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

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

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.

Advertisement

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 Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 16 2014 5:47 PM Tale of Two Fergusons We knew blacks and whites saw Michael Brown’s killing differently. A new poll shows the gulf that divides them is greater than anyone guessed.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 6:23 PM Bryan Cranston Reenacts Baseball’s Best Moments to Promote the Upcoming Postseason
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.