There is a long history of classic literary heroes getting introduced a good way into the work. In The Great Gatsby, for example, the hero is mentioned in the title, and constantly throughout the first few chapters, but we don’t lay eyes on him until he appears without warning in the middle of chapter three. Similarly, Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab doesn’t appear until the Pequod is on the open sea, even if his spirit haunts the book from page one.
But there are few major characters who are introduced as unobtrusively as Omar Little. For the character who became an instant folk hero, a character who impressed President Obama and whose popularity has dismayed his creator, Omar’s first appearance is remarkable in how unremarkable it is.
He comes as if from nowhere, which is pretty fitting for his profession. By the third episode, we feel like we have already been introduced to everybody who matters from within the two worlds of the police and the Barksdale crew. Omar takes us by surprise partially because he isn’t a part of either of these worlds. And yet, it is this very removal that enables him to move so effortlessly between them.
Omar appears three times in “The Buys,” and they form a perfect introduction to the life of the master stickup artist. The first time we are in Omar’s presence, we aren’t even aware that he is there. It seems like business as usual on a rainy day in the Pit, as Bodie, Poot, and Wallace line up a pack of soggy fiends who are restlessly waiting for testers of the new batch of “red tops.” The perspective shifts to a far shot, through a rain-streaked window. It is an unclear perspective until the focus shifts and Omar comes into view, wordlessly watching the process.
After a quick cut back to the distribution of the long-awaited red tops, Poot dashes off for some more vials. We return to that long shot through the car window, and the camera becomes Omar’s eye as it follows Poot to a door. With a reverse cut, we finally get a clear look at the men in the van as the one on the left says “Man, you see that?” The man behind the driver’s seat, Brandon, says “yeah” and Baily in the middle takes notes on a small pad. Omar comments “Some real raggedy ass shit here boy, very sloppy.” Then he lights up a cigarette.
Right from the beginning, all of Omar’s skills are set up. It is fitting that Omar’s first line deals with observation, the one weapon he prefers over the shotgun. He utters few words, but he knows how to pick one person out from a crowded courtyard, and let that person lead his eye to the source that he seeks. He is also meticulous, with Bailey (clearly on Omar’s orders) taking notes on everything they see. Most importantly, he sees what Stringer himself doesn’t. Bell, impressed only by money, says D’Angelo has the crew “humming,” but Omar sees more than that. He sees a sloppy crew, one that is poorly organized, and thus, vulnerable.
Omar’s second appearance is even shorter, but no less of a surprise and no less telling. After the sequence of buys where an undercover Sydnor wanders the pit making hand-to-hands, he stands with Bubbles next to Kima’s van, surreptitiously debriefing her on his futile mission. It is only when she drives off that the camera reveals Omar’s white van. “Well now!” he declares as Bailey continues writing.
Once again, Omar is the watcher, but here it goes even further. He is watching the watchers. His ability to watch from an unseen vantage point keeps him one step ahead of even the police. In fact, it is worth noting that he already knows where the stash is, but when the detail raids the lowrises at the end of the episode, they knock down the wrong door. This shows Omar’s skill, but more importantly, it once again shows the stickup artist’s ability to see the flaws that are invisible to the people within the system, in this case, the detectives. His emphatic exclamation shows pleasure in spotting this irrelevant and ineffective police strategy (it is also how he knows that Bubbles is working with the detail, information that he later shares with Kima and McNulty).
If these first two scenes present Omar as a silent observer, it is the third scene that shows his true power. It is the power of properly applied observation when linked with sudden, unexpected action. Once again, Omar is present before we are aware of it. It is now nighttime in the pit, and D’Angelo and Bodie are impatiently waiting for a reup. Stinkum comes by. He is the muscle (as D’Angelo conveniently explained when describing the role of the Rook in chess). He waits outside the stash house, checks his watch and yawns.
We cut inside, where two young gangsters protect $20,000 of heroin. One of them reads a comic book and the other one plays a video game on a portable device. Suddenly, we hear muffled shouting from outside, and then the door bursts open followed by a man with a giant shotgun. Stinkum, bloodied and incapacitated, is tossed into a corner, and Omar asks Sterling (one of the guards) “Where it at?” Sterling tries to hide his fear and says “ain’t nothing here yo.” Omar blasts his knee away in reply. The second guard takes the hint and gives up the location.
Omar’s weapons in this scene (as in others) are his speed and his decisiveness. He knows that this is the location of the stash, and he knows that by incapacitating Stinkum and shooting Sterling, he will ensure that nobody will challenge him. Interestingly, the one thing he doesn’t know is the quantity of drugs, which is why he presses the issue. “Just two?” he asks. Before Omar can get an answer, Brandon slips up and calls him by name. It is the one mistake in an otherwise-flawless heist.
The scene ends with Omar and his crew backing into the same darkness he burst unexpectedly out of. Thanks to patient observation coupled with decisive, violent action, he leaves six professional gangsters on the ground, confused, bleeding and vomiting (sorry Poot). He is two g-packs richer, and due to Brandon’s slip-up, his name rings out louder than before.
Now let me hear your interpretations, connections and comments…
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