Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Wire, "Clarifications": A kid's game

Spoilers for "Clarifications," the 8th episode of "The Wire" season five, coming up just as soon as I drink some chocolate milk...

"You start to tell the story, you think you're the hero, and then when you get done talking..."

I know this quote is by, and about, McNulty, but it applies just as well to the character involved in the episode's most shocking scene. Rest in peace, Omar Little. You deserved better -- which is the point of your death scene.

If "The Wire" has ever had a hero -- someone who fits the mold of more conventional good vs. evil narratives -- it's been Omar. He gets the best lines, the most colorful moments, the action movie shoot-outs, etc. At the end of season one, when almost everyone is worse off than before McNulty stirred things up, our final scene is of Omar triumphant again, laughing as he pulls off another stick-up. A rogue this charming, this bad-ass, this larger than life -- he couldn't possibly die, could he?

Of course he could. Remember, this is David Simon's Baltimore -- and, as Carcetti pointed out early in the season, in Baltimore, nobody lives forever.

Omar goes around, thinking of himself as the hero of his story -- just as Jimmy does, just as Carcetti does, just as I'm sure Templeton does -- but despite his legend of invincibility, he's just another player in The Game. Eventually, everyone gets got, and rarely in a dignified manner. By the time of Omar's death, he's a broken man, literally on his last legs, shuffling back and forth across Baltimore in a quest for revenge against Marlo -- which we learn is completely futile, since Chris and Snoop are going out of their way to prevent Marlo from hearing about Omar's taunts. When he stands on that corner yelling about how Marlo isn't good for Baltimore, he doesn't seem like a legend anymore; he just seems sad and tired, as over the edge in his way as McNulty.

And yet, in a way, the manner of Omar's death fits his legend. Omar has always been something of a figure out of a Western -- think in particular of his alley showdown with Brother Mouzone in season three. While the cliche of the Western is for the fastest gun to only fall at the hands of someone just as good, some of the best Westerns -- whether fact-based, like Jesse James and Billy the Kid biopics, or fictional, like "The Gunfighter" and "The Wild Bunch" -- climax with the protagonist being killed by a complete nobody. "The Wild Bunch" is a particularly apt parallel here, as the movie opens with shots of children torturing animals (as Kenard is trying to do with the cat) and ends with another kid shooting one of the leads.

Would it have been more satisfying for Omar to be killed by an equivalent bad-ass like Chris or Snoop or Mouzone? Maybe on some level, but it also would have felt phony. Part of the reason the show has been able to get away with letting Omar operate by a different set of rules than any other character is because an end like this was coming sooner or later. Simon liked to say that Omar was the one individual on the show not beholden to an institution (even Bubbs was beholden to his addiction), and we all know what happens on this show to individuals when they try to go up against institutions, even ones they don't belong to. In the end, Omar's not a hero. He's just another casualty of the drug trade, another body in the morgue (and one who almost winds up with the wrong body tag, because that's how little everyone in this city knows or cares about him).

Now, as to Kenard as the killer, this is something the show has been setting up since season three. Remember when Bunk visits the scene of the stash house shoot-out and is disgusted to see a bunch of little kids acting it out and arguing over who gets to play Omar? Well, one of those kids -- the one who specifically declares that it's his turn to be Omar -- was Kenard, in his very first appearance on the show. I've had this confirmed by David Simon, and you can look at this series of screen captures if you like. When Bunk chews out Omar later in that season, one of the points he makes is how Omar -- for all his talk of a code and playing outside of The Game -- is just another violent figure encouraging the next generation to aspire to become hoppers, slingers and even killers:
"Out where that girl fell, I saw kids acting like Omar. Calling you by name, glorifying your ass. Makes me sick motherfucker how far we done fell."
Kenard wanted to play Omar -- despite never having seen him until last week -- and then got to kill him. Simon likes to talk about "The Wire" as a Greek tragedy, where everyone's tragic fate is pre-ordained -- Omar got his happy ending but still couldn't resist being drawn back into the world that killed him -- and this certainly qualifies.

Also, Kenard, like Marlo, represents a kind of pure incarnation of The Game. Here's a boy who's barely 4 feet tall, not even close to puberty, and he's always carried himself like he's the hardest, baddest man on the corner. Obviously, much of this is a defense mechanism, the only way someone Kenard's age and size could survive on the corner. The look of terror on his face after Omar dies is the little boy coming to grips with what his playacting persona has just done. Kenard may have just killed the baddest man in Baltimore, but he's still just a kid, and now he's passed the point of no return. In that moment, I felt very sorry for Kenard, even though he's been mean to Dukie and even though he just killed one of my favorite characters on the show. What kind of a world makes a kid that age want to torture cats and kill people for the sake of rep, you know?

(I want to add, by the way, that when I wrote last week's review, which speculated that Omar might fall at the hands of someone like Kenard I hadn't yet seen the episode, or even the clip of that scene that some tool leaked to YouTube. It was just an educated guess based on how this show works, how Omar is modeled after Western anti-heroes, Kenard's "gimpy" line -- nothing on this show is accidental -- etc. That said, I've now seen the rest of the season, and so will step very lightly about speculation and/or questions about the future. Also, anytime I express an opinion about where a story seems to be going, it will be my initial reaction when watching the episode and not something colored by what's to come.)

God, so much to talk about in this episode -- easily the best of the season to date, and one of the best ever -- and I've just devoted nearly a thousand words to that one subplot. This could take a while.

McNulty, as that unfinished line to Beadie suggests, also thinks (or thought) of himself as the hero of his story, but in this episode he starts to realize that maybe he's just another bad guy. Barlow blackmails him into using the serial killer budget money to finance a weekend getaway to Hilton Head, and Jimmy has no choice but to do it. He tells Kima -- his protege for much of the series -- about the scam to spare her from doing too much work on the non-existent killer, and, like Bunk, she's completely appalled by the plan, whether it gets Marlo or not. (Her reaction isn't dissimilar to many of the fans who have hated the serial killer story from the jump, feeling it's beneath Jimmy and Lester to be a part of it.) Beadie finally leaves him, albeit only for a few days, and when he spills the beans to her about what he's doing, she calls him out for potentially ruining her life along with his own.

And, obviously, Jimmy hits rock bottom during that visit to Quantico, when the FBI profilers he was so dismissive of earlier come up with a profile of the "killer" that fits McNulty to a T. The push-in on Dominic West as he realizes this was one of the funniest moments of this very funny season, but it was also sad. Jimmy's spent most of his career bending the rules and convincing himself it was for the greater good, even though it was (as he admitted after Kima was shot) really for the greater glorification of Jimmy McNulty. To have his personality described in such unflattering but accurate terms had to hurt. A little self-knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. Jimmy's plan may be working -- Sydnor and Lester are very close to getting Marlo (more on that in a moment), and Det. Christensen manages to catch his perp thanks to Jimmy's generous funding -- but he's finally starting to see that the ends don't really justify the means.

I thought it was a nice touch, by the way, that Sydnor manages to crack the clock code because he's the only member of the surveillance detail driving a department car. Where Dozerman is loving the GPS in his rental, Sydnor has to make do with an old-fashioned map, which is how he figures out what the numbers mean. (The code seems slightly more complicated than the one the Barksdale crew was using in season one, but not so much that I don't buy Chris or Monk being able to follow it.) Again, sometimes you actually can do more with less.

But as clever as Lester and Sydnor may be, I like that Bunk manages to get a murder charge on Chris first, through basic, honest policework. Yes, he has to cheat at the very end by getting Jimmy to sign off on the lab request, but he only has to do that because Jimmy's own cheating has clogged the front of the queue. (If it wasn't for the serial killer case, Bunk would have been able to guilt Lowenthal into doing the trace work several episodes ago.) The moment when Lowenthal recites Chris' name made me pump my fist, and was a nice bit of triumph in an episode where so many bad things happen.

Among those bad things: Dukie's going to be an Araber? Really? That's the best he can do? Man, is that sad. We saw throughout season four how smart Dukie was -- much too smart to be a 15-year-old drop-out doing menial labor for a guy with a horse-drawn cart. But he did drop out, and so far the adults he's gone to for advice this year -- first Cutty and now, of all people, Poot -- haven't known him well enough to tell him his best bet is to get his ass back into school, yesterday. (Even though he'd wind up a victim of social promotion, Dukie's smart enough to catch up, as opposed to Sherrod.) Instead, Cutty offers him only "hope and wishes," while Poot (admittedly not the smartest nor most compassionate character in the show's history) suggests Dukie go back to the corners until he's old enough for a job at some off-brand sneaker store. And the worst part is, Dukie seems happy about his new potential career.

More bad things: Clay Davis is back in the inner circle, and just in time for Tommy to give away more of the store in his increasingly destructive bid for governor. Since the day Tommy met with the DNC about the governorship, he's been sacrificing more and more of Baltimore's present for the sake of some hypothetical future where he can be more helpful, and now, thanks to the PG County "insurrection," he's prepared to sell off the future, too. We see at the rally that Tommy's still a great public speaker, but the man is repulsive. Note how he's more interested in seeing how he looked on TV than in talking to his wife about all the horse-trading he's doing -- shades of the adultery scene in season three where he spends the entire time staring at his reflection in the mirror. Gah.

Still, even though the grudge-holding U.S. Attorney has no interest in using the Head Shot to clean up Bond's mess, Clay doesn't know that, which means Lester can blackmail him into answering questions -- remember, Lester all along has wanted to flip Clay for targets further along the money trail. When I said above that Omar was only one of my favorite characters, it's because my favorite was, is and will likely always be Cool Lester Smooth. I'm always drawn to characters who are smart and good at what they do (other "Wire" favorites would include Bunny, Norman, Stringer and Prop Joe), and I love the flair for the dramatic that the writers and Clarke Peters have given Lester over the years. That's some James Bond stuff he's doing there, finding a way to ambush the Senator in the middle of a date (and in such a way that the date doesn't seem to mind walking away for the suave Lester).

Speaking of people who are smart and good at what they do, Gus' suspicions about Scott get more confirmation from Terry the homeless ex-Marine. In a way, it's disappointing that even the one instance of real reporting we saw Scott do turns out to have been "improved" along the way, but it fits with his pathology. Clearly, Scott can't help himself, whether he's inventing things from scratch or simply polishing up something he actually reported. We see yet another example of it when he claims that he and Terry had coffee together -- coffee no doubt seeming more colorful and dramatic than chocolate milk -- and you can see that it's this detail that convinces Gus once and for all that his guy is cooking it. If a guy would go so far as to lie about milk vs. coffee, how can you trust anything that comes out of his mouth (or keyboard)?

Yet as wonderful as it was to see Gus take such a firm stand against Scott's embellishments, my reaction as soon as he embarrassed Klebanow like that (and this was, again, my initial reaction, having nothing to do with what does or doesn't happen in the next two episodes) was "Oh, he's gonna pay for that." Nobody on "The Wire" ever goes unpunished for defying the bosses -- see Lester in the pawn shop unit, Jimmy on the boat, Bunny's pension, etc., etc., etc. -- and this was one of the most public examples of that.

In the Sun story, Gus really is the hero, but this is a show where the heroes either get punished or proven to be anything but.

Some other thoughts on "Clarifications":

-At the start of this season, I said that Michael had taken Bodie's place as our corner POV character, but in this episode -- and really, for much of the season -- he's been acting more like Bodie's mentor, D'Angelo, someone who's committed murder but still possesses some kind of moral compass. The scene with him, Chris and Snoop was largely about establishing why Marlo hadn't responded to Omar's PR campaign, but it also reminded us that Michael is smarter and more independent than your average soldier. He sees the hypocrisy in attacking Junebug and his whole family (an easy target) for a relatively minor insult while avoiding Omar (a far more dangerous individual) for more overtly impugning Marlo's rep, but Snoop and Chris -- both annoyed and afraid that they haven't caught Omar yet -- don't want to hear it.

-I'm of two minds about Poot at the sneaker store. On the one hand, it was funny and sort of apropos that he would wind up at a place like that after leaving the corners (no doubt encouraged by the death of Bodie, in addition to the reason he gave Dukie), as he's a drop-out with a criminal record. On the other, I still hold a grudge about the death of Wallace, even though I grew to like Bodie by the end. (In fairness, Bodie got more screen time and was written with more sympathy over the years.) If he's out of the drug world forever, his future's still not incredibly bright, but it's still much better than he deserves, you know?

-Finally saw "Gone, Baby, Gone" this week, and Amy Ryan (who very well may have won an Oscar by the time I post this) deserves every bit of acclaim she's received for it. It seemed right that her big moment of the season came in the episode scripted by Dennis Lehane ("Gone, Baby, Gone" author), and she did a great job with that monologue. That said, it didn't all ring true. In particular, we know from seasons past that a Baltimore cop's wake will be among the most well-attended social functions he'll ever be associated with. (Though, in fairness, the two wakes we've seen were for cops who died while still on active duty. I have no idea how many people would show up for the wake of a retired cop who died in his 70s.)

-As with Prop Joe's murder, we see with Gus and Alma's conversation about Omar's murder that what's really important on the streets doesn't always find its way into the newspaper, and that Gus isn't omniscient. Now, do you suppose this was another "If Twigg was still here, none of this would have happened" moment, or a more fundamental comment about the inherent limits of what a newspaper can and should cover?

-Lester seems convinced that Omar had some kind of informant within Marlo's organization, but we also know from last season that Omar can be one hell of an investigator when he's of a mind to. Do you think he gathered all that intel on his own (bum leg or no), or was he getting help from someone? If so, who?

-While most seasons have spanned fairly long periods of time (season four covered an entire school semester, give or take), this abbreviated season also seems to be moving quicker than real time. When McNulty lets Carver in on part of the scam, Carver notes that he gave Marlo's phone number to Lester "not two weeks ago," even though it happened three episodes back.

-Loved the FBI profile of McNulty, but the earlier part of that scene involving the self-promoting deputy director felt clumsy and cheap. I'm sure there are plenty of guys in law enforcement who are all about getting their faces on TV, writing books, consulting for "CSI," etc. -- in that way, the deputy director isn't dissimilar from Templeton -- but I find it hard to believe that a guy slick enough to get on all those shows, etc., would be so socially tin-eared that he'd keep trying to brag about his resume to two cops who clearly couldn't give a crap. It reminded me of "NYPD Blue" at its clumsiest, where any FBI agent or cop from another precinct was always a self-promoting moron in bad need of schooling from Sipowicz.

-Did you catch in one of the trace lab scenes that Bunk's ringtone is Lou Rawls' "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"? "Sopranos" always did more with ringtone humor than "The Wire," but that was a nice touch.

Lines of the week:
"I'm all for a little kinky shit now and then, but chewing on a homeless fellow?" -Rawls

"I guess you need to bang a while longer, then come back, see if we got something." -Poot

"Weird shit, I gotta say. Taking to a psychopath like that." -Zorzi
"I interviewed Dick Cheney once." -Price

"And we didn't have coffee. We had chocolate milk." -Terry

"They're in the ballpark." -McNulty

"Clay, it scares me to think of the damage you can do with two votes on the liquor board." -Carcetti
Finally, two housekeeping issues. First, I'm going to be talking with David Simon sometime before the finale for a retrospective interview, and I'm open to outside questions -- whether about this season, seasons past or the series as a whole. Obviously, some will be answered with the final two episodes, but fire away in the comments for this post. Please note: If you're watching the show with the On Demand schedule, please post your questions in that thread when it goes up. That way, we keep the regular schedule viewers from glimpsing any spoilers for episode nine.

And speaking of which, I want to make some things very clear: I don't want any talk of what's in the previews for the next episode -- much less anything that's actually in the next episode -- and I don't want smartasses coming in and making "guesses" about things they know from having seen the On Demand episode, or a Torrent, or anything else. Again, I've seen the final episodes, so I'm going to know if anyone's trying to be clever with their spoilers. I don't want to have to go to comment moderation, which dramatically slows down the pace of the discussion, but if I have to, I will.

What did everybody else think?

106 comments:

Chris Littmann said...

Pour one out for Omar.

My initial reaction was that I almost don't care about the rest of the season. Omar was always my favorite character and I never expected a blaze of glory against Chris and Snoop, but still sad to see him go.

Great episode. I almost cringe at how unfulfilled I'll feel, because there's so much I want to know with only two episodes remaining.

SJ said...

Ask David Simon how someone was able to leak that clip so early....it ruined the surprise for me. I was quite angry.

I have to say when I found out that Kenard was one of the kids from that scene in season 3 I was shocked. They had been planning it for so long...kudos to the writers. I always thought the writers were sort of writing Omar on a season-by-season basis considering how he was never supposed to last even the first season.

Alan Sepinwall said...

YouTube of Kenard's intro scene in season three.

JZ said...

Awesome assessment, Alan.

Two things: you've seen the remaining two episodes of arguably the best television show in history and you casually mention this. Hysterical.

Also, tonight was the third time I watched this episode. Any reason Omar wasn't limping right before his death?

The first time I watched it, I thought, "Man, he's fooling everybody. He's not hurt. He's going to win."

The second time I thought it was a bad edit.

The third time? I'm back to thinking he wasn't as broken as everyone thought.

Either way, wow.

Anonymous said...

"He's just another casualty of the drug trade, another body in the morgue (and one who almost winds up with the wrong body tag, because that's how little everyone in this city knows or cares about him)."

quick and i assume very unimportant question.

i did not at all understand the switching of the "body tags" at the end of the ep.

was that merely a reference to the anonymity of omar? did omar wind up with the right or wrong tag? or was that something more important?

any clues? that was my only confusion.

Anonymous said...

I think you covered it all Alan. The only parts I didn't like were the FBI guy and Lester's scene with the local FBI. I'm not so sure the FBI man who met with Lester wouldn't wait a month or 2 and go after Clay Davis. In our short glimpse into him he seems to be a man, who is desperate to be a star.

I mentioned it in the On-Demand thread that I think something is up between Chris and Marlo. Not sure if it was just Chris shocked Omar was dead or what, but felt like there is some tension there.

Alan, I have to ask what did you think of the last 2 episodes? Not as a critic but as a fan of the show were you satisfied

Anonymous said...

Alan, I also wanted to think you for these wonderful episode recaps of The Wire and The Sopranos. They have really added to the overall enjoyment of both shows, as there is always great insight.

SJ said...

Yeah he's not limping when he enters the store. I guess it's something the creators and the directors didn't notice...I mean it's pretty clear that he did break his leg and he couldn't fake it.

Man am I going to miss this show. I rarely get obsessed about movies/TV shows/just about anything but I am completely obsessed with this show.

steve said...

I may have missed it, but I don't think Alma ever mentioned Omar's name to Gus. All she said was "a homicide in a Korean grocery". Gus may have known who Omar was, but figured an nameless westside murder wasn't that newsworthy. If she did use Omar's name, then nevermind.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I may have missed it, but I don't think Alma ever mentioned Omar's name to Gus.

Steve, you raise a fair point. Omar's name is never mentioned, and the scene is more about Alma missing the story than Gus -- though Gus not knowing Prop Joe colored my interpretation of this scene.

Abbie said...

I'm glad I was unspoiled for Omar tonight, though I was thoroughly depressed once it happened. I guess I wanted a grand romantic shoot-out and Omar to retire to the islands for real, but I know that's completely not happening on this show, like, ever.

Nice recap, Alan. Thank you!

Lots of dark comedy and great lines this episode. One of the best. I don't want this show to end, but I want an ending.

Abbie said...

I enjoyed all the references to PG County this episode. I lived there for a few years, so represent!

Alan Sepinwall said...

was that merely a reference to the anonymity of omar?

Yes. The morgue attendant only recognizes the mistake because the tags list race as well as name and age.

Some On Demand viewers have suggested the scene is an attempt to play with the audience, briefly make them think that Super Omar has avoided death once again and that there was just a mistake at the morgue (even though we saw his corpse on the grocery floor), and that the zipping up of the body bag is a final reminder that Omar is mortal just like everyone else.

did omar wind up with the right or wrong tag?

The right one.

Ben Guest said...

Alan,

I'd be curious to know how early Simon had planned on having Kennard be the one to kill Omar. Surely, he couldn't have had it in mind from Kennard's first scene in Season 3, could he?

Also, like everyone else has asked over the past few weeks, how did Omar survive the fall?

ami said...

Omar's death reminded me of "The Sopranos"-- when Tony killed Chris, it was like the writers were saying "this is not a good guy, no matter how much you've cometo like him. With Omar it like, no matter how legendary he is to us--in that world he's just another dead thug, whose death won't even make the paper.

Alan, a question for Mr. Simon and maybe he's answered someplace already-- What does the similarity of Omar and Marlo's names mean, if anything? and the symbolisim of trains throughout the series.

Ben Guest said...

I've always taking the trains to symbolize the institutions that everyone in The Wire universe serves. It's something you cannot stop, you cannot alter, you cannot successfully challenge...

Anonymous said...

2 questions:

--Why did Omar's tag say he was born in 1960?

--Wouldn't it be unrealistic for a newspaper to NOT mention a murder in a liquor store?

I live in Oakland, the nation's 5th most dangerous city, as opposed to Baltimore, which ranks No. 12.

And last weekend we had 8 murders, and the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle at least put up a sentence for each murder.

Plus, I would think that a murder in a liquor store would be a little bit of a bigger deal than one on the street.

Alex said...

Like you, Alan, I've disliked Poot since the first season. But I suppose we have to give credit where credit's due -- having seen "the game" up close for years, he decided he had seen enough and wisely got out.

I believe he's the last man standing from the Barksdale gang as it appeared in the first season (i.e., not dead or serving a long prison sentence), so it looks like the writers decided not to completely wipe out that ill-fated group of characters.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that Gus and Alma's decision to scrap the Omar report was meant to imply anyone was really *missing* the story. Along with the tag-switch at the end, I think the point was to deconstruct the mythos of Omar. He was a true legend in the streets, but to the citizens of Baltimore, he was a nobody of the drug trade, not even worth mentioning in a newspaper.

Anonymous said...

Ben,

get over it! Omar survived the jump. it was not impossible and not even implausible.

let it go!!

Anonymous said...

"was that merely a reference to the anonymity of omar?

Yes. The morgue attendant only recognizes the mistake because the tags list race as well as name and age.

Some On Demand viewers have suggested the scene is an attempt to play with the audience, briefly make them think that Super Omar has avoided death once again and that there was just a mistake at the morgue (even though we saw his corpse on the grocery floor), and that the zipping up of the body bag is a final reminder that Omar is mortal just like everyone else.

did omar wind up with the right or wrong tag?

The right one."


alan,

i do so appreciate you. i never tell you how your wonderful blog entries enlighten me to the subtle points that explain so much. i just dash over with questions, that you always answer.

always thinking about what i want to know and never telling you how much your words fill in the blanks for me.

thank you.

and you don't even have to do this.

bravo!

Jason Haas said...

Man, I was just afraid Sydnor was going to catch it in the scene where he figured out the map/clock connection. The combination of Omar getting dropped, the eerie silence, and the framing of that scene made me feel like something serious was about to happen to the Best Man Casualty Had in Season 1.

Also, I'm terrified about what's going to happen to Lester after going after the apparently invincible Clay Davis. Does he not know what happens in this show when you fuck with the chain of command in this show. If there is any mercy in David Simon, he'll let Cool Lester Smooth get away with it.

In you interview, can you ask if he'll ever go back to Baltimore to tell a story? There are so many things about this season that make it feel like his final word on Charm City - rehashing bits from 'Homicide,' putting characters like Omar down...maybe he doesn't have anything else to say...?

Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether Omar was involved or not, a point-blank murder in a liquor store has GOT to make the paper?

Maybe Haynes' Templeton worries are clouding his news judgement.

Anonymous said...

Wrong zip code. Gus Haynes doesn't care about poor black males getting killed in the slum. This ain't Aruba, bitch! Once again, Alma is shown to be clueless and incompetent. They missed Prop Joe. Hungry Man. Omar. Three murders. They simply don't care. Why should people in the ghetto care about the demise of newspapers when these reporters and editors clearly do not give a crap about their lives?

Anonymous said...

alan,

my only question to david simon would be...

given the current state of television, even with the cables like hbo and showtime doing what they have done...

do you think you could ever present such realistic programing as "the corner" or "the wire" ever again? over one or more seasons? you know, for it to be a "hit".

do people really want to know this?

david, you can tell it and draw them in.

but do people want to see it? know it? aside from me, it seems not...

good luck on that interview, alan.

let us know...

ME said...

Another fantastic episode that left me exhausted as the credits rolled.

Next week is the penultimate episode and we know how those usually go. Yikes.

Chip said...

Line of the week:

"Our mayor finally needs a police department more than he needs a school system." - Rawls

Anonymous said...

"Wrong zip code. Gus Haynes doesn't care about poor black males getting killed in the slum. This ain't Aruba, bitch!"

Well, a recent shooting in a West Baltimore liquor store in which *NOBODY* died warranted nine paragraphs in the real Baltimore Sun.

So perhaps Simon is suggesting that even a "heroic" black editor like Haynes could be ignorant enough to not keep the people in the slums informed about high-profile crimes in their neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Ironically the one thing that really made me twitch in this episode was Omar's use of the list for names. Why would Omar need a list of the names of people he's known for years? Oh I know it helps out the cops, but this isn't Kill Bill. Omar Little needs a list to remind himself of his enemies? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

Found myself inside The Wire this morning while I was reading the Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. They are doing a three part series on the Homeless in Philly.I keep asking myself, how real is the wire and if its that real, how real is real.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:13
Oh please, would you stop trolling!

Lists are very helpful. And no, he didn't know the people in Marlo's crew.

Remember, when he first came back to BMore, Donnie told him that he would need him because "you don't know these people.

stop trolling!!

Anonymous said...

Alan can you say if you were satisfied with the finale?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe nobody has mentioned that the other body in the morgue mix up was one of the alcoholic cops from season 1. Either Polk or Mahone, I can't remember which was which.

Also those names together always reminded me of the gaelic phrase "pogue mahone" which was the namesake for the show's favorite band The Pogues.

Bonus points to anyone who knows the english translation.

Anonymous said...

And what exactly IS trolling? I thought anyone could leave a comment on the show?

Andrew Galarneau said...

We all knew Omar was too beautiful to live.

Killed by a shorty. What an epitaph for the first criminal so many Wire fans came to root for.

But seriously: no Wire fan expected Omar and Marlo to step onto Etting, hands poised, to draw their 9 millimeters.

Vaya con dios, Omar.

Thanks for the great coverage, Alan.

Anonymous said...

tks for the coverage alan, much obliged. re: q's for david simon, anything he has to say about the proposed (rumored?) latino storyline; if he looked to NYC; how he felt this was 'changing the game'; etc.

dez said...

F*ckin' Kenard. Sheeit.

Still too stunned to say anthing beyond that (plus Alan said most of what I was thinking about anyway).

Matter-Eater Lad said...

Man, I was just afraid Sydnor was going to catch it in the scene where he figured out the map/clock connection. The combination of Omar getting dropped, the eerie silence, and the framing of that scene made me feel like something serious was about to happen to the Best Man Casualty Had in Season 1.

Plus, it looked like a second car pulled up behind Sydnor's at the very end of that scene. I was holding my breath until the cut.

Bryan said...

About Gus and Alma and Omar's death, Gus just wasn't sure it was homicide. Alma did say juvenile (IE accident) and told her to check it out more, so something may end up in the paper.

Hey with, as McNulty said, 300 drug-related and other murders a year, a declining space for the metro news hole and publishers with other priorities, probably a lot of murders get dropped daily.

What I liked about the homeless extra resources thread was that it allowed Gus to have the time and resources to do more interesting human stories, like Bubbles. And with the money tap turned on, his focus has gone away from the easy bread and butter blotter stuff to more personalized community-based l journalism. Can't blame him, the blotter stuff get tiring real quick.

Anonymous said...

"Jimmy McNulty, this is your life." The FBI profile summary was hilarious and damning in equal measure, and I wonder whether it had any bearing on his rather sober (pun sorta intended) demeanor the rest of the episode. Or did he shrug it off internally as easily as he did in his remark to Kima?

Maybe just wishful thinking, but I find Michael's persistent questioning of Chris and Snoop and Chris' muted reaction to news of Omar's demise to perhaps be a foreshadowing of Marlow's fate. Even though Omar didn't get his face-to-face (and I question whether that was ever his intent), his campaign has to have bloodied Marlow. Badly. The irony that Omar is felled by a budding psychopath will do nothing for Marlow's reputation either. (What would the FBI profiler say about a kid who immolates a cat in the morning and kills his first[?] human that same day?)

In any case, Simon owes us Marlow's head on a pike, and I don't think it's going to be the po-lice who'll deliver it. If McNulty's hide is to be saved it'll be because of politics and not through his own actions--he's way too far down the rabbit hole, with far too much company for that.

Only two more episodes? Crap, crap, crap!

--Rick

domino87 said...

Ironically the one thing that really made me twitch in this episode was Omar's use of the list for names. Why would Omar need a list of the names of people he's known for years? Oh I know it helps out the cops, but this isn't Kill Bill. Omar Little needs a list to remind himself of his enemies? I don't think so.

It wasn't just a list of names, it also had their addresses on it. He didn't know those people for years either. When he gets back into B-more he says he's gonna work Marlo hard, but then Donnie says, "but you don't know those people".

Also some shameless self promotion, just made [url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PMoh8zQG_4]this video[/url] with the scene you referenced above about The Wire paying homage to Westerns.

domino87 said...

Shit that didn't work, heres the link to the video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PMoh8zQG_4

Rick D said...

re. Dukie,

It's a humble path for him to be sure, but perhaps even within The Wire's cynical worldview it's a place for him to get grounded and begin his life anew. The smile on his face when he jumped off the wagon in front of the school seemed genuine. I suspect he'll be there at nine the next day.

--Rick

Anonymous said...

Slightly OT,

I saw a recent article (Baltimore Sun/Whatever) stating that "The Wire" viewership is so small in its last season. Speculating because of the newspaper storyline. 700,000 for the last ep it stated.

I call shenanigans on those numbers.

Since The Wire is offered so many times during the week on HBO (so if there is a Grammy or an Oscar conflict on any given Sunday you might just could watch it just about any night during the week (which they don't count), or tivo it (which I don't think they count), and since almost eveybody I know but me watches the eps On Demand a week ahead of time (which I know they don't count, hell... look at the number of comments on this blog for an On Demand ep...)

Viewership down? I don't think so.

I'm sure that was Scott Templeton writing that article for the Baltimore paper.

I'm sure of it.

quipu said...

Pogue Mahone = "Kiss my arse"

I think. Something along those lines, if memory serves correctly.

Wow. What an episode. It's a testament to the brilliance of this show that it could kill off one of their most beloved characters so casually within the first half, and yet still hold your attention throughout. No sooner was I reeling in shock at Omar's death, then I was doubled up with laughter at McNulty's expression as he heard the psychological profile.

The GPS scene was a nice and subtle piece of foreshadowing to Sydnor's revelation. There was even the inkling of some hope for Bubbles, in the form of a possible series focused on him.

This was perhaps one of the greatest episodes of The Wire yet, containing one of its most shocking moments with one of its funniest moments.

I really am going to miss this show when it's gone.

Nigel said...

Alan, I caught a (very rare) mistake in your post. In your 5th thought about the show, you say that Marlo is a great investigator as we have seen in oprevious seasons. Based on the rest of that paragraph, that should be Omar shouldn't it?

As others have said, thanks very much for the posts about this amazing show.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, I caught a (very rare) mistake in your post. In your 5th thought about the show, you say that Marlo is a great investigator as we have seen in oprevious seasons. Based on the rest of that paragraph, that should be Omar shouldn't it?

Dammit, I thought I could make it all the way through the final season without transposing Omar and Marlo's names the way I did a few times in season four. Sigh... Already fixed.

The whole Marlo/Omar L. thing will definitely be high on my list of questions for Simon.

renton said...

As for the paper choosing the fire over Omar's murder story, I work in a TV news department in another city - and there are often times we give no or minimal coverage to what appears to be a gangbanger murder, especially when there's another story like a fire that might have pretty pictures.

I can TOTALLY see that scene happening and I wonder how many "Omar" murders we missed over the years.

Thanks Alan for the GREAT recap.

aml said...

Adieu, Omar. May you smoke Newports in outlaw heavan with your old luv, Brandon.

Alan, I would be interested in hearing David Simon elaborate about the role of media today. I know the shorter season has forced the Baltimore Sun story to focus largely on Templeton's mendacity, but I'm interested in knowing how he feels about tv, the Internet, etc. and whether ppl like Nancy Grace qualify as journalists.

Anonymous said...

Alan,
usually i agree a lot with what you say about "The Wire", its my favourite blog about it.

But I think you´re way off about Poot. He may not be the brightest kid, nor the most compassionate or anything, but Wallace´s death wasn´t really his fault. Bodie was the one eager to do it to move up at that point, and Poot was trying to hold him back at first, but being Poot, he couldnt do much about it.
When he finally fired the shot that killed Wallace, it was an act of compassion imo, Bodie couldn´t do it, and Poot couldn´t watch his (best) friend suffer any longer.

Thinking about it, in a way, it makes perfect sense that Poot is one of few that got out the game to live. His first priority was always girls. He had nothing of what made Avon, Stringer, Dee or Bodie special, no higher ambitions. He never wanted to be a hero.

So why you think he got more than he deserved? To me, he sure didn´t.

Alexis said...

I literally took notes on this epsiode to ask questions about, but left them at home today...so I do not have the exact wording, but does anyone remember seeing the headline on Gus's computer along the lines of

"...people in the dark are confused and bewildered"?

I just made that up a little bit but it was very similar.

I'd like to read into it, because it was positioned pretty prominently (similarly to the help employee's sign during the gus/tempelton stand off)...

was it just another metaphor for the dark and convoluted wire-world?

Anonymous said...

Question for David Simon:

We've seen in the treatment of the docks (Season 2's "Rotterdam" scene) and the newsroom this season that one of the themes of the show is that you can't really do "more with less", that sacrificing things like manpower and institutional memory for the sake of short-term savings damages real people's lives and eventually destroys the whole institution... Given this, I'm surprised that the media and Simon in particular haven't spoken up over the fact that the season was cut down to 10 episodes. I'd like to hear his comments on why this happened, and what the effect was on the final season. What got left out that we're missing and how does D.S. feel about it?

ben said...

With regard to Gus, I've thought since the episode where Twigg was let go that he wouldn't last the season. When Gus walks into the meeting with Whiting and Klebanow he's told that he doesn't worry because they need him to manage the transition. Nothing is said about after the transition. Now, with the tensions raised further as you point out, it's easy to see Gus being forced out.

Anonymous said...

Phenomenal episode, but I have to point out one thing that irks me: doesn't it take a significant leap of faith to believe that Sydnor coincidentally happens to use the exact same Baltimore map book that Marlo's crew and (presumably) the Greeks use. I'd have to assume that the coordinates (and therefore the clock-scheme) wouldn't necessarily match up from map to map even within the same brand (Rand McNally, or what have you). Just a thought.

Alex said...

Alan,

If you can fit in another question, I'd like to hear Simon's thoughts on what kinds of details, insights, etc. the novelists on The Wire's writing staff brought to the show that might not have been there otherwise.

Anonymous said...

A couple of comments from a regular reader, who appreciates this blog and the commentators so much. (I do not have HBO On Demand)

Freakanomics has a section about the actual income of corner-level dealers, and, as I recall, it's actually lower than store clerks, when the hours are factored in. I thought of this when Poot explained that he had left the streets. The Wire has never gone to this level of detail, but, possibly, Poot is "stepping up" income-wise....

I wasn't as distressed by Dukie's apparent employment as a junk man's assistant - it was so good to see the look of pride on his face. I'm a professional, but once was unemployed involuntarily, and that rocked my confidence - upon reemployment, I too felt so good....

A bit of speculation: The Wire does plant stuff for the future, and Dukie's circumstances would be greatly improved were he return to school. I recalled Bubbles' past & failed attempt at mentoring, and he really advocated for schooling; Dukie reads the paper; The reporter asked for permission to do a feature on Bubbles.... One can only hope!!!

Tina said...

Possible discussion for David Simon, and perhaps here (apologies if it's already been brought up): [SPOILERS for Homicide: Life on the Street]

I've been thinking about Bayliss in Homicide and McNulty in The Wire and comparing their journeys in the respective series. Although McNulty isn't shown as the innocent like Bayliss, is there some connection about the smart detective who cares, who gradually goes to the end-justifies-the-means side and constructs his own framework of morality? Arguably Bayliss falls farther, but in a way his actions seem more justified, and both react -- completely in character -- in frustration at the inaction and injustice of their institutions.

Anyway, obviously I'm still teasing this out, and there's a resolution to The Wire yet to come. But is this too much of a stretch?

Anonymous said...

didn't consider that an informant was the one who gave omar all that info--but if that's the case my best guess is slim charles. he's one of the few characters who the writers (besides the obvious one of being in a drug gang) have portrayed as w/o negative flaws.

is dukie the next bubbles now? i thought the saddest thing they could do to dukie was to have him die in some drug-related cross fire or some punk like spider doing him cuz they think he's not tough enough or marlo somehow finding out that dukie snitched to prezbo w/ randy in season 4 after class that one day and pressuring michael to kill him, but now i'm seeing the possibility of the final episode montage showing dukie getting high and it depresses me even more than him dying in one of the abovementioned scenarios. is he too smart to fall under the power of the needle? bubbles is a pretty smart guy too (they showed he has math skills when he was schooling sherrod), and i think anyone who has a good head on their shoulders but has given up on ever making anything of themselves (dukie sure was happy about his new job) can turn to drugs to ease the pain

David said...

Alan,

Amazing work with the blog. You point out so many subtle things that really enrich appreciation of the show.

One question I have is about Lester's play with Clay Davis. How far up the chain does he think he can get? And is it really likely that Clay Davis would turn rat at this point? Or am I completely misreading this?

Loweeel said...

Alan, here's something minor (albeit with a NJ tie-in!) that's always bothered me.

In season 1, when Omar meets McNulty and Kima for the first time, why is a lifelong Baltimorean wearing the Jersey of New Jersey's very own Devils under his overalls? I think that's the only time hockey paraphernalia of any sort was in the wire.

dcdame said...

[D]oesn't it take a significant leap of faith to believe that Sydnor coincidentally happens to use the exact same Baltimore map book that Marlo's crew and (presumably) the Greeks use.

Not really. If you want a good street map in this region, you get an ADC map (which is what Sydnor appears to have been using). As ADC's website accurately states: For 50 years ADC has provided a broad range of current, user-friendly maps and street atlases for the Mid-Atlantic. Fierce brand loyalty has made ADC the #1 map and atlas brand in the region.

drake leLane said...

The Jesse James comparison is apt, and I'd possibly throw in Wild Bill Hickock, even though Hickock wasn't really a criminal. All were men who's reputation was enough to inspire fear -- reputations bigger than their real life situations at their end. And each was shot in the back of the head by lesser men -- each killer fascinated by the celebrity and then ultimately disappointed with their victim. Robert Ford, Jack McCall and now Kenard.

Not great company for Kenard to keep, considering where each ended up.

paul b. said...

"In season 1, when Omar meets McNulty and Kima for the first time, why is a lifelong Baltimorean wearing the Jersey of New Jersey's very own Devils under his overalls? I think that's the only time hockey paraphernalia of any sort was in the wire."

I'm not Alan, but I will say that hockey jerseys were once rather popular in the hip-hop community, most notably with Snoop Dogg wearing one (for an obscure minor league team, I might add) in one of his videos. This despite the fact that hockey isn't all that popular in the inner city. So the jersey is worn more as a fashion statement as opposed to actually being a fan of any team.

paul b. said...

"Wrong zip code. Gus Haynes doesn't care about poor black males getting killed in the slum. This ain't Aruba, bitch! Once again, Alma is shown to be clueless and incompetent. They missed Prop Joe. Hungry Man. Omar. Three murders. They simply don't care. Why should people in the ghetto care about the demise of newspapers when these reporters and editors clearly do not give a crap about their lives?"

I agree with the "not caring" part, as well as "wrong zip code." But I disagree that it makes Alma "clueless and incompetent."
The newspaper caters to a suburban crowd, since most of its readers would be there, and those folks are just not interested in inner-city street violence. The Sun staff are slaves to an institution, in this case a business whose market must be served.

Having said that, the Omar story perhaps could have been newsworthy because it involved a shockingly young murder suspect. Shocking to the general public (i.e. suburban newspaper readers) anyway. Less shocking to us, who have been watching all along and know that just about anything goes in West Baltimore. To be fair to Alma, she only knew the suspect was a juvenile. She had no idea just how juvenile.

Anonymous said...

I have not been this emotional about the fate of a TV character since the fate of Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks. Seeing how broken Omar looked calling out Marlo on that corner was sadder than seeing him get shot. He seemed to realize that his challenge would go unanswered. Omar was definately "a man for this town."

linda said...

Delurking briefly to say that I was going to answer the map question in much the same way as dcdame, but would never have thought to do the research and actually quote from the ADC website. You guys don't mess around.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 11:21. In my experience most of themap books in a city will use same page numbers to describe the same are. THey are usually used in other applications. For example if you get a realtor printout from MLS many times they have map pages and lat and longitude. for example 34/a5

quazi

Anonymous said...

anonymous at 12:13 AM, Marlo only recently took over the East Side/whole city after having Prop Joe killed.

Presumably many of Marlo's muscle, soldiers, lieutenants in the other districts might still be unknown to Omar. Remember he had an original plan to work his way in to Marlo, since Marlo wouldn't come down to the street--he explained to Donnie during the stakeout.

Or maybe Omar was just being methodical. You know, like Snoop crossing off the hospital names when looking for "her brother Omar" after the leap out the window.

Cardboard Cut-Out said...

Is Wagstaff a common name? I only ask because they made a point of mentioning that it was Cheese's last name more than a few times...the only other Wagstaff is Randy, correct? is there any sort of connection there?

Anonymous said...

"One question I have is about Lester's play with Clay Davis. How far up the chain does he think he can get?"

I think the idea is to see how far he can go. Lester has a speech at the beginning of 5-02 about what he wants out of this case, and his dream is for Davis to start talking about where the money goes beyond him. But I don't think he has any concrete idea on where it might lead to.

Anonymous said...

Question for David Simon:

Who would've killed Omar in the first season, and where in the story would it have happened? One thing about 'The Wire' is that many events seem to ripple out so that they affect other characters -- were there any such details for the original idea for Omar's death? Or is this one of those things that has grown larger in the telling, and never really made it past the drawing board?

Anonymous said...

David Simon said on the Season 1 DVD commentary that Omar was supposed to die in episode 7 during that shootout with Weebay.

opark_77 said...

Thanks for the blog Alan, good stuff as always.

I have hundreds of questions for David Simon but I think I'll focus on some behind the scenes stuff as everyone else is doing a great job suggesting other questions.

Can you talk a little about some of the crew that worked on this season? I was interested to see your onetime writer and Homicide colleague Joy Lusco Kecken returning as a co-director (with her husband); what did you think of their episode? Did their experience with the Baltimore Arabber community from their documentary inform any of the fifth season Dukie story or was that all you guys in the writers room?

It was also interesting to see Dominic West making his directing debut - is he the new Clark Johnson? How about your feelings on the rest of your directing team this year?

I was also pleased to see Chris Collins making his teleplay writing debut after a long tenure as a junior writer on the series. Relating to this to Ed Burns, Bill Zorzi, Christine Moore and Anthony Hemingway all taking on increasingly large or prominent roles as the series has progressed can you talk a little about developing of talent throughout the production of the series? Was this something you consciously aimed for or a happy accident?

Obviously the casting and use of many unfamiliar faces presents opportunities in a similar vein - developing the skills of actors in the television environment. Is this something you have consciously aimed for also?

How was the writers room this year? Since no knew voices were introduced since the fourth series how did you keep things fresh? Did you miss Eric Overmyer and what was the reason for absence from the fifth season team?

Any word on the New Orleans project or any other forthcoming projects?

Ben Guest said...

"Is Wagstaff a common name? I only ask because they made a point of mentioning that it was Cheese's last name more than a few times...the only other Wagstaff is Randy, correct? is there any sort of connection there?"

The website bios on HBO imply that Cheese is Randy's (absentee) father:

"Having lost his mother to the streets at a young age and having never known his father, reputedly an eastside corner boy who later became a major drug trafficker..."

Interesting to note that his mother is (probably) still alive. Wonder if we have met her at some point...

The Burack's said...

A few comments, some already said:

First Chris Moltisanti and now Omar Little. Same reaction. OMG.

As far as not knowing Omar's name - before season one Mcnulty hadno idea who Omar was either. He dominated the streets but didn't kill unnecessarily. There wasn't much to know.

Dukie is the next Bubbs, no questions. Since season one people have always wondered why an intelligent guy like Bubbles was on the streets. And obviously intelligence in the streets doesn't take you where testicular fortitude do.

As fas as the cop's body next to Omar- i think it helped hit home Beadie's point that at the end no one remembers you, just family. Even a cop almost had the wrong tag at the end.

And Omar didn't have a spy. Butchie's boy was helping him before he got killed in the shootout. He pointed out to Omar who all Marlo's people were.

Also i thought Omar getting killed reminded me of the final Soprano's episode. Omar saw Kenard walk in, checked the situation and decided he was safe. Same think with the Member's only jacket. Only we don't know for sure what happened to Tony.

All in all a great episode, great recap. great comments. So sad watching this show, and so sad it's almost over.

Anonymous said...

OK, I have a question for David Simon:

Can he ask HBO to STOP with the On Demand option for future shows?

It just plain sucks (and ruins the viewing experience) that we're all not on the same page, like EVERY other TV show.

Imagine if a select portion (non-TV critics) of the population got to see Lost or American Idol a week in advance? Wouldn't that be horrible?

I'm complaining because I just did a search on YouTube of the words "The Wire" and "Omar" to see if their were any tribute videos posted.

But what I was greeted with, instead, was a clip of a spoiler from next week's episode.

God, now I have to wait a week to see the whole story. (Or download it from BitTorrent, which I refuse to do.)

Why exactly is there an On Demand option anyway?

quipu said...

Question for David Simon:

After taking the genre to its limits, do you think there's a future for the humble Police Procedural? Has "The Wire" taken it as far as it can go?

Ted said...

I really enjoyed all of your Sopranos commentary and now am delighted to discover you've been covering the Wire too. your summary of "Clarifications" is typically brilliant. my question is whether after the Wire concludes there will be another show worthy of your outstanding analysis. you really must write a book collecting some of these if you haven't already. thank you very much.

barefootjim said...

I also had no issue with Sydnor using the same map book that Marlo's crew uses (as a matter of fact, I'd actually figured it out with all of the "34 seconds" on the clocks) -- out here on the left coast, the Thomas Guide is in such wide use that some Realtors put the coordinates of houses in the online listings.

Anonymous said...

I just saw on the AP that ABC is going to start offering their shows on-demand.

I see the comments are running up on the on-demand thread for ep. 9. I'm resisting the impulse to go in and read them.

Anonymous said...

if regular TV were available on On-Demand, I'd probably watch a lot more regular TV.

Not neccessarily good for me, but the stations would love it.

I can understand people complaining about how early On-Demand can lead to spoilers, but there were spoilers out there about, for instance, Omar's death well before it showed up on On-Demand.

I believe they offer it because in some places, they charge more for On-Demand, so they need a reason to attract people. The places that don't charge more for it likely due to competition -- Time-Warner vs. Cablevision, for instance -- and, again, has to do with attracting viewers in a competition.

TuckPendleton said...

Alan --

Your speculation about Kenard doing in Omar may have been subconscious, but it was clearly set up. In the scene in the previous ep when Omar confronts Michael, the camera takes in all the corner boys, but lingers last on Kenard, staring down Omar. Or lingers on Kenard last, staring at Omar's back as Omar limps away. Chase (and the director) dropped a big hint right there, though in not such an obvious way.

Nispero said...

I enjoyed how Sydnor came to his directions epiphany on a street that looks identical to Bunny Colvin's block--Colvin who was famously obsessive about knowing one's location at all times.

A question for Simon: How about asking him his thoughts on the pessimism of the show? As the series has expanded from a close study of a single institution (the police and the corner) to something that includes the schools, police, professional media, the homeless, etc., that bleak vision--that "nobody lives forever," that honest people are punished--weighs much more heavily, because it seems to encompass a whole society. Does the Wire give us any way out of this?

Nice recap, thanks.

eriks said...

Nispero, I kept expecting to see Bunny appear to help out Carver with the map but didn't connect it with Bunny's "where are you?" line. Good catch.

dez said...

Maybe you could ask Simon if he thinks Baltimore can be saved? It sure seems to be a hopeless place a lot of the time.

Mo Ryan said...

Perhaps a minor point, but it's bothered me all season -- is anyone in the Sun newsroom ever going to discuss or mention the paper's web site? Web traffic? Or are we going to get to the end without one mention of a web presence for the paper? You could ask Simon why that was never discussed at all (I haven't seen eps 9 and 10, so I don't know if it is brought up at any point).

Here's another question for Simon -- does he think that Lester and Jimmy were justified in doing what they've done? Does he think it was a valid strategy for dealing with the obstacles they faced?

I read the interview Newsweek's Devin Gordon did with Simon and was intrigued by Simon's response to the last question, in which Gordon described this season as "Everyone pretty much goes nuts."

Simon responded (in part): "The season is about the chasm between perception and reality in American life and how we are increasingly without the tools that allow us to recognize our true problems, much less begin to solve them. Everybody goes crazy? Who? McNulty? Freamon? They quit playing by the rules in a rigged game. That's almost a form of sanity, self-destructive as it might turn out to be."

Not a question, but I was also a little mystified by what Lester wants -- just to have Clay Shaw answer questions that will help Lester with future investigations? He just wants facts and figures and names and dates, but off the record, so to speak? I almost wonder if he wants it more for his own personal knowledge -- he's seen enough to know that whatever he found out probably wouldn't result in any real convictions.

I actually just watched this episode on Tuesday -- I know! The Wire! But dad was in the hospital. So... he's out now. Anyway, I knew something huge was up because of the number of comments on Alan's Wire recap this week. Even so, I didn't see the method of Omar's death coming. Yes, it makes total sense within the Wire's worldview. Still. Damn. I knew it couldn't last with him, but I still didn't want it to go that way. All in the game, I spose.

For all my nitpicks and problems with this season, I will miss this show a lot. Not just for creating a character like Omar, whose death literally left me slackjawed, but for making me laugh out loud minutes later during McNutty's FBI profiler summary.

High point of the episode -- Bunk's look of delight when he knew he had real evidence on Chris Partlow. He's my favorite character, I have to say. Er, Bunk, not Chris.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Or are we going to get to the end without one mention of a web presence for the paper? You could ask Simon why that was never discussed at all

Mo, Simon said in some earlier interviews that he had no interest in dealing with the web (probably because it wasn't a factor when he was at the Sun). That's been one of the bigger complaints from the "Oh, he gets the cops and drug dealers so perfectly, but he doesn't know what he's talking about with journalism" crowd.

Mo Ryan said...

Thanks, Alan. I've read 4 million Wire stories in the last 6 months and couldn't recall him addressing this, but all those pieces are just a blur in my head. Having said that, I very much look forward to your talk with him. Having seen more of the season now, I have a lot of questions.

Anyway, I guess that answer transforms my question into a gripe. It seems as though the Wire has done a pretty good job of recreating the Sun newsroom -- circa 1993-95 (Simon's last years there). But all the cutbacks and layoffs etc are happening there -- so clearly it's supposed to be the Sun (or any paper that size) of now. Yes, some layoffs happened in the 90s, but it seems as though that stuff is more drawn from the last few years.

I understand it's fiction, but he's also said that he wants his stories to be as close to reality as possible. If the Wire tried to paint a true-to-life portrait of a big-city police department circa 2007-2008, would those officers have access to DNA tests? To wiretaps on cell phones? Of course. It's just common sense. But we're looking at a newspaper that never mentions its web site. In 2008. It sort of defies logic.

It's as if Simon wants it both ways -- for it to be the Sun of 1994 and the Sun of 2008. It's just one of many stretches that we've been asked to make in that storyline and it may be one stretch too many for me. Your mileage may vary.

Alan Sepinwall said...

It's as if Simon wants it both ways -- for it to be the Sun of 1994 and the Sun of 2008. It's just one of many stretches that we've been asked to make in that storyline and it may be one stretch too many for me. Your mileage may vary.

Mo, I don't disagree that some discussion of the Internet would be nice -- especially since Simon, in "The Last Word" documentary and elsewhere, has expressed anger at how newspapers give away their content for free on-line -- but this isn't the first time the show has mixed past with present. The whole deal with the pagers and pay phones from season one was, I believe, taken directly from a counter-surveillance method that Melvin Williams' crew used in the '80s when Ed Burns was part of a task force chasing him. By 2002 (when the first season aired), I'm sure most drug crews had moved on to other methods of secure communication, but Simon and Burns used the pagers because it was a great story. (McNulty or someone else has a line early on expressing surprise that anyone still uses pagers in this day and age.)

Some of the Baltimore locals could go into more depth about all the ways that the issues Carcetti and the other politicans deal with actually happened in the city a few years ago or more, but I have no problem accepting them taking place in 2008.

As with so many things about the newspaper story, the problem is that it's the first "world" the show has visited where the newsmedia covering the show knows as much about as Simon does. As I've said before, I'm sure there are plenty of Baltimore cops, politicians, drug dealers, stevedores, etc., who could poke holes at the realism factor of those stories; they're just not the ones who buy ink by the barrelful.

Mo Ryan said...

yep, agreed, they do mix past and present. I'd thought about that but the examples you bring up reinforced the point well. thanks.

Yeah, I also agree that if stevedores and teachers had more media access, those seasons would have been picked apart way more. point taken.

Anyway, the web beef wasn't that much of an annoyance this season -- a small gripe that I would have ignored if other stuff hadn't bugged me as well. there was sort of a critical mass of things that I wasn't fond of in that storyline, that was just one of 'em. And I would have let it go had that storyline worked better for me overall. But it's hard to not nitpick a world that you're familiar with. I'm sure if I was a nurse or doctor there's no way I could watch House. Well, maybe House, definitely not Grey's Anatomy.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how stories also being posted on the Internet would change the story Simon is telling, one way or another.

paul b. said...

"I don't understand how stories also being posted on the Internet would change the story Simon is telling, one way or another."

I don't work in journalism, but my uneducated guess is that the internet (i.e. free, instant, 24/7 access to information) is the primary reason newspapers are struggling today.
When the story has themes such as doing "more with less," and the general fact that journalism isn't what it used to be, and when the root cause is something so clear, it is strange not to see a single acknowledgemnt of that cause.

Urban schools are struggling to educate properly, neighborhoods are lost to the drug trade, blue-collar workers are struggling, law enforcement and politics can be ineffective at making a difference, and so on. There are many differing opinions on the whys and the hows, but they all seem more complex than the fact that there are alternatives to the newspaper today. So why not even mention it once? But perhaps it was still beyond the scope of what could be fit into the shortened season?

impboy said...

While I felt at first that Omar's abrupt and unremarkable death served as a reminder of his relative insignificance as far as the rest of the world is concerned, I've changed my mind. I mean, even Obama's name-checked the guy, and Simon and Co. recognize the impact Omar's death will have on US, if not on his fictitional Baltimore.

Going back to Simon's constant references to Greek mythology, we have to remember the contradictions of a hero. He's superhuman yet ultimately mortal, and always possesses a fatal flaw. For Omar, it turns out to be what makes him stand out amongst everybody else: his code of honor. It's a code that the streets have long since abandoned, and Marlo understands and embodies this world's moral emptiness. He'd easily kill a child, which is something Omar would never do. In that regard, Kenard is the only person in this universe who could kill Omar. You see it in Omar's final scene. Omar sees death come for him, but his morality is his blind spot

That's the most depressing thing about this show: one of the few people who remotely approaches good has to be an outlaw (not unlike Bunny in season three or an increasingly reckless Freamon in this season), as broken as the institutions around him are. It's a world where heroes die like dogs and barely get a mention in the paper, while charlatans like Clay Davis are lavishly rewarded for their chicanery.

As far as the final scene, I thought the main point there was how in death, we're all the same. No matter what social distinctions separate us, we all end up in the same place. Of course, one can make a political point that Black men often end up there sooner then White men, but all the same, it's Baltimore, and nobody lives forever.

Anonymous said...

"I don't work in journalism, but my uneducated guess is that the internet (i.e. free, instant, 24/7 access to information) is the primary reason newspapers are struggling today."

It's not, though. The Internet has certainly had an impact, but the problem stems back way further than the popularization of the Internet. (Anything with a failing business model nowadays loves to blame it on free distribution over the Internet.)

Newspapers have always, obviously, had to make a profit, but many people in the know point to a specific time (usually some time in the '80's) when profit became the primary purpose of the newspapers and the ever-larger companies that were buying them up.

Though it isn't dealing with newspapers, the film "Broadcast News" gets into a lot of this. [Though you can add something there: the news divisions of television channels used to be legally obligated to provide important news -- as Americans, we own the airwaves that they transmit over, but Congress gave them the right to transmit at a far lower rate than they should have to pay, in exchange for providing the news for free... but, at a certain point, the law was changed, and the channels became obsessed with the ratings on news, and chasing ratings is death for real news.]

Once profit becomes the main purpose, then they will focus more on stories which will create more profit, rather than stories that are "important". The Internet became a factor, because giving away news hurt the profits of the newspaper, but if the companies hadn't been obsessed with higher and higher profits, the dent would not have been significant, and could have been manageable in various ways.

Anonymous said...

But, anyway, my initial point was that the Internet doesn't change any of the stories Simon is telling about the newspapers.

Gus's editing would be the same whether the story is going on-line or being printed; ditto the wordsmith guy whose name eludes me.

Templeton's lies would be just as bad and just as egregious.

Alma's stories would be just as naive and under-researched.

Whiting and Klebanow would just say, "Nobody wins the Pulitzer for Internet coverage," and Whiting would say something condescending about how Dickensian it all is.

Zorzi would be just as surly -- maybe he'd complain a bit more about his story being distributed for free on the Internet. Maybe.

So, like I say, I don't see what difference the Internet would make to the story Simon is telling. I mean, I'm sure Carcetti's mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns had/have websites, but we don't need to see them either.

Nispero said...

Actually Omar's death is tragic, but not in the way that impboy says. It's often said that Greek tragic heroes have "fatal flaws," but this is incorrect. Tragic heroes, Aristotle said, perish for no good reason at all, for reasons outside of their control that they are powerless to change. That's what makes their downfall tragic--because it's undeserved, not the logical consequence of some "flaw." (if it was the latter, we could understand and explain it, and it wouldn't be so sad).

This is important for Omar because it underscores how powerless he ultimately is--his death isn't heroic, and it's not the result of his morality and code of honor. It's a dumb accident, the result of being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, near a confused child with access to a gun. In the end, despite his talents he is undone by forces he can't control.

Sorry for nerding out on you there but I recently had to teach Aristotle in school, so the shit is on my mind.

Anonymous said...

Mo,

Interesting conversation between you and Alan here.

Here is the most relevant scene I could have constructed and included in this season of The Wire regarding the internet and its fundamental influence on newspapering and journalism:

INT. GARDEN APARTMENT/ANYWHERE - DAY

A MAN, white, early thirties, dressed in underwear, nursing a latte, sits at computer screen. C.U. on screen as he links to Baltimore Sun article to create a cite on his blog. PULL back to reveal MAN, typing furiously. He pauses to scratch his left testicle, then, satisfied, he begins typing again. C.U. on screen as the cursor pushes across the void and commentary ensues,

CUT TO:

EXT. DRUG CORNER...

And so forth.

Apart from the phenomenon described above, the construct of the newspaper arc is the same in 1994 as it is in 2008, or 1972 for that matter. The only issue worth any drama or attention at all, in my humble opinion, is how well journalism captures and analyzes our truths, our problems, our world.
The power that the internet holds over newspapers right now is, of course, the economic preamble to the season five story -- Whiting says exactly that when he climbs a desk and announces the cutbacks at the beginning of the arc -- but it is only the preamble. It is not the story, and given the rather dry scene above, I don't think it could or should be mistaken for the story.

The internet does not by and large contribute to first generation newsgathering -- at city council meetings, in courtrooms, on Capitol Hill, in Fallujah. But it skims the froth of commentary and debate and humor and rage from the organizations that provide that first-generation product and in doing so, is skimming readers and advertising and money. And that is what is terrifying if you love newspapers and understand their rare and vital function.

Should there have been a line of dialogue in the newsroom where someone told Price or Zorzi to file his copy for the website, rather than the edot, or a scene where one of the reporters declaimed that, "I have to feed my blog and then file a weekender."? Perhaps, if it makes people feel up-to-date. But we might as well have had a newsroom character reading the internet itself. Look, Zorzi's scanning Romenesko! It's accurate, but what does it add, exactly, to a story that is, for better or worse, about whether or not a newspaper is aware of, and capturing, the true nature of its city?

Forests and trees, I think.

All best,

David Simon

Film Scholar said...

I love The Wire! It's by far my favorite show on TV. I'm going to be sad when the final episode airs on the 9th. I'm always happy to meet more fans of the show. Nice blog. Keep blogging

avincent52 said...

Apropos of nothing, except the lengths to which one will go to avoid a deadline.
We kid, of course, because we care. Can't wait 'til Sunday.

INT: The Baltimore Sun Newsroom. Early evening.

Gus: "Templeton, I need some react quotes from City Hall for the double dot. Posthaste, sir."

Templeton Scratches head, glances to the left to see if Alma is at her desk. She is not. Reaches into his Dockers and scratches right testicle. Picks up phone. Dials 1-900-BITES ME.

Automated Sun Operator: "I'm sorry. This call cannot be completed as dialed because of a policy edict from the Evil Managing Editor. Please hang up and dial again."

Templeton: Mutters to himself
"Damned bean counters. That number worked fine from the phones at The Washington Post..."
He pretends to continue the conversation anyway.
"You don't say....you don't say....you don't say."

Gus: Leaning back, Bunklike, in his creaky desk chair
"Remember, young Scott, the words of the great Henry Mencken. 'All successful newspapers are ceaselessly querulous and bellicose. They never defend anyone or anything if they can help it; if the job is forced on them, they tackle it by denouncing someone or something else.' So where the hell are my fu@%!^g quotes?"

Templeton: Hangs up phone, and in the process spills the remains of an almost-empty container of chocolate milk on his Dockers.
"Horse hockey!"
Shouts across the newsroom at Gus, while still wiping slacks with yesterday's metro section.
I just talked to Dick Cheney....I mean, the Serial Killer...I mean, whatshisname, the City Council President. I'll make up some quotes in just a minute."

Templeton searches for left testicle, to no avail. Types "Lance Armstrong" into Google. Scratches right testicle again. Begins typing furiously with two fingers as sweat soaks through his Kansas City Star t-shirt and stains his plaid button-down...

CU: Computer screen, as the cursor pushes across the void...: "Asked to comment about the allegations, an unidentified source close to City Hall said today, "Sheeeeeeeeeeit, son. Just follow the money. It leads everywhere..."

CUT TO: EXT Drug Corner

Andy Hutchins said...

"was it just another metaphor for the dark and convoluted wire-world?"

The bit reads "Many Are Trapped for Hours In Darkness and Confusion." It's both a reminder to not be vague in headlines (passive voice and ambiguity doom that one) and a nod to The Wire itself, I think. It is an hour-long show.

And Alan, if you read this as you approve it, the links to both the Photobucket account with screencaps of Kenard in S3 and the YouTube of his entrance no longer work.

cazzoduro said...

I know I'm only 2 years late on this, but I've just blown through the entire series of the wire via NetFlix. Here's what I think of Omar's death and why it doesn't make its way into the newspaper: There's not enough room in the paper for it. Too many columns/resources are being allocated to the fake serial killer story. It parallels nicely with the way police resources are being diverted to the serial killer instead of real crimes. Just goes to show how far out of control McNulty's ruse has spun.

chan said...

I really appreciate your comments, but I think you're not nuanced enough when it comes to McNulty. Of course, a lot of what he does is for self-glorification, but there's a lot that he does for real, importante reasons. In the end, though, he doesn't do good, but his intentions are at least mixed. In the end, I would say he is a good guy.

Scott Carpenter said...

I noticed that the body tag said "decendant" instead of "decedant." I had to backup because I read it as descendant at first.

VinnyB said...

Was I the only one that thought (and was kind of hoping) that McNulty and Alma would hook up at some point this season? I know there are still two episodes left, but it doesn't seem likely the way the story is going. Surely, I thought, a chick magnet like McNulty looking to get media attention and a cute young reporter like Alma looking to move up the newspaper ranks would make a good f*** pair. Darn.

Anonymous said...

Really? Would it have REALLY been so bad to have Omar live....somehow? Or at least give him the satisfaction of taking out even ONE of the main players in the death of blind Butchie?
I was yelling at the screen for Omar to stay where he was on that island and stay safe, but I knew this would all come to no good end.
Still doesn't prevent me from being very upset and disappointed that Omar was able to get little revenge or satisfaction for blind Butchie and that he had to go.
I am still hoping to see Levy get his, but with only two episodes left, I doubt that will happen. He will go on as always, profiting from the Baltimore drug dealers.

RIP Omar Little. :(

Anonymous said...

I completely disagree about Alma and McNulty. Poor Beadie! She was perfect for Jimmy when Jimmy was toeing the line, but now Jimmy is messing up the best thing he could have dreamed of having.

Alma made it clear to Jimmy, from their very first meeting, that she was a married woman and was not interested in his advances.