When the fist episode of The Wire, “Boys of Summer,” was finished, I decided to shut my computer. I had been planning on watching two in a row, and “Soft Eyes” had already finished downloading, but I just didn’t want to keep watching. With most of the other shows we’ve been assigned for class, I’ve pretty much been roped in; even if we were only assigned to watch one or two episodes, my roommate and I have been trying to squeeze in extra episodes of Mad Men and Freaks & Geeks between homework, so I was surprised to find myself reluctant to continue with this new program. It wasn’t that I had felt it was a bad show, or that I hadn’t enjoyed the last hour. It wasn’t that I was troubled to see a life so different from my own or pushed to feel guilty by seeing those in a worse position. I just had no drive to continue. When I was wondering why, True Blood – a show that I assume gains most of its repeat viewership by ending the show at the very moment of climax which makes not pressing next episode on your On Demand downright illogical– immediately came to mind. Why did I have such a different reaction to The Wire‘s plot structure?
The next night; however, I sat down to watch again, with Parker’s comment that it takes about 4 episodes to get into the show in mind. By the end of “Home Rooms,” I couldn’t stop. The Wire had found a way to hook me that took more time, but was perhaps more effective than True Blood‘s. How the vampire drama seems to play out is as follows: the episode will follow a pretty normal plot arc – building action, climax, and resolution. It’s brilliance is that it sets up a new obstacle at the very end of the episode to carry over into the next. So, though it might sound cruel to put a cliffhanger the end of every show (and it is!), the viewer is not in a constant state of anxiety. We probably wouldn’t watch if we were. Instead, we get cathartic resolution before the new storyline begins.
The Wire, however, barely gives us any resolution at all. Sure, characters die, power relations shift, and kids go back to school, but there never seems to be any definitive or stable outcome, because everything is always in flux. I had such an adverse reaction to it my first time because I felt uncomfortable with this lack of resolution. But I also think that it’s now the reason I keep watching. It’s almost a queasy, topsy-turvy feeling that I get when the show ends that makes me need another episode. I don’t know if I hope something will be truly fixed in the next segment; I understand that it won’t. But at the same time, I have to keep going back, hoping for some authentic change in the status quo.