The Wire - Character Study
If you’ve never watched the wire, do yourself a favor, watch it. It just came out in remastered 1080 HD quality. It’s five seasons long. It’s HBO. And it’s the best show ever. Period. This entry I’ve decided to do a “boss” analysis of the various drug kingpins (and, well, one not so much kingpin but major player). I rank them from, in my humble opinion, worst to best, saving the best for last.
One thing to know about the wire is that the metaphor of chess is prevalent throughout. In the first season one character explains to another how to play and mentions that, when a pawn makes it to the other side he becomes a queen. The question is asked, what happens with the king? The answer: the king stays the king. Remember that in this analysis.
Stringer Bell – Avon’s accomplice, amazing character, brilliantly acted by Idris Elba. Together with Avon he’s unstoppable, alone? When he took the reins in season 2 and throughout season 3 you start to realize how Stringer was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. He wanted to treat the drug game like a business. That is all well and good to a certain extent. He formed a coop and his primary focus was reducing violence as he felt that was just an unnecessary distraction that always hampered business.
He made deals with the eastside where they could deal in the westsides prime territory provided that the westside could use the eastside’s prime dope connection. All in all, stringer viewed everything through the lens of macro and micro economics. When confronted with Marlo, a ruthless kingpin, he tried to reason on the business side with him and eventually got outplayed.
His downfall was not knowing the language of the streets like Avon. He also did not naturally commend respect like Avon or Marlo. He gave himself up trying to get rid of Brother Mouzone by asking how Brother was doing after getting shot, something that infuriated Avon. In the end, Stringer was the Queen to Avon’s King and Avon had to sacrifice his queen (I swear all this makes sense if you watch the 5 seasons!)
Marlo Stanfield – Marlo was the exact opposite of Stringer. To him, violence was everything. There’s a great scene in the last season where Marlo tries to be a businessman but ends up going outside and getting into a brawl with two young punks on the corner. Marlo’s ruthlessness, and catching Avon at a time of weakness is what propels him up the chain to kingpin. Marlo also benefits from having two amazing lieutenants, Chris and Snoop, stone-cold killers that he can rely on. The brilliance of the Wire is that it shows that holding the crown is not just a matter of who you are but also who you surround yourself with.
As mentioned, Marlo catches Avon at the perfect time: a strain between Avon and Stringer and also most of Avon’s good men are locked up or dead. Marlo doesn’t really lose the crown so much as give it up, but if I had to guess, if he had stayed around until Avon got out of prison, he would have lost the crown to Avon, best believe that!
Proposition Joe – unfortunately there’s not as much backstory to give on Prop Joe. All you know is that he’s running the eastside to Avon’s westside. But he must have done something right as he has the primary connect with the Greeks for the good dope. He supplies the product. Prop Joe eventually gets done in by Marlo and this is due, again, to the fact that he has hopeless underlings. His primary lieutenant is Cheese Wagstaff (amazingly portrayed by Method Man) who is a disloyal prick (and is only kept on, as Prop Joe consistently reminds everyone because he’s his nephew).
Prop Joe, however, gets done in by the COOP that Stringer created. When the dope connection gets robbed by Omar (whole other separate entity that guy), he offers the COOP (specifically Marl) to check up on the connection to show that he isn’t lying. Big mistake, Marlo usurps Joe’s connection and kills Prop Joe. In the end, Prop Joe gave up the connect to protect his nephew. One moment of weakness and he gets a bullet in the back of the head.
Slim Charles – okay, okay I know, I know, he’s never really a kingpin but hear me out. he’s the pawn that made it to the other side. He is cool as ice, knowledgeable, and most importantly, shuts the fuck up and waits in the background until the time is right. The only thing about him though is that, by his own admission, he’s not cut out to be no CEO. The most important thing about Slim is that he doesn’t have the defects of the other three mentioned before him. He’s not naïve like stringer, violent like Marlo or sentimental like Prop Joe.
It’s also worth noting that in the end Slim has a piece of the connect. Baller move.
Avon Barksdale – the king. There’s a great scene where Marlo goes to visit the connect in Jail and Avon shows up. Avon controls the connect through prison and makes Marlo go through him. This is the epitome of “the king stays the king”, just a great scene.
Avon Barksdale, where to start. He commands respect. He has charisma unlike Marlo and Stringer but without letting it get the better of him like prop joe. There’s another great scene where he walks across the baseball field in prison and the game stops for him to do so.
He’s smart, he’s loyal to his people and most importantly, he has (had in later seasons) the best supporting cast. He had stringer as his number 2 (Stringer’s position in the hierarchy where he thrived) and he had faithful lieutenants: Weebey, Bird, Stinkum.
Oh man another great scene is where he visits and uncle in the mental ward who’s in some sort of coma and he talks about how tough it is to be the kingpin. He says, you can’t slip, not for one second…and how do you not slip for one second? It’s impossible. He just has this amazing insight into how the gangster life really goes (something that Stringer never could comprehend).
Avon had this amazing ability to keep a low profile and did what any successful person does, he had other people do the work for him while he made the executive decisions. Avon was the pinnacle of CEO (what Stringer wanted to be and Marlo never could be). He was the person who moved the chess pieces outside of the game. If he hadn’t been weak when marlo was on the rise he would have mopped the floor with Marlo and his crew, but at that point all the good soldiers were locked up or dead and Avon had to make due with some off brand marks.
Yet even then, it wasn’t Marlo who truly did Avon in, it was Stringer. What took Avon out the game was the infighting and lack of trusty lieutenants. But Avon will stay the king, why? Because when he gets out his most loyal soldier, Slim Charles will have a piece of he connect with marlo and prop joe already sidelined. The king stays the king.