Ian Thomas Malone

the wire Archive



April 2021



Revisiting The Wire’s Finale “-30-“

Written by , Posted in Blog, TV Reviews

Season five of The Wire was always going to be a tall order under the best of circumstances. HBO’s finest series to date had its final season order slashed by three episodes, putting immense strain on its ever-expanding cast. The inclusion of the Baltimore Sun newsroom fit the series’ habit of shining a spotlight on new elements of the city’s culture each year, albeit with a cast of characters inevitably destined to pale in comparison to the schoolchildren who carried season four.

Television has no shortage of terrible series finales. Some play too hard for shock value, betraying their core ethos in the process. Others simply leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. Any finale that doesn’t make one recoil with disgust should be considered a win.

As far as finales go, “-30-” is hardly one for the ages, not exactly a sentiment one may want to be attached to one of TV’s crowning achievements. The final episode of The Wire deserves a lot of credit for being among the more effective finales in the television medium, providing closure for much of its massive cast while reminding viewers why they fell in love with the show in the first place.

The Wire is not an optimistic show, constantly shining a light on government incompetence and corruption. Good rarely triumphs over evil, not where apathy and bureaucracy can wear down even people with the best intentions. Lester Freamon and Bubbles spent much of season five on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to this dynamic, one fed up with the nonsense getting in the way of his investigative prowess, while the other struggled to rise above a world that had kicked him while he was done so many times.

“-30-” understands its duty to wrap up a series, not necessarily the ideas it put forward. Baltimore may not change, but the characters who made the series so special carry with them concrete senses of growth. Perhaps none more than Cedric Daniels, constantly forced to balance his no-nonsense attitude toward police work with the politics associated with his ambition. Seeing Daniels survive all of McNulty’s crap to become police chief would’ve made for a happy ending. Perhaps too happy.

Instead, The Wire split the difference. Daniels leaves the department with his dignity intact, forgoing the top job in service to his own sanity. Returning to criminal litigation, Daniels emerges from the events of the series a better man, allowing swamp creature Stan Valchek to enjoy the perks of doing the mayor’s dirty work.

As a whole, season five buckled under the weight of the series’ ambitions, delivering the show’s silliest casework for what was left of the Major Crimes Unit. McNulty’s serial killer story was bound to end poorly, but the show struggled to paint this outcome as anything other than inevitable. For all his careful concern toward policework, Freamon never had a reasonable endgame.

­­­-30- puts this all in perspective, to an extent. Marlo Stanfield walked because the Baltimore Police Department wasn’t willing to put the basic resources together to catch him. Dozens of bodies left in his wake, the bureaucracy lets him walk free, instead merely nabbing his lieutenants. That’s not justice in any sense of the word, but The Wire wasn’t really about that.

Catching Marlo would leave the impression that detectives could actually succeed in pushing the never-ending boulder up the hill to bring about real change. There’s a reason arrests were few and far between after the triumphs of season one’s wiretap. Real change isn’t easily boxed into the sense of dramatic payoff that finales are expected to produce.

Characters like Stringer Bell, Prop Joe, and Bunny Colvin tried to change the rules of the game, but the game pushed back at every turn. Strong-willed people are no match for systemic rot. Those who try and cheat the system for noble purposes like McNulty fare no better. Only the shamelessly selfish like Tommy Carcetti, Clay Davis, and Maurice Levy get ahead. American capitalism at work. The game is the game.

-30- leaves us with little hope at the end, but David Simon deserves a lot of credit for his compassionate approach toward the audience. Hearts may break at the sight of Duquan shooting heroin, emulating an earlier Bubbles, or Michael morphing from quiet introvert to the heir to Omar’s throne, but the show let up a little bit, giving Namond a chance to shine in a late-season five cameo. Bubbles, the heart and soul of the show, ends the narrative with hope for perhaps the first time.

Simon also takes the chance to honor the characters who made the show so special. McNulty’s destructive behavior had gotten a little tiresome by season five, exacerbated by his sincere rehabilitation efforts the previous year. The “wake” held in his honor doubles as an opportunity to eulogize a show that was often the best thing on television.

The Wire wasn’t afraid to be gentle while laying out a bleaker truth for its viewers, delivering one of the more satisfying finales in television history. It shouldn’t be satisfying. The world that The Wire shined a light on is so infuriating and hopeless.

There are lingering thoughts brought about by the truncated final season, which followed two straight seasons of top-notch television. Some characters, like Kima Greggs, definitely get the short end of the stick as a result. -30­- isn’t a hopeless finale, instead putting the past five years in perspective in a way that manages to bookend a series that grew far bigger than itself. As far as TV endings go, it’s hard to think of a better note that The Wire could’ve realistically ended on.



April 2015



Justified Goes Out With a Masterful Final Season

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Final seasons are tricky. Most shows avoid ending until ratings have slipped, major cast members have left, or until the quality has sharply declined. Justified doesn’t really fit into any of these categories, though season five was clearly not as good as previous seasons. Timothy Olyphant and the producers decided that six was enough and they’re probably not wrong.

I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted just how perfect season six would turn out to be. Many shows get a boost in their final seasons as they’re afforded the opportunity to wrap things up versus prolonging the status quo. Rarely do you get a show that has the chance to pay homage to the qualities that made it a success in the first place and completely raise the bar. Justified did just that.

Much of this credit belongs to Sam Elliott, who just might be the perfect person to cast in an Elmore Leonard adaptation. Elliott’s Avery Markham dominates every scene he’s in, which is rare for a new villain in a show that’s about to call it a day. This is even more surprising when you consider Justified’s crowded pool of bad guys for Raylan Givens and Co to deal with in just thirteen episodes.

You could certainly have made the case that Justified’s final season didn’t need a new arch villain with Boyd Crowder, Katherine Hale, and fan favorite Wynn Duffy in the mix, especially when you consider that the Raylan/Boyd/Ava relationship has been a defining element of the show for its whole run. A Raylan/Boyd feud could’ve likely carried the whole season, but that would have been the predictable move. If there’s one thing Justified has never been, it’s predictable.

This season has been a perfect mix of new drama that also manages to revisit almost every member of Justified’s deep roster of recurring characters. The returns of Ellstin Limehouse, Loretta McCready, Dickie Bennett, Arlo Givens, Winona Hawkins, and Constable Bob Sweeney could’ve worked fine as victory laps. For the most part, the show managed to involve them all directly into the main plot.

While Justified has always been a critically and commercially popular show, its often overlooked both at awards shows and even on its own network. Being on TV in the same era as Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad and on the same network as Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story certainly explains this. Justified did tie The Wire for number of Emmy noms for Outstanding Drama Series with zero apiece, which goes to show how pointless awards are.

You could make the case that Justified is currently the best show on TV. I can’t name a show that had a better year this season. Homeland came close, but suffers from not having Sam Eliott as a member of the cast and for having a truly horrible finale. Going out literally on top of the TV world would be nice, but it doesn’t really change Justified’s legacy at all.

For six seasons, Justified has consistently been one of the best shows on television. Get Shorty is its only true completion for most faithful adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s work (Jackie Brown is one of my favorite films, but it deviates significantly from Rum Punch). As far as legacies go, Justified couldn’t have done much better. I’ll miss Raylan and Co, but I’m thankful that they’re going out on top. I doubt a seventh season would have been terrible, but it’s hard to believe it would have been better.



December 2014



The Case of the Cutter at Dunkin Donuts

Written by , Posted in Blog, Social Issues

While much of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s humor is derived from the predicaments that Larry David gets himself into as a result of his inability to keep quiet when in the presence of a faux pas, we should take note that the world needs more people like him. Too often, we find the internet to be a dumping ground for instances where a person was wronged yet took to social media when the battle should have been waged in reality. Never being much of a hash tag activist myself, I decided to live the Larry David mantra and engage a man who wronged me at Dunkin Donuts.

The incident occurred at the Old Greenwich Dunkin Donuts, my personal favorite franchise of the popular Northeastern chain. I was second in line to a woman, who had finished her order and paid for it. The employee made the coffee and handed it to the woman, signifying a completed transaction to most who understand how businesses operate. Unfortunately for me, someone thought otherwise.

A man walked into the Dunkin Donuts and proceeded to the front of the counter. Being a regular at the establishment, the employee shot me a confused glance as I starred at the man, disdainful at the thought that this man had clearly not paid attention in kindergarten on the day that the concept of lines was explained. Before the employee could explain the breach of etiquette, the man said, “I’m with her,” pointing at the woman, who was presumably married to this rude piece of existence.

He proceeded to order a bacon, egg, and cheese. Patrons of Dunks know that these sandwiches are not only gross; they slow down the line especially when only one person is behind the counter. This being around noon and Old Greenwich not being a peak location at all hours of the day, this sandwich meant that it was going to be another couple of minutes before yours truly could get his large iced dark roast with a splash of milk and one sugar.

The problem was, being “with her” no longer signified anything for this man. The woman had her coffee and had already paid for it. This was a separate transaction. Sharing a bed with the woman who had just ordered does not represent a sense of ownership over all future orders at a business. But this man was either not aware of this or did not care. Perhaps a mixture of both?

Now I found myself in a predicament of my own. The employee had clearly demonstrated that she too, felt this man was demonstrating an abuse of power over his wife’s limited domain. But she’s a coffee shop employee. Not Pontius Pilate. This was my battle.

The man was pacing around Dunkin Donuts in the long duration between ordering a gross breakfast sandwich and receiving it. When we made eye contact, I decided to air my grievance at this abhorrent human being. Little did he know he was in for a bout of social justice.

“You know when you pay separately, you’re not really together,” I said to the man. Firm, but non confrontational. I wanted to give the man a chance to right his wrong. Sadly that was not to be.

He looked bewildered at this long haired brightly dressed young chap who called him out on his nonsense. “It’s not a big deal,” he said to me, clearly showing that he has final say on my opinions.

“Well, you ordered a sandwich which takes a couple of minutes to make,” I replied. Pausing for a second, I added, “I could have ordered and left in this amount of time. You sir, are a cutter.”

Those words must have melted into his heart of stone for he did not respond. He walked to the other side of the Dunks, clearly saddened by his bruised ego. His wife stood a few feet away from her, possibly contemplating divorce after witnessing what the public perceives of the man she agreed to unite with in Holy matrimony. We’ll never know.

I got an apology only from the employee, who hadn’t done anything to be sorry for and could not speak for the man, who declined to voice a further opinion of his actions. She and I have joked about the incident several times since. It’s good that laughter could come out of tragedy for I will never get those minutes back. I only hope that when I’m old and on my deathbed, thoughts of bacon, egg, and cheese’s are far from my mind.

I suppose the question you might ask is, was it worth it? Was the man right in saying it wasn’t a big deal? Should I have kept quiet with regards to the injustice?

The answers to those are yes, no, and no.

I feel great about the whole thing. That probably wouldn’t have been the case if I had just tweeted about it. The man did something wrong and now he knows that it didn’t go unnoticed. If the whole world were this vigilant, there would be far fewer things to complain about. Catharsis was achieved. Maybe that man changed his ways or maybe he was kicked out his house. Let’s hope he doesn’t cut again.

If you see something, say something.