One of my favorite DVD commentary lines of all time comes on the "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" disc (trust me, this is going somewhere). We get to the scene where Vice-Principal Rooney is pulling up to a pizza joint in part of his Ahab-like search for Ferris, and John Hughes deadpans in a way that always makes me laugh, "Okay, here he's clearly gone too far. He's left the school."
Marlo having the security guard capped is Ed Rooney going off school grounds. I'm not saying it's going to lead him to the equivalent of being kicked in the crotch, attacked by a dog, loss of his car and a humiliating ride on a school bus next to a girl with warm gummy worms, but killing the guard is the moment, to me, where Marlo goes way over the line.
Every other killing in this show's history, no matter how heinous, at least served some purpose for the killer. Wallace had talked to the police. So had Sobotka. D'Angelo could have complicated Stringer's affair with Donnette. The security guard was no threat to Marlo. He wasn't going to cause him any problems, wasn't even going to go around bragging about how he stepped to the west side's drug kingpin, was just going to return to his crappy minimum-wage job and his strapped family.
This show generally treats the concepts of good and evil as childish, but this was the closest I've felt a character on the show has come to pure evil. David Simon, naturally, disagrees:
"The security guard spoke to Marlo's utter indifference to the outer world's perception. 'I'm living in this world, and this man tried to assert himself with me.' I didn't see it as being utterly evil. he wasn't enjoying the evil of it. It wasn't Snidely Whiplash. This is, 'The place where I occupy in the world and what my world demands, this guy talked back. And that was foolish.'"
And on that level, I can understand where he's coming from, but after a minute Simon admitted that this killing was extreme, even for a character on this show.
But it fit one of the key motifs of this episode: Marlo doesn't play by the rules. He won't join the co-op, barely even listens to Prop Joe's sales pitch, and then only as a formality. He has Snoop and Chris taking out anyone who troubles him even in the slightest, takes Bodie's corner because he can, even has only so much patience with his attempt to learn poker from the old men. (At the rim shop, he tells Chris, "Maybe I get bored, send you to take 'em.")
And with Avon gone and the rest of Baltimore's drug muscle bunched up in other parts of town, Marlo can afford to make up his own rules. But it's poetic that Prop Joe, hoping to teach him a lesson about the need for assistance, sics Omar -- the one man on the show even less bound by rules or structures -- on him. And Marlo did not look happy at all. Omar took something worse than Marlo's money; he stole Marlo's rep as the one man in Baltimore who can't be touched.
I love watching Jamie Hector just stand. Not stand around. Stand. There's an intense stillness to Marlo. No wasted motion or energy. He may not enjoy the evil of killing the guard, but he doesn't enjoy much else. The piece of him that's missing that allows him to be so hard and cold also keeps him from taking much pleasure in his reign. He does everything because he knows he can, and because he feels he should. And Felecia Pearson and Gbenga Akinnagbe are just as scary great playing Snoop and Chris, hired killers as total pros; their conversation as they shifted from trailing the guard to taking over Bodie's corner.
Michael, Marlo's other interest in Bodie's neck of the woods, wasn't around when Snoop and Chris rolled up, but he doesn't look especially comfortable around potential mentor Cutty. He practically sprinted to the other side of the ring when Dennis put a hand on him and couldn't get out of the van fast enough once Justin went home.
Our other kid in the spotlight was Randy. Behind that huge smile is a boy terrified of going back to a group home. When he said "You don't need cats to make you crazy" when you're in a place like that, you could see the other boys all shudder a little at the thought of what their friend must have gone through before he got his foster mom. Hell, Dukie shuddered, and we know what kind of a hellpit he lives in. And it was Randy's deep fear of angering his foster mom so much that she would send him away that made him turn snitch for Vice-Principal Donnelly. We already know how snitches get treated on a higher level (again, Wallace), but you could see the shame on his face when the other kids talked about the tagger getting suspended. What a lousy situation to be put into by an authority figure, even a well-meaning one like Mrs. Donnelly.
Mrs. Donnelly is doing her best, but she's stuck trying to make a deeply-flawed system work. Sherrod has absolutely no business being in the 8th grade, and if social promotion weren't a necessary evil, he might have been willing to stay in school. Probably not -- his discomfort was about more than being illiterate -- but at least he would have had a reason to stay. Prez's class has nothing to offer someone who's so far behind in the learning process. And the truancy policy Cutty gets hired to enforce -- make sure all the kids do one day in September and one in October and the school keeps its funding -- is a joke. But if there aren't resources to properly teach the kids who want to go to school, how can there be resources to perpetually corral the ones who don't? Even after the crash course provided by Cutty's ex, Grace Sampson, Bunny and Professor Parenti are going to have their hands full trying to make any sense out of this insane place.
Some other random thoughts:
- I'll say this for Marlo: at least he's making an effort to master the game of poker, instead of just sitting at a table full of flunkies who are too afraid and or indebted to do anything but lose to him. Yes, Mr. Mayor, I'm looking at you. And did you catch Delegate Watkins realizing that Royce went back on his word and put Eunetta Perkins back on his ticket against Mrs. Daniels? Meanwhile, Carcetti's came damn close to winning a no-win situation with the ministers. Again, if race wasn't a factor, Royce would be something getting scraped off Tommy's shoes.
- If there were spots where the episode dragged, it was in the scenes with Kima and Lester. Homicide hazing is a long-standing tradition of this show, and most of the pranks pulled on Kima are straight out of Simon's original book. But I don't know that we needed this much time devoted to them, what with everything else to cover. Note, by the way, the second mention of "soft eyes" this season, which Bunk told Kima she needed to see a crime scene. And you definitely needed some set-up for Kima having the Braddock case dumped in her lap, but it still felt like that stuff could have been tighter.
- Poor Bunk. Lester is a pitiful wingman compared to the old McNulty, who appears to have had one of those Regarding Henry/My Name Is Earl-type personality transplants. And if Lester still has Shardene (the stripper from Avon's club in season one) waiting for him at home, what's he doing carousing with The Bunk anyway?
- I did like Jimmy's shaky hand bit, which was straight up Steve McQueen circa "The Magnificent Seven."
- Four episodes in, and each hour has closed on one of the four boys: Randy contemplating Lex's murder, Namond playing video games, Dukie with his fan, and now Michael walking home from the fight.
- So the school board administrator tells Bunny, "Just make sure there's no fuss. Nothing that gets anyone upset." Does she not realize she's speaking to the man who legalized dope in west Baltimore?
- Boy, do Herc and Marimow deserve each other -- and yet even Herc can tell what a jerk-off the new boss is. Dozerman seems to have recovered nicely from getting shot and losing his gun last season.
- Marlo: "You want it to be one way... but it's the other way."
- Cutty to Deacon Melvin: "You hang around, you can see me preach on some young'uns. Solemn left and sanctified right."
- Landsman to Kima: "Marimow does not cast off talent lightly. He heaves it away with great force."
- Lester to Bunk: "Nature don't care. Nature just is."
- Snoop, re: Michael and Bug: "Fucking Huxtables and shit."
- Omar to Marlo: "Man, money ain't got no owners, only spenders."
- Omar to Marlo again: "Boy, you got me confused with a man who repeats himself."