"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?" -RawlsFinally, 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.
"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
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?