The bookends of this episode show you the breadth of this show's tones. In the opening, we see folk hero stick-up artist Omar go down to the corner store, wearing his satin jammies and no gun, and the locals are so frightened of his legend that they throw him a bag of drugs to avoid even the possibility of trouble. In the close, one of the girls in Prez's class slashes another girl across the face as revenge for emotional bullying, then sits silently on the floor as Dukie -- who can sympathize with feeling so beat down by the world that you want to cut someone -- trying to comfort her with the portable fan he spent the whole hour repairing.
Those are the two emotional extremes of "The Wire," and the show wouldn't work without them both. Without Omar's larger-than-life antics, the slashing would be unbearable. Without the grim reality of the school scenes, Omar would border on an action movie cartoon. Admittedly, I would pay full-price to see an action movie about a gay Baltimore stick-up artist, but you know what I mean: Omar is beloved because he's such a stark, optimistic counterpart to the rest of this show.
Continuing the trend of last year, Richard Price gets to reintroduce our shotgun-toting favorite, and he does it in style. And style is what Omar is all about. When I interviewed Simon and Burns back in July, they talked about how Omar scenes are inherently theatrical because Omar cares more about the theater than the cash. Sure, it's nice to take off Old-Face Andre's re-up, but he's in it for that moment when he buys the cigarettes and demands his change. To quote the man himself, "That's the reason why we get up in the morning."
So while Omar's out there, enjoying life as the only character on the show not beholden to an institution (as Simon puts it, even Bubbs is beholden to his addiction), we get an in-depth look at our newest institution, Tilghman Middle School. Those scenes were painful to watch the first time, both for Prez making all those rookie mistakes (the "But you can call me Mr. Prezbylewski" joke just died), and for the slashing, and it was even moreso the second time because I knew everything was coming and was powerless to stop it. I couldn't even enjoy the moment where Prez finds the completed math problem because I knew the "FUCK PREZBO" desk carving was coming up in a second. It's a sign of how great this show is that I want to subject myself to this stuff over and over and over again.
In addition to Prez's freshman struggles, we learned more about the boys' personalities: It becomes more obvious with each week that Namond is trying to force himself into the role his parents expect of him, even though he doesn't really know or even care about the trappings of the gangster lifestyle. (Randy and Michael recognize that, judging by how often they bust his balls about silly things like Namond wanting to get his own face tattooed on his arm.) We get Randy in full entrepreneur mode, making use of Prez's inattentiveness and his own small stature and leftover sixth and seventh grade shirts to move candy in bulk to all three grades. Michael again inspires someone to offer to mentor him with the way he handled the greedy dope fiends, but Marlo looks like he wants to bigfoot over Bodie in that area as well as taking over his corner. (This was also, I believe, our first look at Bug, Michael's little brother.) And Dukie, the butt of so many cruel jokes, so stinky that Namond's mom won't even let him in her house (you'll also note that he had to sit alone in the cafeteria, despite his friendship with the other three boys), demonstrates both his brains and his heart with his repair and use of that fan. (At first I wasn't sure what he had picked up off the street and assumed that it was a half-eaten candy bar or something.)
A few miles and several light years away from Tilghman Middle, Carcetti does his best to exploit his post-debate bump. While Royce is busy pulling lame, petty political BS like threatening to freeze out contributors to both sides and having DPW workers waste their day pulling up Carcetti campaign signs, Tommy's pulling in the donations and finding a way to score a few points from the funeral without looking (or feeling) like a total shitheel. The thing about Carcetti is that, even with his ambition and arrogance and adultery, the guy does mean well, and you could see the self-loathing when the mother interrupted his spiel about her son being killed for turning witness. That woman didn't care why her son was dead, just that he was. If the roles had been reversed, you know Royce would have been grand-standing for all the TV cameras afterwards.
And speaking of petty, enter Lt. Marimow, who destroys the MCU in, like, an afternoon. Marimow is named after an editor Simon had at the Baltimore Sun, but Simon denies there's any connection beyond the name, which, if true, would make this the most negative Tucker-ization of all time. I loved the look of pure glee Rawls had on his face as he dismissed the don't ask, don't tell lieutenant (particularly his "Greaaaaat! That's just great!" interruption of the beach house story), and that scene with Lester was easily the most human Rawls has seemed since the pep talk he gave McNulty after Kima was shot in season one. Why does Lester get a golden ticket back to Homicide while McNulty got banished to the boat for pulling similar shenanigans? Because Rawls, vindictive though he may be, also recognizes that Lester is a great investigator and not nearly as big a pain in the ass when he's working within the more rigid structure of Homicide proper. And Lester back in that unit will no doubt lead to a better clearance rate.
Almost as exciting as the return of Omar, for me, was the return of Bunny Colvin. Robert Wisdom was so damn good last season, and if it's a contrivance to put him in the same school as Prez, it's a minor one, worth making to bring this guy back into the fold. The hotel scene with the hooker and the abusive john reminded Bunny that he has no place in the private sector, and the 18-year-old Carver brought into interrogation for him could smell the police on him immediately. Nice touch with Carver still calling him "Boss."
Some other random thoughts:
- So who here buys into the new and improved McNulty, and who's with Bunk thinking he's just another lake trout? I'll stay mum on this one, but I'm curious for other reactions.
- Did you catch Renaldo reading "Drama City," by "Wire" writer George Pelecanos? A nice in-joke, though couldn't someone have gotten an advance copy of George's new "The Night Gardener" for better product placement?
- Because this is a writer-driven show, I don't talk about the visuals as much, but the directors and cinematographers have really stepped up their game this year. Last week we had that wonderful sequence of Herc walking past the portraits of all the former mayors, wondering if perhaps they're smiling because they just got the Royce treatment. Tonight's visual highlight was all the silent view of Tilghman Middle in the moments before the opening bell, particularly a terrified Prez standing motionless at the head of his classroom. Calm before the storm.
- When Old-Faced Andre asked if Kima was biracial, it was the first time it ever occurred to me -- and now it's one of those things I can't not see. Sort of like that guy on "American Idol" with the tracheotomy scar; I never noticed it until a friend mentioned it, and then I couldn't look away from the damn thing.
- Nice scene with Royce and Herc, particularly the double-meaning of Royce's "Don't mention it" at the end.
- Yet another returnee: Deacon Melvin, played by the guy who was the real-life inspiration for Avon Barksdale. Melvin, Omar and Slim Charles are rare characters on this show in that they know exactly who they are and don't try to be anything more or less.
- I suppose Prop Joe qualifies in that category, too, which helps explain why he's still on top of the game at such an advanced age. Come to think of it, most of the guys in the co-op meeting looked significantly older than Avon, Stringer or Marlo. Maybe the west side is just young man's turf?
- Royce on Carcetti: "He wants to go big dick with me, I'll show him one he can't handle."
- Michael to the advancing dope fiends: "You need to rethink what putting your hand on me's gonna get you."
- The entire exchange between Bunk and Beadie's kids about what to call McNulty ("Pops?" "No." "Dad?" "McNulty.")
- Bodie to Slim Charles: "I'm standing here like an asshole holding my Charles Dickens."
- Slim to Bodie: "See, the thing about the old days -- they the old days."
- Deacon Melvin on Bunny's salary and perk demands: "I'd be amazed if they gave you 30, an HMO, and a bus pass."
- Rawls telling Daniels he'll find Kima a Homicide spot: "For you, Major, let me see who I don't love no more."
- Bunny to the angry 18-year-old: "Son, thanks for being you."