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The Wire: Officer Down

By Karel Segers

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The Wire is the one TV show I keep going back to, even if I still need subtitles here and there. The original HBO broadcasts were in standard definition, and the old 4x3 aspect ratio. Only last year, a remastered version was released in 16x9HD. For me this was a reason to revisit 60 hours of spectacular drama.

The Wire immerses us in drugs beleaguered Baltimore. We live with the dealers on the corners and among the high-rises, and we follow homicide and narcotics police struggling to curb the unrelenting death toll. We see the connections with politics, the impotence of the education system, and the power of the press. Along the way, we get an insight into the complexity of a micro-cosmos that is very much a metaphor for modern day America.


Creator David Simon is one of the smartest storytellers around. He managed to fit a complex and far-reaching issue such as the drug trade into a one-hour entertainment concept, without dumbing down characters and plot (much). Mind-boggling.

He also genuinely cares about the characters. Simon has always kept lobbying for the plight of his cast and their peers. Many actors in The Wire weren’t professionals, but the very people whose story the show tells us, from both sides - dealers as well as police. David Simon always tells his stories with great empathy for all characters, no matter which side they are on. This big heart for the story and its world shows even during the action-suspense sequence in our Movie Moment.


Given Simon’s tremendous integrity when it comes to the Truth, I didn’t expect to find conventional story patterns in the series easily. Indeed, looking at the individual episodes of Series 1, the classic 4-act ‘clock’ didn’t jump off the screen.  When we approached the mid of Season 1 however, I realised a few things. We had not seen the face of über-villain Avon Barksdale until well into the series.

McNulty uses his two little boys when shadowing Stringer Bell; and for the first time his three addictions are mentioned explicitly (work, woman and booze). Here, roughly halfway through the first season, we find three typical aspects of a strong mid point in any major dramatic story: meeting with the Shadow, things becoming personal, and the Hero’s own awareness of his flaw(s).

It doesn’t end there. Moving towards the end of the season’s 2nd act, McNulty approaches his ‘inmost cave’. In every Hero’s Journey story, this means the character is facing his own weakness, and is confronted with death. This is where we find the Movie Moment…


When TRUE DETECTIVE was released, my peers raved about the long one-take shot at the end of Episode 4. Admittedly, it was an impressive feat. More impressive even, was the sense of scope, the relative powerlessness of the heroes, and the feeling of dread and doom. While watching it, I remembered something. There is this brilliant sequence towards the end of The Wire S01E10, an episode written by the core team of David Simon and Ed Burns; and directed by Brad Anderson (“The Machinist”)…

Officer Kima Greggs goes undercover to witness a drug deal. She is backed up by colleagues, who are tailing her in several unmarked police cars, all ready to jump in, if and when necessary. Then, things feel wrong…

Kima has lost track of where she is. Street signs don’t seem to make sense… and furtive shadows approach the car.

What follows is a brilliant, cinematic sequence, brimming with menace and suspense. Not a single note of music, other than the diegetic hiphop track from the car radio. No subtitles needed.


About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.


Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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