Thursday, February 21, 2008

"You start out thinking you're the hero, but then..."

Do you watch the best TV show on right now? Yeah, that's right, I'm talking about The Wire.

Here's the thing: Don't read this unless you've been watching The Wire through HBO On Demand.


Stop right now.

Because some major shit happens on the latest episode, "Clarifications."

"The Body" kind of shit.

And if the last episode you've seen is the one that aired last Sunday ("Took"), you do not want to know this.


Bookmark this, but don't come back and read it until you see the next episode.


Have I used up enough space so that this doesn't just pop up in the RSS feed? I hope so. I'll add a few more line breaks.

Okay. It was painful enough when Marlo and crew took out Butchie, but at least that brought back Omar.

Marlo's murder of Prop Joe was more of a shock. This little punk who we know next to nothing about is taking out characters we've lived with for years like it's nothing. It's only right that we root for Omar as he terrorizes Marlo's organization, and since it's Omar we're talking about, we know it's only a matter of time before he gets medieval on Marlo's ass.

Except that this is The Wire we're watching.

A few weeks ago, the show did something that pulled me out and made me question it, which is really rare for The Wire. Omar, in full-on revenge mode against Marlo, jumps out of a fifth story window to escape gunmen. We see him fly out the window, but when they look for him, he's just gone. Disappeared.


Is Omar a frigging superhero now? This is something that might fly in your run-of-the-mill action movie, but not on my Wire. My Wire is too good for that. So the episode ended without an answer as to what happened to Omar and I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they would explain the following week in a way that didn't piss me off.

Not so much.

When Omar next appears he has a limp, and it's clear that he's in a world of pain, but... Five stories! I'm not saying it's impossible for someone to survive a fall like this. In fact, I'm positive if I researched I'd find a number of tales about people being just fine. But. This is like one of those things you get in a college writing workshop where everyone tells the writer that something about their story is unbelievable and the writer says, "Oh, yeah, well it really happened to my cousin." Yeah, and? The real world and the fictional world don't work under the same rules. If you're writing a story, you still have to make me believe it, and in this regard with the Omar-superhero thing, the Wire writers didn't.

Which is not to say that if wasn't fun watching Omar limping around and still terrorizing people. In an exaggerated, somewhat ridiculous way, he really had become a superhero. The man's on one leg and people run away in fear. The Legend of Omar. He had become an unstoppable mythical creature. Like I said: fun.

But not what I'd come to expect from The Wire. Then Dennis Lehane schooled me with "Clarifications."

And it wasn't because he had an 8-year-old hopper shoot Omar dead with a headshot while he was buying a pack of cigarettes. That part just left me shocked and a little cold. And, truth be told, annoyed. This is our payoff? You're kidding, right? Answer: No and no. Omar really is dead, but that most definitely isn't the payoff.

The payoff is the other hoppers all leaving little souvenirs with Omar's body. In tribute? In defiance? Who knows.

The payoff is Alma telling Gus about a 34-year-old African-American being shot dead by a little boy in a convenience store and Gus deciding the paper doesn't have enough room to print the story.

The payoff is the coroner looking at two dead bodies at the end of the episode and realizing someone switched the nametags -- Omar, our modern day Robin Hood and legendary ghetto hero, has so little importance in the real world that they almost bury him under the wrong name.

And the payoff is McNulty confessing his serial killer scheme to Beadie and seeming genuinely regretful and trapped by his own vices and devices: "You start out thinking you're the hero, but then..." And her response isn't sympathy, but to shut the door in his face and tell him, quite correctly, that he had no right to make that decision and put himself in that position. The implication being, "This is my life and my kids' lives you're screwing with here too."

How frakking brilliant.

They build Omar up as an unstoppable hero because they want to deconstruct that myth and show how the world we live in and the systems we've put in place to organize and run our lives don't allow for heroes. Not in the end. In the end, we'll still be at the mercy of people who know nothing about us. Newspaper editors who decide a fire is more important than our murder. Civil servants who see our death as just another body and pay so little attention that we get tagged with the wrong name.

In the end, isn't that what The Wire has always been about?

1 comment:

Granty said...

Some interesting points, well made. I guarantee the series will end with a perfectly pitched mixture of hope and despair, spread across the characters and storylines - just like real life. That will be a fitting denouement to a show whose abiltity to depict a chunk of real America has to be it's crowning achievement. It's more glorious because this is achieved relentlessly through the core of everything that happens. Immaculate, sublime and, I choose this overused word carefully, but correctly - awesome!