The Samneric Dialogues 2: Character matters
Amorak: Let’s talk about The Wire and Grantland’s bracket thing. I mean, Omar is almost for sure going to win, but what do you think about the contest?
Mark: Well, first of all, how the seeds and characters were picked are big questions I have. Some of the ones they left out: Slim Charles, Gus, Beadie, Carver. And instead, they've got Sergei? Cheese? How do they make Bubs a 7-seed and Clay Davis a 2-seed? I love Wallace, but he shouldn't be a 4. McNulty is too prominent in the show arc to be a #3. I don't know how you even begin to evaluate each matchup. Love for the character? Ruthlessness? Power? Impact on the show? No Valchek, Templeton, Burrell, The Greek, and where are all the women (except Snoop and Kima)? They should have done a full field of 64. Top seeds: Omar, McNulty, Stringer, and Avon or Bubbles.
Amorak: Yeah, this is a bracket where the idiosyncratic taste of the selection committee has too much influence on the outcome. Although, I predict Omar would win almost no matter how it was set up. Everyone loves Omar, right? I know I do. But you could maybe argue that he’s the least realistic of the major characters. The “outlaw with a code” thing is probably more of a literary and Hollywood convention than a kind of person you’d run into (or away from) on the street.
Mark: Totally, plus, he’s rather larger than life, and a bit ridiculous when you think (not too hard) about it. The duster, the shotgun, the homosexuality, the abhorrence of profanity--he’s basically the “gangster with a heart of gold.” But I thoroughly enjoyed watching him navigate the world of the show. Did you see Mike Schur’s alternate bracket? Much closer to what I would have liked to see. And there’s a ham-handed attempt at providing an explanation of what they thought they were doing. Here’s another article that tries to put a finger on how one might evaluate the match-ups and determine winners.
Amorak: It is interesting, though, to think about what makes a character good. The Wire is definitely built around good characters, whatever it is. Some combination of lovabilty or hate-ability and charisma and memorableness. I mean, we both love Davenport, and he’s also larger than life. Good-looking and charming and the smartest guy in the room? Besides you and me, how many folks like that do you encounter in everyday life?
Mark: Certainly not many. Yeah, same with Reacher. Except maybe the good-looking part and probably the charming part. Substitute "mysterious" and "bad-assiest." And yes a variety of things factor into creating a good character. Take Bodie. Season One, by all rights, you have to hate him. But something happens over the course of the rest of the show--you come to admire his brashness and loyalty, and you see in him qualities you can identify with (thinking specifically in terms of doing his job, playing his role in an organization). And he's just likable. Despite what we learned and hated about him in Season One. Strange and interesting.
Amorak: When I read a thriller/cop story novel I don’t like, it so often is because I don’t care for the main character. You gotta have a compelling central figure to make a reader or viewer pay attention. In The Wire, it’s interesting, because at the start of season 1, you think it’s McNulty’s story. And it is, in a lot of ways, but it’s not only his. Lots of stories have a strong protagonist and a strong antagonist, and some have decent second-tier characters. But not many pull off what The Wire did, with so many characters we know so deeply and care so much about. Bodie’s a good example. Like, on the show, he’s character No. 15 or 25 or 45, and yet he’s more memorable and meaningful and real and complex than anyone from, say, CSI or whatever.
Mark: Agreed. Part of the fun and frustration of this whole Wire bracket-thing is the wealth of characters the show created that you love, remember, admire, marvel at, and even hate (but not because they weren’t interesting). It’s really incredible how many different characters they were able to develop over the course of 10-13 episodes per season for 5 seasons. And developed in such a way that you can get worked-up about particular characters not being included in a goofy, purely subjective “contest” like this one. I know it had me thinking a lot about how it should’ve been done--I even grabbed Schur’s list, added some of my own choices, and tried coming up with a way to split the characters into “regions”: Police, Street, Schools/Port, and City Hall/Newspaper. But it was hard to come up with 16 legit characters for the last two regions. And the Cops and Gangsters regions had the opposite problem--too many, too strong.
Amorak: One of the things the Wire writers got right is that these strong characters have to be in motion. Character and plot have to work together. I tell my students that story requires change, or at least the possibility of change. For so many of the characters in this show, it’s the latter, right? I mean, you want so badly for some of these people to change, to get out of their circumstance, to grab control somehow, and yet in the end most of them can’t do it. The environment is too strong. Pretty goddamn bleak. I’ve heard the show compared to Dickens, Bleak House in particular, and the analogy makes sense.
Mark: Yeah...I never read that. I blame Mrs. Roby.
Amorak: Well, if it ever comes up in conversation, just tell people you think of Bleak House as The Wire set in Victorian England, and then go on to talk about the show and the nature of serial storytelling. People will think you’re deep.
Mark: Good idea. Well, as expected, Omar won the “tourney.” A fun little diversion before the “real” bracket madness started. And now I want to do another re-watch of the series. Care to join me?
Samneric is Mark D. Orr and Amorak Huey, who have always thought of themselves as the protagonists.