In the series finale, after McNulty's deception comes to light, some of the worst continue to rise as some of the best take the fall, but overall it's a surprisingly joyous occasion
Dominic West, The Wire

”The Wire” finale recap: The end of the line

Two things about my Sunday were making me sick. The first was Joshua Ferris’ novel Then We Came to the End, whose mordantly funny story of job insecurity made me queasy and want to schedule doctors’ appointments while I still had insurance. Then — good Christ, I was shaky from 4 o’clock on — then I had the finale of my favorite show to stare down. Wire finales are always killers, with montages that leave you red eyed like Nicky Sobotka. What would the Baltimore boys do to me tonight, and how would I unsplurch myself from the floor to write about my misery?

But dang, people, that 90 minutes of TV was darn near warmhearted. All of David Simon’s disgust over his fair city’s broken bureaucracies was still there. Yes, Valchek, a fish-smelling potato of a man, rose in the end. Yes, Levy swilled champagne and lived to ooze another day. Yes, Templeton and his pinheads won themselves a glass door knocker. Yes, our dear Dukie had rubber wrapped around his upper arm by night’s end. But there was great mercy in this episode. After showing Dukie rip off Prez — bearded and brimming with his sophomore-year chops at school — they kept the boy’s plummet off screen, except for that one fuzzy shot toward the end.

Let them, the boobs and the pushers, think they’ve won. But McNulty, in his own way, was right. They don’t get to win. We get to.

Because this wasn’t a night for tragedy. Not with all the shots of Baltimore, scenes with such energy and life and blood that anyone who watched them and doesn’t already live in a big, broken, beautiful city must have wanted to book a ticket to one fast. This wasn’t just a season finale; it was the series bloody ender, so it finished not with hand-wringing or mudslinging, but with an affectionate, drunken, I-love-you-brother hug to Baltimore itself. From the quote by the city’s sage, H.L. Mencken, at the beginning to McNulty’s dreamy ”Let’s go home” to Larry at the end, the finale, like the five seasons that preceded it, was a humble bow to a cursed city. And, as the credits rolled, you may too have found yourself a little dopey, a little neckless and cross-eyed like poor Larry. Your show is over.

Oh, I’ll throw a wine bottle at the TV if The Wire doesn’t win any Emmys this year. If that blasted Monk wins another award and my boys don’t even get nominated, I’ll boycott popular entertainment itself. From now on, if the only time I get to see these amazing actors is in bit parts on various Law & Orders, I’ll make like McNulty and take to the message boards of all those crap shows too many people watch and launch a phony spoiler campaign.

But there I go, giving a f— when it ain’t my turn to give a f—. Who cares if the junk TV shows win? Who cares if Rawls went all the way to the top and Governor Carcetti couldn’t look him in the eye when he shook his hand? Who cares if the mayor’s office still demanded juked stats so that meant Daniels had to walk away with his head held high? (”They said it was for family reasons.” ”Guess I got some kids I don’t even know about.”) He became a lawyer, his girl got to wear a judge’s robes, and good man Carver got a promotion. There are still some forces of good in the justice world. And Cheese may have been barking about a game without nostalgia, but Slim Charles cut his rant short in the name of Joe. I thought for a second Levy was on to Herc’s cell-phone-number snitch, and I worried that he might lace the brisket. But Herc lives, happy to pull in toxic money, and at least he spends it buying rounds for his buddies. Lester may have had to retire after 32 years and 4 months of service, but he gets to go home to Shardene at night, and she wears sexy cardigans and likes to nuzzle him on the neck while he tends to his miniatures. Omar may be dead, but at least that little twerp Kenard was in handcuffs by the end.

NEXT: Finding their way home

I had a moment of panic there, when those long suited legs were spread out on the bar and Landsman was waxing on about an Irishman’s inconsistent sobriety and hygiene. Come on, this group was too happy to really have a dead McNulty on a plank of wood in front of them, right? That would have just been too cheesy and manipulative a setup — right? — as Landsman praised a man who was ”natural poh-leese.” Nah, McNulty opened his eyes wide at us at home, and the party began. And, God, seeing those shot glasses fill up and the song kick in and the hugs going round and McNulty asking Lester to come snuggle with him about made me want to be a cop. Isn’t that funny? After all the s— we saw in all these two-bit, shabbily run institutions, there was still the enviable feeling that these people, or at least the good ones, loved their chosen tribes. Prez is happy at school. Gus and Fletcher love their paper. Ronnie believes in the law, and that it can be bent without breaking. Bunk and Carver and Kima, who shook McNulty’s hand after her classy, unapologetic confession, love the poh-leese work. Norman, a black Tim Gunn with the bonus accessory of cynicism, gets off on stanching the blood flow of crooked government. And Marlo, so stiff in that suit, trying to play businessman with a bunch of fatsos, looked like he could finally breathe again when he ditched the cocktail party and hit the street. He smelled the blood on his arm and inhaled some corner air and whispered, ”Yeah,” like an addict might when the drugs kick in.

What a surprise then, with all these people clinging to their identities, that McNulty seems like he’s going to be just fine without his badge. He left his wake early to go home to his woman. The scene of them sitting barefoot on the porch, when she finally let her muscles go and laid her head on his shoulder, was one of great, quiet triumph. He didn’t pin the other four murders on the homeless man, he went and found Larry, he didn’t barf on the corner after last call at his wake and screw some broad while swinging from a street sign. He found his code again and went home to bed.

Speaking of men with codes, Michael is the new Omar. Leading with his hood and the butt of his shotgun, he burst into a shop thick with drug money and demanded a share. I’ll leave it to the message boards to discuss the nature of his accomplice, a fey, quiet, pretty boy who looked not completely unlike Brandon. I know, it’s a hammy stretch, but come on, Michael is the new Omar. We’re going full circle here.

Finally though, I’d like to remember the scene of Bunk and Kima working a crime scene. Bunk, sounding like Jimmy Stewart three sheets to the wind, razzed Kima about her gumption, and she schooled him on the basics of police work. The two were in the zone. I think out of all the night’s other images — Bubbles being invited up to sit at the family table, cops singing, ”I’m a free born man of the U.S.A.,” a giddy child being pushed in a grocery cart on a hot day — it’s this one I’ll most savor. Good hunting, you two. Hold down your city.

Just one question for you readers: What did you love?

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