“That boy was beautiful. Wasn’t no need for y’all to do him the way y’all did.”
– Omar Little
When I interviewed Michael Kenneth Williams in December, 2006, I asked him how he wanted Omar Little’s story to end. Williams, who plays Omar on the HBO series The Wire, paused for a few seconds, then quietly responded, “I would like to see Omar maybe get out the game, go out on the outer islands on the Bahamas, snatch up Renaldo, build a house down there and never, ever look back.”
This was at the end of season four. At that point, Williams had no idea what the writers of the show had in store for his character, but knowing the gritty nature of the show, his storybook ending seemed highly unlikely.
Ironically, when we first saw Omar at the beginning of season five, Williams briefly got his wish. Omar and Renaldo, living off the money from their last big drug heist, are seen cohabitating in an undisclosed tropical location. Unfortunately, word gets back to Omar that Butchie, his advisor and friend, has been savagely killed by Marlo Stanfield, and Omar decides to head back to Baltimore to seek revenge.
Once Omar made the decision to return to Baltimore, I knew there was no chance that Williams’ happy ending would come true. This past Sunday, the event I had been bracing myself for all season happened – Omar was killed with a single gunshot to the head. However, the shot wasn’t fired by Marlo Stanfield, or his lieutenants Chris and Snoop. Instead, Omar was killed unceremoniously by Kenard, a young thug who moments earlier had been torturing a cat in a back alley.
Being killed by a young punk was bad enough, but the indignities continued throughout the episode. Before the police arrived, neighborhood children looted Omar’s body, stealing his trademark shotgun, along with the rest of his possessions. The Baltimore Sun, not realizing who he was, chose to report on a house fire in Charles County instead of on Omar’s death. The final insult came at the morgue, where a careless employee misidentified the corpse and put Omar’s paperwork on the body of a deceased middle-aged white man.
Omar Devone Little was by far David Simon’s greatest creation and was one of the most compelling characters ever seen on television. If he had to die, he deserved a grand sendoff. Instead, Omar was killed by a young thug who was too naïve and arrogant to be afraid of him. His death was senseless and jarring. The writers of The Wire chose to deprive Omar of the revenge he deserved and sought to humble him in death. They showed that, as legendary and as feared as he was in life, ultimately he became just another casualty of a never-ending drug war.
Perhaps I should be upset with the way David Simon and Co. decided to kill off Mr. Little, but I’m not. It’s fitting. Omar already defied the odds and got revenge in the past against Stringer Bell and the Barksdale Crew (he also defied the odds and pushed the limits of the show’s realism when he leapt off a balcony to escape Chris, Snoop and Michael Lee). Eventually, the game caught up with him. He was a legend while he was alive, but in death, he was just a man – one that was quickly forgotten by the world at large.
The Wire itself only has two episodes remaining. While the show won’t meet a grisly end like Omar did, I fear it is ultimately headed for a similar fate. As groundbreaking and amazing as The Wire has been over these past five seasons, when it meets its end, the show will also be forgotten. Robert Wisdom once told me that The Wire would live on, that eventually “it’s going to be taught in schools and it’s going to go to whole other formats that no other kind of television has ever gone to because people are going to discover it later on.” While I’d like to believe him, I think that The Wire, like Omar, sadly will fade away into obscurity, never finding the justice it deserved.
I also fear that no one else will find a way to capitalize on Michael Kenneth Williams’ immense talent, and he’ll spend the rest of his promising acting career playing generic, one-dimensional street thugs. Judging from the fact that the Emmys continue to overlook his work and the fact that most Hollywood writers are hacks, I feel like this is a distinct possibility.
As for Omar himself, I will do my part to make sure he isn’t completely forgotten. Instead of dwelling on the shocking way he died, I chose to focus on all of the wonderful moments he’s given us. From the first time I saw him on screen, brandishing a shotgun while whistling “The Farmer in the Dell,” I knew this character was something special. How could you not love an openly gay stick-up artist who is universally feared by drug dealers, yet loved by the poor citizens of Baltimore for his Robin Hood tactics?
Omar was incredibly loyal to his friends, yet unforgiving to those who crossed him. While the Barksdale crew and Marlo’s people mocked him behind his back for being gay, they were far too scared to say anything to his face. He robbed drug dealers, but at the end of the day, he just wanted to relax in his silk pajamas while eating a box of Honey Nut Cheerios and smoking a pack of Newports.
His courtroom scene with Maury Levy, where he deflected an accusation from the unscrupulous defense attorney that he profited from the suffering of others by saying, “Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase,” was by far one of the highlights of the series. It was also a great moment in television history.
I’m grateful for all of the memorable Omar moments the writers have given us over the past five seasons. The character was originally supposed to last only seven episodes before being killed off, so I am happy he survived as long as he did. And, even though I’m sure he will be forgotten by the world at large, I am glad that he at least lives on in my DVD collection.
Rest in peace, Omar Little. You were truly one of a kind and you will be missed. Here’s hoping that right now you are up in that big Thug Mansion in the sky, sharing a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios with Brandon. You feel me?
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.