When it begins, The Wire seems like a regular police procedural, where the bad guys are drug dealers who are ready to get taken down and the police are all the heroes. Over the succeeding five series, it becomes something else: a story about the ways the Black community has been left behind in America and the specific disadvantages American society has thrust upon them, and then furthermore, capitalism itself.
Most poignant is the fourth season, which focuses on the public-school system and has a group of young Black kids as the main characters. The show grapples between having fathers who turned to drug dealing, families dealing with drug addiction, an expectation of turning to drug dealing themselves, and having to navigate the foster care system where the schools don’t really care about teaching them and society isn’t trying to do anything. It truly shows the systemic issues which cause the drug trade to proliferate and traps people inside it and the way in which the system seeks to target and disadvantage Black Americans at a much, much higher rate.
The first scene of the first episode sums the theme up entirely with one quote – “This America, Man”. Everything about the system, the issues that plague it, the way Black people have their lives destroyed, it is America. It is just America. Inescapably, undeniably America.