The Wire and the Damage Done


Nothing to say that’s not spoilery, so move beyond the fold at your own risk if you haven’t seen the first 8 episodes of season 5 of The Wire.

I’d been warned that some serious shit went down in “Clarifications,” but I was fortunately unspoiled as to the recipient of that shit. That it turned out to be Omar was not surprising, but how he got got was. As with most things on The Wire, it’s less about the ‘what happens’ than the ‘how it goes down.’ And Omar’s fall was hard and fast.

Although I loved the character, I found myself far less emotionally impacted than previous faves being taking out, like D’Angelo, Bodie, and especially Stringer. In large part it was due to how it was presented – out of nowhere in a random place, by an almost random attacker, with no fight or resistance, and then ignored by the paper and screwed up by the morgue. A true anti-climax for the most mythical character on the show. But I think the emotion was blunted for me by how far Omar had fallen before his death – the mythos had been punctured by his injury, his uncharacteristic killing of Sevino, and his desperation in trying to get Marlo onto the streets. By the time he’s shown screaming on an empty corner early in the episode, the Omar that we’ve grown to love is practically already dead. So Kenard popping him without warning seemed more euthanasia than murder. (Be sure to check out Alan Sepinwall for the best take on Kenard’s long-simmering role in Omar’s undoing, and the clear sign that Kenard’s story can be read as a stand-in for Marlo’s backstory.)

Much more emotionally powerful to me was McNulty’s continued fall – he’s finally realized how knee-deep he is in his own mythic story, profiled as a serial killer (in one of the show’s funniest scenes ever) and condemned by the only two women he respects. The faucet is on, but he can’t get it off – and he’s burdened by the weight of being the boss figure in the homicide division. I keep thinking about Lester’s season three speech that even if he wins, there’ll be no “Jimmy McNulty Day parade” – presenting the case to the Mayor and Commissioner is as close as he’ll get, and it’s killing him. Compare this to the image at the end of season 3, with Jimmy smiling as a beat cop in the Western, and the tragedy of ambition shines through. Will McNulty reach the depths of Omar, and suffer an equally humiliating end? I expect so, although not being shot in the head as much as left to rot on the vine.

One question that I asked after the episode is how much the Iraq War parallel was intended, with the big lie diverting resources away from the real tasks at hand. In this bitter and biting, even by David Simon standards, interview with Newsweek, Simon brings out the parallel:

When a friend who loves the show asked me to describe the fifth season so far, I told him “Everyone pretty much goes nuts.” It’s a flip summary, for sure, but is it accurate?
I think it’s flip, sorry. The season is about how far individuals and institutions and society in general can go on a lie. And if you think that theme is hyperbolic and that lies as big as manufactured serial killers and hyped newspaper copies are too big and too outrageous to sustain themselves, I’d simply point to this ugly mess of a war we are in, why we are in it, what was printed and broadcast and declared by the nation’s elite and its top media outlets. You look at Iraq and how we got there and McNulty and Templeton are pikers by comparison. The season is about the chasm between perception and reality in American life and how we are increasingly without the tools that allow us to recognize our true problems, much less begin to solve them. Everybody goes crazy? Who? McNulty? Freamon? They quit playing by the rules in a rigged game. That’s almost a form of sanity, self-destructive as it might turn out to be.

Two episodes remain, and there are so many loose ends – the big threads are the race to take down Marlo between Lester and Bunk, the fate of Clay Davis (I loved Lester’s con job in the restaurant), Jimmy’s further comeuppance (his homeless kidnapping has to come back to bite him), and the battle for the soul of the newsroom (my guess: lying and prizes will trump integrity and a hard day’s work). But let’s not forget the little threads that the show always makes matter in the end – the leak in the grand jury, Daniel’s lingering past corruption, and Bubbs’ shot at redemption through an act of journalism (echoing The Corner). Plus I’m holding out hope for a cameo from Prez, Bunny, or Namond. Two hours remain in David Simon’s Baltimore – not enough time to do the job.

Update: In honor of the late Omar Little, check out this obituary that might-have-been, if The Sun knew who the man was. And relive one of his finest moments from season 2:

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