48) Middle Ground (The Wire)

The Wire exposes the vices of city of Baltimore season by season. First season, they did the drug trade, second season, they did the seaport system, and in the third season, they turned to government bureaucracy, where the real evil lies.

The characters on the Wire were the key to the show’s success, but the long and intricately interweaving plotlines were the secret to its longevity. The most popular characters of this season, and of the entire show, are Omar (Michael K. Williams), a privately tender, gay stick-up man known for robbing drug dealers and avoiding innocent bystanders, and Stringer Bell (Idris “GIVE HIM EVERY ROLE” Elba), a drug kingpin and expert economist trying to make his organization a little bit more legitimate. Mostly, Stringer starts trying to reduce the number of murders committed by his organization (murders get the police, drug deals get passed over). He also begins to work heavily with politicians in order to support his building project, which will both provide for easy laundering, and also a path towards a legitimate business. At the same time, Stringer is dealing with the return of the former head of the organization, Avon (Wood Harris), who is less concerned with trying to maintain a legitimate front, and more concerned with his reputation.

In this season, Omar and Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts)(Mouzone means “judicious” in Arabic), a hitman and drug enforcer from New York who always speaks eloquently and wears a suit, have both had intense dealings with Stringer, who finally attempts to force Omar and Mouzone to kill each other. After a brief confrontation, Mouzone surprises everyone by suggesting that he and Omar instead kill Stringer. After confronting Stringer’s gang, Mouzone then proceeds to give Avon a choice: Stringer’s location, or Avon’s reputation. Avon chooses to give up the former.

This episode is as intense as television can normally get. Even the parts that don’t have to deal directly with Omar, Mouzone and Stringer are extremely tense, featuring the Mayor (Aidan Gillen) dealing with Hamsterdam, a series of drug-safe zones throughout Baltimore, and the major case unit failing to curb the extremely high crime rate in the city, despite pressure from the local government. In the end, every story involves someone trying to reach a middle-ground, and many are reached in the episode. The necessity of compromise is part of politics, because otherwise nothing gets done (though, of course, if your position is that you want nothing to get done, then you have no motive to compromise). This episode shows both the traditional political compromise of ideals and the compromise of economic triage, whereby you just give up and let some things die. The last middle ground, however, is in-between Mouzone and Omar, which is where Stringer finds himself, unarmed, at the end of the episode. Stringer pleas for his life, and claims that he has finally gone completely straight, but, in the end, he tells them there is nothing he can say to stop them. Then, Mouzone and Omar fire, and walk away without a word, leaving Stringer dead next to the sign for his prized building project.

In the end, this episode highlights one of the more difficult parts of government: It’s composed of, and policed by, people. And one of the worst parts of being a person is: Even when you want to change for the better, the means by which you effect that change may destroy everything you want to save. Sometimes, you can only advance through losing a little in the process.

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