It’s Carver’s show, too [don’t read if you haven’t finished The Wire]

by david

So, I just finished rewatching The Wire last week, and for some reason, I was watching Carver much more closely this time. Of all the characters in the show (other than Bubbles, I suppose), Carver is the one with the most traditionally “heroic” change over time. It’s no surprise that few characters have a traditional arc, since a major premise of the show is that Baltimore’s corruption is pervasive: traditional arcs are impossible when every external force urges perverse development.

I don’t have a lot to say about this. It’s just not something I’d noticed before. While Carver is every bit as complicit in much of the corruption, he evolves, and draws lines and defends them at moments that defy the drift of the rest of Baltimore. He’s in a position to act on his principles, to train good police, help people in his district, etc. He’s got just enough authority to do good, and a clean enough background to go far (most of his dirt wasn’t documented). He learned from the best of Freamon, the best of Daniels, the best of McNulty and Greggs, and even the best of Herc. But he doesn’t have any of their excesses or carry their baggage. He can permit the low-level stuff that lets life go on, but step up even against his own guys when he has to.

The closing montage of the entire series knocks out almost everybody else: compare their starting place and their ending place, most are better off in some key way, but almost all are dirty. I don’t know of a definition of “progress” that applies to a situation where Stan Valchek ends as he does. Daniels’ final act was neither heroic nor completely selfish, in keeping with everything else he’s done. He’s a good man, with unclear ambition and difficult loyalties to bear. Freamon ends as Freamon and McNulty followed the most broken arc I’ve ever seen to come out in a place that is at best slightly better than ambiguous. If there were ten more seasons of The Wire, we’d see that McNulty doesn’t have an arc, he has a wave. Bunk is always The Bunk. Greggs, seeming on her way to becoming McNulty, Jr., has launched into a better orbit, but in the end, she’s a very good homicide detective, after starting as a very good narcotics detective. Colvin, Cutty, Namond , and Michael all go interesting places, but none of them span the whole series. Colvin is more a cautionary tale for would-be do-gooders than anything, Cutty is unambiguously an improved figure, as is Namond, and Michael has turned into the reincarnation of everybody’s favorite character. But none are complete characters in the way Carver is.

I really wish Bodie had made it.

I think if you handed The Wire to a bunch of AP Literature students and told them to find the hero, they’d be left with Carver.