Shades Of Gray

I've been rewatching "The Wire" over the past month or so, reflecting on the work as a whole even more than I did my first time through, and I've come to realize that one of the show's many strengths is the way it creates nuanced characters without forfeiting its moral compass. This sounds easy, but it's incredibly hard to do, and pulling it off requires work.One of the easiest and most popular ways to describe really well-made movies and TV series is also one of the most misleading. Faced with an army of finely drawn characters, especially on a long-form drama like "The Wire" that plays out over several years, it can be tempting to make a claim along the lines of, "There are no good guys or bad guys." It's not that this statement is evil; it's just that it fundamentally ignores the larger complications of great storytelling and places dangerous limits on the art in question. That's because in a great story, there are still good and bad people, but these people occasionally do things at odds with their basic moral make-up. Omar is a bad, vicious man, a killer and thief not often given to remorse, but he feels genuine love in a relationship. Lester Freamon is a good, decent police, but he's not above burning a political figure for the hell of it. Herc is a brutish and dim officer, but when internal affairs comes calling, he takes the heat for his department and spares two other officers any punishment. Etc., etc., etc. That's the glory of nuance, and what turns a good story into a great one. Good and bad aren't eliminated, but co-exist within a character. Saying that no one in the story is good or evil is wrong-headed, and it's unfair to just how complicated the fictional world actually is.