Monday, February 18, 2008

The Wire: 'Clarifications' (5x08)

When you get near the end of the series, the ‘rules’ of the show become looser. This is a show that was never particularly bound by convention, but we’re at the point now where anyone could die, anything could happen. And, the first casualty of that is Omar, who goes out in a blaze of ordariness.

Watching Omar limp through the streets at the beginning of the episode, you’re watching a man who’s been broken. As he approaches the police car, he looks more like a homeless man than a menacing legend of the streets. Over the first four years of the show, I got more and more comfortable with the street environment, hanging out on Bodie’s corner, I knew everyone and it felt safe in a way that the early days of the show, or The Corner didn’t. That’s an inevitable consequence of a longform story, you become accustomed to things.

Here, that safety, that community is all wiped away. For the first time in a while, the corners once again feel like an alien environment, a dangerous, anarchic place. I can think of few scenes sadder than Omar walking past the vacants, calling out to Marlo. Somebody throws out some drugs, but I still get the feeling he’s just yelling at no one in particular, he’s lost it completely and is just wandering the streets. One of the things that contributes to this anarchic feel is Omar passing Kenard and his gang torturing a cat.

Kenard in season four was a character who was so absurd he became, almost by necessity comedic. This kid was about four feet tall, ten years old, and he’s running drug operations for Namond. There, he showed how pathetic a drug dealer Namond was, that he can’t even boss this kid around. Kenard clearly had a knack for the game that all the older kids in that season lacked. He’s more reminiscent of Marlo, someone who only knows the streets, has been there his whole life, and knows how to play the game.

I got a bad feeling when we saw him again, the cat scene coming after “That’s Omar?” last week did not bode well. But, still, I was not expecting Omar to die so abruptly. That was a totally shocking moment, perhaps inevitable, but at the same time totally out of nowhere. If Omar is as much about the legend as the man, then once the legend dies, and people see him for what he is, a guy limping around on a crutch, the man’s death won’t be far behind.

One of the issues I have with this season is the seeming desire to punish the audience for ever liking these characters, to tear them the mythology around everyone down and expose the cold, petty people beneath. Omar kills people and is reduced to an inefficient, babbling, hobbling, broken man. It’s hard to watch him brought to that place, where what Kenard does is almost a mercy killing.

Lester and McNulty are the other characters who are getting torn down over the course of the season, to the point where very little of what made them likable in the first place remains. Lester’s actions this season have been tough to deal with because we don’t have access to a lot of what’s going on in his life. With McNulty, it’s easier to understand his frustrations, the fact that he gave up a potentially happy life with Beattie to work these murders, and after he gets back to the old ‘McNutty’ place, they pull his funding and leave him broken, and alone. He’s got a very clear desire to stick it to the bosses, and we understand why he’d go to such an extreme place.

I suppose Lester has just been pushed too far, as he said, he reached the point where he no longer views the decisions of the bosses as legitimate. But, this is the same guy who was saying that it’s Clay Davis who matters, not people like Marlo. Part of his frustration comes from Bond choosing to try Davis himself and not go federal, so there is narrative justification, but emotionally, it’s hard to see why he’s totally destroying himself over this case. Maybe it is as simple as his behavior is illogical, but that doesn’t make for the most relatable story.

It’s almost like there’s two Lesters. I can see the guy from previous seasons going to Clay Davis like he did here, but I’m not so sure old Lester would risk going to prison himself to catch Marlo. The major scene that jars with me on this is the end of season three when he sees how self destructive McNulty is, and tells him he’s got to have more in his life than just police work. He wouldn’t be the first person to not heed his own advice, but it makes for a frustratingly inconsistent arc. Maybe everything will tie together in the end, but either way, it’s hard to watch Lester, the paragon of virtue on the series, go so off the rails.

We’ve got a better idea of what made McNulty do his thing, and his whole arc is summed up wonderfully when he says he started out as the hero of the story, and now he doesn’t know what he is. The scene with Beattie at the end of the episode is one of the first times he’s made to really assess what he’s been doing and, unlike Lester, he realizes how totally off the rails it’s gone.

But, in a game like that, a conscience is a danger. He tells Kima, who disapproves like Bunk did, and while I doubt she’d rat him out, the more people who know, the more likely something’s going to leak. Plus, we’ve got Donald still out there, and if the national media profile on this case is as high as it seems to be, McNulty could soon find himself face to face with his old pal once again, presenting a really uncomfortable choice for the higher ups.

Elsewhere, Marlo’s organization seems to spiraling off into a strange place. I’m not sure what’s up with Chris and Snoop in this episode. Why is she so defensive about killing Junebug? There’s definitely something going on with them, which seems weird to pop up all of a sudden. They’ve always seemed like loyal soldiers, what is it that’s changed over these past few episodes? I feel like it might be that Marlo’s got everything he wants, so he doesn’t have as much need for Snoop and Chris. They failed to kill Omar, and if the streets are supporting Omar, what role do they have? Or maybe, it’s simply that they feared Omar and didn’t want to go after him. Hopefully this’ll be addressed in the next few episodes, it seems like something is up.

Either way, things seem like they’re about to fall for Marlo. Chris has got a murder wrap that’ll be hard to beat, and if Lester can connect it to the vacant murders, they’re all going to fall. Of course, the shady acquisition of evidence in the vacant murders could help them beat all the charges coming at them. It would be great irony if McNulty’s plan to capture Marlo winds up undermining Bunk’s good policework, and lets Marlo walk.

Elsewhere, Dukie finally gets a job, working for a junk man. It was great to see Poot again, though he appeared to have shrunk several feet. I like the idea that he just got tired of the game, I’m guessing Bodie’s death and the Marlo takeover were just too much for him to deal with. At a certain point, the work just got too much and he decided to walk. What’s particularly telling about this scene is the notion that Dukie can’t work even if he wants to. He’s got to do his time on the corners to support himself before society lets him work.

Perhaps it would be smarter to go back to school. But, that’s not for him, it’s hard to go back to something once you’ve walked away, and I don’t think people in that position understand what school can do for them. He has no notion of college, or going away from that world, it’s only about the money you’ve got at the end of the day. That’s why the corners are so attractive, you don’t need a degree, you just need the desire to work. Right now, Dukie is looking like he’s destined to be someone like Bubbles, someone who isn’t a dealer, but lives on the streets, hustling out a living. I hope he finds a better way, but realistically, it’s near impossible to escape. Maybe getting off the corner before he got killed was the best we can hope for.

The other major plot strand of the episode was Carcetti going back down the path he walked at the end of season four, coming up with justifications for the compromises he’ll have to make on the road to governor. Once again, we see that the bigger the chair, the more shit you’ve got to eat. Will Baltimore ever be helped? Not likely. One of the things that’s interesting is the contrast between Carcetti’s fiery, riveting rhetoric and the childish, petty way he behaves in private. It’s the same thing we see with Clay Davis. When these guys are ‘on,’ they’re compelling and inspiring, but we know the lies under it all. I love how Carcetti’s egotism manifests itself when his wife is talking, but all he’s seeing is himself on CNN.

And, along with this the Scott the liar story rages on. I don’t have too much to add on this, as I said last week, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s a good, interesting story, but when it’s surrounded by great ones, anything less than great stands out. Last year, when every story was hitting at a really high level, the episodes become exponentially more emotional. Think of the season finale when we went from Namond breaking down to Bodie dying to Carver breaking down to Michael killing someone to the final montage, with a ton of other great scenes in there. Every scene was so good, you just got more and more emotionally drawn into the story. Here, the newspaper storyline doesn’t particularly engage me emotionally, so it becomes kind of a break every time it’s on.

There’s some other really strong scenes, I loved the reborn Clay Davis meeting Carcetti, smile back on his face. And, Bunk’s final moments with Omar are great too. I like the idea that at least Omar’s investigative work can play a part in bringing down Marlo. Cheese looks like the weak link, perhaps he’ll take down Marlo like he took down Joe.

After all that, we’re left with only two episodes. In some ways, the show does feel like it’s wrapping up, but I also feel like the story is just starting. There’s more pieces of these characters’ lives yet to happen, I’d love to see more of Carcetti, more of Dukie and Michael and Carver. But, there’s two left, and we’re left with two major questions. Will Marlo fall, and if so, how? And, will McNulty be found out, and if so, will he fall for his crimes, and will that fall be a trip back to the boat, or a trip to prison?


BF said...

Very interesting thoughts, although I considered Omar's final scenes to reflect the same menacing street legend who crippled the Barksdale organization. I do not believe he was broken, but dazed, on the ropes, a long time champion who had withstood an overwhelming barrage and would rather stand and swing, althou it was the wrong decision, than cover up.

I viewed Omar's abrupt death at the hands of a novice as the perfect end to his tale. Never before has the show had such evil villians as Marlo and Chris, and so the fans crossed their fingers that the legendary Omar, having escaped their best efforts, to get to both of them and make them pay for Butchie, Joe, that poor security guard, and everyone else they claimed in cold blood. Most television shows could only dream of having such a payoff to end the series.

But the wire has always had the courage to tell the tale they wanted, and to let the world unfold as it will. That being the case things do not, and should not, always work out like we hope. And so the great Omar is murdered, quickly and unexpectedly, by a child who was not tough enough to stand up to Dukie on his own, and per haps the most interesting and accomplished player in the game dies in an instant, the story of his murder scrapped from the newspaper for lack of space.

Patrick C said...

I think it's probably too early to make this call, but in my eyes so far this final season is the weakest of the 5. Granted, you shouldn't judge a story until you see its end, but I'm just not enjoying it as much. A big part of that is what you mentioned, that a lot of the characters just aren't likable anymore.

McNulty is a mess, Lester has turned into some obsessive man who has no eyes except for his illegal operation. Kima has just been kind of boring. Bunk, and to some extent Carver, are the only ones who have really shined this season.

The thing with Omar really caught me off guard. I figured he would die, and probably soon, but it was so jarring. I couldn't believe it happened so early in the episode either, I feel like I may have missed some stuff immediately following it, the death still hadn't totally sunk in yet.

Maybe you can shine light on something for me. I really didn't get the last scene of the episode, when the ME was looking at Omar's body. Was switching the nametags supposed to show that HE at least knew the legendary Omar, even if the newspaper had no clue who he was. I didn't think it was clear, and even more jarring was seeing the nametag list the DOB as 1960. Obviously this is an error, but I feel like it was an easy one to correct. It was mentioned earlier that Omar was 34, and the prequel had him being a kid in the 80s. At first when I saw that I was wondering if it was a weird coincidence that the old white man was also named Omar. Maybe I'm just nitpicking something dumb, but it bothered me that Omar's send off wasn't perfect.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post.

One thing I don't understand is everyone's confusion about the morgue tag though. The ME was doing a last check before they go out the door; he saw that the black male dead of a head wound had a white guy's tag, and vice versa, and he switched them. so at least we know Omar got buried with the right name. But that's the most recognition he'll ever get in death.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's been posted here already, but someone over at another blog figured out the following (which David Simon confirmed):

In season 3, after the big stash house raid/shootout, Bunk see some kids in the street playing at 'being' Omar. It's for this reason that he gets Omar to promise not to kill anymore - to stop the kids emulating him. The kid in S3 who grabs the stick and shouts 'My turn to be Omar' was Kenard.

Patrick said...

I did see that, it's a great detail. I'm not sure if Simon had it in mind at the time, but either way, it's a fantastic layer to the work.

sex life said...

This can't have effect in actual fact, that's exactly what I believe.