Games in the Morgue

Michael: Um, Dad, It’s a school night. Mom said we had to…

McNulty: I know. We will.

The scene in the morgue, where Omar says his final farewell to Brandon, is one of the most emotionally excruciating of the season. The scene parallels the earlier morgue scene from “The Detail”, especially as they both begin with a shot of the corpse appearing upside down. But this version is much more emotional and far more personal.

We see Brandon in black and white as Doc Frasier’s hands slowly remove the sheet to reveal the tortured corpse. It is a rare that The Wire gives us such a blatantly subjective shot, one that distorts the reality of time and color. It puts us into Omar’s mind, as the unreal sight of his lover’s mutilated body presents itself as an actuality. The silence of the moment gives a sense of disbelief (one that vaguely suggests the grieving Vito Corleone’s visit to the morgue, and his despairing “look how they massacred my boy.”), as if the extremity of the torture is too much to comprehend right away.

This makes what happens next even more jarring. Omar’s reaction is an incredible combination of grief and rage piled on top of sheer disgust at the horrible excess of the murder. We see this in the way Omar kisses Brandon, in McNulty’s obvious discomfort with bearing witness to such a personal moment, in the long shot of the otherwise-empty morgue that emphasizes the helplessness and loss, in the way Omar thumps his head with his fists as if to fight back the volcano of emotion that threatens to erupt, and finally, in the savage roar that echoes out through the chambers of the building.

What makes the scene so devastating is the sudden cut back to the McNulty boys, sitting sleepily outside with their video game and soccer ball. It is a school night for them, as Michael reminded his father, but they wait patiently. It is hard to say if they realize where their father has taken them or why. The entire scene plays out over the faint sounds of an Orioles game and the electronic sound effects of Michael’s video game. The horror of the world within the morgue and the boredom of the mundanity of the world without come together at the moment of Omar’s yell and the simultaneous cut to a surveillance-camera perspective shot of the stray soccer ball rolling into view.

The rest of the world goes on with its games, but there are always terrors waiting to drown out these childish diversions, mercilessly forcing their way into even the most innocent consciousness.

3 thoughts on “Games in the Morgue

  1. Super piece. It was a fantastic scene for Omar, because it would lay the foundations for the character for episodes to come. It was clear that he was not a cold-hearted killer like the rest; his homosexuality indicated that he was his own man, unlike the soldiers we saw/have seen in the Barksdale crew. He’s remembered as a larger-than-life character, but this scene, plus the ones where he’s chided by Bunk (“how far we done fell”) and the solving of the crossword before testifying really brought out the other side of Omar; intelligent, educated (whether that’s from the street or schools, or both, we don’t know) and this one you write about, the loving, compassionate Omar.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for the comments, and for reading.

      One of my favorite things about The Wire is the way it humanizes even the most violent of people, without letting them off the hook for what they do. That is why the “how far we done fell” scene is so good (I have a piece coming out in a few weeks on the flaws of Omar’s “code”). My other favorite example of this is Wee-Bey’s fish.

      This humanization is so important, and it is part of how The Wire consistently defies storytelling convention. They refuse to make their villains into monsters. We can like them at the same time we are disgusted by what they do.

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