The Unique Manifestation of Mental Illness portrayed in the Wire

Season Two of HBO’s critically acclaimed drama series The Wire follows a group of stevedores working on the docks of the Baltimore harbor and the police who’s goal is to ultimately take them down. Within this crime ridden family, two main players in the international smuggling rings are Frank Sobotka and his troubled son, Ziggy Sobotka. In the second to last episode, the police eventually raided the union offices of the dockworkers, lead by Frank Sobotka, and arrest these criminals. Of these criminals are Frank’s aforementioned son Ziggy, and his nephew Nick. After Frank is released from jail, he goes to see Ziggy in prison to talk with him about their future steps, including the matter of bail, which is said to be “tricky”. It is in this scene that a clear psychological strain has been placed upon Ziggy, as if these years of being a criminal have finally broke his conscience. It is in this scene in which he confronts and begs to his father, he confronts him over this life of crime he was essentially born into and he begs his father for anything, just any sliver of hope. Perhaps the most poignant line in this scene is when Ziggy looks at his father, and for the first time is completely honest with not only his father, but also himself: “I got tired I got tired of being the punchline of every joke”. This line sums up his entire psychological state at that moment, a state of which he is simply given up all hope. At this point Ziggy has become all but a passive passenger in his own life.

By boiling down his entire essence into simply seeing himself as nothing more of the constant punchline, Ziggy has unknowingly opened the Pandora’s box of why he is like this. Immediate after hearing this confession of hopelessness from Ziggy, Frank says, “if you had problems you coulda [sic] just came to me”, to which Ziggy replies, “You wouldn’t of heard”, thus showing that perhaps Ziggy was not so secretive of his active psychological unbalance, and rather it falls upon the father to simply be more attentive. This shows that no matter how old a child ages, the constant need for parental guidance will be ever present. Ziggy follows up that, with a blatant accusation of over neglect, saying “You were always too busy drudging up the canal”, once again showing that a parents role in a child’s life has a direct consequence on that child’s psyche. For Ziggy to say this, it now places the blame for his hopelessness directly upon Frank’s shoulders, at least in Ziggy’s eyes.

A second accusation is levied upon Frank Sobotka by his child, this time encompassing the lies being force fed to Ziggy his entire life: “I always used to think you were working all that time”. This line truly sums up the entire reason for Ziggy to be without hope, his one person who he had been dependent on his entire life, his father, his absolute role model, built a relationship with his child based solely on lies. Not only did he lie to his child, once he determined his child to be of age, then incorporated him into the life of crime, most likely without ever a second thought to the wishes of Ziggy.

Ziggy did not lose hope, it was stolen from him before he ever realized.

One thought on “The Unique Manifestation of Mental Illness portrayed in the Wire”

  1. I’m really interested in your sense of Ziggy as mentally unbalanced. Certainly he’s pretty agitated by the time he ends up committing murder, but it does strike me that David Simon is taking great pains to explain all of his characters’ actions in terms of social forces – he’s so committed to turning our attention toward the economic pressures on the stevedores and their leadership, and then seeing how those pressures play out at the level of the individual. Would love to hear more from you about how you see Ziggy’s fate play into the broader forces in play in this second season, which is so interesting in the way it moves beyond the local drug traffic community that’s such a preoccupation of the series in Season 1.

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