing Season One”

  1. crystalfong November 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    The framing of the first and last episode do emphasize the cyclical nature of all these institutions, with new players taking control such as Poot replacing D’Angelo at the pit. In that scene, because Poot repeats D’Angelo verbatim, it seems like nothing has changed. However, this scene parallels the beat where Herc is giving two rookie cops who transferred into his unit some advice, saying how you can’t have the “fuck somebody up” mentality, and that you can’t be stupid, but to use your head to make cases. On this side, Herc has actually grown in this season because he used to be one of those hotheaded cops (which is why Daniels chuckles as he overhears this). He’s trying to mentor these rookies into being better cops- which does reflect some change compared to the pit scene. I just thought the comparison was interesting.

  2. Jan Feldman November 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

    The mirrored lines and scenes from the first and last episode definitely emphasized the cyclicality of the drug/police world in Baltimore, and how not much has really changed in the course of the first season. As someone who has not watched the rest of The Wire, I would be interested to know if a similar device is used in subsequent seasons. Would it have as much of an impact if the first and last episode of the season, for every season, mirrored each other? This could be particularly problematic if you binge on the show and watch all of the seasons in a relatively short period of time. Or is it more effective, because each season is focused on a different site, and the cyclical nature of all of them emphasizes the fact that the overall system doesn’t change?

  3. katherinesnyder14 November 18, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Your question of whether these repetitions show that The Wire is designed for bingeing or if David Simon added a lot of elements that the weekly viewer might miss is interesting because it calls into question many scenes and elements of the shows we watch. I don’t think it is necessarily a dichotomy, though. A good producer or director would have to carefully balance pleasing both of these audience types in order to create a successful television show. There are different levels or repetition in the series, from the episode-to-episode repetitions of major plot points, to the catch phrases, to the things mentioned only once or twice at the beginning and end of the season. I think that all of these types of repetition are important to draw viewers in (and generate DVD sales.) Without small repetitions, the weekly viewer might get lost, and by including these long-arc repetitions, Simon is throwing in a little surprise for the dedicated binger.

  4. kebullock November 18, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

    I agree that the recognition of the cyclical aspects of the season provide the binger with a fun experience. But I also think that on more basic level, it helps to frame the season so that people who watched it on a weekly basis when it originally aired could enjoy it just as much. Because the show emphasizes the fact that the problems of Baltimore are too big for the police department to ever eliminate, I think it would seem too hopeless if it weren’t for the cyclical framing. It helps the viewer feel as if there is a little closure even though the season does a wonderful job of leaving everything open-ended. I for one would not want to wait an entire summer for the next episode of a show that didn’t feel like it could go anywhere and the mirroring in the beginning and end help tie things up and prepare viewers for a shift of focus in the second season.

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