|First appearance||"Time after Time" (episode 3.01)|
|Last appearance||"–30–" (episode 5.10)|
|Created by||David Simon|
|Portrayed by||Jamie Hector|
Marlo Stanfield is a fictional character on the HBO television drama The Wire, played by actor Jamie Hector. Stanfield is a young, ambitious, intelligent and extremely ruthless player and, along with Chris Partlow and Felicia "Snoop" Pearson, is head of the eponymous Stanfield Organization in the Baltimore drug trade. Marlo's organization starts out small-time, operating in the vacuum left by the Barksdale Organization, and rises to the top of the Baltimore drug trade fairly quickly. A repeated theme in Marlo's characterization is his demand for unconditional respect, which trumps all other concerns. He frequently orders the deaths of those who disrespect him or undermine his name on the streets, however unwittingly. He is arguably the most violent and ruthless of the drug kingpins portrayed in The Wire; In 2016, Rolling Stone ranked him #2 of their "40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time".
Character background and plot relations
Marlo "Black" Stanfield's background prior to his drug empire is largely unexplored. He was a previous suspect in an unsolved case for Homicide Detective Vernon Holley; Holley believed it was Marlo who killed his only witness as well as the original victims, yet no evidence could be traced back to him. The Barksdale Organization already had all the prime territory on the westside in the form of the public housing towers and Avon Barksdale had little interest in the street corners. Marlo's established rule and reputation is only noticed by the returning Barksdale dealers and soldiers when the towers are demolished by City Hall and Avon wishes to return to their roots, escalating an all-out war over the best territory of the westside.
Marlo Stanfield was introduced in season three as an up-and-coming drug player who controlled many corners in West Baltimore. Stanfield and his primary enforcer Chris Partlow waged war with the Barksdale crew over this territory. His ambition was full control of the drug trade in West Baltimore.
Following the loss of their project buildings, the Barksdale Organization approached Stanfield through lieutenant Bodie Broadus to discuss the sharing of territory in exchange for a supply of their high quality heroin. Stanfield refused to acknowledge Bodie, who had set up his own crew within Stanfield's established territory, and insisted that he move his people away. Later Stanfield has dealer Fruit and his crew give Bodie's crew a beating, demonstrating that he was not going to lie down and let the Barksdale organization move into his territory. Stringer Bell visited Stanfield personally to try to convince him to join the New Day Co-Op, a group of Baltimore drug players who buy packages of narcotics together to receive a discount and also try to reduce the violence of their business in order to avoid police attention. Stanfield listened to Stringer without comment, and shortly after Stringer left, he warned Partlow to prepare for war.
Lieutenant Daniels' major case unit became aware of Stanfield when he met with Stringer, although initially they assumed he was working for the Barksdale organization like many other crews in the West side. The unit went to the homicide division to learn more about Stanfield and found that he had been investigated for a murder. The police had built a case against him using a key witness who was murdered before the case went to trial. The investigating detective, Vernon Holley, believed that Stanfield killed the witness and goes on to describe Stanfield as "the spawn of the devil." When a failed Barksdale assault on a Stanfield corner resulted in the deaths of two Barksdale soldiers, the police realized Stanfield's crew was independent of the Barksdale organization, and that the two gangs were at war.
The assault had been triggered by the parole of Avon Barksdale who took a more confrontational approach to the turf war than Stringer. Stanfield believed that the failed assault showed a lack of strength in the Barksdale organization and discussed this with Chris Partlow and his advisor Vinson. Avon then orders a second attack which results in one of Stanfield's drug dealers being killed. Stanfield feigns retreat then organizes retaliatory attacks against Barksdale territory. His soldier Snoop killed Barksdale soldier Rico in a drive-by. Avon responded by hiring a woman named Devonne to seduce Stanfield and lure him to a meeting. Though Stanfield has sex with Devonne, he grows suspicious of her. Before their next arranged meeting, he has Chris and Snoop surveil the location. Chris spots a vehicle responding to Devonne's presence and correctly deduced that the meeting was a setup. Chris has his driver drive up to the vehicle and lets off a shot gun blast through a side window. This wounds Avon and kills another Barksdale soldier. Stanfield and Chris later track Devonne to her home and Stanfield murder her personally as she was leaving one night. Avon responds by ordering more attacks. An attack led by Slim Charles kills two Stanfield soldiers.
When Stringer Bell is murdered, the police and drug gangs assumed that Stanfield was responsible. In reality, Avon had facilitated his death by giving Brother Mouzone (and in turn Omar Little) information about his whereabouts. Stanfield and Chris come close to also being murdered when Slim Charles tracks them down. However, the police, acting on a tip given by Stringer shortly before his death, raid the Barksdale armory. Slim Charles calls for backup, but Avon and his soldiers are arrested.
At the end of season three, Avon is convicted of parole violation (and possibly a conspiracy charge). Stanfield and Chris attended his sentencing hearing. Avon acknowledged Stanfield, thus conceding that the crown had been passed.
Stanfield begins season four in control of all the best territory in Western Baltimore. He ruthlessly protects his territory through his enforcers, Chris Partlow and Snoop. When murders are committed on Stanfield's behalf, they hide the bodies in vacant buildings. When one of Stanfield's crew chiefs, Fruit, is killed by a dealer from Bodie Broadus' independent crew, he is quick to order the death of the dealer responsible.
Stanfield furthers his reputation around the neighborhood by giving away money, through Monk, to children during the back-to-school period. Although most children are happy to accept the money, Michael Lee notably refuses, in an early show of his strength of character. Stanfield keeps his own skills and his soldiers' sharp by organizing shooting practice sessions in the woods.
The major crimes unit targets Stanfield and begins to monitor his organization using wiretaps, but fail to link him to any murders because of the hidden bodies. They do manage to get Stanfield on tape when he uses Monk's phone to talk to a subordinate known as "Old Face" Andre. The unit is re-staffed for political reasons and the investigation stalls.
"Proposition Joe" Stewart engineers a conflict between Stanfield and Omar Little in an attempt to demonstrate the benefits of joining his drug cartel - the New Day Co-Op. Stanfield agrees to join the Co-Op to learn more about Omar and the mounting police interest in his own organization.
Stanfield plans to have Omar framed and killed in jail. The plan fails and Omar retaliates by stealing an entire shipment of narcotics meant for the New Day Co-Op. Stanfield is suspicious of Prop Joe's claim that the shipment has been stolen, and insists on some kind of satisfaction. Prop Joe agrees to set up a meeting between Stanfield and his suppliers The Greeks. Stanfield meets with Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos and is convinced that Prop Joe was not involved in the robbery. Stanfield begins having Vondas followed in order to learn more about his role in importing drugs into Baltimore.
Stanfield is impressed with the teenager Michael Lee for standing up to him and believes that he will make a good soldier. He orders Partlow and Snoop to recruit Michael. Michael's abusive stepfather is released from prison and Michael, believing that no one else can help him, goes to Stanfield. Michael agrees to join the Stanfield Organization in exchange for having his stepfather killed. Stanfield sets up Michael and his brother Bug in an apartment, and gives him his own corner, with Dukie, and Kenard working for him. When Lester Freamon finally discovers Stanfield's "tombs" in the vacant houses, a massive police investigation begins, and the re-established major crimes unit begins investigating Stanfield once again.
After more than a year of investigation, Stanfield and his people are extremely cautious in communicating with each other. They only speak face to face and often drive all over the city in an effort to lose any tails before arriving at their meeting spot. Eventually, the Major Crimes unit's investigation is shut down by Mayor Tommy Carcetti for economic reasons.
Stanfield and his crew become more relaxed in their routine, convinced that they have worn the police down. Confident that he is not being watched, Stanfield orders Chris Partlow and Snoop to undertake several murders. He first dispatches them to execute a drug dealer named Junebug for spreading rumors about Stanfield and to attack another drug dealer named Webster Franklin's territory until he agrees to take the Stanfield package. Stanfield also orders Partlow and Snoop to find and kill Omar Little, who has left Baltimore and retired from robbing drug dealers.
Stanfield quietly plans to strongarm the supply and control of the New Day Co-Op from "Proposition Joe" Stewart. Stanfield aims to establish a direct relationship with Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos and the drug trafficking organization of The Greeks. Stanfield has Partlow investigate the port case at the courthouse, and then bribes former Greek soldier Sergei Malatov by depositing money into his canteen account in order to be put on his visitor list at MCI Jessup. Stanfield goes to visit Malatov, in the hopes of getting a direct line to Vondas, but finds himself blocked by Avon Barksdale. Barksdale reminds Stanfield that he is still a man of formidable reputation and considered an authority figure in the prison. He tells Stanfield that all business in Jessup must go through him and demands that Stanfield pay his sister one hundred thousand dollars in order to gain access to Malatov. Stanfield makes the payment, and Barksdale grants him access to Malatov. Malatov is disrespectful towards Stanfield but is convinced by Avon to help Stanfield reach Vondas.
Stanfield is directed to Little Johnny's Diner, the Greek's headquarters. He delivers a case of money to the counterman, Andreas, and tells him to inform Vondas of his desire to meet. Stanfield seeks Prop Joe's guidance in money laundering while simultaneously preparing to overthrow him. Prop Joe introduces Stanfield to a pastor who has relationships with overseas charities that he uses to launder money for a ten percent "donation fee". When Stanfield meets with Vondas, Vondas is displeased that Stanfield has presented him with dirty bills from the street. Stanfield returns to Prop Joe to get his money cleaned. Stanfield later drops off the clean money at Little Johnny's, telling the counterman to inform Vondas that he meant no misunderstanding. Afterwards, Stanfield takes a trip to the off-shore bank in the Antilles in order to make sure his laundered money is safe.
Stanfield learns about Omar's confidant Butchie from Prop Joe's nephew Cheese. Stanfield has Partlow and Snoop torture and kill Butchie. They leave a witness to ensure word reaches Omar, but Snoop is concerned that they are provoking Omar without having any idea of how to get to him.
Stanfield also has Prop Joe introduce him to defense attorney Maurice Levy to assist in his money laundering. Stanfield returns to Vondas and convinces The Greek to consider him as an insurance policy should anything happen to Prop Joe. Stanfield senses a growing rift between Cheese and Prop Joe and looks to capitalize on it. After Cheese argues with a rival drug kingpin named Hungry Man at a Co-Op meeting, Stanfield sees his chance. He has Partlow and Snoop kidnap Hungry Man and deliver him to Cheese. Stanfield asks Cheese to betray Prop Joe in exchange. Cheese leaves Prop Joe unprotected at his home and Stanfield traps him there. Stanfield looks on as Partlow murders Prop Joe.
Stanfield assumes Proposition Joe's position as The Greek's narcotics distributor in Baltimore. Stanfield is given a phone and is shown how to communicate with the Greeks without speaking by Vondas. The phone is used to send pictures of clock faces that are coded to indicate meeting places. Stanfield plans a visit to Atlantic City to celebrate his victory but Partlow reminds him that they must remain in hiding until Omar has been dealt with. Partlow prepares an ambush for Omar in Monk's apartment but Omar escapes by leaping from the balcony.
Stanfield continues to use Levy to launder money and gives Levy his new cell phone number. Levy's defense investigator Thomas "Herc" Hauk copies the number after hours and passes it to the police department, ultimately resulting in an illegal wiretap being set up by rogue detective Lester Freamon.
At the next Co-Op meeting Stanfield informs the Co-op he was responsible for the murder of Prop Joe because he made a move against Omar, and Omar retaliated by killing Prop Joe. He then assumes control. He appoints Cheese the head of distribution on the East side and Monk the West side. Stanfield increases both the bounty on Omar and the cost of the product and rules that no further group meetings will take place - instead the members will either have to keep their problems to themselves or meet with Stanfield alone.
Partlow marshalls his people to search for Omar but he eludes them and remains a thorn in the Stanfield Organization's side. Omar then robs a money pick-up and wounds a Stanfield soldier. Omar also robs a Stanfield stash house, where he kills an enforcer named Manny and later kills Savino Bratton. Omar calls for Stanfield to face him in the streets and attacks his reputation at every opportunity but Partlow prevents this information from reaching Stanfield. Omar is ultimately killed by a young drug dealer named Kenard whom Stanfield does not know. Omar's possessions include a list of Stanfield personnel which is passed to Detective Freamon and allows him to make the connection between Stanfield and Cheese.
Freamon's partner, Detective Leander Sydnor, breaks the clock code and the police are able to follow Partlow to a major resupply from the Greeks using the evidence from their illegal wiretap. Monk is arrested with large quantities of drugs and Stanfield, Partlow and Cheese are arrested for conspiracy to supply narcotics. Partlow also has a murder warrant for Devar Manigault. Stanfield believes that Michael Lee may be the source of information listed in the arrest warrants as Manigault was his stepfather. Stanfield orders Snoop to kill Michael but Michael realizes he is being set up and kills Snoop first. Stanfield is enraged when he learns that Omar had been assaulting his street reputation and insists that when released he will re-establish his name.
Levy senses that the timing of the arrests was too soon after the initial arrest of Monk and surmises that the police used illegal surveillance. Sensing the state's reluctance to take the compromised evidence to court, Levy negotiates a deal for Stanfield – Stanfield will go free with his charges suspended on the stet docket but will face prosecution if he returns to drug distribution. Partlow will face life without the possibility of parole and will have to plead guilty to all of the vacant house murders. Monk faces a lengthy sentence on a plea bargain with no possibility of bail. Cheese is also facing a long sentence but is granted bail so Stanfield charges him to kill Michael.
Stanfield holds a meeting with two Co-Op members (including Fat-Face Rick and Slim Charles) from the prison and offers to sell them the connection to the Greeks for ten million dollars, claiming that he plans to become a businessman. The Co-Op raise the funds but Slim Charles murders Cheese – in revenge for his betrayal of Proposition Joe – before he can carry out Stanfield's order. Fat-Face Rick and Slim Charles assume control of the connection.
After Stanfield's release, Levy introduces him to property developers and other prominent Baltimore businessmen at an evening event. However, he quietly slips out of the event and approaches two young corner boys – who are talking about Omar and mythologizing his death – and provokes a fight. The boys are armed with a knife and a gun but Stanfield singlehandedly drives them off. Stanfield's arm is cut in the scuffle and he is left alone on the corner, smiling.
Jamie Hector has commented that he sees the character as striving to obtain power rather than profit and revelling in using that power over others. The series' creator David Simon has also commented that Stanfield is driven by a desire for totalitarian power. Hector has said that much of his performance stems from trying to capture Stanfield as a man of power and economy using minimalist movement and speech.
When critic Alan Sepinwall interviewed Simon about the fate of the character, Simon said he considers Stanfield's fate to be a kind of justice, as he is cut off from his power and reputation. Sepinwall hailed Stanfield's ending as defying the viewers' expectations to see the character incarcerated or murdered in the streets.
Simon also commented that the ending was intended to be ironic, as Stanfield receives everything that his one-time rival Stringer Bell desired (in terms of becoming a legitimate businessman) but does not value it. Simon has also said the character's ending was deliberately ambiguous.
Real life origins
In the mid-1980s, Timmirror Stanfield was a major Baltimore drug trafficker. In 1986, Stanfield was 25 and ran a gang which included over fifty members; the Stanfield gang controlled South Baltimore's Westport area and West Baltimore's Murphy Homes housing project. The gang committed multiple murders and drew the attention of authorities, who were able to persuade fifteen witnesses to testify; the core of the gang was convicted. This real life criminal forms the basis of the character's origins while emphasizing the rise in brutality from the American heroin trade of the 1970s to the crack cocaine trade of the 1980s.
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