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Wire Watch: No Country for Old Men

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Michael K. Williams as Omar. / HBO: Nicole Rivellli

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this edition of Wire Watch, rent a car at Enterprise, use the GPS to find your way home, and watch last night’s Wire.

In The Wire, individuals struggle valiantly against systems, but eventually the systems win. They grind you down, overpower you, surround you, find your weakness. You can run scams, you can win individual victories, but in the bigger sense, you can’t fight City Hall–or the Police Department, or the Department of Education, or the American economy, or the drug cartels. There are exceptional individuals, but there are no exceptions. There are no superheroes.

Except for Omar. Right?


Wrong.

However many hearts it broke, Omar’s death can’t have surprised that many longtime Wire fans (and I don’t just mean because of the online spoilers)–even, or especially, because we saw him pulling “some Spiderman sh__t” to escape the firefight at Marlo’s pad. Even after we saw him make audacious attack after attack on Marlo’s corners to call his manhood into question. (In the end, Marlo was insulated even from the news of his humiliation by Snoop and Chris.) After we saw him, tired, alone and shaky, exposed on all sides on the corner he just hit, daring someone to tell Marlo to show himself.

And how horrible, and perfect, to have him popped ignominously–no warning, no shootout, no last words–in a convenience store by little Kenard (who’s what, nine years old now?). That shot after the fact of Kenard with the gun, terrified, excited, slack-jawed, was maybe the most characteristically horrifying scene in Wire history, for all it implied. That no matter what heroics someone like Omar pulls, the sh_t will go on: perpetrated by someone ever younger, crueler, more amoral, jacked up with a couple pounds of steel superpower in his shaking hands.

When Omar was described, matter-of-factly, as a dead 30-year-old male, that said it all. He was so old in this world. A dinosaur. Hundreds of years older than Kenard. The idea that he actually thought he could defeat Marlo by shaming him–that he thought there was anything that the hoary concept of honor could accomplish in his world–that was the surest sign that he was done. The title of this post is a little bit of a pun, but for all the Western parallels of Omar’s death (The Wild Bunch, e.g.), I was reminded most on Oscar night of the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy’s movie, down to (not to spoil the movie) the final act of deliberately anticlimactic violence that showed that this world is too far gone for impossible stories of good guys winning, or even good guys getting sent off in romantic showdowns.

How right is it to mourn Omar, anyway? There was a debate on this already in the advance OnDemand thread at Alan Sepinwall’s blog. It’s true that Omar was a violent criminal, that he set a violent example (which arguably finally killed him) and that the fact that he stole from bad guys didn’t make him a paragon.

But still–Omar, man. He had a code, at least, even if he broke it, and a sense of justice and loyalty. And you have to mourn, at least, what he represented: the idea that it was possible to be a free agent, to have a life outside the pernicious sytems that destroyed the people in them, that a badass gay guy with a shotgun and a duster could, if not change things, at least kick some deserving asses. (His last hope now is to strike Marlo from beyond the grave, via the list Bunk found on his corpse.)

There was a lot of story in this excellent episode: Templeton’s redeeming Iraq-vet story turned out not to be so solid; McNulty faced the bankruptcy of his scheme (the bit with the FBI profiler seeming to describe the “killer” as a young McNulty was priceless); Lester scared the sheeeeeeeee-it out of Clay Davis; Dukie found, maybe, a shot at eking out some kind of straight life.

But you know, we can do that in the comments. There’s really only one thing in this episode I can write about right now. As we were reminded, Omar registered hardly the tiniest blip in the world outside the streets; the news report of his death was bumped for four paragraphs in Metro about a fire. So let’s give him his obit here. For the hope, the principles, the code that Omar represented, R.I.P. Even if they were really dead long before he hit the floor.

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