The sprawling dickensian opera that is H.B.O.'s The Wire has long been hailed as 'the best program ever' or 'the best program of the decade' -these appallingly flat statements of wide eyed fandom are so ubiquitous in UK media that the actual content of The Wire ( let alone the plethora of nuances, or the multitude of deeply complex arching progressions and themes ) has been abandoned by contemporary criticism. The snowballed heaps of praise jettisoned comment, critique or analysis a long long time ago. So much praise but so little critique. After re-viewing an enthralling episode from the first season even more subtle facets of the thematic construction dawned on me. Episode 9, "Game Day" is dizzying russian doll of analogies heaped on metaphors heaped on allegories. Central to the plot of the episode is an Basketball game between East and West sides of the Baltimore gangland, this situation is itself a fairly obvious metaphor for the drug and territory battle between Prop Joe and Avon Barksdale. The players sweating and running out on the concrete whilst the team managers ( Prop Joe and Avon Barksdale ) stand from afar watching inconspicuously albeit omniscient. Whilst the feud between east and west is being played out on the court many spectators crowd around the courts fence, another beautifully realised analogy for 'the game' in that the bulk of the interpersonal reactions concerned are those of peripheral characters, spectators and onlookers - the majority of participants being connected or involved obliquely, a lot of gossip, a lot of hypo-digesis. Behind this hubbub, behind the local spectators and the neighbourhoods involvement, are the police and the authorities. The law looking in and occasionally penetrating through to the level of the neighbourhoods vantage point however without any notion of context or even a knowledge who the stars of the show really are. This is poignantly summed up in a short exchange between two low rank police officers ( Herc and Carver ), whilst enjoying the game as a distraction from work they overhear a familiar low level drug dealer remarking about the Avon Barksdale - Avon Barksdale being the elusive target of the investigation they have been involved with for weeks. The situation is indicative of the wider socio-political contexts painted in The Wire. The police are usually on the periphery of the situation, at best infiltrating towards ground level context but always ignorant of who the main ringmasters are, clueless about their proximity even whilst standing adjacent to the investigations main target.
There is also another wonderfully concise and thorough metaphor present within the basketball game. At one point a member Prop Joe's team commits a foul on a member of Avon Barksdale's team. The referee does not call the foul, play continues and the ball travels up the court before adding yet more points to Prop Joe's side of the score board. Avon Barksdale confronts the referee about the uncalled foul, he's intimidating and aggressive in his approach, and after berating the meek referee, shouts at him to walk away after being given the opportunity to make a decision in Barksdale's favour. The referee's situation of being in a position to make a truce after upsetting Barksdale or walking away is exactly the situation Omar finds himself in later the same episode - he is offered a true by Barksdale's people but rather than accept the offer he leaves town. The positioning of the referee caught under Avon's wrath and between Prop Joe and Avon Barksdale is also the position Omar moved into ( over the preceding episodes and scenes ) and now firmly resides throughout the majority of the episode before he resolves to exit Baltimore. The mirroring is beautiful and telling, life is life and people often fill the positions life deals for them and react in accordance with fate. Another parallel embodied within the context of the basketball game is the importation of foreign players to compete against the increasingly high standards of their opposition Avon Barksdale outsources his baller talent from an out of area school where he finds an N.B.A. destined young man who would be happy to compete in the neighbourhood game in exchange for a small donation. Much later, - ( series, deaths and years later ) Barksdale imports a rare and unique talent from New York to deal with various awkward situations erupting around his drug trade- Brother Mouzone. The outsourcing and/or importation to keep competitive is a constant osmosis. The themes and positions are constants - the people, contexts, situational geographies and political positionings are variables. The Game as an endless analogy, a gyrating cartesian spiral of metaphor, the futility of life reflected through any realm of life is perhaps the beguiling beauty of The Wire. However, the production is not even as simplistic as just that, the Russian Doll effect is often present but over arching a plethora of loose ends, ambiguities and questions. The Wire thrives on the undefined and irreducible. One of the most subtle examples of this unique attribute is ‘the dirt’ on Cedric Daniels and his reactions towards the investigation in the Baltimore drug trade. His decisions to make 'quick rips' rather than pursue 'the money' are clothed in ambiguity - is his reluctance to ‘follow the money’ due to his connections or loyalties to illegal entities or simply a result of his careerist ambitions to meet his superiors demands? After the basketball game Daniels and another officer drive through the many homogenous blocks of the Baltimore ghetto in order to catch Barksdale. After apparently loosing Barksdale through supposedly a communication blunder Avon Barksdale passes Cedric Daniels. The two cars pass after approaching each other on a secluded street, Avon ticks his finger at Cedric and the latter glares back, swallow and tells the police surveillance team that they lost him. Is there an alliance between the two? Is the chase for a drug lord futile if no evidence can be pinned on him in order to press charges? Is the disruption to the investigation too great? Is the possibility of catching a clean Avon pointless? Or could it be that Avon has some sort of dirt on Daniels that he could trade up on - emancipating himself whilst bringing Daniels down? Or is it simply a case of Barksdale knowing that the police don't have a charge and that Daniels accepting this? A million ambiguities and questions are fleshed out in a single second, the electrifying explosion of possibilities are panoramic. The Wire is cerebically and emotionally stunning, not for what’s depicted, but rather for what isn’t -in short, the answers.