Review: The Wire, Season 2 (Simon, 2003)

Still from the second season of the TV show The Wire

It’s a testament to how addictive The Wire is that I have another review for the next season so soon after the first, despite the fact that season 2 at first feels like a restart. A chastened McNulty has been reassigned from the homicide unit to Harbor Patrol. In fact, all of Daniels’ team (including Daniels himself) has been scattered far and wide, some landing better than others. But, by the workings of the reborn “Prez” Pryzbylewski (son-in-law of the influential but irritating Major Valchek, played by Al Brown), the team (excepting Freamon and McNulty) is handily pieced back together. Valchek, interested in pursuing a personal vendetta against the head of the longshoreman union Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), strongarms the Deputy Ops (soon to be Police Commissioner) Erv Burrell into giving him his own unit to investigate why Sobotka’s union seems flush with too much cash. Of course, no one in Baltimore is squeaky clean, and the Sobotka clan (Frank, son Ziggy, and nephew Nick) soon finds itself deep into some pretty dirty stuff. Luckily, that means the police actually have an interesting case on their hands.

Meanwhile, Lester Freamon, McNulty’s old partner Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce), and, unofficially, McNulty himself are approaching the case from another angle, investigating a container (found on the port) full of murdered women who appeared to have been trafficked from Europe. They have the help of Port Police Officer Beadie Russell (Amy Ryan from The Office), who, though little more than a glorified security cop, ends up impressing the others with her initiative and natural instinct. And we can’t forget our drug dealing friends. Avon and D’Angelo might be in jail, but Stringer Bell is still loose and now in command, though his vision for their enterprise is considerably different from Avon’s.

After the momentum of season 1, we were at first disappointed by season 2’s slow build-up, influenced in part by our friends’ opinion that this season is the series’ weakest. It’s difficult, also, to work yourself into caring about a whole new set of characters–in this case, the Sobotkas and the rest of the union–especially when one of them, Ziggy (James Ransone), is such a royal screwball that it hurts your teeth whenever he’s on screen. But the plot finds a way to obliquely connect the port work back to the street gangs and drugs–this time providing a glimpse into the more global maneuverings on the drug trade’s supply side. Though nothing comes to a head this season with the Barksdale-Bell crew, it’s an interesting exercise to compare the street criminals with the international criminals. Which one is more violent, more brutal, more powerful, more sinister? Which one is “worse”? And, in the end, does it matter? A murder is a murder.

Still, it seems that, for all his intimacy with Baltimore, David Simon was out of his depth when it came to creating a believable world around international drug and human trafficking, required to fall back on stereotypes from Hollywood movies. His attempts at imbuing the traffickers with humanity and depth feel clumsy and caricaturized. The writers, too, seemed to have relaxed any discipline they might have had in season 1, allowing unrealistic events to unroll for their convenience to the plot. But then you get to that inevitable point mid-season where you just don’t care about whether this detail makes sense anymore or if that seems realistic: you just want to know what happens next–hungrily, guiltily wondering if the show has become little more than a conventional thriller. At any rate, I look forward to a season 3 that hopefully brings it back to strictly Baltimore.