But the final moments of Boardwalk Empire cast the entire show retrospectively in a classical light. Arthur dies by the fruit of an early incestuous relationship with Morgana le Fay and with him the unity of the kingdom he had devoted his life to establishing. The young Nucky Thompson's deliberate collusion with evil, a single act taken for the sake of his own advancement, literally spawned the child whose child, like another Mordred, ultimately did him in. Of course, what dies with Nucky is but the remains of the petty fiefdom he was able to construct in Atlantic City by ruthlessly exploiting the demand for drink during Prohibition. But the basic moral structure is the same as in Malory: our own evil undoes us, just as we would expect in an ordered cosmos. And then as now, if this tale be delivered on streams of blood, well then all the better.
For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed The Wire, and perhaps I go too far in declaring it amoral. Season 2 was worthy of classical tragedy, telling of a man undone by an unchecked urge to fatherly protection. But that was only an episode within a larger tale that cannot abide Aufhebung. How exactly could you boil the drug wars down to a moral? Doesn't the ethically ambiguous career of Jimmy McNulty rather mirror both sides of the law in Baltimore? Isn't the closing sequence's nod to the ewige Wiederkehr, the eternal recurrence of the same, the only conceivable way to end that which never ends?
Last night in flipping through channels I landed on The French Connection, spending a few minutes before deciding it really wasn't the thing to have on with my 7 year old in the room. I had been trying to explain to her what was going on, why the sham raid and brutal interrogation at the bar, and why the two detectives were quarreling insolently with their chief. Of the detectives, she asked "are those the good guys or the bad guys"? From the mouths of babes indeed.
Nihilism is where leftism goes to die. For if bourgeois morality gets swept away and the grand utopia fails to materialize, what else is there to do?