A few nights ago, I watched the final episode of the final season of the HBO series The Wire. I came into this project a little late--most of my writer friends had already seen the series in real-time, week by week, during its run from 2002 to 2008. I watched it on DVD, but thank goodness I never heard any spoilers beforehand and went through the whole sixty episodes without any prior knowledge or preconceived ideas. And I can now tell you this: The Wire is one of the best TV shows I've ever seen. Great setting, great acting, and--above all else--great writing.
Much has been said about this series, especially its authenticity and production values. I won't bore you with a rehash of all that, except to say that it's an extremely honest, gritty, and realistic view of the police and the drug trade and the press and city politics. And it's done nothing but reinforce my belief that HBO has created some of the best series on television: The Sopranos, Rome, Deadwood, The Newsroom, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, and others.
We writers love things like good storylines and character arcs, and--probably because its screenwriters included novelists like Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos--The Wire had some of the best. Those of you who saw the whole series might especially remember the journey of drug addict Reginald "Bubbles" Cousins, but there were many others as well. The show also consistently delivered smart, snappy, believable dialogue.
Speaking of dialogue (speaking of dialogue?), my mission today is to give you some of what I consider the best quotes from The Wire. The characters who spoke these lines will live forever in my memory, but--since my memory is certainly not the best--some of the following quotes are paraphrased.
I ain't no suit-wearing businessman like you. I'm just a gangsta, I suppose. -- Avon Barksdale
McNulty, I hold you in contempt. / Who doesn't? -- Judge Daniel Phelan and Detective Jimmy McNulty
It's Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you. -- Police Commissioner Ervin Burrell
A lie ain't a side of a story. It's just a lie. -- victim of inaccurate newspaper article
A life, Jimmy. It's the s*** that happens while you wait for moments that never come. -- Detective Lester Freamon
The game is out there. And it's either play, or get played. It's that simple. -- Omar Little
Did he have hands? Did he have a face? Yes? Then it wasn't us. -- Russian mobster
Pawns, man, in the game--they get capped quick. They be out the game early. -- D'Angelo Barksdale
Look around. The pond is shrinkin', the fish are nervous. -- Baltimore Sun editor, after a recent downsizing
For you I would suggest some pant-suits, perhaps, muted in color. Something to offset Detective Moreland's pinstriped lawyerly affectations and the brash, tweedy impertinence of Detective Freamon. -- Sgt. Jay Landsman
The thing is, you only got to f*** up once. Be a little slow, a little late, just once. And how you gonna never be slow, never be late? You can't plan for no s*** like this, man. It's life. -- Avon, to D'Angelo
He was a dead man when he opened his mouth. He's just walkin' around not knowin' it. -- Marlo Stanfield
I look at you these days and you know what I see? I see a man without a country. Not smart enough for this right here. And maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there. -- Avon, to Stringer Bell
You can't even call this a war. / Why not? / Wars end. -- Officers Carter and Herc
You're stealing from those who themselves are stealing the lifeblood from our city. You are a parasite who-- / Just like you, man. / Excuse me? / I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. -- Omar and attorney Maurice Levy, in court
You follow the drugs, you get the drug addicts and the drug dealers. But you start to follow the money . . . and you don't know where it's gonna take you. -- Lester Freamon
That's my money. / Man, money ain't got no owners. Only spenders. -- Marlo and Omar
We used to make s*** in this country. Build s***. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket. -- dockworker Frank Sabotka
You put fire to everything you touch, McNulty, and then you walk away while it burns. -- Freamon
Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. -- Detective Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski
Murder ain't no thang, but this here--this is some assassination s***. -- Slim Charles
Ain't no shame in holdin' onto grief. As long as you make room for other things too. -- Bubbles
It's a cold world, Bodie. / I thought you said it was gettin' warmer. / World goin' one way, people another, yo. -- Poot Carr and Bodie Broadus
You put a textbook in front of these kids, put a problem on the blackboard, teach them every problem in some statewide test, it won't matter. None of it. Cause they're not learning for our world. They're learning for theirs. -- ex-cop Bunny Colvin
You'd rather live in s*** than let the world see you work a shovel. -- Lt. Cedrick Daniels
You come at the king, you best not miss. -- Omar
What makes you think they'll promote the wrong man? / We do it all the time. -- Daniels and Burrell
One more favorite quote. This isn't from The Wire--it's from an episode in the second season of Boardwalk Empire, another great HBO series. A Catholic priest, hoping to receive a donation to the church, is speaking to the wife of Atlantic City gangster Nucky Thompson. Again, I'm paraphrasing:
A man once was invited to visit both heaven and hell. First he went to hell, where all the tormented souls were sitting at tables laden with food, yet they were starving and howling with hunger. Each soul had a spoon, but the spoons were so long that they couldn't get them into their mouths. Their frustration was their torment.
Then he visited heaven. In heaven, to his amazement, the man found the souls of the blessed sitting at similar tables laden with food, but they were all fed and contented. Each had a spoon and the spoons were just as long as the spoons in hell, but they were able to eat all they needed . . . because they were feeding each other.
Who says you can't pick up a life lesson from a TV show?
At least that's the excuse I make to my wife …
At least that's the excuse I make to my wife …