Marlo Stanfield’s last appearance in “The Wire” sees him in a sweet-fitting suit on a nighttime street corner, tasting his own blood and laughing. He’s just sent two armed drug dealers fleeing. Minutes earlier, he was at a party being introduced by his lawyer to rich Baltimore developers, businessmen and politicians. He got antsy at the party and ditched out to take a corner. He tastes the blood, from a bullet’s graze. He breathes in and out deeply. He nods and whispers “shit yeah.”
Marlo wins “The Wire.”
President Obama told sports-writing supergod Bill Simmons last week that his favorite character on “The Wire” was Omar Little. “It’s got to be Omar, right?” he said. “I mean, that guy is unbelievable, right?”
Hell yes he is. But that’s easy to say. Simmon’s website Grantland.com is doing this really great “Smacketology” tournament now, to determine whether or not Omar actually is the best character on “The Wire.” Fans vote for one character over another, bracket-style, on Grantland’s Facebook page until someone prevails.
“He is sort of the most unpredictable character type,” said writer and Flip-Side idol Chuck Klosterman on a Grantland podcast with Andy Greenwald. “We have this gay criminal, who has this strict ethical boundary. Who will not even swear, doesn’t even like people swearing. He is intimidating and yet only… has problems with other criminals. So there is no downside to seeing him as the best character, even though he’s not a conventional hero.”
Here’s the thing, though. “The Wire” is a game. For all the deep characterizations of America’s issues, “The Wire” is remembered as the greatest show of all time precisely because its great characters battle gallantly for control. The first season’s finale ends with Omar drawing on a drug dealer and telling him “All in the game, yo. All in the game.”
“I ain’t never put my gun on no man who wasn’t in the game,” he tells Detective Bunk in one scene.
As great as Omar is in the game, he’s dead by a small child’s bullet at the show’s conclusion. Many, many other characters on Grantland’s bracket are also dead. Others are disgraced. Others (McNulty) have found a kind of tenuous inner peace. Those guys all lost. “The Wire” is a game, and the winner should be the man standing strongest when the clock ran out. That was Marlo, a panther in a business suit, taking corners in the Baltimore night while white guys wait to make him money.
(As of this typing, Bodie is beating Marlo in the Sweet 16 round. This is ridiculous. Marlo’s people gunned down Bodie in the street.)