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The Wire: Character Development

The Wire is a great show. If you’ve not watched it you really should (though due to the rich slang I find subtitles essential). I was re-watching it the other day when I was struck by a very neat bit of character development in one of the scenes. It was subtle, so unobtrusive that I only really became aware of it when I was thinking back on it.

In Season 2, Episode 11 (Bad Dreams) the shake-down artist Omar (pictured) is trying to get up-close and personal to Brother Mouzone a New York enforcer hired by the local drug gang. Mouzone is staying in the first story room of a cheap motel, but is waited on by a collection of henchmen, in particular an individual named Lamar who is his personal bodyguard. Omar has found the hotel and is watching Mouzone’s room from the shadows, his view mostly taken up by the bulk of Lamar who stands on guard outside. Lamar is a big problem, both literally and figuratively. To get to Mouzone it would be easy to shoot Lamar from a distance, but that would immediately alert the very dangerous Mouzone to the danger he’s in.

As Omar stakes out the hotel, Lamar calls out to a dog in the courtyard and throws it a scrap of food. In a later scene Kimmy and Tosha, two of Omar’s female accomplices, walk up the stairs of the hotel to where Lamar is standing. Both women are looking foxy in tight party clothes and they’re carrying bottles of booze. However, it seems that Lamar is not interested in women or drink and he tells them to get lost, but then his eyes light up when he sees they have a small dog on a lead. As he bends down to pet the pooch, Omar creeps up behind, bops him on the back of the head and knocks him out cold.

The ruse with the dog works because the audience has been primed to know that Lamar is a dog lover. This is not done in an obvious way. Lamar’s act of feeding the stray dog is not emphasised as being important, it’s just one amongst a number of other incidents that Omar observes while he’s watching, but it’s enough to - almost subconsciously ­­- prime us with the information that Lamar likes animals. The later scene could have gone ahead without the dog feeding incident, but it would have strained our belief somewhat. It’s not impossible for a heavy like Lamar to like dogs, but it’s not what we’d necessarily expect from someone who’s been presented to us as a hard-bitten gangster.

So whose character has been ‘developed’? Well, Lamar’s obviously, since the whole scene is designed to give us an insight into his personality. And we get to know more about Kimmy and Tosha too - that they are gutsy and are able to act a part. But I think the scene speaks to Omar’s character most of all. We see that he’s patient, observant, cool and calculating, and smart enough to spot an opportunity when it presents itself. He’s also not cruel. He could have as easily cut Lamar’s throat as knock him out, but he lets him live. He’s an outstanding character and very well drawn.

Check out The Writers’ Guide chapter on Writing Characters for more advice.


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