Hothouse of honor

Found a way to fit #41 into my busy day off, and am now faced with the realization that we’ve been speaking on a narrative that’s barely off the ground. As heady as the first three episodes were, I can safely say that I’m now certifiably dizzy and stunned by where this is all headed. Before I get into my fairly narrow point, I want you all to know that 1) David Simon’s readership will not change H&H and 2) Colvin’s stroll through the school played a lot like Bubbles’ descent into Hamsterdam.

As much as it’s become a cliche to say that The Wire blurs the distinction between good and evil, cops and robbers, or order and chaos, my personal take is that it’s all a matter of honor. “Good police” don’t merely solve cases; they also do so in a way that commands the respect of their peers. As we’ve seen time and time again on the street side of things, the g-code is both the key to surivival and the structure that keep the game from imploding. Even Omar, the show’s very own non-traditional combatant, seems intent on abiding by his principles and respecting the past; hence his bizarre ability to stay alive, when the less cavalier Stringer’s downfall was brought about by his amorality.

For all this hub-bub about parallel systems of valor, it’s been largely unclear whether there’s any intersection here between the streets and the law. There was Colvin’s half-dreamt meeting with Stringer, and the ongoing slapstick routine that is Bodie vs. Herc/Carver. Otherwise, I have trouble thinking of examples where these two ways of making truth have come into collision with each other, if only symbolically. If drug dealers, police, and likely politicians share a common template, it’s only at the most basic, stem-cell-in-a-bank-vault, level. Practically speaking, the basic clash in goals keeps them from speaking the same moral language, something made into bleak comedy when Omar had his day in court.

Here, though, Cutty from the Cut might be the cipher, or Rosetta Stone, we so sorely need. There’s no doubt that he still carries the streets within him; last season, we saw him rep for the old order against Fruit, and command the eternal approval of Avon and Slim even as he exited the organization. And just as Colvin’s professional background makes him academia’s ear to the realness, Cutty can reach the corner boys because he carries weight in both worlds. In Season 3, this seemed like a transitional phase in the life of a man reformed. At this point, though, Cutty’s looking more and more like the show’s great hope for change, the prototype for the kind of role model who can communicate with at-risk kids without forcing them to compromise themselves.

The implications of this are pretty fucking amazing. Rather than simply validate the authentic cop, this implies that yes, there is some worth in the way of the criminal element. Not as anti-heroes, or metaphors, or mistranslated examples of what could have been. Instead, Cutty points toward our friendly neighborhood drug gang as containing some valuable advice on inner city masculinity. Nowhere was this more evident then when Mr. Wise observes Randy’s interrogation in the principal’s office. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Randy, while a decent kid, is as soft as his physique, and lacks the grit that draws Cutty to Michael and Justin. He thrives on the discipline of his foster mom, and seems fairy detached from his friends’ flirations with dealing. They post up on the corner, he hustles candy. Nothing wrong with him as a person, but he’s not the type Cutty’s out to save. This scene only made explicit the connection between who Cutty chooses to train and whose behavior in adolescent environment synchs up with a certain version of manhood.

On the other hand, emergent golden child Michael is the missing link between Cutty and Marlo, the proud youngster who fits perfectly into either the gym or the game. Granted, his behavior at the fights suggests that might not be this monolithic, and the “coming scenes” have me wondering if he’s less stable than we think. For now, though, that both men see Michael as their pet project tells us a lot about how much they have in common—and how both have to be understand as having unequivocally positive qualities. Then again, with Marlo’s crew looking more mindlessly sinister than ever, and the Prince of Darkness himself beginning to let his emotions get the best of him, this paragraph may not make sense for much longer. Hopefully Prop Joe will intervene and redeem this line of reasoning.

Actually, even if Marlo does start to unravel, that Michael resembles him and his most impressive is consistent with the “Marlo represents wasted potential” interpretation. Marlo is street character corrupted and misused, but deep down inside looks a lot like Michael, or could conceivably parlay with Cutty. As far as I know, no cop—not even that rogue McNulty, or Bunk on a bench with Omar—could ever achieve that commonality. And I, for one, have zero problem thinking that the streets might have an equal or greater version of inner goodness on its side.

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20 Comments on “Hothouse of honor”

  1. p-city Says:

    I checked out #41 today. And I agree with you that this season is fantastic. (I’ll leave it at that… no spoilers.)

    I just finished reading Elijah Anderson’s, StreetWise. He devotes a lot of pages to the informal educational network that is made up of who he calls the “old heads.” These are the older guys – outside of the system – who pass on values to the next generation. What Simon is doing brilliantly is pointing out the kids in tough neighborhoods have not “turned their backs” on education. Instead, they have simply transferred to a new school district. The new districts are places where guys like Marlo are the principals and guys like Bodie take attendance and hand out assignments.

    It will be interesting to see where Cutty goes this year.

  2. Shoals Says:

    if i had to pick out the show’s old heads, they would be people like cutty, butchie, prop joe. people you’d actually call wise.

    bodie and marlo strike me as precocious, both given way more responsibility and clout than they should have at their age. i wonder if it’s a testament to something about the war on drugs that that middle generation of avon and stringer seems largely absent at this point.

  3. ReverendDrGladhands Says:

    Could it be so simple as the “middle generation” is incarcerrated or dead? Marlo goes in. Cutty comes out. The Stringers and Avons are anomalies.

  4. Shoals Says:

    well yeah, obviously they’re locked up or dead. the question is whether they were always locked up or dead with such frequency that the marlos and bodies were out on their own so young.

    btw it’s still strange to me that marlo talks to bodie like he’s a promising youngster. i guess i really don’t get how old/young marlo is supposed to be, at least not unless i think about it

  5. mutoni Says:

    I had watched some of this show the last couple of years, but had never really devoted to it the time it so richly deserves. This weekend, I buckled down and watched all of season 1. Fucking amazing! If anyone doesn’t think this is the best thing on TV, well, they need to get their heads checked.

    I’m starting season 2 tonight. I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner. Inexcusable.
    This blog is brilliant, and I’m glad you’re not spoiling future episodes for me (well, not too much anyway).

    And as a commenter said here a little while back, I’m picky in who I choose to promote this show to. I’m extremely protective of it. It’s as if I’m scared some dipshit won’t like it and I’ll be forced to never speak to them again. I know I’m not alone or crazy in thinking like this…

  6. Shoals Says:

    this sentiment got put best by h&h affiliate (and occasional contributor) anya kamenetz, in a huffpo piece that is also probably responsible for our biggest surge yet in new readers. and yes, that’s me described as her “pusher-friend.”

  7. christycash Says:

    Not sure that I agree that Marlo represents wasted potential — I see Marlo as being a parasite in the way that the game is a parasite on the streets; his henchmen are vultures circulating around Michael. How can we even talk about what Marlo is “deep down inside” when he has one expression — that long stare — and one mode — cool remove? The Wire has shown us a lot of models of different kinds of criminal organizations — the family hierarchy a la Barksdale; the hapless dudes, a la White Mike; the loner holding the corner, making smart moves, a la Bodie. To me, Marlo is the apotheosis of the game — he’s its most sadistic incarnation; he is motivated only by money, not ties of loyalty or family; he preys on children. He doesn’t want to join the co-op, because he doesn’t give a shit about anything — not even the idea of a cartel. He’s not motivated by the idea of an extended mob family. He’s out for himself. And to get farther, he’s tailing Michael, trying to pull him down into the game, which, we’ve established, does not have the greatest survival record.

    This is putting it a bit strongly, but I”m trying to make the case.

    Also, is anyone else amazed by Marlo’s ET fingers? I love it.

  8. tecmorose Says:

    Marlo is wasted potential, much as Chief Wiggum of Simpson’s fame should have been the finest cop of his generation were it not for his stereotypical yearning for doughnuts and laziness. D$#n cartoons!!!

  9. Shoals Says:

    in one of those half hour documentaries, simon or someone else said that “wasted potential” was a major theme, with marlo being the most glaring case of this. like it takes so much to get where he is at his age; imagine if that had been applied elsewhere?

  10. christycash Says:

    Oh, that kind of wasted potential… I see. So he’s wasted potential in the sense of being a person, not in the sense of us having seen him do something else and then throw it away. I suppose, in my viewing, Marlo himself is not an example of wasted potential so much as one who, in a position of power, may cause others waste their own potentials. I just can’t work up any sympathy for Marlo. I want him to fail, whereas I wanted Avon and Stringer to succeed. Maybe this will change as the season continues.

  11. trackMark Says:

    Shoals said: “in one of those half hour documentaries, simon or someone else said that “wasted potential” was a major theme, with marlo being the most glaring case of this. like it takes so much to get where he is at his age; imagine if that had been applied elsewhere?”

    Marlo is great at making bodies disappear… Just imagine how far he’d make it in the Baltimore P.D.!! He’d probably make commissioner by 30.

  12. Ghlade Says:

    “Good police don’t merely solve cases; they also do so in a way that commands the respect of their peers. As we’ve seen time and time again on the street side of things, the g-code is both the key to surivival and the structure that keep the game from imploding.”

    While I think this is true to an extent, I think S3 was pretty critical of the g-code and the overweening pride of police. It serves as the main obstacle to institutional reform inside the drug trade or out of it, and in excess can lead to personal ruin.

    Take the beautifully counter-pointed scenes of Stringer announcing Hampsterdam to the police of the Western and Stringer talking about the new world order of cooperation. When Stringer announces that the Barksdales will be bargaining for territory rather than taking it, one of the first questions is, “Is the chair aware that we’re going to look like bunch of bitches?” Likewise, the rank and file of the Western don’t care about the damage the game ostensibly does to the community, the difficulty of implementing reform, etc. No, the real reason the everyday police object(and ultimately compromise the reform program) is because they think they’ll lose face by letting the little hoppers hop.

    McNulty’s pride, perhaps better earned, does him no favors either. It propells him from one meaningless case to the next and exacerbates his worst tendencies. It takes the death of Stringer and the realization that these cases “mean exactly shit” to get his life on the right track – for now at least. As a more extreme example, Avon’s sense of honor brings down his whole family in a misguided war over reputation and respect. It seems to me that the writers are trying to say in S3 that honor is probably the biggest obstacle to “making sense of this game.” Reform is achievable, but only on the individual level. McNulty and Cutty are able to find personal redemption, but only after putting that shit behind them.

    Of course, I think S4 will largely be about how not everyone has that opportunity.

  13. Shoals Says:

    well, this goes back to the question of how many character really, truly stand for what it means to be police or a gangster. bunk, avon, omar, lester, prop joe, bodie, slim charles, kima, cutty, daniels are who i have in mind.

  14. Shoals Says:

    another detail that may resurface: dukie sometimes takes care of marlo’s birds

  15. jhoshea Says:

    yeah is marlo dukie’s uncle or what?

    i’m thinking marlo’s lifespan is going to tell us a lot about how the show really feels about the mechanisms of a the game – a parasite has to keep its host alive to eat. is marlo just too foul? is the street going to puke him out, or is he the evolutionary ideal? although he seems hell bent, it’s not like he’s never shown any restraint – taking his package off the street during the barksdale war comes to mind. he’s also a determined student, as evidenced by the poker scenario – which also gave us a glimpse of why chris is the subordinate.

    so marlo’s thinking big and playing the edge, but he’s not actually cocky, rather honing his ability to be in harmony with his environment while simultaneously dominating it. obv walking this razor’s edge is dangerous and ultimately fatal – but i’m thinking marlo’s run is going to be longer than it’s seeming right now.

  16. Shoals Says:

    #41 SPOILER ALERT: that whole thing with the security guard, and the possible slip-up that it engendered, seem to me marlo’s going too far. then again, i thought that his initial confrontation with michael was that, too, and that ended up being part of his master plan to recruit talent.

  17. Shoals Says:

    okay, also, how much older than bodie is marlo supposed to be? i misremembered “big paws on a puppy” as being directed at bodie, not michael. apparently i was wrong, though, so now it’s all a mess for me.

    notice that i’ve buried this. i have to confess it/get it out there, but am not exactly stoked about sharing this misstep with the public

  18. jhoshea Says:

    i’d guess marlo is 25 and bodie is 20 – not a huge gap, but marlo’s insistence on son-ing bodie at every turn seems to be a recognition of the need to tamp bodie’s juice.

    what i meant by asking if marlo was evolution or what is: most bad guys, if they kill the security guard, do it as an example. the block knows and likely thinks dude is overreacting, possibly having the opposite of the intended effect. but marlo actually did it for revenge, then hid the body. he’s understood d’angelo’s dictum from season one – the police come for the bodies – demonstrating that he’s smarter and more disciplined than almost everyone else that’s every held his post, willing to sacrifice some pr to shore up his long term prospects. he knows he’s seeing the game at a different level – hence what’s looked like arrogance in refusing to join the collective is just the understanding that he can’t get with those who can’t see his vision (everyone); reminding me a lot of hearst in deadwood – boy the game talks to.

    oh and I AM SO PSYCHED FOR OMAR V MARLO!!! IT IS SO ON OMG!!!

  19. jhoshea Says:

    loved omar’s gun-pointing skills in the poker heist – dude is butter.

  20. Shoals Says:

    omar/marlo is the show’s two super-heroes facing off. inevitable, glorious, and a little extravagant. no way that narrative can hold both of those figures for two long without straining its realism.

    j, we’ll just have to agree to disagree here. i saw taking out the security guard as unnecessary and undisciplined. though maybe he had to do something, and disappearing the guy was preferable to a public of example of any kind, even if it was less severe. that’s fucking cold.

    i’ll repeat, however, that i don’t think snoop’s sloppiness was meant to be insignificant.

    why all this talk of marlo as a parasite? isn’t omar the more obviously parasitic one?


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