by Jack M Silverstein (@readjack)
“Makes me sick motherfucker how far we done fell.”
As “The Wire” HD marathon rolls on, I’ve spent time tweeting with fans about our passion for the show and with cast members about characters with whom they wish they’d played one scene while also writing or re-sharing my work on the show, such as this, this, this, this, this and this.
The topics that come into focus while steamrolling episode after episode are the ones strung across seasons or even the series — the repetitive or parallel elements that only reveal themselves upon multiple viewings.
Like characters sitting and talking on a park bench, for instance.
The series opens with a park bench facsimile, as McNulty and the Unnamed Friend of Snot Boogie sit on a stoop and discuss, eventually, the nature of America. The scene is a broad template for the park bench scenes to come, all of which feature two people in the midst of conflict, be that one friend helping another (Lester & Prez), one friend critiquing another (Walon & Bubbles), amicable opponents hashing out philosophical differences (Omar & Bunk) or new business partners creating a system (Marlo & Vondas).
Time and again, the show returns to the motif of two people sitting on a bench, having a conversation. Sometimes it strays into park bench place-holders, like the alley lawn chairs Omar and Butchie enjoy, the picnic benches where Frank chastises Nick for stealing cameras or the hospital chairs where Carver tries and fails to comfort Randy.
The message, though, is always the same: no matter the technological breakthroughs in communication, our problems must be solved through personal communication.
It’s a bold idea in a show about the erosion of an American city. Being this show, it doesn’t always work. Plenty of the characters’ problems are solved through one person imposing his will on another, taking action with weapons, cuffs, the law, politics or any other show of force.
But during 60-plus hours of often violent narrative, the continued return to these park bench scenes always felt to me like a reminder of the shared humanity of characters who are so often locked in battle, either with each other or within themselves.
The best of all these was the Season 3 scene between Omar and Bunk. That is, at least to me, the key thematic scene to the whole series. Two people who, on the surface, have every reason to be at odds and yet who both sense that something crucial in their makeup is aligned. They were yin and yang, those two. Their scenes, and that in particular, remain a pleasure to watch.
What was neat about the show was the way it transformed the viewer into almost a silent mediator. You watch these characters and you want them to get along. You want them to solve their problems. You want their city to thrive.
The bench scenes are the ports in the show’s storm where characters and viewers can think about how any of that might possibly ever happen.
Jack M Silverstein is a staff writer for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Say hey @readjack.