“The Wire”: David Simon reflects on his modern Greek tragedy

Wiredavidsimon_2David Simon always seems to have a lot on his mind. For the past six years, he’s given voice to his thoughts, commentaries and general reportage on life in urban American through his imposing HBO drama series The Wire.”

That sweeping saga of hustle and bustle on Baltimore’s drug corners, in its police department and school system, in the corridors of City Hall and its court system comes to an end Sunday with episode No. 60, “30.”

As you might expect, Simon had plenty to say about the process of wrapping up a show that is near and dear to him, the issues it has tackled over its five seasons and what he hoped “Wire’s” legacy would — and would not — be in the long run.

Simon was generous with his time in a telephone interview late last month, in between looping sessions on “Generation Kill,” his upcoming HBO miniseries about Marines in Iraq. (Beyond “Kill,” Simon’s also working with “Wire” and “Homicide” alum Eric Overmyer on an HBO pilot script set among musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, and he’s got a deal with his “Wire” collaborator William Zorzi to write a non-fiction book about the rise of the drug culture in 1950s and ’60s Baltimore.)

According to Simon, the best way to understand “The Wire” is to think Greek — not the nefarious Greek characters who dominate the illicit trade in Baltimore’s ports, but the storytelling tradition of the ancient Greek tragedies, where the heroes and anti-heroes always face a dramatic downfall, usually as a result of their own hubris.

Leaning on that structure gave them a road map to plot the fates of the show’s primary characters, particularly the savvy police detectives Jimmy McNulty, Lester Freamon, Bunk Moreland and Kima Greggs; dealers, dopers and street soldiers Omar Little, Bubbles, Proposition Joe, Marlo Stanfield and Avon Barksdale.

“We knew what was going to happen over the course of the five-year run,” Simon sez (though it was not always clear it would be a five-year run, he’s quick to add. It took some work to secure seasons four and five).

“We were always adjusting where characters were going to end up, what parts of Baltimore we were going to depict when, what we wanted to say with the overall  theme of the show. It was a Greek tragedy done in a modernist urban way, with the city as the main character,” Simon says.