The 5th and final season of The Wire is halfway over now, at least for those of us watching one week ahead OnDemand (and there's your usual spoiler disclaimer if you're not caught up to that point), and I feel like it's just started to get good. During the first 2 or 3 episodes of the season, as McNulty's crackpot scheme started to unfold, a lot of people started to cry foul or invoke j*mping the sh*rk, because, hey, the series is almost over, there has to be some point at the end where it all goes wrong, it can't all be worthwhile, God forbid, right? And I'm glad I kinda stayed calm and sat out that speculation, because the payoff is already starting to come, with how it's leading into the weaknesses of the press. For that meeting scene alone, where McNulty and Templeton are both caught in each other's lies and are momentarily bewildered by the synchronicity, whether they realize what's going on or not, is worth it for me so far.
The fact that, as is being dredged up by so many bloggers and columnists the last few weeks, much of David Simon's personal experiences at The Sun seem to be drawn from in a bitter, score-settling way doesn't interest me much, at least unless and until that subtext seems to pull down the show, as it did with, say, Aaron Sorkin's varous transparent autobiographical elementsthat contributed to "Studio 60"'s failure. Ultimately, Simon's thesis about the death of the newspaper might be as vague and banal as Season 2's thesis about the decline of the docks, but I don't really mind because, despite all the great American novel pretensions of the show, it works better under a microscope than as a big picture statement, mostly because it's well crafted and viscerally entertaining like most any other good TV show. I just now got around to watching the 2 half-hour specials HBO made in advance of this season, and though I kinda wish I hadn't watched "The Last Word," loaded as it is with mild spoilers of scenes from later episodes, it's pretty interesting. But Simon also comes with a pretty paltry explanation of how the newspaper industry went wrong when confronted with the internet (in this information age, he still believes it's a mistake for news providers to put their articles online and that it displays a disrespect for their product, which is borderline laughable to me).
I also finally got around to watching the three brief 'flashback' segments with character origins that HBO put On Demand, which depict, respectively, different actors playing a young Prop Joe, a young Omar, and the same actors as usual depicting McNulty and Bunk's first meetings. I hadn't heard very good things about them, and I'm glad they were just little bonuses, not part of the show's proper canon; they were just a little too on the nose, particularly the Prop Joe caricature.
Otherwise, things have been getting pretty exciting. Episode 4 gave us the first death of a semi-major character this season, one that's always been among my favorites. Episode 5 ended with probably the closest thing to a big pyrotechnic Hollywood gunfight that The Wire's ever had, as well as one of its few real cliffhangers the show's had. That's fitting for a character as popular as Omar, but the last time they closed an episode with a major character's fate hanging in the balance like they, they opened the next one with Frank Sobotka's body being pulled out of the harbor.
I was happy to see them finally utilize the blue light Citiwatch cameras in a scene in episode 4, since those have been ubiquitous in Baltimore the past couple years and probably the biggest development in local law enforcement surveillance since The Wire went on the air. I was pretty amused by the idea that anyone in Baltimore would have a hard time finding homeless people to talk to, or would have to think much about where to find them (Fells Point and the strip in front of Camden Yards alone would be no-brainers). And even though Levy is already a character with pretty broad stroaks, I still liked the touch of him practically rubbing his hands together when realizing that any stupid act on the part of his client isn't worth advising against even when he sees the immediate danger, because it ultimately means bigger fees for him. The small moments between Herc and Carver lately, first the stern Episode 4 scene and then the kind of hat-in-hand apology and favor in Episode 5, were pretty great, I thought. It's nice to see a little heart in their friendship since they started the series mostly as comic relief, bickering and making homoerotic jokes. And it's kind of nice to have that little bit of tenderness while the show's other classic bromance, McNulty and Bunk, is on the rocks.
A couple more things: has anyone nailed down the exact timeline of these episodes? I generally assume that they take place roughly at the same time as the air date (for instance the way Season 4 aired in fall 2006 and lined up almost perfectly with when the first day of school and primaries and elections would be in real life), but these episodes, which were filmed last spring/summer, don't seem overly wintery, but there's a reference to Orioles opening day, so I'm not sure if they're jumping ahead to spring 2008 or stuck back in spring 2007 in the Wire world's chronology.
Also, season 5 yielded The Wire's lowest premiere ratings to date, and I'm gonna go ahead and say this with total confidence: it's all because of them putting episodes OnDemand early. Sunday night would be total appointment TV for me if the show didn't go OnDemand 6 days earlier, and of course I'm not going to wait if I don't have to. More than torrents or bootlegged screeners or people who don't mind waiting for the DVD release, that cuts hugely into the Sunday night viewership. I don't know why HBO does it, seems kind of unnecessary and undoubtedly takes a bite out of their ratings, and even if ratings don't matter as much to HBO as to other networks, they still matter.