No fucking joke.
We all knew Omar wasn't going to outlast this season, didn't we? Given that he was originally supposed to die after just seven episodes back in season one, I didn't think the writers would be inclined to pull any punches. And given that he was the ultimate individualist in a world where the institutions always win, I think it would have been a cop-out if he'd lived to rob another day. His death was almost necessary for the show's critique of the postmodern economy.
But the way he died... that was a shock. Alone, friendless, gradually abandoning the stalwart code that had always set him apart. Gunned down by Kenard, the show's youngest character and one of its most odious, not in any dramatic showdown--no newspaper-tumbleweeds blowing across the alley this time--but in a liquor-store ambush free of any heroism.
That, too, was necessary. The Wire has always been dangerously attached to Omar, willing to inflate him to legendary stature while it knocked everybody else off their pedestals. Some episodes it seemed like there was nothing he couldn't do: he out-policed McNulty, out-informed Bubbles, out-lawyered Levy. Back in season three, Bunk made a noble effort at showing Omar, and us, the dangers of romanticizing a stick-up artist, but it didn't take. [*] (My one regret about Omar's sudden death is that we didn't get another Bunk confrontation. Although I did love Crutchfield rubbing his framed arrest last season in Bunk's face--asshole, though far from the episode's biggest.) Before long Omar was back to plotting epic heists, dissecting organizations that eluded Lester Freamon's panoptic bespectacled gaze, pulling some Spider-Man shit.
This season has ground down Omar the way it grinds down everyone else, showing him the cost of being a loner. First it showed him he wasn't really alone. When Marlo couldn't strike at him, he struck at those Omar cared about, just as the authorities do every other time they are confronted with someone who thinks he can buck the system. Marlo's strategy is no different from Rawls threatening Colvin's subordinates or gutting Major Crimes--just a little bit bloodier.
With his allies left behind or quickly killed off, Omar had to operate as a true loner for the first time since the end of season one. (As an aside--why didn't Renaldo come back with Omar, and maybe bring a cousin or two? Granted, he'd probably be dead by now if he had, but a few more guns might have turned the tables in that apartment ambush, or dictated a different strategy. It's telling that Omar refused Renaldo's help; he had to know he was coming back to Baltimore to die.) He still made an amazing run, escaping Marlo's ambush and subsequent manhunt, disrupting several of his corners and stash houses, killing a couple of enforcers, destroying all the drugs he seized, and putting the fear of God into Marlo and his soldiers. It was a holy retribution, the hero posed against exploding cars--the stuff of the spaghetti westerns Omar had always half stepped out of.
But something was different this time. Omar was cursing. Breaking his promise to Bunk that he wouldn't do any more murders. His code was fraying, either falling apart out of desperation or becoming subsumed into the Omar Little caricature he was playing. All that was left was the violence and the vengeance, and this week's episode made it clear just how little that was worth. His epic battles against the westside drug dealers ended with him standing alone on a deserted corner, howling for an enemy who would never face him. A gunfighter without a gunfight.
At least the other self-made caricatures--and there have been many this season--provide a little more levity. This week's best comedy comes at the FBI profiling unit in Quantico, whose director has remade himself into a living, breathing basic-cable cliché. (I thought it was a great touch to give him a southern accent--aren't these characters, the homespun directors, always southerners? At least in the Bush years?) The director is selling the same thrill-of-the-hunt bullshit McNulty fed Teresa D'Agostino back in season three, but Kima's Unabomber comeback reminds us that real police work is more often a matter of diligent legwork or simple luck. And, indeed, while McNulty has been casting himself in the hoary role of tormented cop hunting a serial killer, Bunk has come tantalizingly close to nailing Chris Partlow through sheer dogged investigation.
In a great reversal from their self-promoting director, however, the unit's profilers know their job; their profile exposes the gaping holes in McNulty's serial killer plot and nails his frustrated ego. Wasn't it Bunk who said a couple weeks ago that he might learn something about himself? The FBI profile tears down all the pretenses Jimmy lives by, not just the ones he built in season five. No wonder he suddenly starts coming clean with Kima and Beadie; all his fictions lie in ruins.
Which brings us back to why Omar--the gunfighter, the superhero, the last honest criminal in Baltimore--had to die. His death is a renunciation of fiction and its comforts. Which, in true postmodern form, still follows the rules of the fiction it renounces: as one character says in Ishmael Reed's Japanese by Spring, "in your Westerns, the gunslinger is always bested, ultimately, by an upstart."
And Omar might just get a little postmortem revenge. Yes, that scrap of paper will help Lester take Omar's organization down, if there's still time, but I'm thinking more of the lasting damage he's done to Marlo's reputation. The kingpin of all Baltimore went into hiding when one man with a broken leg came after him. A man who was ultimately shot by a ten-year-old, doing what Marlo and his soldiers couldn't. People have to notice that. You can be sure Michael has, with the lectures he got about Junebug and the importance of maintaining your reputation. All this season I've been wondering if, just as the corrosive Barksdales were replaced by the sociopathic Marlo, Marlo might himself might be replaced by a budding sociopath named Michael Lee.
Now the stakes are even higher. I wonder if someday soon, sooner than we would think possible, Marlo or Michael or their successors will be replaced by a full-blown psychopath named Kenard.
May his reign be short.
Other Wire business:
- Give it up for Leander Sydnor, this week's craftiest bastard. I guess that Prez consultation won't be necessary after all. Clearly Sydnor's been learning at the feet of Freamon (for good and ill--I love Kima's shock and disgust when she learns he's in on the scam too). In fact, his able management of the surveillance teams shows that he's becoming a good teacher and supervisor in his own right. If any shred of the MCU survives this scam--and it may be as doomed as Omar--Sydnor might be the only guy who can carry the torch and start training a new unit.
- Loved Freamon's bluff in the bar, even if it shows a disturbing willingness to compound his lies. I guess once you start fabricating, you can't stop. In any case, I'm glad the Clay Davis plot isn't quite over.
- Leaden expository dialogue makes an unwelcome return to the Sun scenes. Jeff Price has been a reporter for at least four years; would he really not know the Pulitzer schedule?
- And then we have Terry Hanning--the one good story Templeton got, and he still couldn't write it clean. Does Templeton have any redeeming features?
- Also, when was the last time Gutierrez had a line of dialogue? She brought the serial killer story to the Sun, and Templeton has run off with it. How does she feel about that? I bet that would be a much more interesting conversation than the Pulitzer infodump.
- I wanted to use Terry's line about "A lie ain't a side of the story" for this week's post, but it didn't have much to do with Omar and the writers snagged it for their epigraph anyway. And so, as always, I go running back to the Bunk...
[*] Update: Alan Sepinwall reports that one of the kids who was playing Omar back in season three--the kids who were Bunk's best argument against the romanticization of Omar--
And that would be one reason why The Wire, even in this problematic season, is still the best television show ever made.