Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Wire: 'Transitions' (5x04)

Marlo must die. That’s what I was thinking after seeing this episode, the bodies in the vacants, the attack on Butchie, all that didn’t turn me on the character, but after seeing him kill Joe, there’s no alternative for me. Marlo, Snoop, Chris, they’ve all got to go. Will this happen? I don’t know, but I feel like he’s done too much bad stuff to go unpunished. Within the social systems of The Wire, someone like Marlo could survive, but out on the street, people who fly too high usually burn out, and after killing Joe, Marlo’s isolated himself, made everyone else his enemy.

One of the central themes of this season is generational change. All around, we’re seeing older, more experienced people replaced by a new generation of people. This started last season with Royce’s ousting for Carcetti. There’s this sense that simply changing the person in charge of the institution will change the institution itself, but something as big as Baltimore is bigger than the man in charge of it.

The same will likely be true of the police department. Burrell echoes the “eating shit” speech Royce gave Carcetti when turning over control of things to Rawls. Daniels may be ‘good police,’ but when he’s got virtually no budget, he can’t invest in projects like the Major Crimes Unit. He’s just go to keep things the way they are, and eventually, the public will sour on him as well. There’s always someone higher up the ladder, no matter what chair you’re in. I’d like to see Daniels succeed as commissioner, and I think he’ll try, but over the course of show, we’ve constantly seen how the system corrupts those who gain power.

But, back to the focus of the episode, the Joe/Marlo storyline. Over the course of the season, we’ve seen Joe grooming Marlo, teaching him what he needs to be a legitimate businessman. However, that doesn’t really interest Marlo. He’s only working with Joe to get in contact with the Greeks. Marlo has no vision beyond the street, I don’t think he really cares about the account in the Caymans or what Levy can do with his money, he just wants total control of the drug game. He humors Joe when Joe tries to ‘civilize’ him, but it’s all about getting to the Greeks. From the moment he met Vondas in season four, he saw something Joe had that he didn’t, and wouldn’t stop until he got it. Marlo needs total control, he can’t have anyone speaking ill of him on the streets, and he needs to control drugs from supplier to corner.

There were a lot of really great moments in the episode, one of my favorite is that lengthy plan out shot in the diner that finally reveals The Greek. So much of the press for the show focuses on the sociological side of things, how it’s a political treatise, but this episode shows that it’s just as strong, if not stronger, as a straight up pulp gangster story. There’s a lot of thematic layers there, but part of me was just like “Oh shit, The Greek!” I thought The Greek was gone and that plot was over after season two, and I’m really happy to see it come back. This year does have the sense of everything coming full circle, and all the plots congealing together for a finale.

The Greek is the perfect ally for Marlo because he’s similarly inhuman. Vondas has affection for Joe in the same way he took Nick Sobotka under his wing. He’s a cruel guy, but he has loyalty. The Greek, much like Marlo, is only out to make money and advance his empire. Both are representations of capitalism at its most destructive, razing everything and everyone in their path if it means making money. It’s chilling to watch them come together because they’re the same thing, but from different worlds.

I complained about The Greek’s monolithic evilness when talking about season two, and I think the major reason for that is that he’s so secure in his position. I can’t see anyone taking him out, and he’s so far beyond the law that you knew McNulty and crew were going to fail. Marlo is still in his formative years, he may be just as single minded as The Greek, but he’s got to work to gain what The Greek already has. It’s those uneasy alliances that make him a fascinating character, watching Marlo humbled before Joe to get what he wants. Plus, Marlo is so bound to Baltimore, it is possible that he’ll get caught by the police. The Greek could just walk away and go somewhere else, but Marlo can’t live anywhere else. He needs to be on the streets.

I feel like Marlo is a more evolved version of Avon. Avon had that soldier mentality, but he was a bit too showy. He was capable of violence, but I get the sense he wanted to be liked more than he wanted to kill people. In that sense, it’s very much The Godfather conflict in action, between the community minded older generation and the fiercer, violent younger generation. I could never imagine Marlo at a community dinner the way we saw Avon back in season one. Avon talks a lot about West Side pride, I think Marlo only has pride in his own organization. Marlo is more precise than Avon, he doesn’t make mistakes, or put himself at risk in the way that Avon did, and he doesn’t split his focus between legit business and the streets. When Avon tries to confront Marlo at the end of season three, Avon seems to be playing gangster while Marlo is just being himself.

Joe is very much of the older generation, a generation that’s quickly being wiped away. We saw Butchie taken out last week, Hungry Man dies here, a present to Cheese for giving Marlo Butchie. I love the fact that Method Man has become such a central piece of the closing season. I think he’s a great screen presence, and the notion that this one inept guy is going to take down Joe is so sad. Joe watches out for him because he’s family, but it turns out blood doesn’t matter so much anymore. Cheese is pretty dumb, the only reason Marlo’s dealing with him is to get to Joe, but he doesn’t know that. He only knows Joe scolded him for going into Hungry Man’s territory, and this, coming on top of his refusal to deal with Omar, means Joe’s going to fall.

In his final scene, Joe says Marlo was like a son to him, and throughout his time on the show, it’s been easy to see him as the father to this whole messed up gang of drug dealers. He’s kept the co-op alive after Stringer’s death, and provided the voice of reason when people like Marlo start to go too far. As a parent, his kids aren’t necessarily going to like him, but he’s got their best interest at heart. However, when your kids have guns, a parental role isn’t enough to guarantee survival.

Marlo’s really pushed it over these last couple of episodes. It’s notable that Chris and Snoop, the more likable presences, fade into the background here. It’s Marlo who gives Cheese Hungry Man, and Marlo who’s there to personally oversee Joe’s death. I’ve heard some people say that the death felt telegraphed, and in retrospect, it’s clear that anyone who starts getting introspective is going to die soon, at the time, I didn’t see it coming. I thought Joe was going to get out of the game for a while, but it wasn’t until he tells Marlo “You didn’t come to see me off” that I realized what was going to happen.

One of the things I love about both this show and The Sopranos is they don’t try to shock you with the plot developments. Joe’s death has been telegraphed throughout the season, I’ve been speculating about it in every review I’ve written, but I didn’t expect it to come this quickly. And, watching Marlo and him, I was hoping that there’d be some way for him to survive. However, the crushing inevitability built with every moment until he was finally killed. That’s more effective than a shocking death because it makes it more emotional. The death itself is a release, but those moments of buildup are awful. You’re thinking “they can’t do this,” all the while knowing that it will happen. It’s the same as D’Angelo’s strangling in season two. Because you know the rules and credibility of the world, there’s not going to be some last minute reversal. After he’s choking for a while, you realize, he’s going to die, and it’s the same with Joe.

Joe was an amazing character, one of the best presences on the show. After Avon and Stringer were taken out the game, he was the only larger than life personality left. Now, we’re left with only Marlo. I’m thinking that Marlo will dissolve the co-op, likely killing most of the members, and plan to take over their territory. He has the supply, so they are beholden to him.

But, all is not lost. As Marlo gets worse and worse, Omar moves in in the background. I love the fact that he’s got the old timers working with him. Those two old guys are his last allies, and some of the last survivors of the old era. They can get revenge for Butchie and the others who have died. I’m thinking more and more that Omar will survive this, that he will take out Marlo, just because Marlo has made so many enemies, he can’t survive. There is rarely order in the institutions, but on the streets, characters eventually get what’s coming to them. Stringer tried to play Omar and Mouzone against each other, it backfired and they teamed up to kill him. I’d love to see Mouzone come back one more time, to help Omar take down Marlo.

On some level it would be ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than the over the top Wild West showdown with Stringer. And, c’mon, Omar and Brother Mouzone battling Chris and Snoop, that scene has to happen. Here, Omar demonstrates that he does have a code, he won’t kill people just because, and the death of Joe should confirm who killed Butchie in the first place. There’s such desperation in Omar at this point, he knows what it’s like outside the game, and doesn’t enjoy the killing anymore. He just wants to finish things.

It really bothers me that so much press attention focuses on the press storyline because the Marlo stuff this year has been phenomenal. I suppose there’s less to talk about there, because there’s not the controversial element to latch onto. But, from a storytelling point of view, it’s just gold, right up there with the Avon/Stringer betrayal arc from season three.

The other great storyline this episode was the stuff with Carver and Herc. First, there’s the phenomenal scene where Marlo taunts Herc about the camera. It’s a great callback, and demonstrates how even though Herc is moving up in the world, he’s still controlled by the criminals. He now makes his money helping the people he used to help capture.

The character’s moral bankruptcy is pointed out by Carver when they’re sitting outside the police station. Herc rolls up in his Mercedes in a suit, Carver’s still wearing the police uniform. Carver plans to break the blue wall of silence and turn in Colicchio. He does this because of what Herc, a similarly dangerous officer, did to Randy. So much of the show is about the unexpected consequences character actions have, how a police decision can impact a criminal’s life. Most of the time, the characters are unaware, and it’s the viewer who makes the connections. However, Carver saw the full extent of what Herc did to Randy, he knows that what they do matter, and he knows how much a bad officer can screw up someone’s life. He failed that kid because he never called Herc on his bad behavior. People who stand by and let horrible things happen are just as guilty as those who do them.

This actually fits well with the newspaper/serial killer storyline. Because the media focuses on sensationalized crimes, while letting the everyday injustices go by, we’re all complicit in what happens in America’s cities. We’re all like Herc, just going along, unaware of the damage we cause. The thing is, there’s no easy answer. The institutions are so flawed, you can’t change things on a mass level. The message of the show, if any exists, is that the individual level is where you can make the difference. Taken out Marlo and a new Marlo will come along, take down Clay Davis and corruption will continue, but intervene in one person’s life and you can save them. That’s what Cutty does, that’s what Colvin does, and it’s what Carver does here. Colicchio is a danger, and having him off the street may help save someone down the line.

There’s a lot of other noteworthy stuff in the episode. I love the scene where Kima decides to build a house for Colossus, and the juxtaposition of that with McNulty’s awful behavior towards Beattie. The two were closely paralleled in season three, and now we’re seeing Kima where McNulty was at the end of that season, thinking about what kind of life exists outside the police force. The serial killer storyline rages on, still in the construction stage, not quite at impact. And, we get a rather pointless scene with a trip to The Washington Post. But, on the whole, it’s an amazing episode, with a truly haunting finish. Prop Joe will be missed, and Robert Chew deserves huge props for creating such a memorable character, who just owned the screen whenever he was on.

3 comments:

Parkamarka said...

"This actually fits well with the newspaper/serial killer storyline. Because the media focuses on sensationalized crimes, while letting the everyday injustices go by, we’re all complicit in what happens in America’s cities. We’re all like Herc, just going along, unaware of the damage we cause. The thing is, there’s no easy answer. The institutions are so flawed, you can’t change things on a mass level. The message of the show, if any exists, is that the individual level is where you can make the difference. Taken out Marlo and a new Marlo will come along, take down Clay Davis and corruption will continue, but intervene in one person’s life and you can save them. That’s what Cutty does, that’s what Colvin does, and it’s what Carver does here. Colicchio is a danger, and having him off the street may help save someone down the line. "

Exactly. This is as close to a perfect analysis of the silver lining message of The Wire as I've read yet. As always, great episode breakdowns. Keep 'em coming...

Patrick said...

Thanks man, I'll definitely be reviewing them each week as I see them. I just wish I had been watching it from the start so I'd have had more of a chance to write about it as it evolved.

www.e3d.es said...

It can't work as a matter of fact, that's what I suppose.