The light at the end of the tunnel

by Tom Mandel | 5/5/11 10:00pm

We won. We got him. Osama bin Laden is dead.

In "The Wire," co-creator David Simon makes an effort to be true to motive with his storytelling. Cops do not do what they do out of a sense of civic duty or a desire to better the world. Drug dealers do not sell drugs out of some misplaced desire to hurt the world. Everybody just does what they do mostly because that's what they do. And people do their best to be good at what they do just for that: so that they can be good at what they do.

Officer Jimmy McNulty puts his entire career on the line to catch what he considers to be "the" case: Marlo Stanfield, drug kingpin of West Baltimore. He burns himself out and puts himself at risk of getting fired. One of his friends warns, "Marlo ain't worth it, man. Nobody is."

"Marlo's an asshole," McNulty responds. "He doesn't get to win. We get to win!"

Funny, because I felt the exact same way about Osama bin Laden:

1) He was an asshole.

2) He doesn't get to win.

3) We get to win.

I don't think I need to provide supporting evidence for any of those points, since it is very clear that he was an asshole and that he did, in the end, lose.

For a while, what the U.S. was doing in Afghanistan felt a lot like what McNulty was doing. We weren't going after Bin Laden entirely out of a sense of civic duty. We were going after him so tirelessly because he does not get to win. We get to win. You do not do a thing like 9/11 to America and get away with it, even if we need to chase you to the far reaches of the planet and expend billions of dollars of resources to catch you. We get to win.

Now I'm going to shift away from the past and present and start to talk about the future, and I'm going to continue to use "The Wire" as the basis for all of this.

Ellis Carver, a proud member of the Baltimore Police Department, is sitting around in the office one day, just shooting the shit. Another officer mentions the War on Drugs. Carver says, "You can't even call this shit a war."

"Why not?" someone asks.

"Wars end."

In "The Wire," the truth of that statement is abundantly clear. When Avon Barksdale fell, Prop Joe took his place as drug kingpin. When Prop Joe fell, Marlo took his place. When Marlo falls, Slim Charles and Fat Face Rick are ready to take his place. The victory over Marlo signals one victory in an unending war.

Will "The Wire" prevail as the basis for every story ever told?

I think you see where I'm taking this. Will "The Wire" prevail as the basis for every story ever told? So we got the figurehead. Does that end the war, or can you not even call this shit a war, because it never ends? I mean, sure. We'll leave eventually. But the Baltimore P.D. could pull all of its plainclothes officers and surveillance teams, but that doesn't mean that no more drugs are being sold in Bodymore, does it?

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL is that in the time between Marlo getting caught and McNulty being done in by the administration, there's a moment of sweet victory. Even if it's only for a day, the good guys have won and the streets of West Baltimore are (relatively) safe. Let's just savor that moment for a second.