Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Omar is Dead, and Life as We Know It Seems Drab and Barren

We’ve tried to devote the few spare moments the Almighty grants us to a close study of the upcoming Texas primary elections, but our mind keeps wandering far away as we zone out on the lulling cadences of the SoulMender (maybe the Empathy Deficit’s got us down), or we reflexively turn away from the occasionally braying screech of the Missus Clinton (not a particularly “male” reaction, contrary to popular but uninformed opinion). Besides, this doing of our civic duty steals invaluable moments from our obsessive watching and contemplation of the 5th and final season of HBO’s The Wire, now down to its last two episodes (or grand finale, if, like us, you catch the show early on HBO On Demand).

We believe it was Carmela Soprano, ruefully needling her splayed-before-the-tube Mafiosi-Couch Potato husband, who offered the great meta-observation on TV: “It’s so much more interesting than life, isn’t it?”

The Wire was slow getting into gear this season, driven as it was by the highly out-of-tune plot twist that saw hard-drinking Irish cop Jimmy McNulty (one of The Wire’s few prominent white characters, and one of its most uninteresting) manufacture a kinky serial killer of Baltimore’s homeless so that the funds-strapped city would grant his department the resources to take down cold-blooded drug kingpin Marlo, who is pictured as the apotheosis of predatory capitalism by Wire creator David Simon. And Simon’s highly anticipated dissection of the newspaper business (anticipated in the newspaper business at least: has there ever been a show that generated so many acres of news and magazine print as Simon and The Wire?) at first seemed flat, perhaps because the monopoly newspaper operation, unlike the monopoly street-drug trade, isn’t really that riveting a subject for drama, and the workers who populate newsrooms these days are a singularly boring lot, or so we’ve been told.

By the fourth or fifth episode, however, as these developments merged with the show’s other narrative threads, the sheer headlong drive of The Wire took over, temporarily culminating in a emotional high point last Sunday with the out-of-the-blue killing of Omar Little, America’s best-loved gay practitioner of the fine art of ripping off drug gangs (hey, according to this piece in the Houston Chronicle’s Star section---which like most anything else half-interesting in that section emanated outside of the newspaper---even the SoulMender himself has “expressed his admiration for Omar---albeit with the caveat that he didn’t endorse Omar’s behavior” (NOTE TO CLINTON CAMPAIGN: BETTER JUMP ON THIS QUICK!). We were so wrong about Omar: We figured he’d stick around to coat the streets of Baltimore with the blood of Marlo & Co. and die trying, a showdown that we thought would be surreptitiously engineered by “murder police” Bunk Moreland (who, as no less an astute critic than us previously noted, is the most sublime fictional creation in the history of TV drama; when you see New Orleanian Wendell Pierce in a non-Bunk role you realize what a hellaciously good actor he is; unfortunately, for much of this season too much of Bunk’s face time has been devoted to hand-wringing over McNulty’s ruse).

But part of The Wire’s genius is its unpredictability, so of course Omar is done in as he’s buying a pack of Kools by a psychotic 9 year old (the screams of the Korean lady behind the Plexiglass still echo in our brain) who appears to have been pissed because Omar interrupted the boy and his confreres in the street-corner act of setting a cat afire.

Even the newsroom angle has grown on us, despite the leaden presence of city editor Gus, who as these jokers at Slate note appears to be a direct descendant of Jesus Christ (one of the only characters on the show who, at least so far, seems too good---too good to be true). Our favorite is Klebanow, the supercilious, thin-lipped managing editor with the perm’ed locks (we surmise that he gets his blue jeans dry-cleaned for the weekend), who’s just a notch less smarmier than the sweaty-palmed Jayson Blair-like fabulist Scott Templeton, a careerist and favorite of Klebanow who’s almost too bad to be true (Simon & Co. take pains to show that Templeton, in addition to being a monumental liar, is a physical coward). If you’ve spent anytime around a newsroom, you know these guys. (Check the scene where Templeton, sitting in a bar with McNulty and another reporter, unwittingly goes about helping the detective, a fellow sociopath, construct the phony serial-killer narrative so it can land on the front page of the fictional Baltimore Sun. Neither is aware of the other's lies. That was sharp.)

As good as the death-of-Omar episode was, the penultimate installment, scripted by the great George Pelecanos (The Wire is surely “Pelecanosian,” as opposed to “Dickensian,” the favorite adjective of the doofus executive editor on the show) has to be one of the most affecting dramatic works we’ve witnessed, dating back several past lives to when we used to rattle our chains at the special “Slaves Only Matinee” of Euripides’ works. We won’t give way any of the story, in case our mama’s read this far, but we most certainly did not fall asleep 45 minutes into it, as we did Tuesday night during that 90-minute drowser on MSNBC.

So much more interesting t
han life.

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