The Wire’s Narrative Complexity

I’ve just started watching The Wire again, and I’m reminded what a phenomenally well-written show it is (even if some of the directing early on is a little clunkier and more heavy-handed than it would become).

I’ve just been watching S1E4, and the characterization is really, really tight, but also really, really rich– it’s just amazing. Poot, for example, is consistently obsessed with sex, from early on in Season 1; it’s not something they ever dwell on, but it’s a recurring theme for a minor character.

But other characters are even more carefully drawn, and even more complex. I just watched that great scene where Herc sits down and talks with Bodie’s grandmother; over the course of the show, Herc develops in a complex way, but it’s interesting to see how he’s characterized early on in the show. Prez, too, is the one who blinds the kid, but then he goes on to mature and become a much more sympathetic character.

In the background of all of this is a broader point the writers of the show want to make, the way that institutional arrangements shape or even determine character: Herc is white in a department where black officers are groomed politically; while Prez starts out as a morally weak loser because, in some sense, his job has just been handed to him, and he’s politically protected. But it’s all very, very subtly done.

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