Family in The Wire

18 Nov

The first season of The Wire deals with the drug organization headed by Avon Barksdale, and the Baltimore Police Department. Throughout the season, it seemed to me that the idea of family was more prominent for characters on the drug side of the show. Or, at least, they were less expected, since I am used to other crime shows giving bits and pieces of the lives of cops.

For the police in The Wire, we see McNulty’s antagonistic relationship with his ex-wife and his questionable use of his kids to follow a suspect. We also see Bunk cheating on his wife. One of the only supportive relationships seems to be Daniels and his wife, who appears to be sympathetic when he talks about difficulties at work. However, none of these relationships has much of an impact on the police work, except as a short distraction. When McNulty tries to involve his kids in tracking Stringer, his wife tries to limit his visitation rights, further enforcing a separation between family and work.

For those characters involved in the drug side of the show, family is much more integral. Avon trusts D’Angelo to make the trip up to New York, and goes to his sister when trying to decide if he should move his office to the funeral parlor. The importance of family is particularly apparent in the scene where D’Angelo’s mother visits him in prison. (

Their conversation focuses on the fact that their family would be nothing without “the game.” D’Angelo feels abandoned by his uncle Avon, and wants to start a new life, away from the drug business. However, Brianna emphasizes the fact that without the game, they “probably wouldn’t even be a family.” She also talks about their family’s involvement in the game as if they are an empire or dynasty, and that D’Angelo would be next in line to take power if Avon took this charge. She keeps referencing the importance of D’Angelo’s son, even though he seems to have very little involvement in the boy’s life. Brianna thinks it would be impossible for D’Angelo to start a new life without any family to support him: “You ain’t got family in this world, what the hell you got?”

I thought it was interesting that there was a bigger separation between family and work for the police. It’s possibly that personal relationships between the cops takes the place of a traditional family in this sphere, but these are not portrayed as being essential to success. Politics and favors seem more significant than anything else. Why is family so much more important for the drug organization, and so insignificant for the police?

One Response to “Family in The Wire”

  1. hleskosky November 19, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    You make a really good point–I had never really noticed that before, but you’re totally right. The police all have a somewhat messed up family life, even those with what would seem to be the most stable relationships are actually pretty messed up. It’s not obvious in this first season, but Daniels’s relationship with his wife is very strained, and Kima and her girlfriend seem okay, but she doesn’t really support Kima’s job choice. Then on the drug dealer side, you have the strong bonds between actual family, but there’s also the make-shift family they have–what I mean is, like Wallace and Poot living with all the young kids. I’m pretty sure they’re not all brothers and sisters, but we see Wallace genuinely caring and watching out for the younger kids. I wonder if the focus on family on the drug side is a writing choice to “humanize” the criminals? They do all these bad things but, at least in my opinion, are still way more likable than most of the police force. So maybe this was purposefully done to balance out the “good” vs. “bad” of the show? I mean, these are already hard labels to put on one side or the other because both the police and the drug organization demonstrate both good and bad qualities in terms of legality. The focus on family and relationships within the drug side of things really counteracts their business methods, though. I also really hate to bring this up, but could it have to do with race, like as a purposeful choice on the part of the writer/directors? I mean, on the drug side, they are predominantly black and they have the best family dynamics….and the police with the best family relationships are black as well–Daniels and Kima. I’m not trying to be “that person” who brings up a race debate, it’s just an observation.

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