By the time “The Wire” season 2 begins, Stringer Bell is still loose and in charge of operations for the Barksdale crew. Rather than get the lawman band back together in pursuit of him, Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), Lieutenant Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick), and most of their detail are relegated to the sidelines. Instead, the lens pans over to the Port of Baltimore as the locus of a dying American city. Barksdale’s people have been replaced by the laborers of the docks, a move Alan Sepinwall describes in his book “The Revolution Was Televised” as “the most important move the series ever made.”
Through the likes of union leader Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), his judicious nephew Nick (Pablo Schreiber), and perennial screw-up Ziggy (James Ransone), the show’s new POV was another microcosm of the drug conflict but, like the cumulative effect of the episodes themselves, amassed into something greater, earning the authority to pass condemnation to all institutions involved but few of its individuals. “Part of the game,” the show’s professed maxim goes.
Sepinwall’s book reports on Simon’s headspace on the eve of season 2:
“When they asked us what we were going to do if we came back, I said, ‘Now we’re going to build a city.’ I remember going to Ed (Burns) and saying, ‘The next season has to be about the working class and the death of work.’ By making the death of work a part of the dynamic, it’s no longer about the bad guys deciding they’re going to be drug dealers because they’re evil, it’s about economic imperative.”
Without the unfurling into other city systems at play in this great American decay, Simon argues, “It would be a cop show,” and nothing more.