Real estate of the unreal
Here at H&H, we’ve more or less realized that interest in reading a Sunday-night-show-themed blog will decline as the week progresses. The big guns should be wheeled out on M-W, and Th-F reserved for ephemera and other great diversions. There within me stirs, however, something so central to this season, something so integral to the way I see the micro-verse of The Wire, that I’m going to break my own brand new rule. It concerns everyone’s two favorite supra-figures, and the cosmic implications of the two of them sharing the same program for much longer.
Put simply, The Wire is not big enough for both Marlo and Omar. As CC noted yesterday, Omar more or less stalks a make-believe world, in which homosexuality hinders not his fearsome rep, his tight-knit crew is invincible, and his whim dictates city-wide drug trade policy. Of course, all of this is unabashedly true, making Omar one of the few characters on The Wire who defies the show’s insistence on stark realism. It’s been said that Omar is more myth than man, more urban legend than rendered individual; while I agree with this reading, you have to wonder how we’re then to understand his intersections with the less ethereal beings in the narrative.
The equally unstoppable Marlo seems to now verge on this hallowed terrain. Impossibly cocky, shrewd and determined, he’s the closest we’ve seen to the perfect criminal. So far this season, there have been hints that he might be overreaching, or that this unprecedented badness might be one long delusion on his part. As of #41, though, we viewers have no reason to believe that Marlo’s not at least a decent fraction of the model kingpin he’s seemingly styled himself as. And even if his form of perfection seems more deliberate than Omar’s felicitous stash house tour, Young Stanfield is still set up as someone close to achieving his ideal.
Of course, this in some ways seems at odds with the rest of The Wire in which the very notion of “perfection” is a ruse designed to replace complexity with invidious “imperfection.” Few characters on the show could, in their functional capacity as police, administrators, criminals, or politicans, be described as effortlessly, seamlessly fulfilling their role’s basic duties. In fact, if one compares almost anyone else to the sheer mastery that is Omar or Marlo, only Lester and Prop Joe come off as anything less than distracted, even bumbling. The point, though, is that humanizing these societal roles also involves looking at the toll they take on individuals, the ways in which men and women are sometimes forced to confront subtleties and complications that aren’t in the job description. This doesn’t even begin to discuss the effect that one’s personal life can have on the professional routine; the rise and fall of Jimmy McNulty, Super Cop, bears out just how paltry a Law and Order-style existence really would be.
The imminent Omar/Marlo showdown, then, confuses me for a number of reasons. On one level, it’s fucking awesome; on another, it seems to foreground the two characters least representative of the show’s way with fiction. I can’t lie, the two of them are striking in ways that Stringer, for all his gravitas, was simply too pathos-laden to ever be. Yet does this battle between two creatures from beyond the pale of realism confound The Wire‘s atmopshere, turning it into a playground for figments of the urban fantastic?
I’ve come to the conclusion that, in an almost Greek fashion, Omar and Marlo simply have to tangle. The show won’t allow for two characters rendered thus, they are the mirror image of each other in spooky charisma, and everyone else seems powerless to do a thing about either of them. Granted, this is an incredibly naive read on this, and I wouldn’t count out Simon and co. deconstructing someone in the next episode or two. But at least for this brief moment, as we sit wondering where their rancor is headed, I’m inclined to see the end of #41 in this light. If Omar is the ghetto Robin Hood, Marlo is the greatest scourge upon the inner city we’ve yet seen. As of now, both characters are more or less untenable; only in collision, then, can one or both of them be rendered mortal.