Ok, so there are some big Wire *SPOILERS* coming up here, so anyone who hasn’t got to the end of the show would do well to sit down and play catch up while we discuss a young man called Marlo Stanfield.

Marlo’s a cold bastard, colder than any of his rivals on the streets of Baltimore. Oh, sure, the Barksdale crew had plenty of what my mum might call “the badness” in them – just ask old Omar, he’ll tell you – but for all that Avon loved to scrap for the throne, he also had the heart to give his old pal Cutty enough cash to start a gym for local kids, and manipulative as Stringer Bell was, he was always straining to be something else (“a businessman!” yeah String, we heard you!).

But Marlo? Well, from his first appearance onwards (“Do it or don’t, I got someplace to be”), it was obvious that the crown was all that motivated Marlo, and that anything else was either a temporary distraction or an obstacle to demolish. And really, was there a purer expression of this than his triumph over Proposition Joe?

Just watch this bit of bastard on bastard action and tell me it doesn’t ice up your delicate bits:

There’s an overload of good acting in this scene, with Jamie Hector giving one of his most joyous anti-performances (honestly, the way he plays Marlo makes being horrible and unaffected seem like so much fun!) while Robert F Chew draws in all of the sympathy for surrounding area, causing a sympathy blackout in the rest of East Baltimore.

Still, for all that you’d have to be the son of a two-balled bitch not to feel for Joe as he realises that no proposition’s going to save him on this particular day, it’s worth noting that Marlo has learned far more from Joe than the big man seems to want to admit. You see, Joe’s working away like the director of a nature documentary here, playing the seal that’s just about to get smashed by the polar bear when just one season earlier we saw him putting Old Face Andrew in exactly the same position.

When Joe’s talking to his nephew Cheese at the start of the scene, unaware that he’s just been sold out by him, he seems dismayed that the M.E.T.H.O.D. Man isn’t clued up as to the significance of the house he stays in, so he gives him a brief lecture on civic pride. It’s moments like this that make Joe such a good character, because the warmth he shows when talking about how Cheese’s great grandfather was the “first coloured man to own a house in Johnson Square” makes it hard to remember that he’s also one of the best bastards in town.

Joe might complain that he treated Marlo like a son, but if that’s the case, how could he expect Marlo to act otherwise? Marlo might not have learned the lessons that Prop Joe intended him to learn, but he has been a good student, maybe even too good.

“Close your eyes. It won’t hurt none.” – there’s no sympathy here, just a sense of control so complete that the younger player feels compelled to dictate the actions of his victims. It’s hard to watch, but at the same time, you wouldn’t want to look the other way when Marlo’s wielding that little smile like a razorblade now would you?

That’s just the kind of bastard Marlo is – he’s every bit as ambitious and manipulative as his contemporaries and competitors, but he’s a lot narrower and more focused than them, which possibly just means that he’s better at this sort of basterdry than they are. Sure, it’s almost impossible to like the fucker, but when he makes moves like this, it’s equally impossible not to watch him.

“Relax. Breath easy.” - if you hear a bastard of this calibre say these words, well, you pretty much know that you’re fucked.

(Of course, there’s a twist to all of this, in that Marlo ends up with the ending that Stringer Bell wanted for himself – i.e. legit success, “a businessman” – when what he really wants is to run the streets, to have his name ring out. “Truth is, you won’t be able to change up no more than me” – do you think that, when Marlo said this to Prop Joe, he ever imagined how much these words were going to come back to bite him? Who would ever imagined that his problem would be that he was just too good at this particular type of basterdry to be happy bastarding away in a slightly different field?)

9 Responses to “Great Moments in bastardry – Close Your Eyes, It Won’t Hurt None…”

  1. Simmered Says:

    Best month ever.

  2. Illogical Volume Says:

    The best thing about it is that it’s not over yet!

  3. Lanmao, the Blue Cat Says:

    One of my favorite things about the end of the Wire is the moment were Marlo just can’t take any of this legitimate businessman bullshit anymore and goes out to dominate a nearby corner so he can feel like the king again. If I remember correctly, the dealers on the corner are telling a mythologized version of Omar’s escape from Snoop and crew, but when Marlo steps up to them they don’t even recognize his name. He takes the corner, but like his time at the top of the game it doesn’t mean anything, because like Illogical says, all he wanted was for his name to ring out. He’s just another in a long line of kingpins, but Omar ascends to the realm of myth.

  4. Dan K Says:

    Thnking back on it, one thing that the Wire has in common with Nolan’s Batman films is that it has escalation as a major theme.

    With each passing generation (a couple of years?) the gangsters get younger and colder. The smack poisoning Avon Barksdale looks positively quaint compared to the boy king Marlon. Avon’s last year’s model – the same as Gotham’s old school gangsters once the Joker rocks up.

  5. Illogical Volume Says:

    Dan: I was never sure how to read The Wire on that point, actually. On the one hand, the show was definitely concerned with deprofessionalisation in what you might optimistically call late capitalism, and that theme extended to the drug world as much as it does to the newspaper world.

    On the other hand, Marlo Stanfield and his crew always seemed to be pretty fucking good at what they did. They were adaptable and ruthless, and as such they were the kings of the run down corner of the world that they were born into.

    On the other other hand, Poot explicitly mocks the idea that the kids are getting rougher every year at one point, a position that chimes with my general feeling that each generation ends up feeling like the next generation are going to eat their own young.

    On the other other other hand, Marlo was definitely the best bastard of the bunch. I guess my question is whether he was supposed to be representative of a new generation of superbastards, or whether he was just horrible in all the right ways for the time and place he found himself in.

    Lanmao: You’re right that is a great scene!

    Still, The Wire is definitely aware of how horrible a mythic figure Omar is on some levels. Bunk’s disgust at the site of small children taking turns to play Omar was well-aimed, and the showrunners knew it.

  6. hilker Says:

    Even more well-aimed than you think: the small child who disgusts Bunk by saying “I get to be Omar now!” is Kenard.

  7. Illogical Volume Says:

    Yeah, I picked up on that – it’s not quite like Omar fired a bullet back from time only to be shot with it moments later, but the poetics are similar.

  8. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Rogue’s Review: Darkseid Says:

    [...] Still, from where I’m sitting, there’s no argument that Kirby was the king of this shit.  Reading his Fourth World stories today reveals that his Darkseid was much more of a character than anyone else’s – as Tim says, when he shouts at the Forever People for being a bunch of disrespectful hippy bastards, he’s funny, funny like your dad used to be when he went over the score in front of your friends. The thing is, even there, he’s absolutely in control, dictating terms to his enemy – kind of like another bastard we’ve met recently. [...]

  9. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Aggregator Bastardator Says:

    [...] GREAT MOMENTS IN BASTARDY – CLOSE YOUR EYES, IT WON’T HURT NONE… The only problem with writing a post about the batardry of Marlo Stanfield is that… well, where do you start with that guy!  I *SPOILED* the shit out of a particularly cold moment from last season, but the man’s introduction pretty much speaks for itself. [...]

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