The Wire is one of the greatest TV shows of all time, yet season 2 remains extremely divisive - but why? Created by David Simon back in 2002, The Wire was, alongside The Sopranos, one of the series to usher in a new Golden Age of TV and establish HBO as a true heavyweight in the television world.
The Wire took place in Baltimore, Maryland, with each season exploring various institutions and their relationship to the city, from the drug trade to the media. While it was a crime drama with a detective as its lead - Dominic West's Jimmy McNulty - the series was interested in showing all sides of the story, from the police to the politicians, and the drug dealers to the drug addicts. It received widespread acclaim, although was overlooked at the Emmys, but not all seasons of the show were received as well as others.
After season 1 focused on the drug trade, The Wire season 2 went on to look at the docks and the seaport system, examining its own connection to the city, how it was used to smuggle drugs, and used it as a lens to view blue-collar, working-class difficulties faced by people in the United States. Although it continued some storylines from season 1, and plenty of characters carried over, it also introduced a number of new characters and plots too, in some ways working as a reset of the series, which not all viewers were overly keen on.
The biggest part of the problem was that the shift in season 2 was rather jarring. After watching season 1, fans believed that The Wire was very much a series focused on drug dealing, showing both sides of the story from a number of different perspectives, many of whom became fan-favorite characters. Season 2, then, suddenly moved away from that and put the docks at the forefront, with storylines centered on new people audiences hadn't already invested 13 hours in. Because of that, and the fact the overarching storyline didn't offer up quite the same thrills as the drug trade, then season 2 of The Wire was seen as being too different to the first, and more boring to boot. The newer characters weren't as beloved either, with Ziggy Sobotka (James Ransone) particularly found to be annoying and unlikable. It was slower, and less obvious what its story was.
Such complaints are understandable to a degree, but at the same time, The Wire season 2 is a sterling sophomore effort. It expands the scope of the show completely, both in terms of locations and characters, but also by showing that the drug trade is so much bigger than Baltimore, with the Greek's grip on things giving it an international twist that explains while the game will chew up and spit out the players at the bottom and in the middle, it's so much harder to touch the ones at the top. Dock-worker and union boss Frank Sobotka, the de facto central character of season 2, is one of Simon's finest creations: a down-on-his-luck worker who turns to crime, but only as a last resort to get work and money for the men he is responsible for. It's the kind of complicated character work that defines The Wire, and in season 2 we have someone both tragic and so true to entwining the past of America that is ostensibly being left behind, and its darker future.
Season 2 also lots in motion a lot of key events, from the expanded role of Proposition Joe and a better understanding of how the game works in Baltimore on a much higher level, to the developing feud between Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell, which would play out so brilliantly in season 3. The Wire season 2 isn't necessarily an easy season of TV, but it is gripping, complex, tragic, and hugely important to the core themes and events of the entire series.