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HBO presents
The Wire: The Complete Third Season (2004)

Cutty: Game done changed.
Slim Charles: Game's the same, just got more fierce.

- Chad L. Coleman, Anwan Glover

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: August 24, 2006

Stars: Dominic West, Idris Elba, Frankie Faison, Aiden Gillen, Seth Gilliam, Wood Harris, Deidre Lovejoy, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, Lance Reddick, Andre Royo, Sonja Sohn, Jim True-Frost, Robert Wisdom
Other Stars: J.D. Williams, Corey Parker Robinson, John Doman, Michael K. Williams, Shamyl Brown, Callie Thorne, Chad L. Coleman, Anwar Glover, Peter Gerety, Clarence Clemons, Melvin Williams
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (contains language, violence, and nudity)
Run Time: 12h:00m:00s
Release Date: August 08, 2006
UPC: 026359277627
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+B+A- A

DVD Review

Writer David Simon initially gained recognition through his non-fiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, a compelling account of his time spent following the Baltimore Homicide unit. This book was adapted into the long-running NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street, which starred Andre Braugher, Kyle Secor, and Yaphet Kotto. This ground-breaking show presented a surprisingly realistic depiction of the everyday lives of a police department and their cases. However, the series faced constant pressure from the network to become more "accessible" or face cancellation. While it continued to offer gripping drama, the overall realism suffered in the last few seasons. Simon became a staff writer during the later years of Homicide, which introduced him to the television world. This experience would help him to create a daring series that would capture an even more realistic environment than its predecessor.

Premiering on HBO in the summer of 2002, The Wire offered a gritty perspective on Baltimore drug dealers and the cops who pursue them. Moving at a deliberate pace that required patience, the series provides wonderful rewards to viewers willing to take the ride. The inaugural season includes a wide array of three-dimensional characters on both sides of the law and does not sugarcoat the corruption possible within everyone. The primary drug kingpins—the old-school gangster Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and his businesslike cohort Stringer Bell (Idris Elba)—are magnetic and difficult to root against. However, they also participate in a deadly trade and play a key role in brutal murders. On the other side, Detectives Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) work with a tactical team under Lieutenant Daniels (Lance Redick) and try to bring down the drug lords. Armed with a minimal budget and little support from the bosses, they strive to bring down Barksdale and Bell, who are far too smart to fall for the usual tricks.

Following a second-season detour onto the Baltimore docks, the third offering returns to the streets and tackles the department's continuing difficulties in stopping the drug trade. The dealers continue to adjust their tactics and avoid the mistakes that made the original wire so effective. Supported by a new deal between Stringer and Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew), the trade actually has fewer killings. But the impending return of Avon from prison and the arrival of a tough young gangster named Marlo (Jamie Hector) could initiate a new bloodbath. While Stringer focuses on legitimate real estate dealings, he continues to wield power over the criminal activity. After a near-miss two years earlier, McNulty again tries to bring down his nemesis, but Stringer might be out of his reach for good.

This season also delves into the ruthless political forces that dominate the thoughts of both the department and city officials. Ambitious City Councilman Thomas Carcetti (Aiden Gillen) spends his time searching for a way to expand his career and possibly run for mayor. But is it possible for a white guy to win this office in Baltimore? Making back-room deals and then turning on his allies, Carcetti constantly flips and looks for his chance. Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Burrell (Frankie Faison) and Captain Rawls (John Doman) badger their underlings at department meetings in hopes of getting positive numbers. Their focus is public perception, which must be positive to keep their jobs and serve the mayor's interests. Never has the political world of smokescreens and arrogance been presented in such a convincing (and disturbing) fashion.

One of the season's best storylines involves the stunning decision by Major Colvin (Robbie Wisdom) to allow drug dealing in designated areas where few people reside. Although he sells it as a tactical maneuver to trap the dealers, his plan is actually a daring move towards drug legalization. The creation of "Amsterdam" would appear to be a disastrous idea, but it actually succeeds in removing the drug trade from nearly all the usual corners. However, it also generates ethical problems that offer no easy answers. The show's writers handle this topic in surprisingly complex fashion and present both sides of the issue convincingly. Colvin's attempt to break new ground in the drug war is praiseworthy, regardless of the eventual result. But it also might create a political disaster that could bring down the city and its leaders.

Several major writers arrive this year to craft possibly the series' most intelligent collection of episodes. Richard Price (Clockers) pens the second episode All Due Respect and Moral Midgetry—a gripping mid-season tale that reveals some serious cracks in Colvin's project. Mystic River author Dennis Lehane provides the script for Dead Soldiers, introducing the beginnings of a new turf war. Longtime Spike Lee Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson returns to direct Amsterdam and Mission Accomplished, which showcase his signature style. Possibly the series' best entry is the penultimate episode, Middle Ground, which includes a violent showdown that could lead to the death of a major character. The tense buildup to the final confrontation works beautifully and makes the ultimate result difficult, but completely understandable. This compelling entry perfectly exemplifies the success of this classic drama, which moves well beyond all the pretenders to reward its longtime viewers.

The ensemble cast of talented actors grows even larger during the third season, which moves seamlessly among the cops, criminals, and bureaucrats. Idris Elba gives his best performance as Stringer Bell and showcases both the ruthless and likable sides of his personality. His actions embody The Godfather's concept of business always outweighing personal concerns. Wood Harris continues to light up the screen as Avon Barksdale, who knows only the code of the streets. Michael K. Williams proves once again that he should be a breakout star by making Omar Little the series' most likable character. Strong newcomers to the game include Jamie Hector as Avon's nemesis Marlo Stanfield and Chad L. Coleman as Cutty Wise, a former street thug trying to sort out his life. Cutty's attempts to start a boxing gym to attract youngsters interacts only briefly with the primary story, but it includes plenty of heart.

On the law side, Dominic West continues his fine work as the flawed but well-meaning Jimmy McNulty. His tireless pursuit of Bell and Barksdale again brings him into conflict with the bosses and causes him to reassess his entire life. His nights are often spent at the local bar with his buddy Detective Bunk Moreland, played with great comic timing by Wendell Pierce. The cops are top-notch from top to bottom, with notable work from Clarke Peters as Lester Freamon, Sonja Sohn as Kima Greggs, and Jim True-Frost as Prez Pryzblewski. The department bosses receive more screen time this season and deliver several excellent performances. John Doman continues to chew up scenery (and his subordinates' careers) as Rawls, and we even learn a pivotal revelation that may explain his attitude. Frankie Faison also excels at showing Burrell's consistent political maneuvering to save his position.

The Wire's tremendous depth shines with repeated viewings that perfectly set up the key moments of each season. While it may appear that little happens in the early episodes, they are required viewing to build the relationships towards the final destination. The third season's events often relate back previous seasons and help to connect the entire story into an ongoing drama. Each member of the gigantic group of characters receives attention and helps to support the season's key themes. HBO deserves serious credit for continuing to support this intelligent series without pushing for larger audiences. This type of show is far too complicated for a broadcast or basic cable network, and its critical accolades only scratch the surface of the considerable rewards available for viewers hoping for more than conventional Law and Order material.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This collection's 12 episodes utilize the original full-frame transfers from their HBO airing. While the images may be slightly limited by the source material, they effectively convey the realistic colors of Baltimore. The nighttime scenes include only a minimal amount of grain and offer a clear, bright picture. It may not match the sharp widescreen transfers of the best television releases, but this presentation remains solid throughout the season.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Wire includes few external music cues, but sound obviously plays a key role in the story. This release includes an impressive 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that immerses you in the complex narrative. The audio moves well across the entire room and delivers an excellent listening experience. A 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track is also available, and it clearly presents the considerable dialogue and atmospheric sounds.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 84 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
5 Feature/Episode commentaries by David Simon and Nina K. Noble on Time After Time; Richard Price on All Due Respect; Simon on Dead Soldiers; George Pelecanos and Joe Chappelle on Middle Ground; Simon and Karen L. Thorson on Mission Accomplished
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Museum of Television & Radio Q&A with David Simon and Creative Team
  2. Conversation with David Simon at Eugene Lang College, the New School for Liberal Arts
  3. The Players (Listing)
  4. Episode Index
Extras Review: The Wire: The Complete Third Season offers an impressive collection of extra features that provide worthy information about the series. The primary source is five commentary tracks from the season's writers and directors. Creator David Simon appears on three commentaries, including the premiere and finale, and offers an intriguing perspective on the main storylines. His tracks could use some additional energy, which is rarely provided by co-speakers Nina K. Noble and Karen L. Thorson. The best entry comes from Writer George Pelecanos and Director Joe Chappelle on Middle Ground, the season's essential episode. They offer a more entertaining look at this compelling tale and also give some notable background. It's unfortunate that the actors don't appear on any of the tracks, which focus on the creative team. Combining the cast and crew would have made these solid discussions even more enjoyable.

The final disc also includes several worthy extras that give an interesting perspective on the series. The Museum of Television and Radio Q&A is an hour-long conversation with a large collection of panelists to honor the acclaimed drama. Hosted by New York Magazine television writer Ken Tucker, the conversation includes David Simon, Ed Burns, John Doman (Rawls), Idris Elba (Stringer), Seth Gilliam (Carver), and Jamie Hector (Marlo). Simon does much of the talking, but each of the actors gets some time to speak, including the very British Elba and especially well-meaning Hector. The other main feature depicts Simon's appearance at Eugene Lang College in New York City. Beginning with The Corner and moving into The Wire, he speaks intelligently about the creative decisions made fior each series. The best moments occur when Simon goes off on a tangent about New York City and the ridiculous television shows like Law and Order. His frank statements are fascinating and offer a highly entertaining perspective on the dull, popular series.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

The Wire: The Complete Third Season continues the classic HBO series' in-depth exploration of the Baltimore drug trade and offers a wide array of perspectives on the issue. If you are new to this serial, I would pick up the first two seasons of David Simon's "visual novel" before viewing this collection. All three releases offer smart, engaging drama and deserve the highest recommendation.


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