From Whence Omar Came: The Wireâ€™s Minisodes
First, a shout-out: the doctor is in. Elana Levine has started a blog, Dr. Television (no, that’s not the doctor above!), and already Iâ€™m really liking it. Dr. T has some neat posts on soaps and the writersâ€™ strike in particular, but also in her first post insists that she wants her blog not to be so serious all the time. Thus, a brief post of hers about catching up on The Wire that I really relate to reads:
I’m having dreams about Frank Sobotka and cans missing from the stacks. I can’t fall back asleep at 2 AM after replacing the blanket of an almost-4-year-old because I’m too busy thinking about Stringer Bell. Am I really supposed to be able to work with these characters marching through my brain all day and night?
Which struck home today, as I spent a lot of time on the subway, without a book, and thus spent most of it thinking about The Wireâ€™s minisodes released prior to Season 5. No real spoilers below, for those who worry.
Releasing the minisodes was a neat idea, and the concept behind each is kind of cool too. One takes us back to Baltimore in 1962 to see a young Proposition Joe, another to 1985 to see a young Omar (below), and the third to 2000 to see how Bunk and McNulty met. The best sequels nearly always involve prequel (think Godfather II to Godfather, or even the info gleaned about Luke in The Empire Strikes Back), so I like this idea more than the 24 direct-to-phone clips that create a different agent with a different case. If 24 had given us mobisodes that examined how Jack joined CTU, say, then Iâ€™d actually be interested. And the long-promised Lost mobisodes focusing on the other Lostaways pique my interest because they could perhaps tell me more about how everyone got to the island (symbolically speaking). So The Wireâ€™s attempt to take us back in time is interesting.
But in thinking about them all day, I must object to the Omar minisode in particular (see below, and I promise this spoils nothing about the show). Clip and objection after the fold.
My problem here is that this works against one of the key things that makes The Wire exceptional television. The Wire doesnâ€™t reduce everything to individuals, and has often been extraordinarily savvy at showing us where characters and their behavior come from, and how an environment creates a character. So what I want to know about Omar is what in his life made him the odd Robin Hood figure that he is now, when those around him have gone another direction. I donâ€™t want the answer to be simply that heâ€™s an exceptional person. And when we learn that his brother is not an exception, it further raises the question of what sets Omar aside.
Granted, itâ€™s a fairly innocuous clip, and it doesnâ€™t disallow, per se, the notion that something happened to fashion the Omar that we know â€¦ but it does severely cut down the timeline, as we now know that whatever experiences made him what he is mustâ€™ve happened before about age 10. Or, and this is what bugs me, it suggests that Omar just â€œis what he is.â€ Which is backed up by the Prop Joe clip, which suggests that heâ€™s always been the smart and sly, somewhat noble wheel-and-dealer that he is. Is it just me, or is this a weird and wholly unsatisfying u-turn for the show that in Season 4 did a spectacular job of showing how kidsâ€™ choices and options are often made for them? Where are the deeper answers to which I’m accustomed?
In many ways, then, the Wire minisodes really tell us no more than do many other experiments with the form. If anything, as Iâ€™ve suggested, they may actually do more harm than good. Yes, viewed in the context of them being released for promotional purposes, in order to whet our appetite for the show before Season 5 began, and to make people like me spend a whole day thinking about Omar, they succeed. But in textual terms â€“ in terms of actually offering meaning and depth â€“ alas, thereâ€™s surprisingly little on offer.Tags: Omar, prequels, The Wire, webisodes