The Wire Final Season

Week 7: How Marlo Stanfield Is Like Daniel Plainview
Talking television.
Feb. 19 2008 11:33 AM

The Wire Final Season

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The Wire. Click image to expand.
Wendell Pierce as Bunk

Dear Jeff,

This afternoon I took my kids to see Roar: Lions of the Kalahari, an IMAX documentary at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and, of course, it got me thinking about The Wire. In Roar, an old male lion rules a water hole at the Kalahari, with a bevy of hot young lionesses to hunt springbok for him and raise his cubs. But a younger, tougher male shows up at the hole, challenges and conquers the old king, takes his ladies, and exiles him to the desert, where he soon dies. It's the Marlo-Prop Joe story, or maybe the Marlo-Avon story, but with springbok as the bodies and the desert as the vacants.

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Roar made me notice something I had overlooked about this season of The Wire.It's perfectly obvious what the lions are fighting for: sex, food, and reproductive advantage. The male lion who triumphs gets all the lionesses and as much springbok as he can eat. But it's not at all clear what Marlo is fighting for. He has no appetites. He sucks on lollipops. He's never fooling around with hot women, never spending his money on flashy cars, never taking the slightest bit of pleasure in his achievements or even in his money. The two great capitalist villains of this year's culture are Marlo and Daniel Plainview, the vicious protagonist of There Will Be Blood. They are very similar, and somewhat unpersuasive, because they lack any human appetites. Yes, there is an occasional businessman who longs only for money, not the tangible satisfactions that money brings. But most capitalists—even the nastiest, most ruthless of the breed—are in it to get laid, to buy a fancier jet, to own a bigger house, to get the kids into the best school. That's why I continue to find Marlo slightly unsatisfying as a character: He represents an idea of pathological capitalism, but because he's an idea, he's not persuasively human. Even Chris Partlow gets a wife and kids.

And since I'm being all ponderous and philosophical, let me mention another perhaps tenuous connection, between The Wire and this week's Roger Clemens-Brian McNamee steroid hearing. Republican members of Congress who support Clemens all but called McNamee a rat, accusing him of betraying a friend to protect himself. Their assault on McNamee is an unsettling reminder of how pervasive the "stop snitchin' " code has become. Stop snitchin' is a pervasive theme of The Wire, from D'Angelo in Season 1 to Randy in Season 4. And this season, we're seeing stop snitchin' through Bunk's eyes. He can't get anywhere in his investigation into the murder of Michael's stepfather. We see Bunk desperately trying to bully or cajole or trick his witnesses into revealing something, but they're smart enough protect themselves. What's so clever about Bunk's frustration is that he himself is obeying the stop snitchin' code in his own life, even as he tries to get his witnesses to break it. Bunk knows that Jimmy and Lester have faked the murders and that the bogus investigation is stealing time and money away from real police work, but he won't rat Jimmy out. The right thing to do would be to snitch on Jimmy and end his charade. But Bunk, like his silent witnesses, has chosen loyalty over right, and the people of Baltimore must pay the price.

With a roar, not a whimper,
David

David Plotz is the CEO of Atlas Obscura and host of the Slate Political Gabfest.

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