This review will NOT spoil your enjoyment, I promise!
If you've watched the first four seasons of The Wire (and there's no point watching this if you haven't) you will know by now what to expect:
a gripping storyline with a new theme which allows David Simon and his team of writers to explore their Baltimore universe from a fresh angle, exposing the goodness in the bad guys and the badness in the good guys.
Except of course, you don't know what to expect at all, because Simon and his team of writers have always been brutally realistic in bumping off very serviceable characters (by the end of Season Four, almost none of the original hoodlums were still at large) and The Wire's storylines unfold unpredictably - previous episodes managed to veer from sickening loss to heart-warming camaraderie without ever losing the various threads of plot. Season Five is no different, either in its unpredictable plotlines or its nail-biting, tear-jerking, awe-inspiring mood swings.
This time, the new theme is the media - or more specifically the Baltimore Sun newspaper, where The Wire's creator David Simon cut his teeth as a reporter. As a reporter myself, I can attest that the depiction of the paper and its staff rings absolutely true. But more significantly, the bosses of the real Baltimore Sun agreed to have the paper feature in The Wire without disguising its name, which is testament to the trust they place in The Wire's writers and to their appreciation of its verisimilitude and integrity.
There's plenty of politics in this season, and as usual most of it is decidedly dodgy: back-handers, back-stabbing and below-the-belt punches.
Barack Obama told a US television magazine that this was his favourite show, so it can't be too wide of the mark. Of course it's not just the politicians doing the politics. There's intrigue and infighting all over Baltimore. Some of those caught red-handed (or even suspected of
complicity) are dealt with summarily, while others are dealt with "the Western District way". Without giving anything away, there are moments of sweet revenge, rough justice and triumphant "gotcha!" that linger long in the memory.
If I have one complaint about this season, it was that one plotline, involving the loveable rogue McNulty and some gentlemen from the media, was allowed to run so long. It's not so much that it was unrealistic, just that I found it extremely frustrating that the situation only got more tense as time went on, while I was practically chewing the arm off the sofa in my desperation for a resolution. Still, I suspect that it is my personal experience as a journalist that drove me to the brink, not any problem with the storyline itself, because when the resolution came, it was an ecstatic and sudden and brilliant denouement that totally redeemed the situation and restored my faith. I had been squirming for weeks as I tried to guess how things might play out, but was wrong every time. The simple turned complex, the complex simple. So if you too find yourself having doubts about one or two storylines, fear not, for The Wire will come back and hit you right between the eyes as usual.
As well as McNulty, who is back centre-stage after his low-key role in Season Four, this season stays in close touch with all the old favourites, while introducing a Baltimore Sun newsroom that includes all the psychological complexity you would expect from The Wire. The season has plenty to offer admirers of those charmers Bubbles, Bunk and Omar and it finally gets under the skin of that legal lizard Maury Levy, who had previously only slithered on and off occasionally. I'd been wanting to see more of him since he first dragged blabbermouth D'Angelo out of the cells by the ear in Season One. Here he recruits a new assistant, who you may recognise...
Season Five is unusual in that it only has 10 episodes, but the final episode is a wrap-`em-all-up double-length slam dunk which will leave you slack-jawed and wide-eyed at the brilliance of it all. Unlike Season Four, which left us hanging with a virtual "to be continued...", this one ends with a resounding finale which bids a fond or fearsome farewell to each of the characters still standing after five series. Crucially for The Wire's fans (including my entire office, now frequently calling out "Five-Oh, Five-Oh", "Red tops, Red tops" and the like), this is a satisfying ending. It would have been a disaster if Simon had bungled things right at the end of the best show ever, but rest assured, he doesn't.