Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Spotlight on Marlo Stanfield


DISCLAIMER: I think this is easier to understand if you've seen THE WIRE. But I'll let you be the judge of that. It may contain minor spoilers, but I think I remained vague.

Marlo Stanfield is my favorite antagonist ever, in all fiction. There are several reasons for that, which I want to explore in this post, but here's a little background on him first. He is a character of the iconic series THE WIRE and is portrayed by Jamie Hector, who never had an equally important part afterwards, so people probably stop him in the street to take pictures and call him Marlo. He's the up-and-coming drug kingpin in Baltimore who doesn't play the game like anybody before him. For more information about him, you can read his well-detailed Wikipedia entry.

 Marlo is a clear-cut antagonist in a world where nothing is supposed to be black or white. If you've followed THE WIRE, you might have felt for Avon and Stringer, the two previous drug lords of West Baltimore. Especially during this scene, after Stringer showered his old friend with gifts, the reminded each other how far they have come. According to THE WIRE'S logic, they were humans with hopes and dreams like everybody else, only they were born on the wrong side of the law. Marlo couldn't be anymore different.

First of all, look at him. He looks like a sad puppy. There is nothing despicable about his image. Most antagonists sell the punch before opening their mouth. Javier Bardem's Anton Chirgurh was awesome, but reason why this article isn't about him is that you knew he was fucking mental from frame one. Bad guys usually have "the evil eye" or some twisted physical characteristic that is the equivalent of wearing a sign around their neck. Sometimes it's just a very bulky frame that symbolizes how big an obstacle her is to the protagonist. James Bond villains are particularly bad at this, but it became somewhat a calling card of the franchise over time. Marlo's a wolf in sheep clothing. You would sit next to him on the bus and not notice him.

It's impossible to really like Marlo, because he runs the streets like he's goddamn Joseph Stalin, but there are traits to his personality who are worthy of admiration. He is a smart and driven individual who always keeps an ace up his sleeve. He can't outpower Avon Barksdale's crew at first, so he concentrates his power in small, surgical strikes against strategic targets within Barksdale's organization. He's an underdog, pushing a legendary dope peddler out of the game. It's hard to root against an underdog, even when they're evil. That's the kind of trap a great character puts the audience in.

If Marlo Stanfield gets such a good stage to display his greatness, it's because there is no lead protagonist in THE WIRE, so it's never trapped within a certain point of view. Most narratives will put their protagonist vs antagonist story on the forefront, often overdoing it and falling back on clich├ęs. In THE WIRE, there are no heroes. During Marlo's rise to power, you can witness all the players of the drug game who you have learned to grudgingly love over the years, with their backs against the wall because of one driven man with a dream of power. Agent extraordinaire Donald Maass said you often fall in love with the character displaying most strength in a story. Well, Marlo Stanfield is the strongest character in THE WIRE.

Last but not least, Marlo leaves you more unanswered questions than anything. He doesn't talk much, so you never really know who he truly is. What happened that drained all empathy from him? Was he born like that or could it have been different if he was born in a different family? What is he gonna do once everything's his? He's my favorite antagonist ever, because he's a cold-blooded psychopath lead by an all-consuming thirst for power and yet I can't help but admire the triumph of his cerebral approach in the most violent streets of America. He sometimes made me forget I watched TV.

So, what did you like about Marlo Stanfield? What other antagonists did you love?






3 comments:

  1. That is extremely high praise, especially considering you are so well read. Best antag ever? Are you sure there isn't some hyperbole in there somewhere? Let's think about fiction. For me an iconic bad guy was Darth Vader. Whether you like the films or not, I think a series can be measured by how much it falls apart without the bad guy and there simply isn't any story at all without Darth Vader for Star Wars.

    What about Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes? That villain is incredible. Hannibal Lecter anyone? Again, you could have no story at all without him there.

    I've never seen you rave like a school girl, so I have to admit, if this guy is this good, the Wire is something I can no longer afford to ignore.

    You were the one that got me into Breaking Bad. I seriously owe that one to you (because of the stuff you talked about, I took a chance on the series).

    So I will watch the Wire, Ben. Thanks for the heads up.

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  2. I totally stand behind what I said. No hyperbole. Moriarty, Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter are just building stones towards making Marlo Stanfield. Eventually, he'll become a building stone for somebody else, but not right now. He really is a dictator in street clothes, who thrives on fear and power, yet he looks like your little brother. Watch those videos, especially the second. Look how dead-scared that other guy is.

    The Wire is one of the best shows ever (often debated with Breaking Bad as which one is THE best). I'm warning you though, Marlo doesn't appear until season three. It's highly complex and requires patience.

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  3. Marlo's two best moments in my humble opinion are the almost excited expression on his face when Prop Joe gets it and his anger when he's told that Omar's challenge was kept from him http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itCPGm2W1fE

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