Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

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  • Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

    After yet another thread on formatting urban legends, someone's rules or whether some screenwriter deserves the success and recognition he/she is getting or not, how about we talk about storytelling for a change?

    Now I should probably write a paragraph making the case for The Wire being an excellent subject of study, but anybody who's seen the series should already know that, so why bother, right?

    I thought it would be enriching and productive to start a discussion on the different choices the writers of The Wire made over the course of five seasons, how they portrayed their characters, how they wrapped some storylines... you get the idea.

    Of course, this thread should and will be full of spoilers (that is, if some of you decide it's not a complete waste of time) so if you haven't seen the series but still plan to, stay away.
    ===========

    I'll start.

    The death of Omar Little.
    I have mixed feelings about the way he died, because it was so anticlimactic. He was so bent on revenge against Marlo and his crew that, from a traditional storytelling point of view, a final confrontation was almost an obligatory scene. In a way, I felt robbed of that.

    But then, it makes sense that Omar didn't get to win or even to go out with a bang. He lived in a world of senseless violence, where innocent children were victims of stray bullets, just because they lived in the wrong zip code. It wasn't dramatic, the way he died, but it was probably more realistic.

    ******
    Okay, so it's not much to start with, but it's a start. Let's see what you guys think of this and other aspects of The Wire, its world, characters and storylines.

  • #2
    Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

    While I agree Omar's death wasn't the ideal version for viewers, it does feel true to the thematic sensibilities of the show -- tragic, random, and, to an extent, inevitable.

    What always rung most interesting to me, and what gives the show a life even after death, is the sense that nothing will change, things will always be the same, and violence just gets recycled through the system. While I hated his character, Weebay's son escaping the cycle is something special within that continuity because as legendary as his murder of Omar will be, Kenard will just be the next street legend to be shot. Cops will still focus on the numbers, dealers on the sales, there will just be new faces with old grudges.

    What really elevated The Wire (and Treme does this even better) is how it was able to weave through elements from seasons earlier with just a nod to the viewer. It was so rewarding to be engaged in something that treated the fans to intelligent winks, like The Greek reappearing in Season 5.

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    • #3
      Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

      I almost got the feeling that Omar's death was too much about forcing accountability for a characters actions.

      It's in most movies too - as likeable an antihero as Omar was, he had done a lot of bad things, and that meant he had to atone for his actions.

      I don't think it was necessary, though I understand how it fit.

      PS: I'm also sick of horror movies that have to have horribly depressing endings. A last second twist where we realize the protagonist really is screwed despite everything they've done. Who says a horror movie can't have an uplifting ending after scaring the **** out of you for two hours?
      Last edited by Anagram; 12-11-2012, 07:52 AM.

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      • #4
        Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

        I think it's interesting to contrast Omar's death to Stringer's, and how the later was very satisfying dramatically but still true to the choices this character had made in his life: his actions finally caught up with him.

        In a way, I guess Omar's actions caught up with him too: he had pointed his shotgun to so many people that it was inevitable someone among them would try to pay him back.

        What maybe felt a bit out of character, to me, was how Omar ended up losing control of the situation and acting so impulsively after Butchie's murder; that was what ultimately led to his death. I say it felt out of character because after they tortured and killed his lover -Brandon?- in season 1, and he started to go after the Barksdale crew, he was still smart and kept control of the situation, thinking and planning before hitting.

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        • #5
          Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

          I think the beauty of The Wire and the reason it is almost impossible to replicate is that it involved two creative forces that had spent a better part of two decades absolutely immersed in the environment about which they wrote. As you mention Omar's death is completely in keeping with the tone of the show. That's just how stick-up men die in Baltimore.

          Miles Davis said of jazz "It's the notes you don't play" and I think that holds true for The Wire and narrative generally. We subconsciously demand/expect a traditional conclusion to a narrative (Scarface at the top of the stairs going down in a blaze of glory) that when it's not delivered it can be a jarring experience.

          Some people like to be challenged by entertainment and some people don't. I expect people that do or do not like the way Omar was dispatched fall into one of those two camps.

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          • #6
            Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

            Originally posted by Dr. Vergerus View Post
            In a way, I felt robbed of that.
            To me it was a brilliant demystification. He'd been painted (both by himself and the writers) as a mythic character -- and then it was all over in an instant.

            One of those "that's the way it had to end" moments that you don't see coming.

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            • #7
              Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

              @Rhodi: it's not a matter of being challenged or not, it's just that Omar's story ended with an anticlimax. Justifiable and justified in many ways, but anticlimax nonetheless. And an anticlimax is, in essence, unsatisfying.

              In a show were pretty much all other plot lines and character arcs advanced as a series of causes and effects, Omar's senseless death stands out.

              I'm not against the way Omar died, but I do think the story should have led there in a more dramatic progression. It was handled a bit like a cheap scare, when a character closes the door of the fridge and the killer appears behind it.

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              • #8
                Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

                Originally posted by 60WordsPerHour View Post
                To me it was a brilliant demystification. He'd been painted (both by himself and the writers) as a mythic character -- and then it was all over in an instant.

                One of those "that's the way it had to end" moments that you don't see coming.
                That's sort of comparable to the The Sopranos finale. Maybe it's the geek in me, but sometimes I want my heroes to go out in a blaze of glory, not a whimper.

                And Omar's death seemed not so much ignominious as disappointing.

                If they had to kill him, they could have done it with more dignity.

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                • #9
                  Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

                  Originally posted by Dr. Vergerus View Post
                  @Rhodi: it's not a matter of being challenged or not, it's just that Omar's story ended with an anticlimax. Justifiable and justified in many ways, but anticlimax nonetheless. And an anticlimax is, in essence, unsatisfying.
                  If the definition of climax is the apex of emotional response, then I personally experienced his death as a shocking climax. Not all climaxes need to be cathartic.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

                    Originally posted by Anagram View Post
                    ... sometimes I want my heroes to go out in a blaze of glory, not a whimper.

                    And Omar's death seemed not so much ignominious as disappointing.

                    If they had to kill him, they could have done it with more dignity.
                    I completely disagree. If that had happened it would have been against the whole philosophical thrust of The Wire.

                    Omar's death was not anti-climactic, it was ironic, and that was the point the writers were making. They were alluding to both the pointlessness and pessimism of the cycle of poverty and crime and social disenfranchisement that the series examined.

                    It was completely appropriate in the thematic context of The Wire for Omar to have been wasted by some over-heated juvenile punk representing the next generation of wasted gangsta lives. And like Rhodi says, not all climaxes need to be cathartic. The Wire didn't set out to satisfy audience expectations for how they thought the story oughta be; it rose above that level.
                    "Friends make the worst enemies." Frank Underwood

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                    • #11
                      Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

                      It can be both things: anticlimactic and ironic, at the same time. And I'd agree with that description. But can anybody really argue that it was dramatically satisfying? Although that was probably the writer's intention, too.

                      Does anybody want to suggest another aspect of the show to discuss? Not that it's all said on the subject of Omar's death, of course.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

                        Originally posted by DavidK View Post
                        I completely disagree. If that had happened it would have been against the whole philosophical thrust of The Wire.

                        Omar's death was not anti-climactic, it was ironic, and that was the point the writers were making.
                        ...
                        The Wire didn't set out to satisfy audience expectations for how they thought the story oughta be; it rose above that level.
                        I know what you're saying and I respect what the show was going for.

                        It still upset me. Just like I understand why they ended 24 the way they did and disliked it. And just like I understand why they ended sopranos the way they did and eventually grew to respect it.

                        Maybe sometimes they can forgoe the moral lesson and give the fans who love the characters after umpteen seasons some sort of catharsis.

                        Is that really too much? Does Jack have to have everything he loves taken away for him after he's sacrificed so much?

                        Sometimes I feel like working off a morality blueprint can lead to choices that punish the fans.

                        It's the same reason so many formulaic horror movies give the hero (and viewers) a glimpse of hope at the very end just before ****ing all over them.
                        Last edited by Anagram; 12-11-2012, 07:58 AM.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

                          Originally posted by Dr. Vergerus View Post
                          It can be both things: anticlimactic and ironic, at the same time. And I'd agree with that description. But can anybody really argue that it was dramatically satisfying? Although that was probably the writer's intention, too.
                          It's more satisfying to me in hindsight than it was at the moment. In the moment it was frustrating, but looking back I can say it was fitting.

                          Does anybody want to suggest another aspect of the show to discuss?
                          From the post title, I figured the discussion would be about how the show so adeptly wove each character's personal story into the greater fabric of the show's narrative. Nearly every character on screen had some sort of arc, even the most minor bit players. That's something that I really respect David Simon for. Do people find themselves doing that in their own projects? Or is that just something that you would find in series more than setup in a pilot?

                          The other thing that made the show complex is its dark humor. There were some really, really funny, laugh out loud moments in the series which are generally my favorite parts. But they weren't exactly hard jokes - what was the key to the humor's success? Was it the contrast? I think it may have been that the character attitudes were so well drawn (akin to THE AVENGERS in a way, where each character has such a specific POV from which jokes can originate).

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                          • #14
                            Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

                            I think Omar's death fit perfectly for the realistic life of a man who grew up living by the gun in the projects. The hood is the same, there is always a new guy on the block, and anyone can get got. No one is untouchable. It was poetic also, if you remember Omar always felt safe and comfortable around children, it was usually the one time he would somewhat let down his guard.

                            The WIRE is the greatest TV series ever, though I love Breaking Bad, it is no where as realistic as The Wire. Nor does it really try to portray itself as such. The Wire's supporting characters are superior to most shows' lead characters.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Appreciating a complex narrative: The Wire

                              Omar had so many great scenes and bits of dialogue... One of my favorites was one morning that he runs out of breakfast ceral (crunchy nut?) and goes out in his pajamas and gown, but doesn't take his gun because he doesn't have where to put it, the pajamas won't hold the weight. So he walks the streets confident as hell, and people runs away at his sight. And at one point, after he's bought his croceries, he stops by an entrance door to a building, to light a cigarette, and two seconds later we hear some noise above and a g-pack is dropped to the ground, in front of him. And Omar is like WTF!? for a second, and then shrugs and takes the g-pack home with the shopping.

                              We often use the word "realistic" to describe "The Wire", but a lot of the dialogue was highly stylized and a lot of the scenes pushed the boundaries of realism in order to be more effective or simply cooler.

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