Drug addict Reginald ‘Bubbles’ Cousins, played by Andre Royo, was a regular character in all 5 seasons of The Wire. However, we make the claim that Bubbles was the show’s overarching protagonist all along.

Airing on HBO from 2002-08, The Wire is consistently named among the greatest shows of all time.

Created by former journalist David Simon, the series highlighted inadequacy and corruption within Baltimore across 5 highly regarded seasons.

Namely, in sectors including the police department, school system and newspaper The Baltimore Sun.

Drug addict ‘Bubbles’, real name Reginald Cousins, was one of the few ‘street’ characters to appear in (and survive) the entire run.

In fact, Andre Royo’s portrayal of Bubbles was so convincing to some drug dealers that he received free heroin from them while filming The Wire.

Image courtesy of HBO

While the series boasted a diverse cast of characters, fundamentally, I believe Bubbles is the true overall protagonist of The Wire.

Early seasons seemed framed around Detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West), however, Season 4 showed the series could go on without him for the most part.

So, how does this make Bubbles the protagonist?

One might assume protagonist just means “main character” – which is not technically incorrect, but also not wholly applicable.

Using a literary standpoint, Oregon State University describes a protagonist as:

“The character who drives the action, whose fate matters most.”

Marisa Williams (Oregon State University, 2021)

Let’s take this into account for Bubbles.

Cast your mind back to Season 1, Bubbles’ actions set the events into motion.

He became a Confidential Informant (CI) for Detective Greggs (Sonja Sohn) as revenge on the Barksdale Crew after their vicious assault on his friend, Johnny Weeks (Leo Fitzpatrick).

Bubbles Kima The Wire
Image courtesy of HBO

Bubbles provided significant intel to Kima throughout their working relationship. This, in turn, advanced both the investigation and the show’s story.

Meanwhile, Bubbles was also not part of a specific ‘group’ on The Wire. Police, violent criminals or otherwise. So, why continue telling his story?

To answer this, we have to consider the Hero’s Journey.

Rockcontent.com describes the Hero’s Journey as:

“… a common narrative archetype, or story template, that involves a hero who goes on an adventure, learns a lesson, wins a victory with that newfound knowledge, and then returns home transformed. “

Giuseppe Caltabiano, Rockcontent.com, 2021

Maybe the war of Baltimore Police vs the drug trade was really just a backdrop for Bubbles’ complicated storyline?

Let’s apply the Hero’s Journey to Bubbles’ arc throughout the series. When we first meet him, he’s a drug addict in a hopeless state. His sister wanted virtually nothing to do with Bubbles and doesn’t trust him in her house, only the basement.

Despite his faults, The Wire showed viewers that Bubbles was an intelligent and compassionate man, albeit one who was struggling.

So, we’ll call this stage of Bubbles, “Point A”.

Then, as the show progressed, we saw Bubbles experience loss – more specifically, friends lose their own battles to addiction.

First, Johnny Weeks, who overdosed in Season 3. Then, perhaps most significantly, Sherrod, a teenage boy who Bubbles had taken under his wing and tried to get off the streets by enrolling him in school.

Bubbles The Wire
Image courtesy of HBO

Unfortunately, Sherrod died after ingesting sabotaged drugs intended for a violent robber who had been assaulting Bubbles.

Bubbles’ immense grief and regret over Sherrod’s death was “Point B”, a turning point in his journey.

After many years, he finally got clean and lived a healthier lifestyle in the final season, such as a volunteer job and an interview with The Baltimore Sun about his experience. This, of course, included the time with Sherrod.

Bubbles also reconciled with his sister. In one of The Wire’s more touching scenes, he’s finally allowed upstairs to eat with the family. This is “Point C”.

All in all, Bubbles started the series in one state of mind. He went through a traumatic series of events. Ultimately, Bubbles came out the other side as a new, changed, and perhaps better man.

Unlike most other storylines, Bubbles’ long struggles spanned all 5 seasons. There was a beginning, middle and end.

He may not have had the most scenes on The Wire – but from a storytelling perspective, Bubbles was definitely the protagonist.

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