The train tracks on The Wire...
*Note: This post contains no major plot spoilers for The Wire*
The creator of The Wire, David Simon, has publicly stated that no critic has ever gotten the reason why McNulty and Bunk drank by the train tracks correct and I just wanted to throw in my two cents. I haven’t really read any critic’s take on the train tracks so this might have been said before and much more eloquently, so here goes…
The ultimate message of The Wire is about institutions and the way that nothing ever seems to change on a grander scale. There are always people who are benefited by the system and choose to back that system up instead of advocating for better.
How does the institution tie into the train tracks? I see the train tracks as the system itself. No matter what anyone who rides the train does, they cannot sway from the path that the tracks leads them to.
There’s a scene in The Wire where McNulty stands on the train tracks as the train heads towards him. The only two options he has is to move out the way or let the train kill him. Either way the system to continues on or the system kills him, there is nothing he can do to prevent the system from continuing the same way as it always has.
Another big theme of The Wire is how life is cyclical. Similarly, a train essentially only goes around in circles or follows the same path. It is impossible for a train to travel anywhere that its tracks does not take it. The path that it takes is firm, rigid, and set in place, there is no other alternative. Trains are orderly, exactly the way that many institutions in America are.
The railroads in America go so far back that they predate the ban on slavery. The railroads were built on the blood, sweat, and labor of immigrant and slave workers, the same way that the very same institutions running America today continue to exploit not just minorities anymore, but the working class. The common man and woman serve as nothing but tools to keep those in power in control. We don’t have slavery anymore, but in a way we are still enslaved to those who run the system. What greater representation of things not changing is there than the railroads of America?
Anyways, that’s just my theory on the train tracks. I really ought to look up some critic’s views, because this show is just endlessly fascinating. I finished the series months ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it/discussing it with people I know. If you haven’t seen The Wire, I would highly recommend that you do whatever you have to do to watch it. Trust me, you won’t regret it!