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.

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18 Comments on “Real estate of the unreal”

  1. HC Says:

    Marlo doesn’t seem invincible – as Lester noted, his organization just doesn’t have any idea of what a wiretap can do to them. So far, he’s got one trick – a good pair of killers and good disposal technique. It’s a good trick, but he’ll need more than that and a cold stare to keep things from crumbling. He’s built an empire from scratch, but I wouldn’t bet on it lasting very long at all.

  2. Kenya Says:

    I, too, think that Marlo seems less than invincible. He looks too much to me like a small-time dealer adjusting to the newfound wealth of the West Baltimore drug trade. He acquired this stranglehold largely as the only player left standing with muscle and organization after the Barskdale crew fell. He didn’t even vanquish the Barskdale crew, but rather benefitted from their mistakes, i.e. the lattitude that Stringer allowed him, the dissenssion between Stringer, Barksdale and their respective supporters in the organization. Sure, he must have out-smarted and out-fought the remnants of the Barksdale people and, perhaps, other independents. However, this is not yet the stuff of legend. I wonder if Marlo is an amalgamation of the young Stringer and the young Avon.

    While I love an Omar sighting, I’ve found the recent Omar sightings incredulous. He stands next to a stoop and the drugs just drop down to him. He is a little too much of a super-hero or super-villain to be believed at this point. He seems so far removed from the Omar of the first season who really had to watch his back and who was derided for his homosexuality. He’s more god than man at this point, which is a bit disappointing, but given the quality of the show, I don’t expect that to last.

  3. Shoals Says:

    my “marlo is invincible” line comes out of a few thing:

    1) the view, which i’ve trumpeted forever, that he’s avon + string
    2) the conversation on here the other day about how he’s the most perfectly evolved dealer
    3) his incredible arrogance as his personal and narrative raison d’etre, and how well that’s worked for him so far
    4) how much he seems to live by ths and this alone
    5) that if it weren’t at least somewhat the case, he would come off like as much of a chump as his employee in #41

  4. jhoshea Says:

    dudez i’m w/shoals on this one – marlo’s instinct is so in the zone right now. example: sure he got lucky w/good timing in the barksdale war – but he sensed weakness and pushed his advantage, didn’t need to know all the facts. and in fact, if yr relying too much on information (a la stringer), yr gonna get fucked. you’ll never have it all, got to let yr intuition fill in the blanks, deconstruct complexity too great for the conceptual mind. this is why all the poker in the last ep, a game of incomplete info (and see how marlo loves to sharpen his game) – unless, of course, yr the mayor w/a stacked deck (honor among thieves but certainly not politicians).

    shoals – as far as the security guard being un/necessary – if yr an ordinary dude (prop joe say) sure its pointless, cruel and dumb – but if yr marlo, just rolling w/it, never looking back – the question can’t even arise. dude plays on a different level (but of course that badge is gonna come back on him – no matter how brilliant, can’t win this game).

    also, i’d add rawls to that superhero list.

  5. jhoshea Says:

    as for omar v – i could see omar taking one and then we’re all oh he was just a really canny dude not supernatural after all.

  6. trackMark Says:

    Great post, and I agree that the confrontation between Marlo and Oman is inevitable.

    The Wire achieves some of its best moments when “stark realism” is momentarilly transcended.


    – The Hamsterdam scenario, while grounded in historical precedent (I learned that from this blog!), was shot almost likea medieval painting of the last judgement.

    – The stark but (I think) highly unrealistic Brother Mouzone

    And as David Simon says in one of the mini-documentaries currently showing on HBO On Demand, humor plays an important part in breaking up the realism in almost every scene. We haven’t talked much about that element of the show, but I laugh more while watching The Wire than I do during most comedies.

  7. Shoals Says:

    i touched on the humor element here, suggesting that it might be a function of viewers’ various desires to be down, in the know, etc. having the right to laugh in/at these settings and situations.

    littleman pointed out to me last night that the good brother m. belongs in this category, hence the photo at bottom as precedent for marlo/omar. he also observed that the greek and his gang walked on water, implying that anyone not somehow screwed up must not originate in baltimore

  8. trackMark Says:

    “i touched on the humor element here, suggesting that it might be a function of viewers’ various desires to be down, in the know, etc. having the right to laugh in/at these settings and situations.”

    The humor certainly does play a role in making the viewer feel like he or she is an insider– but I don’t think that reflects on the psychology of the viewer. As I pointed it, the writers say its an important part of their narrative strategy.

  9. Lokar Says:

    I’m still not so sure about seeing Marlo as a combination of Stringer and Avon. I think he should be seen as an entity unlike anything else seen on the Wire previously. To use a rough analogy, I’m going to evoke the popular conception* of the Fall of the Roman Empire, as in the thinking that the Empire tore itself apart (as the Barksdale Organization did) and in come the Goths to take over. They tried to fashion themselves as Roman Emperors, but lacked the understanding on how to do so. Marlo was a real threat, but he only gained the power in the West Side he has now because he saw an opportunity…the crumbling infrastructure of the mighty Empire allowed him to sack West Baltimore.

    And thus, I do think he’s in a bit over his head. Here he parallels Omar, I think. Omar’s obsession with the Barksdale gang caused the death of one his people in the third season, and as the opening scene in the third episode showed, he’s not quite over the loss I don’t think. Now it really is all about who you’re stealing from, not what you steal. Thinking like that puts him in a vulnerable position, and as soon as I he said that (coupled with the robbery of the card game), I had a real sinking feeling in my stomach.

    Killing the security guard strikes me as odd. I can’t quite reconcile whether it is part of Marlo’s character or merely something to service the narrative (on two levels, mind…1.) the possiblity of that cast off badge and 2.) to emphasize even the slightest insult to Marlo means real trouble). In the first episode, when discussing with his soldiers about what to do with Lex, he consults Chris with a look as to whether to kill the whole corner crew or just Lex. Chris doesn’t see it as being worth the risk, so Marlo opts just to kill Lex alone. I’m surprised Chris didn’t rein him in on the security guard issue. It seems like an unnecessary risk. Though we obviously don’t know what many of those bodies they dropped previously were done for, so maybe Marlo is generally that fickle.

    At the end of the day, Marlo isn’t quite the mastermind that the Barksdale boys were, and had Freamon not followed the money, they probably could have taken him down ever so slightly faster. And as wonderful as Omar is, he is deeply flawed in come very dangerous areas.

    However, the Wire isn’t big enough for both Omar and Marlo, and I for one can’t wait for the showdown, even if I’m having to pace around the room when it actually happens in nervous anticipation of the outcome.

  10. Lokar Says:

    I forgot to qualify the “*” — Just wanted to say I’m fully aware of the unending academic debate about what really happened with the “Fall” or “Transformation” of the Roman Empire, I just think that the popular culture conception works here.

  11. Shoals Says:

    granted this goes on the MARLO IS GOD assumption, but maybe he sees that bodie could be useful.

  12. Lokar Says:

    Marlo’s excuse for not killing the whole corner was that he didn’t care about some over-the-hilltop corner that was dead anyway. Bodie made that corner work (probably due to the superior package, and I’m wondering if this will come up if the numbers start to fall with Marlo’s stuff), and then Marlo took notice and decided he wanted it. I really don’t think Bodie registered on Marlo’s radar during the Lex incident.

  13. Shoals Says:

    i don’t think you can underestimate the degree to which bodie found a way to make it work, which means he could be an even more valuable resoruce with marlo’s shitty package

  14. jhoshea Says:

    marlo wasn’t consulting chris, they were just sharing a private chuckle @ hot-head wanting to murk the whole crew without reason.

  15. pyrex chapman Says:

    i’m not sure if i’m ready to adopt the marlo as string/avon amalgamation. he doesn’t seem to possess string’s high-minded pursuit of going legit nor avon’s sense of warrior honor. in fact, it’s hard to tell if he really has any ambitions at all, other than dominating his side of town; there’s no backstory about escaping poverty, no family he provide for, no close friendships or meaningful interaction with anyone other than the mentor in the rims shop. he’s interesting and frightening because of this apparent lack of humanity, but also seems somewhat flat as a character. judging from last episode, marlo is basically someone who succeeded as a dealer because he loves competition and the thrill of the game. like 50 cent, ascent and underdog stature suit him far better than the throne. his amazingly shrewd violence (the idea that his minions have managed to quietly dispatch of every enemy in a boarded up rowhouse instead of getting in an occasional shootout is kind of comical) has been so effective that he, as a warlike man, has only himself to attack. unless, of course, he’s got omar to hunt.

  16. Sean Says:

    Marlo doesn’t exactly hunt Omar, though. We’ll see in a few episodes what Marlo’s plan is, and I don’t know what to make of it.

  17. curricane Says:

    I’m writing this much later than the post or any of the comments were written, but I have to say that I can’t agree with Marlo being Avon+Stringer. When Avon and Stringer were in serious hot water, they eliminated obvious threats but as far as their close allies (Wee Bey, Bird, etc.) there was never a discussion of offing them. Although this hasn’t been proven…yet, there is no doubt in my mind that ANYONE, including Chris or Snoop would be got by Marlo if he thought for a second they could hurt him or his empire.

  18. lffixzhsmq Says:

    old mom masterbating

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