Please visit the darkmatter special issue on The Wire … please note Georgia Christgau’s essay on Season Four, which includes this “caveat” about the memorable scene that concludes Episode 40:
“[V]iolence is not just what happens on the street. This is a commonplace on TV shows about public schools. As a public high school teacher myself, I was disappointed that The Wire stooped to the same cliché as other TV shows depicting adolescents in classrooms: they fight a lot, tragically sometimes. In the fourth episode two girls eye each other menacingly in math class as Mr. Presbylewski, clueless, proceeds with an algebra problem. Before the period is over, one has cut the other across the face with a boxcutter. Now if this ever happens, it’s a rare occurance. Not because kids don’t take boxcutters to school: they do. But TV knows how violence such as this plays into the living rooms of smug middle class (and predominantly white) viewers who accept black-on-black violence on the screen, no questions asked. We want to see poor kids destroy each other; it validates a do-nothing attitude that the system is broken and that there’s nothing we can do to fix it.
The Wire gets points, most of the time, for choosing objectivity over judgement; connection over isolation; humanity over indifference. Duquan provides that last detail even in this scene; operating a cheap hand-held fan, he blows fresh air across the assailant’s face. His goofy gesture of kindness turns a monster into a child, sweaty, tear-stained, and scared, soon to be handcuffed, expelled, incarcerated, and disappeared from society.”