Season five lets itself down in two major ways: the serial killer, and the journalists. The former is just a tad too farfetched for the firmly realist show: McNulty and Freamon concoct a homeless murderer to generate money and resources from the police, then syphon this off for their drug investigation.
It has a story purpose and the media critique is sharp, but it stretches the limits of credulity, and it’s just out of place in The Wire.
The newspaper plot, meanwhile, is simply not that interesting. David Simon worked on the Baltimore Sun before transitioning to TV, and elements of this storyline are clearly in there to settle scores. The characters take up a lot of screen time, and none of them manage to connect.
Elsewhere, McNulty spends most of the season simply being unpleasant - he’s always had an edge, of course, but here he’s just a jerk.
Season five of The Wire remains leagues above most TV, but it’s a sharp drop off from what came before it. With only 10 episodes to play with, it’s surprising how much of the season lacks a sense of urgency.