The second season is no different. It's riveting television that pulses with realism, intelligence, and harrowing drama. If by chance you've stumbled upon this review without having watched the first season, update your Netflix queue immediately, with The Wire: Season One at the top. Like nearly all of today's best hour-long dramas, its multilayered storytelling technique demands a great deal of attention to detail from the viewer. The show can't be fully appreciated without understanding each character's nuanced backstory and the history of interactions and conflicts everyone has with one another. So start at the beginning and enjoy.
Season two broadens the scope of season one, focusing not only on the grams and ounces of heroin and cocaine being sold on the streets of West Baltimore but also on the illicit shipments of drugs, Eastern European prostitutes, and weapons being brought into the city's ports. This is season two's neatest trick. The occasional hints at the wider world of the drug trade contained in season one develop into the primary concern of season two. Propelling the story forward are a raft of new characters, like Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), the downtrodden boss of the local dockworkers union; the Greek (Bill Raymond), a mysterious and untouchable drug importer; and Beadie Russell (Amy Ryan), a port authority cop who's in way over her head.
The season's narrative arc kicks off with two wholly unrelated events -- one petty, the other ghastly -- that come together in one of The Wire's few instances of contrivance. The first event centers on Major Valchek, a hotheaded career cop who wants to donate a stained-glass window to his local Catholic parish. The trouble is, Sobotka, the union boss, has beaten him to the punch, already donating his own window for the parish nave. Major Valchek can't accept his generous offering being relegated to the rectory, a much less proud position, so he organizes a police detail to snoop around the docks and find out where a poor sap like Sobotka came up with the money for such a magnanimous gift. At the same time, Russell, the port authority cop, discovers a shipping container filled with the dead bodies of 13 Eastern European prostitutes being smuggled into the country. Coincidentally, this particular shipping container just happened to be offloaded by Frank Sobotka's crew. And so begins an excruciatingly complicated investigation that spans the entire season.
Nearly all of the regular cast members of season one reprise their roles in season two: Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn), Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris), Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce), and Lieutenant Daniels (Lance Reddick) all return with a fresh set of ambitions, but the same deep-seeded motivations. Much of the credit for the consistency and inventiveness of The Wire's characters can be credited to the show's superlative team of writers. It has long been said that television is a writer's medium (without them, who will write next week's episode?) and The Wire's success proves the truth of this maxim. Just as former policeman Ed Burns contributes his experience as a cop to the show's gritty realism, former Baltimore Sun reporter (and colleague of the show's creator, David Simon) Rafael Álvarez contributes his intimate knowledge of the city's internal machinations.
The Wire has been lauded so extensively that it's nearly impossible to believe it could actually live up to the hype. However, this is one case where you can read all the press clippings and still have your expectations blown away. The Wire is quite simply the best show on television. Watch it at once.
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Director: Edward Bianchi, Elodie Keene, Steve Shill, Thomas J. Wright, Daniel Attias, Timothy Van Patten, Rob Bailey, Ernest R. Dickerson, Robert F. Colesberry
Producer: Nina K. Noble, Karen L. Thorson
Screenwriter: Ed Burns, Joy Lusco, Rafael Álvarez, George P. Pelecanos