“Bleak to a fault?”

This goes off of #45. All #44 needs can be addressed by this post. 

As I believe I’ve let on in previous posts, my Season 4 experience has been irrevocably jacked up by spoilers. Although I did my best to avoid anything that smacked of them, one errant click was all it took for me to learn about what’s likely this cycle’s most pivotal event. Since then, I’ve been trying to come to terms with what I’ve lost, and thrashing myself for feeling so diminished. I don’t think H&H would exist were I not the kind of television watcher who thinks himself above mere surprise; anyone who has ever helped a Wire novice get his wings, or gone to see a film for a second time, probably harbors similar feelings. And the truth is, I watched Seasons 1 and 2 after I first got down with 3; knowing that D’Angelo got offed didn’t make it any easier to watch, and it wouldn’t have taken a genius to get that he was a martyr figure from the jump. The same went for Stringer’s demise, which was a cathartic moment despite the Times’s best effort to scoop fiction.

There’s also the fact that, as we all know, things pretty much always end up shit for everyone involved in our most beloved series. You can count on one hand the number of truly positive outcomes in the program’s history: stripper redeemed, Lester raised from the depths, Daniels as star, Daniels with Perlman, and possibly Jimmy gone soft. Other than that, everything can, and will, go wrong at some point. We don’t know exactly who, how and when, but as elusive internet icon Rocco Chappelle put it in a email, “people are going to die; plots are going to be foiled by incompetence, self-interest, and general chicanery”

While we may not know exactly which Boy of Summer will catch serious misery, or how it will unfold, there’s no mistaking we’re going to get our hearts pulped by season’s end. Spoilers can only hurt us so much, since we know most parties involved are doomed. Cops get fucked, criminals die, anyone with a soul gets crushed. The mechanics of plot and character that land them there, and watching it all so masterfully play out, are the real meat of the matter.

The Wire might not necessarily be predictable, but its utter pessimism and unfaltering belief in institutional tyranny doesn’t leave a lot of breathing room for humanity. At the same time, developing some of the most vivid characters in the history of the moron box puts the invested viewer in near-sadistic situation: share their world, then have it wrung out of you. I can’t help but wonder if plot doesn’t somehow serve to mitigate the anguish, since it allows you to hold out hope until the final, shiftily-delivered punch.

That’s not to downplay the complexity of these real-like situations, or suggest that I ever know what’s coming. But there’s certainly something paradoxical about a program gashed with plot twists that nevertheless operates under a basic fatalistic presumption. Perhaps it’s that we learn about ruin by witnessing various paths to it; on a generic level, all of these stories are the same. What imbues them with meaning, though, is the people behind them, and their fairly futile choices and interpretations.

(Of course, this depends on how much you think The Wire’s invested in the serial structure—“visual novel” would seem to say no—and  whether or not slow-burning can be read as a narrative decision, not a recipe for viewer titillation and agony.)

The arrival of Michael’s abusive stepfather was almost a relief—here was the molester we’d so frequently asked after, and now all of a sudden one of the four kids seemed fast-tracked for disaster. The scenes from next, where we see him reaching out to Marlo, were both stunning and, once you saw them, sadly obvious. Cutty, Prez. . . none of them actually have any power to wrest these teens from the jaws of crisis. The more you see Namond treating his grind like a fluffy rite of passage, right down to employing babies and whining at his mother about “wanting to build,” the more you realize how insulated his life is. Dukie suffers more from neglect than deliberate mistreatment; perhaps suspiciously, Prez has been able to turn him from stinky, world-weary creep to beaming, social creature, albeit one whose development seems a little arrested.

Michael’s stepfather, though, is about the darkest, most chilling kind of creature we’ve yet seen on the show; when a force like this shows up, it makes perfect sense to come running to evil incarnate. Michael doesn’t just need a role model, or encouragement—he’s facing his own version of the devil, and lord knows you fight monstrosity with monstrosity. Of all of the young’uns, Michael has the most advanced understanding of The Game; he’s also pragmatic enough to get that going to Marlo might just be his only guaranteed option

Just in case everyone’s slitting their hands right about now, I hope I’m not the only one who took note of Chris’s choice in footwear:

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26 Comments on ““Bleak to a fault?””

  1. doug Says:

    Good post, but I’m curious about this:

    Maybe I missed something, but how do we know he’s a molester and not just a drug addict? I’m not saying you’re wrong but it seems like we’re jumping to conclusions here.

  2. doug Says:

    Oops, I forgot to paste your quote…My bad. I was responding to this comment:

    Michael’s stepfather, though, is about the darkest, most chilling kind of creature we’ve yet seen on the show

  3. Shoals Says:

    i’m just going on what we’ve been assuming about michael up to this point, his sudden change in mood around the guy, overprotectiveness of bug, recoiling at the touch, weird excessive amount of flesh dude had exposed. . . from the second that guy showed up, i was 100% sure that he was michael’s tormentor.

    oh, and i think that parasitic, child-molesting junkies are worse than murderous drug lords. at least there’s a code of the streets, and some “driven to it by the cold world” rationale behind even someone like marlo.

  4. doug Says:

    I agree…and good points, Shoals. It makes perfect sense, though I didn’t catch it right away.

  5. Shoals Says:

    for some reason i’d initially written “snoop’s choice in footwear,” and was then corrected by this person i live with. of course, chris wearing clogs is even more outrageous.

    and while i’m talking about chris and snoop, what the fuck did it mean that snoop knew nothing about baltimore house? is she supposed to have done nothing her whole life but hustle and kill? or is the joke just that the most baltimore actor on the show played a scene where her character improbably didn’t know a regional signature?

    were we supposed to be left with the impression that chris hits the club and snoop doesn’t? why do i keep thinking about calamity jane in deadwood?

    this relates somehow to that time marlo went to a bar.

  6. PostmanE Says:

    I think it’s safe to say the arrival is a molester. I thought perhaps the abuse was purely violent and not physical, but the last scene with Bug, combined with the creepy touch thing during the father’s reintroduction, pretty much sealed the deal.

  7. jeremy Says:

    I was somewhat confused about snoops ignorance of baltimore’s music scene, and the best hypothesis I could come up with was she’s grown in a such a fucked up way that she’s never even been exposed to “street” culture. Where do people listen to the radio? Mostly in the car, and it’s probably not crazy to think that she didn’t really spend too much time in cars growing up. People also listen to the radio at home, especially in the Baltimore of the Wire (bubbles in his garage), but maybe she grew up in with junkies so desperate that a radio was always way beyond their means. There’s a whole bunch of counters to this argument – she had to be in school for at least a little and would have picked up something there, corner boys have to pump boomboxs too, etc… So all I can really think is that snoop is such a fucking psychopath that her brain is on a totally different frequency (hey-oooooO!), she’s never even bothered to listen to the music/music culture around her.

  8. Shoals Says:

    that was marvelous. the hypothesis i was reaching for with all my questions.

  9. Jam Says:

    I don’t think the whole thing with Snoop is that deep. She just doesn’t listen to a lot of radio or pay attention to the local music scene. Everybody has that friend, or at least knows somebody, that either doesn’t know shit about whats current, can’t remember the name of people, or doesn’t pay attention or is oblivious to what’s popular. Baltimore is a big city, and not everybody pays attention to everything. Incidentally, that’s what I thought was ironic about the scene where they were trying to figure out the criteria to determine dealers from New York. It was pretty arbitrary, especially if your from Baltimore, but aloof about some of the culture like Snoop. You probably wouldn’t assume Dukie is a psychopath, but I doubt he’d know all the answers either.

  10. cc Says:

    Again I don’t have my log-in.

    I think that Snoop is totally some kind of alien character. She just doesn’t understand anything except killing — she’s one of the least developed characters on the show (ever?), and I guess that it’s purposeful: The same way that Marlo is like the apotheosis of a bad drug dealer, Snoop is the limit of a child soldier. It’s not just that she doesn’t know about the music — it’s that she doesn’t CARE about it. Unlike most of the killing we’ve seen before this season, which were motivated by need — someone has to die, and it’s too bad, but there it is (the exception to this is how Brandon was tortured, but by and large most of the drug killings have been business-like) — Snoops likes to kill people. I find her really upsetting, and also, not even a little bit funny. Most of the characters on the show I can find occasionally funny or see the bright side of their behavior (Donut stealing cars is a perfect example), or find them tragically human (Wallace, Pootie) and therefore sympathetic — but Snoops isn’t tragic or humorous. She’s just totally messed up. And knowing that she’s a real life murderer, it’s like, Is that supposed to be humorous? Am I missing the joke? I just find her too far gone to really take any pleasure in watching her to do anything. Every time she comes on screen I wish she would leave. She’s not as interesting as Chris — he’s smart, he understands what he’s doing. She just doesn’t get it. She’s kind of retarded, and I mean that in the dictionary way.

  11. hoopinion Says:

    I vacillated between reading Snoop’s ignorance of uniquely Baltimore culture as evidence of her lack of engagement with the world or of the deprivations of her development. Does she not know because she doesn’t care or does she not know because she doesn’t know there’s a larger world (even within Baltimore) out there. Remember, Bodie didn’t know how to use a car radio outside of Baltimore when Stringer sent him to New York at the start of Season 2.

    #45’s final scene gave me some hope for Snoop’s humanity. Though she couched her objection to dumping the nail gun in financial terms, she had some sort of emotional connection to the memories the nail gun triggers for her. It’s not a lot, but it’s not nothing, either.

  12. christycash Says:

    Good point about Bodie and the radio. That is like one of my favorite Wire moments ever, with him listening to Prairie Home Companion…

  13. Kevin Says:

    Snoop is my favorite character in this season. Yes, she seems detached from reality. Maybe her character was locked up. Remember what John Waters said about Baltimore. He called Baltimore made up of little islands with some people never leaving those islands.

    He also has said, “I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore. You can look far and wide, but you’ll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It’s as if every eccentric in the South decided to move North, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.”

    I find Snoop very funny. The way she fucks around with the bodies after she kills them. The New York guy’s hat and the security guard’s badge. She is fond of the nail gun because she takes pride in her work. That work might be killing but she focuses on what she is good at. Especially being a woman in a male dominated drug game. She does not pretend to be what she is not like Stringer, Avon, or even Omar. She as a character and an actress have my respect.

  14. brains Says:

    Rocco Chappelle is always eloquent, but far from an Internet icon. Maybe baddest-ass-boss-hogg-lurker of the Internets, but no icon.

  15. Shoals Says:

    i don’t see anything wrong with finding snoop terrifying and highly comedic at the same time. the same way that chris is somehow brilliant, sinister, and kind of goofy.

  16. Lokar Says:

    Chris can be such a solemn, menacing character that I’m glad that he has Snoop to play off of occasionally. Snoop herself is morbidly amusing, and I don’t think she’s completely out of touch with reality. Everything said about the reasons for her lack of Baltimore music knowledge has something to it, but I think I fall on the side of “she’s just one of those people that doesn’t care about that sort of thing.”

    I don’t think Snoop is completely detatched from reality, either. The danger, I imagine, of insulating ones’ self in the Baltimore drug world (and “comin’ up hard”) is an inability to interact or appreciate the citizens. Marlo doesn’t seem to be able to do it, as his overreaction to the Security Guard attested. Snoop appreciated the nailgun salesman and respected his knowledge. Sure, he might have been confused and terrified at some point in the conversation, but she didn’t mean anything.

    Plus, “he meant Lexus, but he didn’t know no better” is one of my favourite lines from the season thus far.

  17. dutchtwista Says:

    along with his choice of footwear, Chris’s diction & general erudition are kinda incongruous. His voice totally says “county” even if he does drop bodies in the hood….I bet he played lacrossed growing up

  18. gotcha Says:

    Can someone elucidate on why Michael’s step-father is “more evil” or “parasitic” as one poster put it, when compared to Marlo? I would have agreed earlier in the show’s history, but after the incident with the security guard, I’d say Marlo is the end all/be all embodiment of evil on The Wire. Marlo is the closest character on The Wire to displaying pure narcissism and psychopathy.

  19. Shoals Says:

    marlo is a businessman, and in theory violence is an extension of his business goals. as fucking stupid and heartless as the security guard thing was, it could at least be connected to the need to keep others in fear of him.

    absolutely no way to rationalize child abuse.

  20. Miguel Says:

    Let’s not forget that Marlo’s run in with the sec guard was a consequence of his being robbed by Omar. Marlo had been taken like any other dope, and to top it off, Omar didn’t even recognize him for the bad ass he thinks he is. So of course, coming off that, he needs to do *something* to make himself feel bad-ass again. Hence the guard has to be taught a lesson.

    I only mention this because I find that scene unique. It doesn’t demonstrate Marlo’s day-to-day handling of things, just an extreme reaction to an extreme slapdown of his manhood.

    Did I read right that Snoop in *real life* was a murderer? I saw that she served time, but didn’t realize she has actually killed.

  21. gotcha Says:

    I don’t understand how if you can rationalize one, why you can’t rationalize the other. So it’s ok for one person, because of his lifestyle and goals, to fit into a pattern of violence, even if the violence is purely for the sake of violence? But not ok for another when research has shown time and time again that the violence is of a familial/cyclical nature?

    Marlo’s getting hit up by Omar’s stick-up crew is part of the game, everyone knows that…the security guard had nothing to do with the game. I don’t know, if anything I find it much harder to rationalize that guys death because I can’t get past Marlo’s lack of respect for the guy.

  22. jetsetjunta Says:

    Yeah I think the security guard’s death is thrown into relief by the fact that his body was disappeared along with all the others. Marlo gains rep through running a tight business and killing his rivals (as everyone in the hood but none of the police know), but teaching a lesson to the security guard was a purely narcissistic move. No one else saw the interaction, and presumably no one else knew of the outcome. After all, when Lex disappears it’s plain simple that he got killed as a result of the game. With the security guard, for his family or boss or whoever, it would be totally a mystery, and therefore serve no purpose for Marlo’s street cred.
    So Marlo’s ruthless and murderous business style is truly evil, but also just kind of needless. Prop Joe and Slim Charles ask him to stop being so secretive because such clean kills are actually counterproductive. The Russian mob are renowned for remaining nameless, faceless, and committing crimes while leaving no traces whatsoever. Marlo seems to have adopted this strategy, only it isn’t really an effective one for the business he’s involved in or for his aspirations to hood fame. He comes up as all the more evil for the lack of true acumen or sense that goes into much of his decision making regarding the life and death of others.
    Now, I would propose that such amorality in the pursuit of dollars is not at all forgivable, but perhaps less damnable than the kind of physically and emotionally revolting malevolence Michael’s step-father radiates, if only from a simplistic rendering of the American capitalist dream, where providing money and happiness for your family or yourself are paramount, and where taking money and happiness away from your family would seem to be about the worst thing you could do, aside of course from taking their very lives away.

  23. jeremy Says:

    When snoop and chris are dumping the security guards body, doesn’t snoop say that it doesn’t make any sense to kill somebody like that security guard when nobody will find out about it?

  24. Pooh Says:

    why do i keep thinking about calamity jane in deadwood?

    Don’t buy it at all. Jane was painfully self-aware, whereas nothing Snoop has done or said indicates even a hint of reflectiveness. Since I’m new here, and don’t know if this has been covered, Snoop is basically WeeBay junior right (with Marlo as the evolutionary Avon, and Chris as a much, much harder String)?

  25. Shoals Says:

    jane’s self-awareness grew exponentially over the course of deadwood. i’m talking first half of the first season jane.

    early on, i was supremely wedded to the “marlo=avon/string hybrid,” but that was when chris seemed mindless. now, chris is the first time that muscle and tactics have coincided, which is kind of strange; slim charles didn’t have nearly the influence chris does, and he never did any dirt.

    i don’t know if either one has a personality, but attribute-wise they’re definitely more similar than avon and stringer were. the most evilest thing i can remember pre-marlo was string in season one. this season, i sometimes think that marlo and chris are constantly trying to one-up each other in cold-bloodedness.

  26. Pooh Says:

    jane’s self-awareness grew exponentially over the course of deadwood. i’m talking first half of the first season jane.

    Partially, that’s cause she had nothing to do except drink and swear before Wild Bill got shot.

    On a maybe related note, I’m disturbed by the number of times per episode that I think to myself “that Snoop is kinda cute…”

    Maybe I’m so steeped in the essential moral relativism of the show, but Marlo has always struck me as more actively evil and immoral whereas Chris and Snoop are essentially amoral. Yeah they killed the security guy, but they knew it was BS and the man said he had to go, so he had to go. Same with the delivery lady – though it’s unclear the extent to which the specifics were Chris’s or Marlo’s idea.

    The question I tend to have is why Marlo is the man and Chris isn’t. With Avon and String, you always knew that String wasn’t really street enough to hold it down, but Chris certainly can. Plus to this point he hasn’t demonstrated an essential flaw like Marlo’s pride. Though maybe the flip side to that is the ambition that puts him out front.

    The sense I get right now is like what you feel about 25 minutes into a slasher movie – they already had the opening murder, and you know another one is coming soon, you just don’t know who it is. I was sure that Sherrard was going to pop Cutty last week. But now the suspense is just becoming a little too much.

    (BTW Shoals, I followed a blind link here, and let me just say that the intersection of FD and The Wire has me a little stunned like it’s my birthday, Chrismukkah and Oh-beer-thirty rolled into one)

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