Ghosts in the machine: final thoughts on Clarifications

Episode 58 opens with a oddly Strangelovian juxtaposition, as the Baltimore PD Comstat meets the Jimmy McNulty Confabulation.

Maps, extra units, statewide alerts, rental cars, oh my. Watching McNulty’s smirk as he realizes the brass and the mayor are completely onboard, I had that feeling again, like Sydnor in the park last week watching the helicopter fly over as citizens are being detained, police radios and sirens blaring; that seasickness of watching a widening succession of concrete events rolling along, each of those events spawning other events … all sparked by lies.

But this episode ended up different. If the whole season has been about lies, this was the episode that was about the truth. Clarifications, as in facts, results, disambiguation, confession.

For me, the most powerful moments of the episode, the ones that brought it all home, were visual:

  • McNulty’s smirk is gone soon enough as we watch his face during the profiling session. Later, when he returns to the empty house, the strange upward camera angle emphasizes his trapped state.
  • Bunk’s look of relief when he gets the positive lab results confirming his old-fashioned police work
  • Jen’s questioning face as Carcetti describes his wheeling and dealing, after lying through his teeth at the homeless rally.
  • Terry Hanning desperately rocking his head in his hands. You know the guy is probably fighting madness every single day and he’s trying with his whole being to hang onto the truth of his experiences and memories. We talked last week about how the media overwhelms us, how this country overwhelms us, how our own government tries to get us to believe lies and that’s how Hanning holding his head, his brains, his memory, in his hands haunts me. It’s the most American of gestures, not the hand over the heart pledging allegiance but the head in the hands trying to hold on, to make sense of an existence that every day is more exhausting and overwhelming and devaluing.
  • The scene with Michael, Snoop and Chris: the worry on Snoop’s face, and the abruptness as she shoves Michael away, as they both walk away and leave him there.

Of course, finally, there was the end of Omar. Yes, the shooting was shocking, even though I’d seen the clip online before. Yes, it was a truth of another kind. Marlo wasn’t responsible for Omar’s death, even if Kenard was working a Stanfield corner, at least not Marlo alone. Everyone was responsible for it, including Omar himself, including the city itself, along with everyone and everything that created Kenard, an irredeemable rogue child with a gun. Bunk’s words in the famous “bench scene” serve as Omar’s epitaph:

“All this death? You don’t think that ripples out?”

But more than his death, there is the truth of his last day.

I remember a few weeks back remarking how I was struck by the scenes of Omar and Donny’s stakeout of Monk’s condo. They were desolate, dark, lonely and sad. I remembered those scenes as I watched Omar shamble through the empty streets in the broad daylight on his last day on earth. Before the shootout, in the car with Donny, that Omar was still out for blood, out for vengeance. That Omar still thought he could get Marlo.

The Omar in this episode is a different man. I think it’s obvious Omar now knows he can’t beat Marlo at his own game. Omar knows firepower and strategy, remember this is the man who planned last year’s heist. Even if he had taken out Marlo, there’s the whole co-op that he ripped off that would come for him.

I think he knows he’s outgunned, he knows Marlo isn’t going to give him a “high noon” shoot-out, mano a mano. Because he also knows Marlo isn’t a man, not in elemental, old-style sense like Omar, like Chris. “My name is my name!” we see Marlo shout in the previews, and that’s what Marlo is. In his neatly pressed, never-worn-twice brandname clothes and immaculate shoes, he could be a mannequin in a window. He’s a symbol, a figurehead, a name, a brand, a stand-in for the pervasive corporate state. That’s where Omar succeeds during his last day, an agent provacateur, knowing he could get taken out from the window of any vacant, defiant in the broad daylight, trashing Marlo’s name and reputation.

I don’t know whether he could have foreseen a Kenard taking him out, but I think he knew he was a dead man walking, already a ghost. I wonder if it was worth it, throwing away his happy ending with Reynaldo, the house on the beach, the neighborhood kids that ran up to him, instead of away from him.



  1. Re: Omar

    And old enemy of his had some wise words that, five years later, seem all too appropriate.

    “See, the thing is, you only have to fuck up once. Be a little slow, be a little late. Just once. And how you ain’t gon never be slow, never be late? You can’t plan for no shit like this, man. It’s life.”

    Still, I like the idea that he was successful in his own way, even as he became “already a ghost” on borrowed time before death jumped out that balcony and caught up with him.

    One last thought: So how are we to take Omar’s word-on-the-street campaign against Marlo in the context of this season’s theme of the media?

  2. that’s a good question, Hon Tea.

    answers, anyone. I’m all thunk out for the day.

  3. After a closed head injury 6 years ago, I still second guess every fucking thing I think of. It’s people missing the little shit like chocolate milk instead of coffee that drive you crazy. You know you’re right, because you have to work hard as hell at remembering shit, but for someone else, it’s just a random meaningless beverage. For guys like me, it’s my fucking grip on reality, and how dare they trivialize it.

    That kind of explains my intense hatred for Goeglein Blair Templeton.

  4. Sorry, VT. I guess I’m king of the threadkillers.

  5. After a closed head injury 6 years ago

    Did your hair look nice?

  6. Ray, you cold…

  7. Had a helmet on, so, no.

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