Strategic Restraint


The interesting plot development in the fourth episode of The Wire is that we're finally getting some real peeks at Marlo Stanfield's character and personality and so far, compared to the other criminals who've had a major role on the show, he seems like a . . . gigantic asshole. One theme we've seen consistently through the show is that, in the game, just as in counterinsurgency or grand strategy, it's often useful to apply strategic restraint rather than deploy maximum violence. Stringer Bell was the street figure most associated with this philosophy, but it clearly lives on in Prop Joe's co-op. And, indeed, even though the Bell-Avon split at times appeared to be on this very point, the script flipped late in Season 3 when Stringer suddenly wanted to hit Clay Davis and Avon pointed out that you can't be killing state senators.

Marlo, too, seemed to be down with the program. When Lex kills Fruit, Marlo's crew wants to retaliate massively against all of Lex's associates. Marlo discerns that Lex's beef with Fruit was personal, and that though he needs to kill Lex to demonstrate that you don't fuck with Marlo's crew, he also wants to minimize the violence so he retaliates only against Lex. Marlo's handling of the security guard, however, is very much at odds with this approach. An extra corpse has been generated for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the interests of the business. What's more, the victim in this case is a civilian, a taxpayer, which is a much more serious step than killing a gangbanger -- we've seen consistently that the Baltimore PD investigates such matters more rigorously than crook-on-crook violence. All of which raises the question of how this links up to the education theme: Marlo has been mostly portrayed as a source of education, along with Bubbles, Prez, Cutty, Omar, etc. But the other dealers in the co-op always emphasize Marlo's youth. Is he a teacher, or one of those who's going to get schooled?