So, as anyone who has had the misfortune of speaking to me for more than two and a half minutes knows, The Wire is my favorite work of art of all time. (It's also Barack Obama's favorite TV show). It's the captivating, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, hilarious and shattering definitive artistic statement of the early twenty-first century. I have never been more thoroughly engrossed in anything--anything--in my entire life, nor as moved. As such, I devote a large chunk of my personal time to considering various aspects of the show. Tonight I'm posting the first in what I hope becomes an ongoing series, as I list my five favorite characters with brief analysis. Enjoy! (A note to the reader: this contains spoilers, so read on at your own peril).
5) Omar Little, Stick-Up Man
I realize this is a bit of a cop-out as Omar is everyone's favorite character. There is a reason for this: Omar is the show's coolest and most interesting character. The fearless, homosexual stick-up man who is a constant thorn in the sides of the city's most feared and powerful drug organizations is an enigma. Omar lives by a code--he rarely swears, he takes conscientious care of his grandmother, he "never put his pistol on someone who wasn't in the game"--he is a gentleman among killers. Unfortunately, he's also a stone cold killer who doesn't back down from a fight. Interestingly, Omar was slated to die in the first season but was so popular that the show's creators developed a different arc for him. This new story--from the third season's first stick-up, through his incarceration and ultimate ignominious demise--makes an important point about the drug game: nobody gets out and nobody gets famous.
4) Slim Charles, Chief Enforcer, Barksdale Organization, later, Prop Joe's Crew
Slim Charles has one of the most interesting story arcs in the entire series. First appearing in the third season as the main enforcer in the Barksdale crew, Slim serves as counsel to the operation's leaders and a gun on the streets. Slim displays the same odd nobility as many of the dealers, notably in his impassioned speech against the hitters who broke the Sunday morning truce that nearly killed Omar and his grandmother. Most importantly, though, Slim makes it clear that the drug business is, often, just a business. Since he evades capture in the raid that cripples the Barksdales, Charles finds himself in the employ of Prop Joe until the latter's demise at Marlo's hands. After the serial killer operation forces Marlo to exit the game, Slim is seen in the final montage meeting with Spiros Vondas, planning to take over the illegal importing of narcotics into the city. You see, Slim Charles works for one employer until they go out of business, gets a new job with another firm and then moves up the ladder as the old bosses leave the operation. All in a day's work.
3) Det. William "Bunk" Moreland, Baltimore Police
While I do identify with McNulty (specifically, "What the fuck did I do?"), if I were a character on the show I would be Bunk. A veteran homicide detective and partner to McNulty and later Freamon, Bunk is a skilled investigator who has a reputation for clearing difficult cases. Why is he important? Two reasons: 1) the Omar storyline that begins with their meeting in the project where they discuss their shared past as classmates and the loss of community in Western Baltimore as drugs continue to cannibalize the region. Bunk eventually extracts from Omar a promise to commit no more murders; it is this promise that Omar violates to seal his fate within the moralistic framework of the series. 2) The prolific and often comical philandering that, however unsubtly, shows the toll that the job takes on a person.
2) Det. Lester Freamon, Baltimore Police
Freamon is as good an example as any of the total inability of the police to mount any sort of effective resistance to drug trafficking. Perhaps the most skilled detective that we meet at any point during the series, Freamon gets the ball rolling on the original Barksdale case in the first season. He remains an integral part of the department, leading the way in the dead prostitutes case in the second season, cracking the burners in the third, opening the row house killings in the fourth and eventually sidelining Stanfield thanks to the fictitious serial killer. While unpopular with the bosses due to his tenacity, Freamon is a brilliant investigator who is instrumental in crippling two of the most violent gangs in Baltimore. The fact that he spent the thirteen years prior to the series in the pawn shop unit and then finds himself pushed out at the conclusion is a testament to the supreme political idiocy of law enforcement.
1) Russell "Stringer" Bell, Head of Barksdale Organization
Though Stringer's untimely demise at the end of the third season is entirely justified, it is no less regrettable. Stringer begins the series as the smarter, headier half of the Barksdale leadership, balancing out his more street-minded cousin Avon. As the series progresses (and when Avon finds himself in prison) Stringer begins a move to legitimize himself and get out of the drug game. He operates the Barksdale gang like a straight business, continually seeking to avoid the needless killing that only serves to draw police attention. To wit: the third season in which all of the Barksdale meetings are run according to Robert's Rules of Order. Furthermore, Stringer spearheads the creation of the New Day Co-op, the drug trade union that tries to minimize violence and parcel out territory in a rational fashion. In my mind, Stringer represents the series' ideal: a dealer who sees the game for what it is: business. His fate, however, is the same as everyone else's.
There are, of course, a myriad of other brilliant characters: Avon, Shamrock, McNulty, Daniels, Sobotka, and on and on. Stay tuned for more.