Thanks to DVR, I am catching up with episodes of The Wire. In what is I think the penultimate episode, there is a wonderfully cheeky moment in which The Wire plays us like a suburban Dad who happens to have wandered into the "wrong part of town."
Lester Freamon (Clark Peters) and Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) are installing a wire in a telephone exchange. It looks complicated with a mess of wires running in all directions.
It looks complicated and it sounds complicated. Lester gives one of his professorial accounts, but Jimmy isn’t sure he gets it. He says something like "I think I’m a pretty smart guy, but you’re going to have to run that one past me again."
And at this, every viewer, or at least this viewer, gives a sigh of relief. We didn’t get it either, and we are grateful that one of the characters are giving to step out of scene and almost out of character to explain it to us. This is what Mike Myers calls an appearance of Dr. Exposition, after than Bond character who comes in and explains everything. (Let’s be honest, even Shakespeare will do this sort of thing. That would be Sir Exposition.)
But no! This is The Wire. And of course it never breaks from scene or character. It’s so deep in, so committed to its moment, it will never stop to give us the 411. Ever. So just is just The Wire f*cking with us, in the manner of a little moment of police humor. Lester explains himself, but the explanation is way more complicated and mystifying than the original. The Wire treats the series as another participant in the neighborhoods and networks of Baltimore. There are some things you get. There are some things you don’t. Just because you’re watching TV doesn’t give us a privileged point of view.
Take that, you craven, pop culture, have it your way, consumer of the televisual. The Wire and David Simon stop for no man. But it’s not above scorning us for wishing that it would. Just to remind us how good and necessary The Wire has become as a precursor of the new popular culture.