Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Wire, "Home Rooms": Omar back!

Spoilers for "The Wire" episode three, "Home Rooms," coming just as soon as I can find a box of Honey Nut Cheerios...

The bookends of this episode show you the breadth of this show's tones. In the opening, we see folk hero stick-up artist Omar go down to the corner store, wearing his satin jammies and no gun, and the locals are so frightened of his legend that they throw him a bag of drugs to avoid even the possibility of trouble. In the close, one of the girls in Prez's class slashes another girl across the face as revenge for emotional bullying, then sits silently on the floor as Dukie -- who can sympathize with feeling so beat down by the world that you want to cut someone -- trying to comfort her with the portable fan he spent the whole hour repairing.

Those are the two emotional extremes of "The Wire," and the show wouldn't work without them both. Without Omar's larger-than-life antics, the slashing would be unbearable. Without the grim reality of the school scenes, Omar would border on an action movie cartoon. Admittedly, I would pay full-price to see an action movie about a gay Baltimore stick-up artist, but you know what I mean: Omar is beloved because he's such a stark, optimistic counterpart to the rest of this show.

Continuing the trend of last year, Richard Price gets to reintroduce our shotgun-toting favorite, and he does it in style. And style is what Omar is all about. When I interviewed Simon and Burns back in July, they talked about how Omar scenes are inherently theatrical because Omar cares more about the theater than the cash. Sure, it's nice to take off Old-Face Andre's re-up, but he's in it for that moment when he buys the cigarettes and demands his change. To quote the man himself, "That's the reason why we get up in the morning."

So while Omar's out there, enjoying life as the only character on the show not beholden to an institution (as Simon puts it, even Bubbs is beholden to his addiction), we get an in-depth look at our newest institution, Tilghman Middle School. Those scenes were painful to watch the first time, both for Prez making all those rookie mistakes (the "But you can call me Mr. Prezbylewski" joke just died), and for the slashing, and it was even moreso the second time because I knew everything was coming and was powerless to stop it. I couldn't even enjoy the moment where Prez finds the completed math problem because I knew the "FUCK PREZBO" desk carving was coming up in a second. It's a sign of how great this show is that I want to subject myself to this stuff over and over and over again.

In addition to Prez's freshman struggles, we learned more about the boys' personalities: It becomes more obvious with each week that Namond is trying to force himself into the role his parents expect of him, even though he doesn't really know or even care about the trappings of the gangster lifestyle. (Randy and Michael recognize that, judging by how often they bust his balls about silly things like Namond wanting to get his own face tattooed on his arm.) We get Randy in full entrepreneur mode, making use of Prez's inattentiveness and his own small stature and leftover sixth and seventh grade shirts to move candy in bulk to all three grades. Michael again inspires someone to offer to mentor him with the way he handled the greedy dope fiends, but Marlo looks like he wants to bigfoot over Bodie in that area as well as taking over his corner. (This was also, I believe, our first look at Bug, Michael's little brother.) And Dukie, the butt of so many cruel jokes, so stinky that Namond's mom won't even let him in her house (you'll also note that he had to sit alone in the cafeteria, despite his friendship with the other three boys), demonstrates both his brains and his heart with his repair and use of that fan. (At first I wasn't sure what he had picked up off the street and assumed that it was a half-eaten candy bar or something.)

A few miles and several light years away from Tilghman Middle, Carcetti does his best to exploit his post-debate bump. While Royce is busy pulling lame, petty political BS like threatening to freeze out contributors to both sides and having DPW workers waste their day pulling up Carcetti campaign signs, Tommy's pulling in the donations and finding a way to score a few points from the funeral without looking (or feeling) like a total shitheel. The thing about Carcetti is that, even with his ambition and arrogance and adultery, the guy does mean well, and you could see the self-loathing when the mother interrupted his spiel about her son being killed for turning witness. That woman didn't care why her son was dead, just that he was. If the roles had been reversed, you know Royce would have been grand-standing for all the TV cameras afterwards.

And speaking of petty, enter Lt. Marimow, who destroys the MCU in, like, an afternoon. Marimow is named after an editor Simon had at the Baltimore Sun, but Simon denies there's any connection beyond the name, which, if true, would make this the most negative Tucker-ization of all time. I loved the look of pure glee Rawls had on his face as he dismissed the don't ask, don't tell lieutenant (particularly his "Greaaaaat! That's just great!" interruption of the beach house story), and that scene with Lester was easily the most human Rawls has seemed since the pep talk he gave McNulty after Kima was shot in season one. Why does Lester get a golden ticket back to Homicide while McNulty got banished to the boat for pulling similar shenanigans? Because Rawls, vindictive though he may be, also recognizes that Lester is a great investigator and not nearly as big a pain in the ass when he's working within the more rigid structure of Homicide proper. And Lester back in that unit will no doubt lead to a better clearance rate.

Almost as exciting as the return of Omar, for me, was the return of Bunny Colvin. Robert Wisdom was so damn good last season, and if it's a contrivance to put him in the same school as Prez, it's a minor one, worth making to bring this guy back into the fold. The hotel scene with the hooker and the abusive john reminded Bunny that he has no place in the private sector, and the 18-year-old Carver brought into interrogation for him could smell the police on him immediately. Nice touch with Carver still calling him "Boss."

Some other random thoughts:
  • So who here buys into the new and improved McNulty, and who's with Bunk thinking he's just another lake trout? I'll stay mum on this one, but I'm curious for other reactions.
  • Did you catch Renaldo reading "Drama City," by "Wire" writer George Pelecanos? A nice in-joke, though couldn't someone have gotten an advance copy of George's new "The Night Gardener" for better product placement?
  • Because this is a writer-driven show, I don't talk about the visuals as much, but the directors and cinematographers have really stepped up their game this year. Last week we had that wonderful sequence of Herc walking past the portraits of all the former mayors, wondering if perhaps they're smiling because they just got the Royce treatment. Tonight's visual highlight was all the silent view of Tilghman Middle in the moments before the opening bell, particularly a terrified Prez standing motionless at the head of his classroom. Calm before the storm.
  • When Old-Faced Andre asked if Kima was biracial, it was the first time it ever occurred to me -- and now it's one of those things I can't not see. Sort of like that guy on "American Idol" with the tracheotomy scar; I never noticed it until a friend mentioned it, and then I couldn't look away from the damn thing.
  • Nice scene with Royce and Herc, particularly the double-meaning of Royce's "Don't mention it" at the end.
  • Yet another returnee: Deacon Melvin, played by the guy who was the real-life inspiration for Avon Barksdale. Melvin, Omar and Slim Charles are rare characters on this show in that they know exactly who they are and don't try to be anything more or less.
  • I suppose Prop Joe qualifies in that category, too, which helps explain why he's still on top of the game at such an advanced age. Come to think of it, most of the guys in the co-op meeting looked significantly older than Avon, Stringer or Marlo. Maybe the west side is just young man's turf?
Lines of the week:
  • Royce on Carcetti: "He wants to go big dick with me, I'll show him one he can't handle."
  • Michael to the advancing dope fiends: "You need to rethink what putting your hand on me's gonna get you."
  • The entire exchange between Bunk and Beadie's kids about what to call McNulty ("Pops?" "No." "Dad?" "McNulty.")
  • Bodie to Slim Charles: "I'm standing here like an asshole holding my Charles Dickens."
  • Slim to Bodie: "See, the thing about the old days -- they the old days."
  • Deacon Melvin on Bunny's salary and perk demands: "I'd be amazed if they gave you 30, an HMO, and a bus pass."
  • Rawls telling Daniels he'll find Kima a Homicide spot: "For you, Major, let me see who I don't love no more."
  • Bunny to the angry 18-year-old: "Son, thanks for being you."
What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

I was wondering if we were meant to note a connection between Dukie repairing that little fan and Prop Joe's hobby/front/sideline repairing broken old appliances. Is this some kind of foreshadowing? Will Dukie grow up to become another Prop Joe?

Anonymous said...

Loved the show. Look forward to THE WIRE every week but I have to disagree on one point. I thought the "Omar is coming. Omar is here." thing was nine kinds of corny. I understand what they were going for and I appreciate how much of a bad-ass he is but it made me feel as if the writers took the stories of the local neighborhood tough guy a little too seriously. A guy like Omar would make people so uneasy they would clear the room, clear the block, for sure, but a chorus of kids shouting that he's coming. . . nuh uh. People would just leave, quietly, with maybe a subtle nod of the head to him (maybe not) but the shouting out didn't work at all for me. Quick question: Was he wearing a duster or was that my imagination? Loved every thing else, still nothing like this on TV, but Omar's theatrics could be scaled back just a bit and he'd still be effective and scary as hell.

Anonymous said...

anonymous said: A guy like Omar would make people so uneasy they would clear the room, clear the block, for sure, but a chorus of kids shouting that he's coming. . . nuh uh. >>>

Why not? They're lookouts; their primary job is to warn the bosses and other corner boys when the cops are coming. They pass along the same warning when Omar is coming. We've seen that depicted in in previous seasons, when he comes around the corner with a gun. *They* didn't know he didn't have his gun on him this time.

Anonymous said...

Just rings corny to me and it has from the first season. I love the over-the-top character and I understand the look-out boys doing their job but that one small element just never works and never has when it's done in relationship to Omar. And, again, if that was duster he was wearing it just adds to the corny pile-on

Anonymous said...

When did Carcetti commit adultery? I can't remember the context. Just wanted to verify this happened since it might turn out to be important vis-a-vis Royce's indiscretion.

Anonymous said...

Aw, the academic's concession about 18 to 21 year olds being too seasoned doesn't make line of the week?

Anonymous said...

"And, again, if that was duster he was wearing it just adds to the corny pile-on"

He was wearing a teal bedrobe, not a duster.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Carcetti had sex with a hot blonde he met at a charity event early last season, a scene most memorable because they did it in the hotel bathroom and Tommy spent the whole time looking at his reflection in the mirror. He also had a previous affair with his campaign manager, Theresa D'Agostino, though they didn't sleep together last season.

Anonymous said...

Bookkeeping detail: This was the third episode, not the fourth.

Anonymous said...

The duster question relates to the scene where they robbed the store. When Omar utters the great line, "That's why we get up in the morning." It looks like he's wearing a duster. Pretty obvious it was a teal bathroom in the first scene.

Anonymous said...

They've established Omar's interaction with the people in the neighborhoods he haunts since the first season. He is rarely seen out in public and when he is, everybody goes running (and lookouts go screaming, children often with a mixture of glee and terror of the well known legend).

I think the opening scene also established who Omar is when he's not on a blood-lust revenge quest. He's still the gun-happy stick-up man with a solid code of street ethics but he's also bored. He's spent a year mostly underground.

I'd be a little bored too.

Anonymous said...

"It's a sign of how great this show is that I want to subject myself to this stuff over and over and over again."

At this point I'm watching the episodes On Demand and watching them again on Sunday night.


The show just keeps piling on the parallels. This week it seemed all about recognizing potential: Bodie sees it in Michael (just as Cutty and Marlo have), Daniels and Omar see it in Greggs, Rawls sees it in Freamon, Bunk tries to determine if he sees it in McNulty, Royce sees it in Herc, Delegate Watkins wonders if he sees it in Carcetti...And, sadly, no one sees it in Dukie.

Now sure, Royce doesn't really see potential in Herc, but Royce is to Herc as Bodie is to Namond. Both Namond and Herc receive promotions based on who they are, not what they can do. Their promotions are based on formalities of a sort. This is in contrast to Greggs and Michael, both of whom have earned the attention they receive.

What's really interesting is the whole issue of how to cultivate a person's potential. Consider Delegate Watkins and Carcetti -- I believe Carcetti's actions at the funeral were sincere, but I also believe he knew the strategic value of passing on the news coverage with Delegate Watkins looking through the window, based on his comments to Norman.

Or consider Rawls and Freamon. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest Rawls actually sees some potential in Freamon -- potential he did not see in McNulty. Jimmy's good police, but Lester understands politics. Rawls clearly appreciated the Lester's gambit with Rhonda, and I think Rawls sees the value in keeping around a guy who knows how to get things done by forcing other people's hands (Lester) rather than getting in their faces (Jimmy).

And then there's Bodie and Michael. Now I know Marlo and Cutty will probably get more play with Michael in the episodes to come, but Bodie's recognition of Michael's potential really struck me, because I was really impressed with Bodie. The scenes with Michael, along with the scenes involving Marlo -- what a vengeance filled spit take that was -- made me realize that we've actually watched Bodie come into his own on this show. Bodie's never going to be a major player, but he's learned to be good at what he does, and when he reaches out to Michael it is not with a heavy hand. Marlo might tell Michael he could be a kingpin, Cutty might tell Michael he could be in the Golden Gloves, but all Bodie's suggesting is that slinging's a good way of making a living. In fact, in Bodie's world slinging is as good as it gets, and it's foolish for Michael to think he could do any better. It's actually the most depressing argument Michael's been offered, and I wonder how he'll respond. (In one of the Wire featurettes HBO aired, JD Williams makes the comment that "Bodie is Baltimore, and Baltimore is Bodie." I am beginning to see what he means, in terms of just how circumscribed Bodie's world is.)

And poor, poor, Dukie. Not only is the system failing him now, but even the novel support systems the show is building -- Cutty's gym, whatever Colvin's program will be at Tilghman -- aren't going to reach him since he's not even enough of a troublemaker to merit attention. If we're just going to watch Dukie's potential washed down the drain all season, it's going to be hard to take. Here's to hoping Prez steps up.


Anonymous said...

Yes, that was a duster. And I thought it was great. My guess would also be that Omar, in wearing the duster, (which is the first time we've seen him wearing it, I believe) might indicate that he is starting to buy into his own legend a little TOO much, which could bring about a fall...

And my girlfriend thought that one reason Dukie was fanning down the girl attacker, was because the girl who got cut was the same one who made fun of Dukie earlier in the ep for smelling so bad, and she moved to the other side of the room...Dukie fanning her was his way of saying "thanks" even though the attack had nothing to do with that...

Anonymous said...

Great posts, Alan and Anon! All I have to say is that I can't get over how wonderful The Wire is week to week.

Anonymous said...

Gah, I want Prez to adopt Dukie. He's so sweet.

Anonymous said...

Loved this episode. I agree with post#2 a little. Dropping the drugs at his feet just seems a little too contrived.

However, it was redeemed by the fact that Omar clearly wasn't enjoying himself.

Incidentally I think Dukie may be the best actor out of all the kids.

Anonymous said...

This probably doesn't mean anything to anyone except me, but I saw this episode before I saw any of "The Wire." I caught a rerun of it on the BET channel at like 2 in the morning one night. I didn't know what I was watching or who any of the characters were, but at the time, I was considering switching careers to being a Chicago Public School teacher, particularly in low-income areas.
After I saw this episode, I was so affected by it and terribly depressed, I stopped pursuing the job entirely.

Anonymous said...

It had the same effect on me too debbie.

As selfish as it sounds I wanted to just make money and live on the upper-crust. It scared the shit out of me.

Rachel said...

I've been waiting for this season; I have a friend who is a teacher in Baltimore public schools -- she had to file an assault charge on one of her students this year. Everything that happens rings so true for her stories.

Also, did anyone else get the feeling, when the girl who got cut was covering her face, and especially her eye -- I was sure that she'd lost her eye, the same way that the kid Prez had punched had lost his, and he was reembering that.

Angela said...

Alan asked if Bunk is right about McNulty being a lake trout (without the lake) or if we buy the new and improved McNulty.

I'm such an idealist, that I can't help but believe it. Or maybe it's just that I want to believe because we need these good outcomes in all this chaos. Just like we need Omar. But it's been over a year now and he's the one imposing restrictions on himself and not Beadie. I think McNulty has finally found his way home.

Someone made a good point in regards to Omar getting a bit too lax because of his stature. When he left his place without his gun because it didn't fit comfortably in his pajamas I was nervous until he got back home again.

It will be a sad night in my house if on any episode something bad happens to Omar. But I'm afraid it will because I'm learning how "The Wire" operates.

Anonymous said...

Enjoying these write ups and all the comments - way after the fact, of course.

As a public school teacher, I've been looking forward to/dreading this season, and indeed, those scenes with Prez lived up to that odd mix. The bulk of my students aren't hard cases like this, but any teacher can relate to the clash of idealism and reality. That's what your first year is all about. So hard to watch, but riveting.

I LOVED the professional development scene with the perky PowerPoint graphics and pointless acronyms. You can't make that stuff up. Clearly the writers (well, one anyway) has lived through meetings like this. I've never seen prof. development captured on any screen before and it made me want to shout from the mountaintops.

That they throw Prez into this mix with no preparation at all besides that - poor guy. Lamb to the slaughter, indeed.

Amy V

Anonymous said...

The Dukie scenes are so sad and painful.

Namond's mom being the biggest hypocryte as her son has all the trappings that come with being high up the drug food chain. Dukie is at the opposite end being the child of junkies and thus is not allowed into her house. The smell had something to do with it but she just seemed to be looking down her nose at him.

Phozo said...

HBO has been dribbling out the episodes 4 at a time On Demand and seeing this one again after so long I think it's one of the best (of the entire series, but also of season 4, considered by many the "best"). As Alan notes in his original review, the return of Omar and Bunny, killer Richard Price lines, and the 4 kids' characters getting revealed. There's also the growing menace of Marlo, Chris, and Snoop, the dissipation of the MCU, Carcetti's rise... a jam-packed hour, great TV.

Kathleen Taylor said...

Way late to the game- I think McNulty is trying, but he's still McNulty, so he'll find a way to mess it up.

With Prez, it's like watching Up the Down Staircase (which I recently reread).

Unknown said...

I just want to say that I am reading these in 2021! Thanks Alan! I almost tagged you on Twitter to say it but I read these when I watched it the first time (like 2015ish?) and am reading them again in 2021. Thanks! Also I like your podcast!