I'm cutting it close on all this catching up, having to sprint to the finish, but the third season of HBO's The Wire has made this endeavor even more worth while. Written with a theme of 'reform,' the season also served as a metaphor for the war in Iraq, further comparing the war on drugs with the war on terror. Since the start of the war on drugs campaign, police have become more like occupiers of a foreign country than members of the community. The season opens appropriately enough with the towers from season one coming down, a strong visual reference to 9/11. Their demolition is supposed to mark the beginning of change in Mayor Royce's administration, and as they come down, the crowd witnessing it is quickly enveloped in dust. Even in the DVD commentary, creator David Simon says "here's your reform" as the dust hits.
Ultimately, the third season is framed around the experiment of legalizing drugs, and the plot points sort of circle around the concept. 'Hamsterdam,' as it becomes known to it's inhabitants, is the idea of soon-to-be-retiring Major Colvin, who, under political pressure to reduce crime, decides that a different approach to the problem needs to be taken. Continuing to do the same corner busts just isn't cutting it, and to continue would be like Poot getting his action from the same girl in the towers and coming away with the Clap every time - as Bodie admonishes him in the opening scene: "Don't matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin' the same."
The Wire essentially advocates giving a serious look at legalizing drugs as a way to deal with the problem, and it's too bad there aren't enough viewers to let the debate take hold in a larger arena. Honestly, this season really should be required viewing for anyone looking at the problem of drugs in an urban environment, it's that important of a story.
'Hamsterdam' wasn't the only reform in the season, though, as you had several characters going through the process themselves, some outward, some more internally. The character Cutty gets out of prison and after reforming himself, extends a hand -- or rather, a boxing glove -- to some kids heading down the same wrong path that he went down. Stringer Bell looked to make himself a legitimate business man, but is cut down by that where he wants to go (Sen. Clay Davis) and where he comes from (Omar). Meanwhile, McNulty goes through a Moby Dick-like struggle all season, with Stringer as his whale, and when it's over, his reformation comes in the form of removing himself from the hunt -- settling instead to take Lester's advice and 'get a life.'
Season three was also remarkable for it's increased use of non-actors, especially from the Baltimore community. Former mayor Kurt Schmoke plays the health commissioner who sees some benefit of the 'Hamsterdam' experiment. During's Schmoke's time as the mayor of Baltimore, he spoke out against the war on drugs, and proposed decriminalization. Former police commissioner Ed Norris plays a homicide detective, the real officer Jay Landsman plays Lt. Dennis Mello, and city council employee Richard Burton plays Shamrock. Burton runs the Believe campaign which aims to reduce drug trafficking, drug violence and drug use in Baltimore. Meanwhile, one of the real life drug lords that the Avon Barksdale character is based on, "Little Melvin" Williams, plays the part of a deacon; and former thug and go-go rapper Anwon "Big G" Glover (Backyard Band) plays Barksdale muscle Slim Charles.
One key non-actor missing this season was executive producer Robert Colesberry, who died between seasons. For the third season, they held a wake for the character of Cole, and, in turn, for the man who portrayed him. The scene was touching, full of references to films he worked on, and featuring the cast singing along to The Pogues "The Body of an American." A couple other key music moments bookend the series with movie references. The first and last episodes contain homages to Apocalypse Now, first using "Theme for Shaft" as the West Baltimore police unit overdoes a search for a 'runner,' using a ridiculous amount of manpower to hunt down the lowest of priorities, like when Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) napalms a village's beach in the name of surfing. The final episode revisits Kilgore's attack by having Major Rawls blasting Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" from his patrol car as they make their raid on 'Hamsterdam' -- in the name of the war on drugs.
Playlist: The Wire - Season 3
1. "Way Down in the Hole" - The Neville Brothers - Season 3 theme song
2. "The Fall" - Blake - closing credits
3. "In Da Club" - 50 Cent - Ep3.01
4. "Theme from 'Shaft'" - Isaac Hayes - Ep3.01
5. "Atomic Dog" - George Clinton - Ep3.02
6. "Stand Up" - Ludacris - Ep3.02
7. "Body of an American" - The Pogues - Ep3.03
8. "In My Life" - DJ Technics - Ep3.04
9. "My Downfall" - Notorious B.I.G. - Ep3.04
10. "Splash Waterfalls" - Ludicris - Ep3.04
11. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" - Marvin Gaye - Ep3.04
12. "Me and Baby Brother" - WAR - Ep3.05
13. "On Fire" - Lloyd Banks - Ep3.05
14. "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" - Jay-Z - Ep3.06
15. "Strong Enough" - Sheryl Crow - Ep3.07
16. "Headsprung" - LL Cool J - Ep3.07
17. "Buffalo Soldier" - Bob Marley - Ep3.08
18. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" - Hank Williams - Ep3.08
19. "Tipsy" - J-Kwon - Ep3.08
20. "The Payback" - James Brown - Ep3.08
21. "The Way You Move" - Outkast - Ep3.09
22. "Little Bit O' Soul" - The Music Explosion - Ep3.11
23. "Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)" - The Gap Band - Ep3.11
24. "White Tee" - Dem Franchize Boyz - Ep3.11
25. "When We Ride On Our Enemies" - 2Pac - Ep3.11
26. "A Place Nobody Can Find" - Sam and Dave - Ep3.11
27. "Drop It Like It's Hot" - Snoop Dogg - Ep3.12
29. "Fast Train" - Solomon Burke - Ep3.12
Compiled with some help from Mandel Maven's Nest on The Wire.
More: Aside from HBO's Season 3 recap, the best video to check out on the season is the old west-style showdown between Omar and Brother Mouzone. They stare each other down, talking about their weapons like in a Serge Leone Western, before Brother Mouzone offers some middle ground. "Omar listenin'."
Next: Season 4