The Wire – Season 1 Cliff Notes

More opinionated that Wikipedia.


The first shot in The Wire is an absurdly clever gesture of symbolism. A stream of blood trickles down the asphalt, illuminated by a flashing police siren in sporadic bursts, like binary or morse code blinking along a cable.

Detective Jim McNulty takes a moment to chat with an onlooker and acquaintance of the series’ first casualty, the unfortunately named Snot Boogie. His tone indicates that he is bemused by the senseless tragedy of the name and the murder. A shot of him chuckling with the corpse in the foreground.

McNulty and fellow homicide detective Bunk arrive in court and ask for directions to the correct court room. The orderly can’t provide them because “project murder, west side” is not specific enough in Baltimore. The victim attacked young D’angelo Barksdale in a project high rise and was murdered by D’.

Now, McNulty has no reason to be in this courtroom. This wasn’t his case. He is up to something.

Two witnesses are called forth to testify against D’angelo. The second witness recants her earlier testimony, destroying the case. It is noteworthy that a good number of scary looking black men are fixing her with loaded stares. One of these guys is Russel “Stringer” Bell. He wears a suit and seems to be taking notes, and looks so respectable it must be pointed out to us that he is among the gangstas when he flashes McNulty a “FUCK YOU DETECTIVE” scrawled across his notepad.

The second witness comes off as an obnoxious bitch; not frightened per se, there’s an air of flippancy about her. It is early evidence that the show won’t let certain members of the black community of the hook for their moral apathy.

McNulty takes leave of this courtroom travesty to talk to the detective who IS responsible for the case. Notably this detective is on the phone, having a rude conversation about his personal finances, and doesn’t give a fuck about the case. Judge Phelan presided over the case and turns out to be an old buddy of McNulty’s, now power tripping due to his judgeship. McNulty makes his first critical power play at this moment and informs the judge that this has been the latest in a long series of murders that were unprosecutable or that dissolved in court, all connected to D’angelo’s uncle and drug tyrant Avon Barksdale.

It seems that this is an unspeakably egregious offense for a homicide detective to perform. He wants some weight thrown at this case and has circumvented the chain of command to make it happen; it’s equivalent to saying “Look, my incompetent bosses don’t have any fucking clue what they’re doing; this has gotten so out of control that we have 10-12 homicides on this drug gang in the last year and we haven’t done shit, you gotta light a fire under my superiors’ ass.” A few scenes later we get a possible inkling of what McNulty’s investment in all this might be. We already know, from the first scene, that he’s not necessarily emotional about this stuff; fascinated might be a better word. He visits an FBI agent buddy of his and marvels at the superior technology the agent is using to conduct surveillance on an unrelated drug dealership. This shit is his bread and butter.

Meanwhile we meet three narcotics officers: Kima, Carver, and Herc. Detective Kima’s got a CI (Confidential Informant) who’s clued her in to an imminent drug deal. They watch it go down, and significantly pursue the buyers but not the seller. It’s a successful bust, and it’s noted that Kima seems to be the brains of the operation, Herc and Carver the muscle. Herc strikes us as a fratboy asshole, if a charismatic one; he discusses his notion of good policing in terms of “busting heads” and “fucking people up”.

When shit trickles down that some judge wants something done about this Avon Barksdale, nobody know what to make of it. Nobody’s heard of him, so it’s going to be a bitch of a case because they’ve got nothing to go on. Nobody can understand why a fellow cop would go out of his way to create a difficult situation for other cops. You don’t go out looking for a bitch detail, sometimes they land on you and that sucks; McNulty seems to be on a different planet from these other police.

Despite the fact that Avon Barksdale is this unknown, faceless phantom, McNulty seems to have figured out all sorts of shit about him, such as exactly which murders connect to his organization.  Wouldn’t Kima, with her rapport with Confidential Informants, have at least heard the name?  Perhaps it is evidence towards McNulty’s virtuosity as a detective.  Given that the entire series is set in motion by McNulty’s knowledge of Avon’s existence and stature, it seems as though the specifics deserve clarification.

McNulty gets chewed out by his commander Rawls. He tries to worm his way out of it and does a convincing job, but Rawls ain’t buyin’ it. There’s a brief moment where McNulty reveals another aspect of his personality: a certain compulsion to be truthful about things that might fuck him over in the future. Obviously talking to the judge in the first place is evidence of this, but we can assume that he did that because he wants to Fight Crime. On the other hand, when the possibility of him being transferred to some shitty department of the police force as punishment for his transgression is mentioned, he hesitates, but can’t resist specifying what his least favorite department would be (policing the harbor on a boat). Now they know, and you bet your ass that’s where he’ll end up. So he’s got a bit of a self-destructive streak it seems.

We leave the cops and are introduced to the Barksdale Organization. We see from a car ride that the gang is scrupulous about maintaining a disciplined approach to conducting illegal activities: D’angelo is chastised, first by soldier Wee Bey for talking about the murder in the car (a possible point of surveillance), and then by big man Avon for committing the murder in the first place. This is not some wildly bloodthirsty crew hellbent on proliferating as much violence as they can New Jack City style, it would seem. D’ meets Avon in Avon’s strip club, but it’s not this seedy pit, it’s a happening place and Bill Withers is crooning on the jukebox. Avon hugs and kisses D’. You have the sense that you will connect emotionally with these people. D’angelo wanders down to the bar and is propositioned by a stripper/hooker. He turns her down, but a prolonged glance indicates that he found her alluring.

D’angelo’s been demoted from running the tower where he killed the guy to supervising an operation outside in a lesser area. He is replacing somebody who got “851ed”; 851 is a common frequency for police radios: it means that he was arrested. D’s new employees are Wallace, Bodie, and Poot. D’s got shit to prove and he immediately boasts about his murder. Drug addicts Bubbles and Johnny (Telly from kids, brilliantly cast) counterfeit some cash and buy heroin from Wallace.

We get a lot of info really quickly here. Bubbles is a heroin addict but is savvy about how to perform the scam, spilling coffee on the counterfeit to make it more convincing on a tactile level. Wallace knows that Alexander Hamilton, who appears on the fake bills, never was elected to the presidency. Before they discover the inauthenticity of the cash, D’angelo demonstrates potential as a businessman and recognizes that the deal could be performed more subtly. Bodie disapproves of D’s lax attitude towards punishing Wallace for accepting the counterfeit. Johnny shoots up too much heroin too quickly, and Bubbles notes that this will get him into trouble.

Johnny attempts to perform the same scam the next day and gets the shit kicked out of him by D’s crew, but D’angelo notably does not give the order to have Johnny whacked. Bubbles demonstrates his capacity for guilt and compassion and keeps watch over Johnny in the hospital, and Kima shows up: Bubbles is another one of Kima’s CIs.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Daniels is put in charge of the Barksdale case. Deputy of Operations Burrell views the whole affair as an annoyance and wants it diffused as quickly as possible through traditional low-level enforcement methods: set up a few buys and arrest the dealers with whom it brings them into contact. Buy and bust. So far the detail consists of Kima, Carver, Herc, and McNulty working under Daniels. McNulty immediately fulfills Daniels’ worst fears and is openly insubordinate to him, undercutting everything Daniels says as Daniels tries to outline the approach of the investigation to the assistant state attorney.

Bunk and McNulty go drinking together and McNulty peer-pressures Bunk into progressing from just a round or two into a night of serious reckless boozing. Bunk warns McNulty that Daniels is a “company man”; his allegiances lie in the advancement of his own career, and this is something about which a cop like McNulty clearly needs be on his guard. Feeling the pain the next day at work, Bunk takes a murder call; the victim is Gant, the first of the two witnesses in the case against D’angelo: the one who did go through with the testimony. The episode ends with D’angelo walking away from the crime scene, no doubt contemplating the following:

Is he receiving a mixed message from his crew? He has been reprimanded for committing a murder when it was not necessary. Now his crew has presumably assassinated a witness in a case that has already been resolved. Why? Because it must be known that there will be consequences for crossing the Organization. Stringer notes that D’angelo was weak on Johnny for the counterfeit scam. There is little room for mercy in their world.


First thing, we see one of the arch villains from “Homicide: Life on the Streets” show up as this series’ coroner.

Wallace and Bodie ruminate on the awesomeness of the McNugget. D’angelo points out that the nigga who invented them is still busting his ass in McDonald’s basement. Perhaps it reflects a frustration on his part that, despite producing results as a dealer, he gets the shit end of the stick. More importantly it is another indication that he has a somewhat considered stance on the realities of business in an indifferent world. Wallace notes that, peon that the inventor of McNuggets may be, the fact that it was his idea has some fundamental value. These buds spend their time hanging out on the orange couch upon which children used to sit and watch Nickelodeon on Saturdays in the 1990s.

Daniels and his crew arrive at their new office, a subterranean hole in a government building. It seems that before they can begin the operation proper they must deal with annoying logistics like assembling the correct furniture. A joke is made at McNulty’s expense since all this shit is his fault. The joke is made by Det. Santangelo (homicide), put in place by Rawls to inform the commander of any further indiscretions committed by McNulty.

Officer “Prez” Pryzbylewski debuts as perhaps the most detestable character so far. As Daniels prepares to give McNulty what for in his furnitureless office, a shot rings out through the grotto. Prez was demonstrating the trigger action on his gun but neglected to remove the chambered bullet before doing so. This isn’t the first time he’s done something like this; Prez is a bit of an embarrassment to the company and has been shuffled from department to department due to his fuckups. Nonetheless he is the son-in-law of one Commander Valcheck, whose clout guarantees Prez some insulation from the proper consequences of his behavior.

Besides Prez, joining the detail are Polk, Mahon, and Lester Freamon. Polk and Mahon are aged, thoroughly useless alcoholic cynics, and Freamon displays no interest in anything other than meticulously carving doll-sized furniture. All of these guys indicate to Daniels that he has been shafted; he is being saddled with incompetent police so as to make it perfectly clear that he’s not supposed to conduct a serious investigation. The higher ups view the whole affair as an annoyance and an embarrassment Here we see the first indications that Daniels may not be merely a “company man” solely bent on climbing the promotion ladder. He’s not satisfied with this outfit and badgers Prez’s former lieutenant into lending him use of reputed badass Sydnor to balance it out.

McNulty makes his own play to strengthen the detail’s clout, and squeals to Judge Phelan once again, this time about the fact that it seems the Barksdale Organization has killed the witness in the previous episode. Although McNulty chastises the judge to keep his source of information anonymous this time around, it’s not gonna matter because everybody’s gonna assume it was McNulty at this point. At any rate, our conviction that McNulty is the real deal is strengthened: he’s not going to back down from whatever principle is governing his behavior despite the risk to his career.

The play is effective; Burrell recognizes that this is a shitstorm abrewin’ but sees no choice but to let McNulty take a crack at this investigation and hope that he “comes up short”. They are praying that the murder of Gant was unrelated to his testimony against D’angelo, neutralizing the possibility that this will turn into a serious case demanding serious resources. This gives Daniels another opportunity to show his potential moral fiber; in the face of such total political apathy, he defends the possibility that Gant was murdered for precisely the reason it seems. Maybe we should be worried about this shit guys, he says.

Another scene of rapid-fire info. Kima, Herc, and Carver conduct some rooftop surveillance, snapping pictures of Barksdale crewmembers Wee Bey, Stinkum, and others as Bubbles performs a charade in which he tries to sell them hats. The hats are color-coded: he’s relaying information to Kima about who is who in the Organization. The gangstas abruptly bolt from the scene. It’s because, simultaneously, Bunk and McNulty are shaking down D’angelo in the courtyard where he conducts his operation. Kima, noting their departure, abandons Herc and Carver to follow the soldiers, jotting down their license plate number. She leaves her camera on the roof, and while Herc bitches about Kima being a dyke and a ballbuster, Carver tries to ignore him and do something productive. He snaps a picture of the license plate as well with Kima’s camera. When the soldiers arrive to flank the D’angelo shakedown intimidatingly, McNulty becomes the third cop to take note of this license plate.

A distinction here is being made between cops who have a natural instinct towards detectivework and those who do not. When McNulty asks Kima to run the plate, she’s already done it, already put it in the file. McNulty has to reevaluate his assumptions as to her aptitude in policing. Carver’s distinguishes himself from meathead Herc, hinting towards a capacity for a detective’s methodology. Later, when Bubbles walks Kima through the hat photos, McNulty respects Bubbles’ strength as an informant.

Bunk and McNulty arrest D’angelo. The audience must begin to accept the fact that policework is not conducted with much of an emphasis on civil rights. There is explicitly no legal justification for D’angelo’s arrest, but McNulty wants the opportunity to badger D’angelo in the interrogation room, see if anything comes to the surface. Although the justification is that McNulty is Bunk’s partner and Bunk was assigned to the Gant case, Daniels sees through this immediately. Clearly McNulty is working the angle that Gant’s murder is related to their investigation of the Barksdale Organization; he has once again circumvented the chain of command, giving a fuck when it’s not his turn. McNulty is unapologetic. He challenges Daniels to take the investigation seriously: if Daniels does so, McNulty will be able to muster some faith in the man and not be openly insubordinate.

Although D’angelo lawyers up, they badger him for several hours in the interrogation room while the lawyer is en route. D’angelo makes every effort to keep schtum, but eventually they wear him down by appealing to D’s underlying sense of humanity and compassion. They flash the kid a picture of Bunk’s three children and claim that they were Gant’s, now orphaned due to the death of their single father. All they want is for D’angelo to write a letter comforting the children, and D’angelo is only too happy to do so in the hopes of neutralizing the detectives’ psychological assault. But it means the same thing to both the police and to the Barksdale Organization: expressing regretful feelings over Gant’s death is an implicit admission that D’angelo assumes his crew was responsible.

The lawyer, caucasian Maury Levy, shows up, and we’re a bit appalled by the way he treats his client: cursing at D’, slapping him, even dropping a “you people”. Levy also excoriates the detectives for continuing the interview after the suspect called for legal aid, but it’s more that he’s annoyed by it; he’s not going to make it a formal dispute. More evidence of the lax attitude towards procedure. Back in the hood, cousin Avon reprimands him more gently. D’angelo notes that there is nothing substantial he was in a position to tell the police because he is ignorant as to the inner workings of the Organization. D’angelo brought his girlfriend Donette to this gathering, and Stringer wastes no time in checking out her sweet bod.

Herc, Carver, and Prez fuck up pretty badly. At 2am they gain that liquid courage and decide to go flaunt some muscle in the nearest project high rise. The situation rapidly spins out of control: Prez pistol whips a child for reclining against their police vehicle, and the trio come under fire of bottles, televisions, and bullets from the anonymous windows of the looming tower. They take cover under the vehicle, awaiting rescue. Carver radios, “I’m hit! Officer down!” exaggerating slightly to expedite the cavalry’s arrival.

The big concern here is the pistol-whipped child, who’s mother is taking this shit seriously and pressing charges. Prez really fucked this kid up, blinding him permanently in one eye. Daniels is in the unfortunate position of leaving his men out to dry or coaching them through the process of lying to Internal Affairs in an effort to cover up their infraction. He chooses the latter, clearly with a heavy heart. Daniels’ wife has trouble accepting this, but Daniels understands that the whole system falls apart if cops can’t trust each other to look out for one another.

Although McNulty wouldn’t be out doing the cowboy bullshit of Herc, Carver, and Prez, he’s on a comparable trip. Drinking in his vehicle, he notices a group of thugs attempting to perform a carjack. He stumbles down a grassy slope yelling “fuckheads” at them, but totally wipes out, his badge landing in the mud. The symbolic irony amuses him and he giggles maniacally. The next morning, Bunk informs him that the press got ahold of the witness-being-murdered story. This time it really wasn’t McNulty’s fault, but he’s fucked anyway.

This is an interesting second episode because it veers slightly from the extremely methodical nature of the pilot, only insofar as that we see actions performed on the basis of emotion rather than logistics, procedure, or systemic inevitability. D’angelo is emphatically not okay with the notion of orphaning three children just to make a point. Herc, Carver, Prez, and McNulty all have potential to compromise themselves greatly due to their drinking or cowboy impulses. Bubbles wants to help the police with their investigation because he feels responsible for Johnny’s assault, and some sensitivity is shown toward the physiological reality of Bubbles’ addiction. And lastly, although there have been hints that Daniels has a reputation for being an untrustworthy superior officer, it becomes apparent that he has the ethics at least to distinguish himself from the other Assholes In Charge.


This is probably the episode where most viewers will realize that they are hooked for the duration, in no small part due to two particular scenes and the introduction of our favorite character.

Daniels has to swallow his gumption and take the blame for sending his men into the high-rises at 2am, even though it transpired without his direction or knowledge. Commissioner Burrell and Valcheck realize that he’s taking one for the team, and they appreciate it. Now, we already hate Valcheck before we even meet the guy, due to the fact that it’s his fault fuck-up Prez keeps getting away with his bullshit. He confirms our feelings when he shows up; although he admits Prez’s shit stinks, he demonstrates that he’s a politicker through and through, and just looks like a smarmy asshole besides. The conversation between Valcheck, Daniels, and Burrell carries a bit of that good old racial tension. When Valcheck takes leave, the others exchange a knowing, aggrieved glance. Daniels lobbies once again for permission to take an approach with greater depth towards the Barksdale case and is denied.

The first of the two scenes that sink their hooks into the audience occurs when D’angelo teaches Bodie and Wallace the rules of chess, explaining the rules in terms of drug-game players. The king is equivalent to Uncle Avon, the queen to Stringer; the castle is the stash and the pawns are the soldiers. It was all prompted by the fact that they were using the chess pieces to play checkers: “But chess is a better game!” D’ objects. A key moment is when Bodie draws the comparison to Avon, and D’angelo, who might have taken exception at the forwardness of the statement, senses the truth in it and agrees. Wallace grins broadly at the exchange. Although they’re participating in a very adult world, Wallace still feels the childlike joy of bonding with friends.

The detail has been assembling a litany of photographs of all the players of the Barksdale organization, but have yet to lay eyes on Avon himself. McNulty tasks alkies Polk and Mahone with producing a photo, and they are shockingly resistant. It’s not a matter of objecting to being sent on a wild goose chase. McNulty walks them through exactly where they need to go to get the information, doing their detective work for them. These assholes act so aggrieved that ANYTHING would be expected of them besides sitting on their ass, being drunk, and collecting overtime checks. When they come back with a photo of a middle-aged white guy, it’s clear that it would have been hopeless to expect them to exercise the slightest bit of critical thinking in the matter. This leads to an important character reveal as Lester Freamon, dollfurnituremaker, calls upon his own contacts and produces a photo of Avon. Maybe there’s more to this cat than we suspected.

We learn details regarding the drugs the Barksdale Organization is peddling. As supplies ran low, the crew began cutting the dope and selling a weaker product. The result is that the heroin addict must buy twice as much to achieve their high. Twice the cash for half the product. Stringer is impressed when Avon delivers record earnings from his courtyard, and informs him that they will continue the strategy of selling a cut product. Buzzing on the praise and the raise he received, D’angelo plops a load of cash down in front of the same stripper who he turned down earlier, rescuing her from the malaise of emotions by which she seemed to be arrested. D’ boasts that he’s the right hand man of the establishment’s owner. When the woman assumes he means Orlando, the owner-in-title, D’angelo informs her that Orlando is merely a front for the money behind the operation.

Hugely significant is the introduction of President Obama’s favorite character in television: Omar Little. Omar adds a new and volatile ingredient to the entire proceedings. So far we have cops, dealers, and junkies. Omar is a criminal to the criminals, and he’s planning a heist of D’angelo’s stash. We see him and his small crew putting their own surveillance on D’angelo’s courtyard. Although D’angelo has improved the fault tolerance of the operation, Omar is able to pick apart details such as the movement of the stash itself. You see, it’s all set up so that the junkies are insulated from coming into contact with the guts of the operation. They hand the money to a bit player and receive the drugs from a bit player. The real supply and cash cache are transient and obscured through these logistics, but Omar sees right through it. “Sloppy,” he notes.

Detective Sydnor is having trouble with the logistics of going undercover because he’s faced with wearing bulky, conspicuous surveillance equipment available by way of the impoverished Baltimore PD. They tap McNulty’s FBI connection for better gear. The FBI dude raises an eyebrow when Daniels’ name is mentioned. As an aside, the FBI dude is proud of a recent successful drug bust, and although it should have been a “career case” it seems that the Bureau isn’t interested in stuff that’s not directly related to counterterrorism.

Proper equipment acquired, Sydnor displays his junkie disguise for appraisal, leading to the second of the two hook scenes. Bubbles has quite the flow as he picks apart all of the tells that let him see through it. He questions Sydnor’s wedding ring: “You married to the needle. That shit got pawned way back.” In many ways Bubbles is a wholly unique entity in the world of The Wire. He’s afflicted by the same scenario as everybody else, but his perceptiveness and sensitivity allows him to rise above it and see things others can’t. With Bubbles, we matters are always put in their proper context.

Bubbles and Sydnor buy up some dope in the courtyard. Interestingly, Omar and his crew see right through the facade as they continue their vigil. As McNulty foreshadowed, it doesn’t bring the cops into contact with anybody worthwhile.

Nonetheless the order has been given. Enough time has been wasted on this stupid operation; on the basis of the hand-to-hands Bubbs/Sydnor conducted, the Detail is supposed to perform a raid of the courtyard and somehow produce valid evidence against the Organization. Real McNulty fireworks occur here. In his most blatantly insubordinate moment yet, he flat out refuses to participate in the raid. “Write me up if that’s what you want to do.” Even when Daniels, furious, tries to get him to write out sick, McNulty won’t lie. He is utterly stubborn about not lending support to what he considers the undoing of their case. Notably, by this point the other members of the detail are also disappointed by the order to raid. They have developed an investment in the investigation.

McNulty continues pursuing his own agenda, visiting ASA Pearlman, the attorney in front of whom McNulty was insubordinate to Daniels earlier on, at her home. The two have some sort of history. McNulty has it in his head that they should conduct surveillance on the pagers the Barksdale crew antiquatedly uses, and wants to know what legal basis he would need to make this happen. The two used to have an affair when McNult was married, and they continue the affair in a hilarious sex scene that has them both heaving lustful breaths in uncanny unison, even matching each other’s ritardando post-climax.

Before the raid takes place, Omar robs D’angelo’s stash. He does so at the critical moment as the muscle/protection is being transferred to a new location in anticipation of moving the stash: this dude has done his homework. Merciless, Omar destroys one man’s kneecap with a shotgun shell before turning the weapon on a child, who gives up the stash’s specific location within the apartment in question. One critical flaw in the heist’s execution occurs when Omar’s wingman calls him “Omar”. The Organization Knows.

The raid goes down; squad cars flood D’angelo’s courtyard. Bodie resists and clocks Mahone in the face. Carver begins unleashing hell on Bodie with his nightstick; seeing this, Kima sprints over, pushes Carver out of the way, and…. starts wailing on Bodie even more severely! This is huge. We know for a certainty that Carver/Herc are the violence-prone meatheads, Kima the more level-headed, sensitive one, the one who effortlessly makes friends with street-level people like Bubbles. Furthermore, everybody hates Mahone, lazy fuck that he is. But, similar to what Daniels was trying to communicate to his wife re: protecting Prez, the system falls apart if these police don’t feel utterly secure in the notion that they have one another’s back. The scene also illustrates Bodie’s impulsive, shit-to-prove nature. The raid is a total failure, although Freamon takes note of a phone number scribbled on the wall of the former stash house.

Finally, FBI dude drops a bomb on McNulty. Daniels is very likely a dirty cop. He was the subject of a Bureau investigation that dissolved when Burrell wouldn’t follow through. More than just making us suspect Daniels, the moment confirms our suspicions that Burrell is quite rotten. Likely Burrell finds it convenient to employ police on whom he has dirt, giving him leverage against them should he need it.


Episode starts with one of the most self-conscious moments of humor in the series. The members of the detail attempt to move a piece of furniture through a doorway. As more of them join to help move the desk, the more immobile it seems to become. The cops, of course, have failed to communicate about which direction they are attempting to move the desk, and have been working against one another despite their efforts to work as a team.

We begin to reevaluate our opinions of certain characters. We derive hints that Prez might have a synapse or two firing upstairs, because we keep seeing him working on a wordsearch or crossword puzzle in a magazine. More vividly, Herc shows a softer side. Bodie, you see, has been in a prison hospital due to the injuries he suffered at the hands of Kima and company in retaliation for putting hands on Mahone. He waltzes out of the low-security environment, so Herc and Carver must track him down. There’s a scene where Herc and Carver raid Bodie’s grandmother’s house. The scene takes place from the elderly lady’s perspective, accentuating the uncivilized nature of their approach. The cursing and militancy of the police seems all the more inappropriate as the camera lingers on this matronly woman folding her laundry. Herc feels it. When Carver and the beat cops that were along for the ride leave, Herc stays to apologize. The lady invites him to sit down, and opens up about the fact that Bodie has been a troubled child since he came into her care at a young age.

Burrell and Judge Phelan chat, with Burrell attempting to focus the discussion on matters unrelated to the Barksdale case, and perhaps even imply that other crimes are going unpunished due to misappropriation of resources. When the case does come up, Burrell presents the findings from the failed raid and tries to spin it in the department’s favor: “We sent a clear message!” It’s a weak argument and Phelan doesn’t buy it. The case will continue. Phelan calls McNulty about it and says “I did good, right?” His relationship with the judge seems to have become a bit of a sore spot for McNulty, who responds ambivalently.

Blood must be drawn in retribution for Omar’s move against the Barksdale organization. Omar’s homosexuality is revealed: the kid that fucked up the robbery by saying Omar’s name aloud receives tender kisses from Omar as they peddle the stolen product. Omar’s not angry; he’s been fucking with drug gangs since time immemorial and is accustomed to looking out for himself. He’s concerned about his lover’s safety. He’s also a philanthropist: a junkie with babe in arm is short on cash and gets to score for free. Upon learning of Omar’s sexual preference, Avon triples the price on the man’s head.

Bodie returns to the courtyard and boasts that he was too badass to be held in the weakly secured hospital. Not one to be out-gangsta’d, D’angelo launches into a disturbing account of a girlfriend of Avon’s who realized she wasn’t Avon’s only girlfriend and, distraught, threatened to convey elements of Avon’s criminal operation to the authorities. Apparently D’angelo murdered this young woman.

The young woman in question is Shardene, the stripper with whom D’angelo had a few encounters with in the previous episodes. [Actually she is not. She simply looks very similar, at least to me. Yes, I am a white person. No, black people do not all look the same to me.] Sure enough, she had been killed, and when Bunk and McNulty apply some forensic analysis to the case (which they believe to be unrelated to the Barksdale saga), they confirm that the murder took place in the precise manner described by D’angelo. Furthermore an anonymous tip informs the police that the woman had contact with somebody named “D” immediately previous to her death. They are unable to confirm the tip because the call back number the witness left has been disconnected.

There are several interesting aspects to this development. D’angelo has a recurring need to uphold his reputation among his peers, particularly his underlings. He also disingenuously boasted to Shardene that he was his uncle’s right-hand man. The astute viewer may be deeply concerned at this point that the real story is the reverse of what D’ described. D’angelo indeed has another girlfriend besides this stripper, so maybe you can substitute D’angelo for Avon to get a more accurate picture. She got upset about D’angelo’s womanizing, not Avon’s. Or perhaps the jealousy angle was a red herring, and it was simply that D’angelo told her too much concerning the nature of the strip club where she worked. Either way, the Organization had her killed, and it’s another casualty that D’angelo was indirectly responsible for, along with Witness Gant. Stringer tells Avon that although D’angelo is doing good business, he may have “a problem he don’t know about.” But are they trying to pin the crime on D’angelo anyway? Who is this “D” the cops heard about? How does D’angelo know the exact details concerning the murder?

[The theory clearly is compromised by my misidentification of the woman’s identity. Yet, in the interest of full disclosure, I will let my thoughts stand; they accurately reflect my experience watching the show.]

While we chew on that, also consider that Bunk calls Verizon to find more information regarding the disconnected number they were given in reference to the tip. They are starting to develop the language and rules of surveillance and what sort of shit the cops will have to go through to conduct it. Given the greenlight by Phelan via Burrell via Daniels to expand the scope of the investigation, McNulty and Kima mentions the notion of spying on their pagers. In order to secure legal permission to do so, the detail must demonstrate that they have exhausted every other possible mean of getting information on their suspects. Only then can they violate their civil right of privacy with impunity. Lester Freamon serendipitously steps in and drives the point home: he has already confirmed that the telephone number he discovered on the stash house wall links to D’angelo’s pager.

So they have a target pager, and they have most of the exhaustion they need (including the inability to gain cooperation from potential witnesses), and only need to prove that they can’t accomplish the surveillance by foot following the path of drugs and money. Herc can’t wrap his mind around the notion that they must try to follow somebody, but are hoping that they won’t succeed in order to prove that this is the case. Deal with it, Herc. The foot follow fails.

A rather convoluted ending sees McNulty extending an overture of friendship to Freamon, whom he now perceives as a kindred spirit. Freamon has been shelved in a bullshit paper-shuffling position for more than a decade because, like McNulty, he obeyed his personal convictions rather than the political desires of his superiors. He also made the same mistake McNulty did in that he specified exactly what type of police work would most aggrieve him, giving his superiors opportunity when they already had means and motive. McNulty then shows up, loaded, at Kima’s house somewhat randomly to thank her for her role in helping convince Daniels to go the route of pager surveillance. Kima’s girlfriend chastises her for missing classes in pursuit of her law degree; she’s supposed to be segueing out of police work so the two can have a more stable relationship.

What’s going on here is that Lester, McNulty, and Kima are one and the same. Lester fucked up his career over his compulsive need to conduct ethical policework, the same path on which McNulty has embarked. McNulty fucked over his marriage due to his infidelity, which may or may not be related to his obsession with work. Kima has two options before her. Is the law degree something she really wants? Does her relationship have a chance? Or is the world that drunkenly showed up at her door to thank her for being a part of it the world she is destined to inhabit?


We start with Avon Barksdale caught in extreme paranoia as he leaves his apartment. Although the Detail has made serious progress towards implementing surveillance on the Organization, it’s clear that Avon is always considering ways to deepen the cautious discipline exercised by he and his underlings. Should the police tip their hand, we can infer that Avon will be well prepared to retaliate by tightening up communications.

Recall that so far, all of the action has taken place in the West Side of B’more. Hop over to East Side to witness Omar perform another heist. He notes that this target dealer does not measure up to the level of organization nor ferocity of the Barksdale crew, and that this is indicative of East Side in general. Ever scrupulous, he diagrams a plan of attack for his crew in the sand. His wingmen are represented by X’s, Omar with an O. Although O stands for Omar, the hugs-n-kisses aspect of his symbology should not go unremarked. His legendary status is further built by the earliest instance of his trademark whistling of The Farmer And The Dell. The cheese stand alone, motherfucker. A successful heist.

There are several different functions of speech. Declarative or descriptive, for example. One of the more interesting and esoteric is the Performative Function. If a judge is asked, by the press, about the verdict of a certain case, they could say “guilty”; in this case the judge is relaying information. However, when the judge actually pronounces a verdict, “guilty” carries legal weight, and is Performative. By uttering the phrase, the judge officiates the ruling of a case and condemns a human being to sentence. So it’s an uncomfortable moment when Judge Phelan visits the Detail’s grotto and jokes “I now pronounce you man and wife” instead of the performative phrase he’s SUPPOSED to dictate when he affirms the Detail’s wiretap affidavit. Shouldn’t he be taking this shit more seriously?

Wallace plays with an action figure, Bodie catches D’angelo being amused by it and smashes a glass bottle over Wallace’s head. I don’t mean that the bottle breaks upon Wallace’s cranium, but on the wall, literally over the kid’s head. The flying shards visit a cut upon the forehead of Wallace. Funny that in his attempt to voice disapproval of Wallace’s childishness, Bodie just proves what a child he is as well. D’angelo reprimands Bodie for the deed.

The pager tap is up and running. Incoming pages are relayed to the Detail’s computers, accompanied by a POTS modem screech every time. Prez’s eyes light up: “Spy shit!” Along the lines of the shit-eating grin Wallace flashed during the chess training session, Prez endears himself to the audience immensely at this moment. Maybe he would get along with people of Wallace’s age, but we don’t get to find out for awhile. The tap seems useless, however, because the numbers being relayed aren’t valid phone numbers. Some sort of code must be at play. Nobody can believe these hoppers would be so clever.

Bubbs spots Omar’s van despite the fact that the license plates have been switched out (he’s that sharp). The cops are gonna keep watch on it, hoping for a chance to speak with Omar. During the stakeout we see kids going home from school; one of them seems quite frantic to reach the safety of his home. Unfortunately it will be three long seasons before we become more intimately acquainted with the schoolchildrens’ plight. McNulty has no ability to communicate with his ex-wife, as illustrated by a phone conversation in which McNulty defensively lies about having set up bunk beds for their kids to sleep on for an allegedly upcoming visitation. We know he’s lying because later we see him try and fail to assemble the beds during a session of progressive intoxication.

Meanwhile Stringer visits D’ in the courtyard and brings to light his suspicion that Omar’s robbery was enabled due to a snitch among D’angelo’s employees. The strategy is to withhold pay from the hoppers. He who does not complain about the lack of funds must have something else going on the side and is therefore the snitch. The reasoning is utterly fucked because “something else” might be any number of things that aren’t snitching, and furthermore who is going to complain to their superiors in an Organization like Barksdale? (Apparently Wallace, to our immense relief). D’angelo gets a brief opportunity to show off in front of Stringer by chastising Poot for speaking on his cell phone.

Herc and Carver finally catch up with Bodie. The cops discuss the strategy to use on Bodie in the interrogation room and, in their infinite capacity for abstract reasoning, arrive at “Good cop/Bad cop”. Bodie’s attitude renders Carver’s good-cop charade untenable, and he starts wailing on the child before Herc can enter and perform his role. “You’re supposed to be the good cop, dumb motherfucker!” criticizes Bodie. But the three are stuck with each other for the night due to a staffing snafu at the booking facility, and amazingly (if naturally) end up bonding over a game of pool and a sandwich.

An unbearable sequence occurs in which D’angelo takes his woman to a classy restaurant. D’ is terrified that the rich folk find his true nature completely transparent, while his girlfriend seems stuck in this Sopranos fantasy in which they should be living the high life because they are gangstas. It culminates when D’angelo goes for the desert on the sample tray and the waiter can’t repress his derisive tone. D’s acute mortification comes across so strongly that we must pause and reflect that this is one of the series’ most consistently excellent performances. In terms of external chronology, the scene is juxtaposed with McNulty’s failed attempts to get shit ready for the kids. Both characters are lying to themselves and trying to inhabit a role that falls outside their basic nature.

Later on, when McNulty attempts to retrieve his children for the sleepover, they aren’t home. It’s sad because he eventually did set up the beds after all, and decked out the room with appealing decorations and new toys besides.

In their saferoom at Orlando’s, Avon and Stringer hatch plans to expand their operation into new territory and decide to put Stinkum in charge of the coup. They move some cash out of their safe, and Avon’s extreme caution is belabored once more. An extremely oblique bit of foreshadowing occurs when we see two identical shots of Stringer’s behind as he leaves Avon alone in the saferoom without a backwards glance.

Bubbles visits Johnny in the rehabilitation facility where he’s been recovering. Johnny has been going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and has contracted HIV, but he’s totally gung ho about returning to his lifestyle of drugs and theft upon his release. It gives Bubbles the opportunity to spit eloquently about why he would choose to work with the police on Johnny’s behalf.

There’s this fat bastard, Landsman, who is Rawl’s right hand man in the homicide dept. This is the sort of guy who feels the need to tell you about attempting to masturbate and failing to achieve an erection. “Four and a half inch flaccid wonder,” and he’s probably not joking. Walk in on him having a conversation and he’s likely to be wrapping up a joke involving hunters and bears. That type of shit. He follows Rawls around, sniffing his ass, but he’s not all bad because he’s been lobbying on McNulty’s behalf. In all fairness, doing so requires a bit of gumption and tiptoeing on his part. His lobbying successful, Rawls agrees to forgive McNulty’s crimes provided McNulty wraps up whatever stupid, inconsequential shit he’s doing (like trying to shut down a murderous drug gang) and return to regular shifts in homicide. McNulty, needless to say, is nonplussed.

Landsman gives McNulty some old cases. There’s a ballistics match on the gun used in these killings. Dumbfuck Landsman can’t add 2+2 and realize that the previous two cases were related to the Barksdale Organization, and ALSO match the murdered stripper Nults and Bunk were investigating last episode. So this confirms that the stripper was related to the Barksdale case, and none of it adds up to McNulty being able to resolve the affair within the time frame specified by Rawls.

Remember the disconnected phone number up on which Bunk was following? He got in touch with the lady who gave them the tip, a friend of the murder victim. She basically corroborates D’angelo’s version of events word-for-word. This chick was Avon’s girlfriend, jealousy, threats, etc. According to the surviving friend, the dead woman was with D’angelo the night she was killed. Holy shit, did he really do it? The friend clues the cops in to Orlando’s being a front for Barksdale’s operations. They scope the place out and confirm her tip, and add it to a list they have going of other similar establishments that Avon, by proxy, controls.

At Orlando’s, D’angelo chats with owner-by-way-of-formality Orlando and learns that the two have something in common. Both of them derive a salary from their work for Avon rather than a percentage of the profit; a percentage is precisely what Stinkum has in store for him once he sets up the new territory. D’angelo goes over and talks to the same stripper he was talking to all along, Shardene, who is in fact not the dead chick who D’angelo might have killed as we (and by “we”, I mean “I”) believed. D’angelo asks her out on a date and she affirms.

The cops outside ruminate about how fucked up all of this is: the Barksdales are really dug in. In fact there was another murder, probably related, last night: the third member of Omar’s crew, the one who wasn’t his lover. They get paged by Prez from headquarters but none of them recognize the number because Prez has encoded it using the same code the dealers have been using. Wha-huh? Turns out Prez was able to transition from wordsearch to codebreaking, and may be worth a shit after all.

More humanity from the Barksdales. Avon’s brother has been vegetabled by a gunshot wound to the temple; he and D’angelo pay the brother a visit in the facility in which he resides. The point is that D’angelo’s uncomfortable with this shit whereas Avon has long accepted the inevitable results of their lifestyle. His apocalyptic monologue is worth quoting in full:

“Thing is, you only got to fuck up once. Be a little slow, be a little late. Just once. And how you ain’t never gonna be slow? Be late? You can’t plan for no shit like this, man. It’s life.”

Avon has no delusions that this is what he’s destined for, and notes that D’angelo should take heed of the importance of family in the meantime.

After eons of staking it out, Omar’s van finally pulls into motion, and McNulty/Kima pursue. They assume Omar will have some sort of weaponry on his person and give them a pretext to arrest him and extract information. Of course, Omar just got sick of seeing these cops sitting outside his window, so he took off without a gun and drove to a safe place for them to have a little chat. Though the cops appeal to the notion that they have a common enemy in Avon, Omar doesn’t believe in discussing matters with police. He does however drop a tidbit that Barksdale crewmember Bird killed a “working man”. He means Witness Gant. The cops aren’t familiar with Bird, but Omar says they already have a snitch who can clue them in: “Shit, Bubbles know Bird!” The whole ordeal is tantalizing for McNulty and Kima due to Omar’s seeming omniscience regarding the inner workings of the hood. Clearly he would be an indispensable informant, should they be able to win his assistance.

This vast and sprawling episode ends with some serious shit. Wallace ID’s Omar’s surviving wingman and lover in an arcade. A series of pages and calls must take place in order for the retaliation to come to fruition. Wallace calls D’angelo, D’angelo calls Stringer, etc. The scene is quite didactic, spelling out the modem noise and the numbers blinking across the computer screen at each turn. Stringer personally thanks Wallace for his good work, and Omar’s boyfriend is doomed.


Omar’s boyfriend, Brandon, was brutally tortured and mutilated as part of his execution, the body left on display outside the building where Wallace and Poot live. The body’s location is bizarre as it makes you want to draw the implication that the Barksdale’s are teaching Wallace some sort of lesson: “LOOK WHAT YOU DID!” We are touched by a sequence that finds Wallace rationing out supplies to a cadre of even smaller kids on their way to school. He’s the acting parent in this little microcosm. Then he goes outside and is confronted with the results of his deed the previous night. Harsh.

After an admonishment from Freamon, it seems that Daniels secured the Detail access to the live audio on the payphones the hoppers use to respond to pages. If only they had that shit last night! Freamon notes that there was much activity on the pagers and phones but is ignorant as to their application.

However, they can’t listen to any conversations that aren’t a) conducted by members of the Barksdale crew, and b) pertinent to the investigation. To be sure, if a crewmember is on the phone, they can listen for a certain amount of time to establish said pertinence. Somebody’s gotta watch the payphones and let HQ know when somebody relevant is making a call. “More bullshit!” balks Herc. Freamon points out that this sort of slow, methodical shit is the meat and potatoes of police work. Armed with the code Prez cracked, the Freamon and Prez begin extracting other significant players’ pager numbers branching out from D’angelo, including Stinkum and Stringer. Freamon notes that it is only due to the Organization’s laziness in repeatedly using the same payphones that they have been able to cull this information.

McNulty learns of Brandon’s murder and visits the scene. There’s a political aside about the fact that the body is decomposing in the sun while the required personnel deal with some city council president’s stolen lawn furniture. Could it be Carcetti from Season 3? McNulty wants to capitalize on the grief Omar must be feeling and make another attempt to derive his help.

Wallace is open with D’angelo about how his feelings towards seeing the body: “It fucks me up!” He brings up the girl D’angelo boasted about murdering, and D’angelo significantly seems to have no idea what he’s talking about. He advises Wallace to such matters from mind. Meantime, smarm meister Maury Levy brokers an immensely mitigated sentencing for cop-slugger Bodie, who is released on probation.

Johnny Weeks, free from rehab, finds Bubbles looking quite healthy and working at a vegetable stand. He clues Bubbs into a fairly risky scam he’s planning that involves stealing building materials as they are delivered to a police warehouse. I read Bubble’s reaction as having two components: he’s enticed by the plan, but more importantly feels protective of Johnny and wants to make sure he makes it through okay. They score dope with the proceedings, and then, in the infinite wisdom engendered by a heroin high, Johnny tries to go buy more and gets arrested in the process.

Herc should quit his bitching re: monitoring the payphones by line of sight, because it privies him to Bodie’s return to the courtyard. He and Carver can’t imagine the kid would legitimately be at large again so soon, so they catch him later that night and start beating the shit out of him, as habit dictates. Bodie is intelligent enough to carry his probation papers on his person, so they realize their fault. Bodie asks for a ride home; it’s the least they could do, and the three are basically friends at this point.

D’angelo’s been stringing along his crew without pay to weed out a rat, as per Stringer’s directive. When a young lady in his employ attempts to waltz home with a bag of groceries she shouldn’t be able to afford, D’ pulls the classic move of destroying her carton of eggs one by one: the scariest symbolic gesture you can visit upon a female. Thing is, D’angelo in no way believes that this determines her status as a snitch. It was plain embezzlement: lifting a small amount of drugs and selling them on the side.

When Bodie punched Mahone, it injured him sufficiently to allow him to retire on medical pretext. In the wake of his buddy’s absence, Polk has been on a downward spiral of alcoholism. Breaking point is reached when he shows up, quite wasted, at 9am. Daniels gives him the ultimatum to check himself into rehab or make an active effort to contribute to the investigation, even while liquored out of his mind. Polk chooses the former.

Rawls figures out some shit. Realizing that the murders McNulty’s been investigating do in fact tie into the Barksdale case, he sees the opportunity to fuck up the Detail’s investigation. What is known: 1) Three murders committed by the same firearm; 2) The first two murders were visibly related to Barksdale; and 3) They have the informant placing D’angelo with the third victim the night she was killed. This is not sufficient evidence to persecute D’angelo and Rawls knows it. He can safely assume, however, that it will interfere with whatever slow, methodical policing (ie, what Freamon identified as real police work) McNulty is conducting with the detail. Rawls, in other words, is becoming an increasingly frustrating piece of shit.

Landsman has the grace at least to warn McNulty of this development through Bunk. McNulty has little faith that Daniels will intervene on the investigation’s behalf, but they have no other option but to request it of him. Bear in mind that Kima has long worked under Daniels, and trusts him, whereas McNulty’s heard that Daniels is downright dirty. So McNulty gets a little told-ya-so moment when Daniels displays reluctance to go up against Rawls on the issue. But he was wrong, Daniels immediately does go and negotiates with Rawls, playing the “I’m asking as a favor” card. Rawls snorts in his face.

There’s a very strange moment in which Avon visits D’angelo in the courtyard. Everything about this sequence is unprecedented: Avon making himself visible in public, the camera rolling in slow motion, and — get this — music playing on the soundtrack. So far all the music had been incidental to the show’s internal reality; you only heard what was playing on a guy’s stereo or Orlando’s jukebox or what have you. But Avon is triumphant over the Brandon’s slaying and Stinkum’s occupation of new territory, and is willing to break precedent it seems. Cash bonuses are allotted to Wallace and D’angelo for their assistance in bringing vengeance upon Brandon. D’angelo is clearly jumpy and nervous while confronted with several of his higher-ups, who in turn take advantage of it to mock punches in his direction. Made ya flinch. D’angelo lies to Stringer, covering for his crew members that were stealing. He has dealt with it on his own terms and reassigned them. Avon promises D’ the promotion from flat salary to percentage should he continue his good work.

Usually one of the hoppers in the courtyard is vocally advertising the availability of drugs. Here they begin to get clever with the manner by which the drugs are identified: today it’s “killa bees”, a reference to a seminal hip hop group with which you may be familiar.

Santangelo, the current payphone lookout, misses the whole glorious sequence because he was taking the world’s longest piss. It was a perfect opportunity to nab the plate number on the vehicle transporting Avon, Stringer, and Stinkum.

Wallace questions the reassignment of his former teammates who were stealing from the operation. D’angelo is honest about the reason, and Wallace surely takes comfort in the even handedness of D’s play. Consider that Stringer would not have had so lenient of a reaction. But D’angelo says, they weren’t snitching, just thieving, so why should he throw them to the wolves?

Although McNulty finally got his kids for the night, Omar picks the same moment to call up and request to see the body of his deceased companion. Our previous sympathy for McNulty’s plight with the children is rendered dubious when we see him driving Omar to the station, the kids in the back seat. I mean if these kids were guarding a Barksdale stash, Omar wouldn’t hesitate to turn his sawn-off on their ass. Just for threats, of course, but still. The kids have to sit around the police station way past their bedtime so Omar can say his goodbyes.

It has the emotional effect on the vigilante for which the cops hoped. He visits the Detail’s grotto to lend some information and questions the grungy nature of the setup. McNulty says it’s because they’re one and the same: in the game on their own terms, not part of the establishment. It’s not entirely disingenuous considering how the establishment feels about the Detail. Kima and McNulty spend a good deal of time trying to lather the man up and win his empathy, but Omar tells them not to waste their breath. He’s a decisive motherfucker and his being there means the choice has already been made to help them.

As Omar relates certain logistical details regarding the movements of the victim, Freamon is able to piece together the manner in which all those mysterious pages correspond to the setup for the murder. McNulty blows up at Daniels: if this guy had his shit together and was able to secure the Detail the necessary resources in a timely manner, they could have prevented Brandon’s death. “He’s on you!” Daniel takes the abuse. Kima is frustrated by the insubstantiality of the evidence Omar is providing, so Omar declares that he will testify in court that Bird killed Gant. Bizarrely, Kima questions whether or not Omar has the courage to do so, as if the Organization wasn’t already hell-bent on murdering him.

Daniels continues his campaign to postpone Rawls’ directive to make those premature arrests, finally blowing up in Rawls’ face as they negotiate with Burrell. The bullshit reasoning espoused by Rawls and Burrell is almost too much for this audience member to bear. However, Daniels wins the argument! Rawls calls in Santangelo, who of course is in the Detail for the purpose of giving Rawls dirt on McNulty. Well, Santangelo had better produce said dirt soon, Rawls says, even if it means fucking with the sacrosanct right of police officers to drink and drive. McNulty thanks Daniels for his integrity, which may well have set him back in his pursuit of higher rank.


The prologue demonstrates Prez’s increasing fluency with the spy shit. They’re trying to decipher the following utterance from their pay phone surveillance: “Low man strapped, yo. He all the way down. But we gonna start fresh on the latest tomorrow, down from up north.” Compounding the difficulty is the fact that the audio is somewhat distorted. Herc thinks he can figure it out: some guy named Loman is down with strep throat, and something about a fashion lady. What a tool: it means that the low-rise tower pit is out of heroin, but a package will be arriving tomorrow from New York.

Baffled by the uncanniness with which Prez is able to pick apart the communication, Prez challenges them to source the following lyric: “Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields, sold in a market down in New Orleans.” It’s the opening couplet from Brown Sugar; the sort of thing that you hear over and over, but that takes an ear like Prez’s to catalogue. Prez and Freamon have developed a rich basis with which to interpret the communications, and understand that a large dope delivery is imminent by the hand of Stinkum.

Stinkum will no doubt have a lesser underling in tow, and the plan is to nab this underling as they take off with the stash and let Stinkum get away. In this manner, they will be able to act on their knowledge and bring pressure to bear upon the crew, without tipping their hand too significantly. For once, Herc grasps the subtlety of the maneuver.

Santangelo’s been berated into closing one of the myriad of cases he’s failed to solve. It’s punishment for failing to bring Rawls any viable negative info on McNulty. A silly subplot ensues in which he seeks the advice of a psychic to help him solve one such case. McNulty and ASA Pearlman visit Judge Phelan to renew the wiretap, and Phelan behaves like a disgraceful lech towards the lady. This guy is high on a kite on his power. When McNulty tries to leave, Phelan makes it clear that there will be a standing expectation to provide the judge with the latest dirt. “Sit. Talk,” he oozes.

The Detail performs the play against the Organization successfully. A crucial detail finds Det. Sydnor sprinting up the stairs to a rooftop, solely for the purpose of setting eyes on Stinkum as he makes a call to Stringer to report the failed delivery of the package. This is the only means by which they can legally listen to this conversation and log it into evidence! Stringer, ice cold, doesn’t react to the news itself but only to the fact that Stinkum broke etiquette to speak to him about it over the phone: “Yo why the fuck are you telling me this?”

The runner they nabbed was the poor child blinded by Prez in episode 2. The two encounter one another in the Detail grotto and Prez can’t deal with it. Daniels attempts to make nice with the kid, who understandably wants none of it.

There’s some suspicion as to whether or not Omar is telling the truth about having witnessed Gant’s death. They canvas an old lady in the neighborhood in question, who, clearly terrified to be giving the police information, corroborates Omar’s details.

As a favor to Bubbles, Kima helps mitigate Johnny Weeks’ legal repercussions for his latest arrest. The two attend a Narcotics Anonymous meeting because Johnny has to, but Bubbles ends up getting something out of it, realizing that he has “a sincere desire to live.” It’s the only meeting Johnny manages to attend. Bubbles begins forging signatures on Johnny’s court papers, and Johnny speculates on the impossibility of finding clean urine to beat a drug test given their lack of clean acquaintances.

Daniels attends a political house part on the arm of his politically involved wife, and we lay eyes on State Senator Clay Sheeeeeeeeeeyit Davis for the first time. Burrell notes that Daniels must start learning such faces if he is to make rank; it seems that despite shaking things up, his career is still in good shape. Daniels encounters Davis’ driver, Damien Price, who assumes Daniels is a chauffeur as well and boasts about how good he is at robbing houses such as the one they’re in.

Bunk and McNulty get shitfaced together and Bunk makes known his intentions to cheat on his wife while she is out of town. McNulty makes this weird comment about how when it was Bunk’s turn to fuck him, he was gentle. I assume that, in the political labyrinth that is the homicide department, these cops must screw each other over with regularity. The sensitivity or integrity or whatever with which Bunk conducted said screwing over was the beginning of their friendship.

D’angelo visits the Orlando’s saferoom where Wee Bey, Stringer, Stinkum, and Avon hold a fiery court in which they attempt to parse the various hints that they have been dropped as towards the nature of the pressure being applied by the police. D’angelo maintains that nobody in his crew is snitching. Stringer pieces together that the cops must have sufficient evidence to arrest Stinkum due to his license plate, but they can’t figure out why Stinkum wasn’t pursued as well at the time. Orlando wants to start selling dope on the side from a New Orleans hookup and invites D’angelo to be a part of it. It’s ridiculous that either of them would consider such a suicidal tactic, but they did bond over their mutual frustration with the menial pay they’ve been receiving. In the courtyard, Bodie and Poot note the absence of Wallace, who has been in a deepening funk over his role in Brandon’s death. We see that Wallace has turned to the white powder to tranquilize his anguish.

The next play for the Detail is to arrest Bird. Doing so involves a convoluted stratagem in which Sydnor, Freamon, Daniels, McNulty, Kima, Herc, Carver, and Bubbles all get to play a part. Although the Barksdale Organization has a standing order that its members must not abuse drugs, Bird has a habit, and the crew nabs him after he picks up. Stringer and Wee Bey visit D’angelo’s courtyard and institute harsher disciplinary measures in response to the police crackdown they perceive. They tear out the payphones that have been integral to the investigation: D’angelo and his employees must fan out to return pages, and avoid using the same phone twice in a given day.

Cuffed in the interrogation room, Bird is the subject of a polaroid photograph whose intent is to demonstrate half of a Before and After scenario in which he leaves the interrogation room without further physical harm than when he entered. Bird’s refusal to cooperate is absolute, and an incredibly dark moment occurs when Daniels calmly tears up the photo, signaling their intention to beat the ever-living shit out of him. Bird sells the moment with his abrupt transition from gangsta hubris to genuine fear. Outside, Bunk does some paperwork with Omar regarding Omar’s upcoming testimony, and it turns out the two were schoolmates back in the day. Bunk takes advantage of their chumminess to press him for any other information he might have, whether or not it relates to the Barksdale case. Information is derived that enables Santangelo to solve one of his whodunits, and Santangelo is so affected that he confesses the nature of Rawls’ campaign to McNulty. McNulty realizes the gravity of his situation for the first time. “I love this fucking job, and they’re gonna do me.”


This is a pivotal episode. Things have been going well for various characters, and here we are reminded that they are fucked.

McNulty’s a pretty good dad it seems. Out shopping with his kids, he plays a quizzical game with them that they find engaging, reffing between the older brother who’s instincts are to show off at the expense of the younger. But he’s also the worst dad who’s ever lived because as soon as he spots Stringer in the store he tells his kids to play spy games and follow the man.

The technique they employ is “front and follow”. Mr. Jareth Cutestory, a commenter on, gave me the following description of the process: “Two surveillance operatives approach the target at different times. The first falls in behind the target and begins following him discreetly. The second operative predicts the target’s path and takes up a position ahead of him. The two agents continue in this manner until the front operative feels the need to lie low or misinterprets the target’s destination. Then the following operative repositions to the front and the other operative falls in behind.” The idea is that surrounding the target provides both fault tolerance and misdirection. It is a risky maneuver to ask of one’s children.

Well practiced, the kids follow Stringer out to his car and jot down his plate, and McNulty looses the kids in the process and has to get the store to issue a Code Adam. He brags to Bunk about it.

The Barksdale soldiers continue their campaign against Omar, busting into his former crib and torching his van. One step ahead, Omar watches it unfold from a different apartment. Herc and Carver both study for an upcoming sergeant’s exam to put their names in the promotion hat; Herc’s method of studying involves reading porn, while Carver’s involves crackin the books. Wallace has given up on life and won’t leave his room despite Poot’s encouragement. He’s still a sharp kid and helps one of his young wards solve a math problem by recontextualizing it in terms of drugs. Poot complains to D’angelo about Wallace’s reticence, and D’ points out that nobody is forcing him at gunpoint to attend his job. It’s a somewhat ironic statement in retrospect.

The Detail is up on another drug transaction thanks to their wire. They know Little Man (another Barksdale crewmember we haven’t heard about up to this point) makes up half of the transaction, and they see him drop a bag into a car and follow it. The car is driven by none other than Clay Sheeeeyit Davis’ chauffeur Damien. The bag contained $20k.

Events transpire which blow the series wide open. Burrell is appalled that this bust took place. To Burrell, not wiretapping and busting drug dealers is so blatantly the correct thing to do that he literally fumes at Daniels for attempting real policework. He shuts down the entire investigation; they are to pack up the equipment by the end of the week. This is literally insane. It proves that there is no way to solve Baltimore’s problems. Gangs like Barksdale’s are immune to punishment because the politicians that control Baltimore are also corrupt, and eventually the two worlds are going to collide. This collision must be avoided at all costs. No investigation of substance can take place.

In order to make the Detail’s demise a reality, Kima and McNulty must pass some forms before Judge Phelan. Phelan thinks this is a pile of shit, and tells Burrell that he will be in contempt of court if the wiretap does not continue for the court-ordered duration. For once, it will be known that this was not one of McNulty’s subversions because Kima is an eyewitness to Phelan’s action.

The Barksdale crew is in a celebratory mood due to Stinkum’s rising status in the organization. He and Wee Bey pull D’angelo out of the courtyard for a lunch break and chum it up heartily. There will be a party tonight and D’s invited. D’ casually mentions Orlando’s proposal that they conduct some side business, and the crew cautions D’ to check with Avon first. It’s a mild reaction considering that usually in these crime dramas, going into business on the side is the first thing that gets you destroyed. Avon just beats on Orlando a bit and humiliates him in front of his bemused strippers.

The party is one of extreme debauchery. All of the crewmembers are doing drugs despite Avon’s standing orders, much to D’s surprise. Wee Bey tosses an utterly wasted girl down on a mattress to put some down some rape, and she’s dead of overdose by morning. Wee Bey complains that the greedy bitch consumed all their cocaine. It’s far beyond the pale of what D’angelo can stomach.

Armed with the license plate number given him by his children, McNulty tails Stringer’s car. Stringer is taking economics classes at community college. The mythology of Stringer is in full swing as of this moment. String learns about elastic/inelastic products. Clearly drugs are an inelastic product: the price can fluctuate without affecting demand. The same is not true for the various businesses that act as money-laundering fronts for the Organization, and Stringer berates his employees at one such outfit to recognize their elasticity. He doesn’t want it run like a front, he wants it run like a legitimate business. You have the sense here that Stringer would be successful without the drug game, and perhaps is putting pieces in order for such an eventuality.

Wee Bey and Stinkum make their move on Stinkum’s new territory. It is noted that, similar to Omar, they are pragmatic about their battle plan, moving to assassinate the current resident dealer. But Omar himself is on the scene; he kills Stinkum and puts a bullet in Wee Bey’s leg. Avon is ready to bring the full wrath of the Organization down on Omar’s head. Crucially, Stringer points out that this whole situation is out of hand. He reflects Avon’s criticism of D’angelo in the first episode right back at the man. He let this shit get too personal, too emotional. Avon is reluctant to accept the notion.

Well, killing Stinkum throws a wrench in the investigation. Recall that the Detail had documented Stinkum’s role in the drug-transaction-before-last, and were intent on building further evidence atop this foundation. Furthermore, they intend to rely on Omar’s testimony against Bird, but now they’re faced with condoning his homicide if they’re going to keep him on the stand. The result is that they simply ask him to cease and desist such behavior. McNulty has to check to make sure he’s still a cop. He makes Bunk derail the homicide detective assigned to Stinkum’s murder with the promise that the Detail holds the key to the mystery but can’t reveal it until their investigation is complete. In truth they have no intention of doing so, and need to protect the appearance of Omar being respectable enough to testify.

Aggrieved, Bunk complies, and then cheats on his wife with a woman he meets at a bar with McNulty. She wasn’t even out of town this time. Then McNulty gets a call at odd-hours in the morning from Bunk’s conquest. Bunk is utterly wrecked at her house, attempting to burn his clothes because of the microfibers and DNA that will incriminate him to his wife. When McNulty tucks Bunk into his kid’s bunkbed, Bunk aims a low blow at McNulty: it was his influence which led Bunk to this situation.


An episode that, annoyingly, spends much time reiterating several details with which we are well familiar by this point. But don’t worry, new and important information will be revealed.

Avon and Stringer procure the services of a talented junior college basketball player for reasons as yet unknown. They have the same conversation about Omar from the last episode: Stringer thinks they should pose a truce in the hopes that Omar will grow less cautious, whereas Avon is concerned about his rep.

Freamon coaches Sydnor and Prez about matters concerning the Avon money trail. Far from being dissuaded by last episode’s snafu involving Clay Davis’ driver, he wants to press onward. If they limit their investigation to the trail of drugs, they’ll end up busting a bunch of drug dealers. There’s no telling where they may be led by following the money. An extremely dense patch of dialogue concerns their strategy: you can tell that Freamon has had more than a decade to stew about the last time he pushed an investigation in this direction, much to the chagrin of the all-too-political commanding officers. Significantly, he intends to link campaign finance contributions to the Barksdales. “Sheeeeeeeeyit,” Clay Davis will complain.

Wallace is still reticent and high, and D’angelo still is decent about his absence from work. Wallace explicitly tells D’ he wants out of the game, and D’ has no problem with it. Poot sees him cop drugs, thus confirming his and Bodie’s suspicion that the kid has been using. “Family affair” is the drug pseudonym du jour.

The phone tap allows the Detail to anticipate a drug/money exchange. When the exchange goes down, Bubbles and Johnny attempt to score, but fail. They spot one of the speakers from the Narcotics Anonymous meeting, and conclude that he was a phony, but he was just there looking out for a family member who has yet to embrace the path of recovery. He notes that one must usually hit bottom before they begin to seek healing.

Meanwhile, Herc and Carver pursue the money as at leaves the courtyard in Wee Bey’s car. They confiscate the money from Wee Bey, who claims he didn’t know it was there. They let Wee Bey go. Herc and Carver consider ganking some of the cash, but Carver points out that the exact amount might be confirmed when the Barksdale crew grieves about the loss on the phone tap, so they decide against it.

Bubbles robs the stash off of a small-time dealer, but it turns out to be fake drugs. Realizing that he has perhaps hit bottom himself, Bubbles asks a respectable lady he seems to know for assistance in getting clean. It’s later revealed to be his sister. She gives him the key to her basement, cautioning him to not attempt to enter the house proper. We see Bubbles dealing with withdrawal, but the fact of her generosity is a source of strength for him: he grips the keys like a talisman of goodwill.

Back on the beat, Herc and Carver discover that nobody is dealing drugs in any of the usual places. West Side Baltimore is on vacation today to participate in an annual basketball game against East Side; this is why Avon and Stringer shelled out 20k for the services of the talented player. We meet a crucial player: Proposition Joe, the East Side equivalent of Avon Barksdale. He has not yet been dubbed Proposition Joe by the series’ writers, but each exchange of dialogue in which he participates involves at least one use of the word “proposition”. West Side is winning the game; Prop Joe doubles down on the wager, and then subs in his secret weapon/best player. The tide turns in East Side’s favor. Avon rails against the referee, who offers to put more time on the clock and allow a do-over. This infuriates Avon even more, and he berates the ref for allowing himself to be intimidated!

Herc and Carver manage to find the game and realize that this is where all the dealers have gone for the day. They ask their old buddy Bodie about the situation, and learn from him that Avon is present. The Detail can’t resist this opportunity to put a tail on the ever-elusive Avon. A richly complex pursuit ensues in which Daniels, Herc/Carver, and Sydnor attempt to follow Avon in three separate vehicles, none of whom tail him directly. Nonetheless, Avon’s talent in paranoid awareness clues him in, and he makes them. The series’ second slow-motion shot finds Avon driving by Daniels, wagging a finger in disapproval. Back at HQ, McNulty works with Prez on the phone tap and believes he is onto the location of the Barksdale’s central stash.

The similarity in appearance between D’angelo’s stripper girlfriend Shardene and the young woman who was killed possibly at D’angelo’s hand may not have been a total red herring, because the Detail profiles her as a potential informant based on looks alone. They leverage the recent death of her friend to secure her help. This is the friend who died of a drug overdose at Stinkum’s party. It turns out that she was thoroughly raped by Wee Bey and two others, rolled up in a rug, and discarded in a dumpster. Stripper girlfriend leaves D’angelo, but not before citing this deed as the reason behind it. Fortunately D’angelo is not Stringer, and doesn’t leap to conclusions about how she was able to derive this information.

It turns out that, despite their best efforts, Herc and Carver failed to turn in the full amount of cash that they confiscated from Wee Bey. Some of it fell out into the trunk of the squad car, and though they are relieved to find it so they can return it, it’s doubtful Daniels will believe that it was an honest mistake.

Meanwhile, Omar’s grown disenchanted with his desperate situation. He robs another one of Avon’s stash houses; this time, he need only walk up to the door and ask, so feared is his name. He gives the drugs to Proposition Joe in exchange for Avon’s pager number. Omar moves against Avon, paging him from outside Orlando’s after Wee Bey takes off on a fast-food errand. Unfortunately, Avon’s caution prevents Omar from getting a clean crack at him until Wee Bey returns. Omar takes a bullet in the shoulder in the ensuing gunfight.


Bubbles sits in a park and watches children making bubbles. He looks healthier. He’s uncomfortable in the clean shirt he’s wearing. He’s uncomfortable with various ambient details such as wind rustling through leaves of a tree and women with strollers conversing as to whatever it is about which those sort of women converse. It’s a sensitive and honest portrayal of the sort of inane chattering your brain visits upon you while in the throes of withdrawal. Nearby the idyllic scene, some old acquaintances of Bubbles cop drugs from a dealer. There’s no escape from temptation — or maybe he chooses to occupy a space where the option of relapse is available.

Later, Bubbles chats with the speaker from NA, who counsels him about the realities of recovery. Bubbles calls upon Kima and asks her for some funding so that he can set about becoming a more respectable human being, and she complains that he’ll be a fairly useless informant to her if he’s not involved with drugs. Rather callous, we feel. Nonetheless she promises to come through tomorrow with a few bills for him so that he can set himself up. Bubbles finally leaves the park, declining the offer of heroin as he exits.

His life having been threatened, Avon comes around to Stringer’s plan regarding Omar. He orders Wee Bey to circulate his willingness to call a truce. Stringer confiscates Avon’s pager, intending to tighten up security and build a wall around the organization’s leader.

Judge Phelan’s love for McNulty has soured; the judge must run for reelection and has become a pariah among his peers, perhaps due in part to his very association with our beloved rogue cop. He complains that McNulty needs to wrap up this goddam wire tap.

Back with his proper girlfriend, D’angelo has no patience for the fact that her investment in the relationship is entirely centered around the material goods that come with his occupation. He storms out of there in the middle of her berating him for cash.

Every time the Barksdale dealers run out of drugs, they page a certain number, and receive a call back from a certain payphone. It stands to reason that the return call is being made by the holder of the operation’s central stash. Sydnor and Carver stake out the payphone in question, and follow the caller back to a building that has every indication of being the stash’s location: lots of security cameras, no phone line. Though they have probable cause to search the place, Freamon points out that it’s a golden opportunity to discern the movement of drugs as they make their way from the stash house to branches of Avon’s operation as yet unknown to the Detail.

Fuck-up Orlando decides to go ahead with his side deal without D’angelo’s involvement. He attempts to buy the drugs, but lo and behold his connection is an undercover narcotics agent. Orlando doesn’t hesitate to leverage his knowledge of the Barksdale organization to save his ass.

This development is hard to swallow; he’s already been sanctioned for considering the side deal in the first place, and now he’s trying to sell the notion that he can attempt to buy drugs directly from Avon. While the audience might not buy it, Commissioner Burrell salivates over the possibility that his favorite scheme of buy-and-bust is now available. He orders that it be done. Warning signs flare when Savino, one of Avon’s less significant underlings, agrees to sell Orlando drugs.

Meanwhile, McNulty grabs ahold of Wallace. It is no secret at this point that Wallace is in turmoil over Brandon’s death, and what is known to the minor Barksdale players is known to the Detail from their surveillance. Wallace doesn’t hesitate spill the beans about everything he knows; he only refuses to put in the bad word about his mentor-in-ethics D’angelo. Now the cops are faced with the logistical challenge of protecting Wallace until the time comes when he will testify on their behalf. Daniels drives Wallace to Wallace’s grandma’s house in the countryside, where the young man is baffled by the sound of crickets. Wallace himself is withdrawing form his burgeoning heroin addiction, and this auditory cricket detail, coupled with the earlier illustration of Bubble’s state of mind, clues us in that the kid is in for a rough time.

Moreover, a crucial point is here illustrated. The audience has been conditioned by the media to assume that once you hand yourself over to the cops, you are safe. A witness under protection effectively disappears; you might have to eat spaghetti with ketchup, but there’s no chance that your enemies will be able to find you. This is unrelated to the reality of the situation, especially in an underfunded institution like the Baltimore PD.

Kima and her girlfriends are drinking in a bar. These soft-ass women ridicule Kima for her reluctance to pound shots with them. When Kima complains that she has to work tomorrow, her companion notes that one of the other women present has to WORK AT AN ART GALLERY the next day and is still willing to drink, as if this is comparable to the shit Kima deals with on the job. Kima tells a story about when she was a rookie and came through in a difficult situation, and the value she found in the casual respect it earned her from her superior.

Omar calls upon the cops for assistance with his festering bullet wound: checking into the ER would make him a sitting duck for Avon’s men. The cops advise Omar to accept Avon’s truce. Proposition Joe sets up a parley between Omar and Stringer; when Stringer acquiesces to Omar’s proposal that an additional 5k of Avon’s money will set them straight, it clues Omar into the fact that the truce is merely a ruse to bring him out into the open. He skips a train bound for New York.

Shardene is attempting to glean information from within Orlando’s club, but has yet to produce anything worthwhile. Part of the problem is that she needs coke-bottle lenses to see clearly, and can’t wear them while trying to shake her ass for cash. She actually has no idea what Avon, Stringer, etc really look like! Freamon seems charmed, not frustrated, by the girl’s predicament.

McNulty’s ex initiates harsher legal measures to limit McNult’s visitation rights. The two have their first civil conversation, and agree to make nice on the legal end of things.

Kima dons undercover garb and rides with Orlando to buy drugs from Savino. Savino takes them into a neighborhood in which all the street signs have been rearrange to confound the cops’ ability to keep track of the situation. Of course the Barksdale Organization never had any intention of selling Orlando drugs, as was painfully obvious to the audience (though, for some reason, not the cops, although in all fairness Burrell is forcing the play). It’s an unmitigated disaster: Orlando gets shot and killed, and Kima takes a pair of bullets.


A powerful episode mainly spent dealing with the psychic damage that results from the wounding of Kima. As her life hangs in the balance, we see the better nature of characters who we hate. It brings them all together: Rawls comes down to the crime scene and reigns down hell upon the grief stricken cops, sending bystanders packing, comforting McNulty. Somebody’s concerned about the money that was fronted for the buy-and-bust, and Rawls tells them to go fuck themselves. Bunk and Landsman work together to follow the trail of the shooters.

Freamon shows up and insists that members of the Detail get back the Wire. They object at first, but come on guys, the stakes are higher than ever at this point, and what if they miss the crucial payphone conversation that gives them Kima’s shooter?

Everybody’s on point except Burrell, who once again is going to gut the investigation for short-term prestige. He wants to “send a message”. We can safely assume that Kima would be even more invested in persecuting Barksdale’s crew to the full extent of their abilities, but fuck her I guess. The order is given to bust down every door behind which may be drugs, including the Main Stash.

Thing is, Daniels had every intention of continuing to sit on the Main Stash despite the order being given, because Burrell isn’t supposed to know about it. Somebody in the Detail is feeding Burrell information. McNulty attempts to tap Judge Phelan for help, and finds the judge too concerned about his career to intervene.

Here’s how the shooting went down: Savino had Orlando and Kima drive into an alley. He left the vehicle to supposedly grab the drugs, leaving the money in the car. Wee Bey and Little Man came up to cap Orlando. Wee Bey noted the female in the backseat and decided against shooting her. Little Man was not so scrupulous. He’s the one who shot Kima.

The cops know for a certainty that Savino was involved in this whole mess. McNulty and ASA Pearlman tap Barksdale lawyer Maury Levy, demanding that he produce Savino. McNulty is out for blood and makes unseemly threats towards the man, forcing Pearlman’s hand in backing him up. Once outside, she criticizes his behavior, noting that it doesn’t bode well for her career given that Levy is an Important Person in the field of law. McNulty drops the following delicious Central Thesis bomb on her:

“Another career in the balance. Fuck you. If only half you motherfuckers in the state’s attorneys office didn’t want to be judges, didn’t want to be partners in some downtown law firm, if half of you had the fucking balls to follow through do you know what would happen? A guy like that would be indicted, tried, and convicted, and the rest of them would back up enough so that we could push a clean case or two through your courthouse. But no, everybody stays friends, everybody gets paid, and everybody’s got a fucking future.”

Pearlman objects that McNulty uses such ‘friends’ as her and Judge Phelan at his convenience, an accusation against which he has no rebuttal. Levy makes good on his promise to produce Savino, and they show up with a bag of baking soda: all Savino wanted to do was defraud Orlando by selling him fake product, they claim, and he has no knowledge of any other aspect of the situation.

The Barksdale Organization is nearly as distraught over the situation as the cops. As noted, it’s rather strange that Orlando and the cops thought this buy-and-bust was what it appeared to be. The same can be said for the Barksdale crew. Stringer is to blame on this one: how could Orlando have had 30k to spend on drugs, Avon asks? Stringer accepts responsibility. He orders Wee Bey to kill Little Man, and then to disappear. It’s a cruel but necessary means by which the Organization will cover their ass. It’s a fine line between the degree of trust in Wee Bey, who is allowed to hide out in Philadelphia, and Little Man, who must die for his offense.

D’angelo thinks he’s on the wrong side of this line when he’s sent on an unknown errand with Wee Bey. Bey marches D’angelo down an obscure alley into a seemingly vacant building, and D’angelo prepares himself for the bullet he’s about to take. When the lights turn on, we see that it is Wee Bey’s home; he simply wants D’angelo to babysit his fish while he’s gone. Wee Bey is serious about this fish business; many beautiful aquariums are on display, all the fish have names, all require different food. It’s an interesting moment to point out the underlying humanity of this character.

As an aside, Wallace has grown too frustrated with his exile at Grandma’s, and asks Poot to send him the bus fare to return home.

Bubbles pages in Kima’s aforepromised favor and becomes the unfortunate victim of the cops’ misdirected rage. A Confidential Informant, his connection to Kima is uncertain, and the cops endeavor to beat it out of him before Bunk intervenes. McNulty comes through and explains the situation, and Bubbles wants to offer what help he can. He scopes out the projects and tells the Detail what notables are absent: Wee Bey, Savino, Little Man, and D’angelo. The investigation hones in on the notion that Little Man and Wee Bey were the shooters, but needs Kima to survive and become conscious so she can confirm it.

The busts are conducted. Drugs, money, and weapons are seized. Herc and Carver overturn a mattress concealing piles and piles of bound bills and don’t hesitate to stuff their Kevlars with a package apiece. The whole affair gives Burrell a nice photo op.

There’s another uncanny symbolic gesture that harkens back to the series’ opening shot: the graphed waveform representing the tapped payphone communications on the Detail’s computer system dissolves into the heart monitor displaying Kima’s heartbeats.


Kima’s stabilized and in and out of consciousness. McNulty’s world is crumbling around him and he can’t face her; he admits that his entire investment in the Barksdale investigation was entirely about his own ego and had nothing to do with a desire to affect positive change in the world. Recognizing that Kima had become a pawn in his game, he is consumed with guilt. However, McNulty’s crusade has become her crusade, and Daniels’ as well, and he must respect that.

The Barksdale crew must tighten up their operation once again in light of all the shit that’s gone down. This means the wiretap is officially dead. All pagers and payphones are now off limits to the Barksdale workers. Moreover, anybody who has the slightest potential to be an informant must be iced. This extends even to the second witness from episode 1, the one who behaved herself and reversed testimony. Interestingly, it is Maury Levy himself who presses this issue. This fucker is more than complicit with the Barksdales, he’s like George Martin to their Beatles. More emotionally, Wallace is a prime suspect because of his emotional turbulence regarding Brandon’s death, and the fact that he has been AWOL recently. Stringer calls upon D’angelo to give the kid up, and D’angelo refuses. He and Avon press him, but our man is steadfast. His appeal to his cousin’s better nature is impassioned and revelatory: D’angelo is stepping up and fulfilling the destiny of his true character.

Freamon and Shardene, growing ever closer, devise a new tactic to counter the Organization’s phone silence. She learns how to walk with measured stride. She will pace around Orlando’s, and give the Detail the exact location of the safe room therein. This will allow them to insert a fiber optic surveillance camera from an adjoining vacant building. Shardene and Freamon seem to have embarked on an affair, implying that even good people such as Freamon may have weaknesses of character, such as taking advantage of this vulnerable woman young enough to be his granddaughter.

Burrell thinks he sees light at the end of the tunnel as far as ridding himself of the nuisance of Daniels’ Detail. He begins siphoning off Daniels’ manpower, but fortunately for the Detail, nobody’s figured out that Freamon and Prez are prime players. He believes he’s twisting the knife by recalling Santangelo and Sydnor and leaving the two supposedly useless desk cops in Daniels’ command. There is talk of promotion for Daniels should he wrap things up cooperatively.

Word’s gotten around that Freamon is pulling campaign contribution records. Now we start to witness the fallout that this engenders: ASA Pearlman’s boss calls her in to assure her that not only are his hands clean, but he’s giving back any money that might be suspicious! Pearlman accurately claims her ignorance as to the matter, but people have been spooked. Hilariously, this particular gentleman wasn’t even on Freamon’s shitlist, but his paranoia regarding the matter is a fairly explicit admission of guilt.

The Detail learns that the female witness from D’angelo’s trial has been slain, and takes stock of who else might be in danger. They set about trying to recollect Wallace, who has already fled his grandma’s and is back at the courtyard demanding to be put back into the game. D’angelo is willing, but with the caveat that his young friend must cease acting ambivalent about these matters. Wallace has made his decision, however, and forcefully iterates that being a West Side hopper is core to his identity. We meet D’angelo’s mother for the first time, who shows up well-attired in a nice car and gives her son his favorite take-out lunch. It’s a goofy collision of lunch-box momism and the implicit condonement of D’angelo’s line of work.

Another juicy scene of character-destiny-fulfillment ensues when Burrell calls upon Daniels to parley with Clay Davis himself. Davis is intent on making it known that this whole snafu with his driver was just a huge misunderstanding. We see how far Daniels has come from worrying about his career to embracing the integrity of his investigation. Though it’s possible that Daniels is being blindsided by the revelation that his Detail is pulling Davis’ contribution records, just as Pearlman was, he doesn’t flinch. He repeats in no uncertain terms that Davis has nothing to worry about, so long as his hands are genuinely clean. The fact that this doesn’t placate the State Senator speaks volumes about his guilt, in fact it prompts him losing his cool and visiting a “listen motherfucker!” on Daniels. The corruption is so thoroughly entrenched in Baltimore politics that these assholes can’t even fathom the notion that they would be called out on it. Daniels takes his leave without budging, and Davis whirls on Burrell in anger. We begin to understand that Burrell’s constant bullshit is just a trickle-down effect: he is not the source of the ethical rot systemic in these affairs.

Stringer circumvents D’angelo and promotes Bodie from hopper to soldier. His first target, of course, is our dear friend Wallace. Eager to flex his testicles, Bodie agrees. It’s ironic that Stringer detects blatant falsehood in the notion that Wallace has been at his grandma’s this whole time: in Stringer’s opinion, Wallace has been under care of the police because he’s a snitch. Of course Wallace WAS at his grandma’s, BECAUSE of his snitching. Poot and Wallace spend some time together, and Poot recognizes that Wallace has overcome his addiction, admiring his fluency as caretaker to the young orphans with whom they live. When Bodie clues Poot into the imminent assassination, Poot makes his reluctance known. The stakes are high, however. There’s no direct evidence that Wallace has been snitching, and Poot knows firsthand that Wallace was indeed countryside at Grandma’s because he sent Wallace the bus fare that brought him home. Therefore, it is all about these hoppers’ ability to demonstrate that they are hard as shit; failing this, you will be targeted.

The three spend time together. Bodie continues to look for justification that Wallace is simply not cut out for his lifestyle of choice, but Wallace refuses to provide it. Wallace makes a casual mention to his mother, and Bodie springs on it as evidence that he has a child’s mentality. Without hesitation or defensiveness, Wallace disagrees: he is a man. It is a blessing for the audience, and a curse for Bodie and Poot, that we are given the opportunity to revel one last time in the strength of character Wallace possesses before he must die. Despite his posturing, this ordeal has left a bad taste in Bodie’s mouth, and he develops his long-standing trait of spitting out of the corner of his mouth in this episode.

Wallace’s death is presented to us with the utmost sensitivity. Flanked by Poot, Bodie levels his weapon at Wallace. He complains that Wallace has pissed himself like a coward, but the camera stays trained above the waist, affording Wallace dignity in his final moments. As Wallace pleads with them, Bodie’s unable to pull the trigger until Poot urges him to get it over with. It demonstrates the impossibility of rationalizing this deed: Bodie was waiting for a moment where this would feel appropriate and it’s not gonna come. While Wallace suffers from the first bullet wound, Poot tenderly disarms Bodie and ends Wallace’s pain. This audience member seriously doubts the humanity of the viewer who is not deeply affected by the sequence.

It bears comparison with a famous scene from HBO’s other celebrated crime drama, The Sopranos. Recall that Tony and company must look their friend Big Pussy in the eye and murder him for collaboration. Put side by side, it’s clear that the mafia series took a more romanticized, and therefore palatable approach to this awful business.

Later, we see Poot causing an anonymous phone call to be placed to the police so that Wallace’s body will be discovered. The dual significance is that Poot has been hardened by the experience, conducting the clean-up with a dry eye, but remains sensitive to the fact that life has been lost. He’s not going to leave his friend’s corpse there to rot.

The Detail has wired the Orlando’s safe room with a camera and microphone. Though it should come as no surprise to the police that the Barksdales are clearing the place out in the wake of Orlando’s incrimination and death, they are disappointed nonetheless. They do glean one last crucial piece of information, as they see Avon direct D’angelo to make their next big pickup from their ever-mysterious New York suppliers. The assignment is given one-on-one. It indicates that Avon has a weakness for family matters, placing somebody he feels he can trust on a job that should be left to someone less closely connected.

D’angelo sets about conducting the errand in a vehicle that the police have already bugged. They watch D’angelo emerge from his house in sharp attire, and find it indicative of the young man’s callous nature: he’s spent quite a bit of time dolling himself up for the trip. The audience is more charitable, realizing that this is merely one of the means by which D’angelo distracts himself from becoming too embittered.

They bust D’ on the return trip in possession of the product. D’angelo’s learned from the last experience and isn’t saying shit except “lawyer,” until McNulty mentions Wallace’s death, the reality of which D’angelo refuses to accept. Stringer and Levy visit D’angelo in prison to take stock, and they realize that D’angelo is lost to them. “Where’s Wallace?” he says to Stringer over and over again, causing a near-panicked reaction from Stringer/Levy. They call him a dumb motherfucker and take their leave.

It looks to be the end of the investigation proper. Their most crucial collaborator, Wallace, has been slain. Pressing the investigation further would require extending their surveillance a great deal given the fact that the Barksdales have been backed up against a wall and have tightened up their practices accordingly. Needless to say, Burrell has no intention of allowing this to proceed. They have Avon on tape initiating a drug deal, and that will have to suffice. Stringer remains entirely unconnected to anything significant: the audience must forget Stinkum’s phone call to Stringer regarding the loss of drugs to the police in episode 7, I suppose. Daniels objects, voicing his intention to proceed regardless of Burrell’s direct order. Burrell finally makes known his knowledge of Daniels’ previous corruption and scrutiny by the FBI; in fact, he keeps the file he has on Daniels readily accessible in the top drawer of his desk. Daniels calls Burrell’s bluff: if Burrell were to push the issue, it would stir up precisely the sort of shit in his department the Deputy is hell-bent on avoiding. Daniels takes his leave of Burrell with a sarcastic salute. The two are explicitly enemies at this point.

Deflated, McNulty and Daniels make their token arrest of the now-docile Avon. Both factions have resigned themselves to this eventuality. Though Stringer offers his wrists for the cuffs as well, the police bitterly leave him be, since they have no charge to bring against him.


Bunk attempts to goad Kima into IDing her two shooters. Her integrity prevents it. Though she is confident of Little Man’s presence in the shooting, she can’t put Wee Bey in the scene without lying.

It turns out that Herc managed to score higher on the sergeant’s exam than Carver, despite his lackadaisical attitude. He wastes no time in gloating about this, noting that Carver must accustom himself to punctuating their dialogue with “sir”.

The Detail takes stock of their situation. Daniels points out that they have little wherewithal to extend their means of surveillance due to Burrell’s attitude towards the ordeal. McNulty suggests that they go behind Burrell’s back and enlist the FBI’s aid, and is met with a positive reaction from now-fellow-crusader Daniels.

Avon makes bail immediately following his arrest, and the Barksdale crew must similarly evaluate where they stand. The trick is to maintain distribution in the areas they control even as their entire organization is shuffled in and out of prison on the lesser charges the police have managed to bring against them. Levy schools them as to their options as they pertain to the pressure he speculates the law will be able to apply. It is obvious to Levy that they have been under extensive surveillance. With more than half of his essential players currently locked up, Avon must affirm his loyalty to his men by bailing out as many members of the organization as possible, and Levy advises them as to the cleanest method by which this can be accomplished. Meanwhile, he encourages Avon to deliver everybody else to the police outright; this sort of cooperation will mitigate their sentencing.

Avon and Stringer scope out a funeral home. It’s one of Avon’s money-laundering fronts and a potential replacement for Orlando’s as the primary repository for Barksdale cash. The two exercise extreme caution; never again will the police gain information on this crew from listening in on them discussing matters in a building.

D’angelo’s mother/Avon’s sister Brianna shows up, revealing herself to be a more crucial player in the Organization than we reckoned. Her task is to rescue D’angelo from whatever despair may be causing him to consider flipping for the cops. Avon is all apologies, not doubting for a second that this can be accomplished. Stringer’s doubtful glance is a harbinger of things to come.

Meanwhile, D’angelo has gone over to the dark side with more vehemence than even Stringer could have guessed. He’s enlisted the help of a public defender and intends to utterly betray his crew. Wallace was the turning point. The cops brandish the photo of Wallace’s corpse before him, and D’angelo not only decries the child’s murder, but goes so far as to blame himself for not doing more. Collaborating with the cops is both an opportunity to avenge his friend’s death and begin a new existence away from all the bullshit that has become such a sour spot in his soul.

We learn that the death of Avon’s girlfriend was not D’angelo’s doing, but another instance of whereby his peripheral involvement played a role in another’s death. D’angelo was sent to the girl’s house to give her an 8-ball of coke as a peace offering, but in reality they were setting her up to allow Wee Bey easy opportunity to murder her. It was through Bey’s boastful conveyance of his methods that D’angelo was able to relate the details of the murder to his crew. D’angelo gives up Bey’s location to the police as well.

Another crucial aspect of this scene is that it affords the police one of their rare opportunities to put the great deal of information they’ve accumulated to use. They play D’angelo phone conversations they’ve recorded and are one step ahead of him in relating their knowledge of certain details before he can corroborate them, generally demonstrating their fluent mastery over the inner workings of his organization. The whole experience gives ASA Pearlman such a buzz that she immediately fucks McNulty in the parking lot on their way out. She too has become a Fellow Crusader.

The Detail begins courting the FBI to see if the feds can breathe life back into the Barksdale investigation. Things get quite interesting here. The feds have a mandate wherein they can’t pursue matters that don’t directly relate to a short list of bureau-wide priorities, the most crucial of course being counter-terrorism. Another possible hook would have been some knowledge of the large-scale New York suppliers that originate the Barksdale product, but these are as yet beyond the scope of the Detail’s investigation. McNulty and Daniels struggle to find a way to spin their situation, and then the feds mention political corruption. Bingo! But here’s the rub: for the Detail, Clay Davis is simply the bait that lures the FBI into the investigation. They really want to pursue Avon and Stringer. The feds would instead turn the Barksdale crew into collaborators, mitigating their sentences in exchange for dirt on the state senator. The Detail folds; they would rather take their own chances.

The astute audience member should smell bullshit on this play. They were rightfully unsatisfied with Burrell’s intention of capping the investigation at the low-level players entrapped by the buy-n-busts. They’re willing to mitigate D’angelo’s sentence so they can pursue the higher players. But they’ve become emotional about Avon and Stringer (I mean, they shot Kima after all!). Avon and Stringer are not the problem here; it would certainly be worthwhile to make them disappear into the witness protection program if it meant they could deal a crippling blow to the sources of corruption that made this whole investigation an uphill battle. But they can’t see it. Shit is personal, and they decline the FBI’s offer to get involved.

Another blow is dealt to Daniels and company when Brianna visits D’angelo in prison and convinces him to not abandon his family. Once again they’ve lost a collaborator on whom hinged their entire case. It’s hard to swallow dramatically due to the fact that this Brianna lady has only been around for about 90 seconds of screentime; the audience has yet to emotionally connect with her and D’s relationship, especially when compared with our investment in the whole Wallace tragedy. But intellectually, it makes sense. The show gracefully cuts around the meat of their conversation, opting for the soft sell.

And yet another: recall that information concerning the Detail’s private shit has been leaked to Burrell. The moment Carver is absent from the scene, Burrell omniscience ceases. Daniels puts it together. To his credit, Carver owns up to it. Though he is understanding, Daniels has himself made great strides in putting ethics and integrity before his personal advancement, and attempts to communicate these lessons to Carver. It turns out that Carver gets promoted to sergeant instead of Herc because, despite scoring lower on the exam, Carver’s record is not riddled with brutality charges as is the case with Herc’s. Daniels urges Carver to set an example for those that will work under him. It’s a self-reflexive criticism that implicitly admits that Daniels may have influenced Carver to behave as he did.

They collect Wee Bey from Philadelphia. Wee Bey is the Barksdales’ secret weapon. This dude is so fucking hard that he’ll unhesitantly spend the rest of his life in prison for his crew; Avon and Stringer have the utmost faith in his loyalty and lean on him accordingly. His confession in the interrogation room is so callous that even his public defender is terrified. Once he is guaranteed protection against the death penalty for his cooperation, he gleefully boasts of murder after murder as he shovels food down his throat. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where your life might be ending because of legal troubles, but normally it interferes with one’s appetite. Not Wee Bey. He admits to shooting Kima. He even claims credit for Witness Gant, who we know was Bird’s work. He just wants some potato salad in return.

The result of all of this is that the Barksdale Organization is going to make it through intact. They’ve lost their best soldier permanently, but Wee Bey has absorbed much of the blame that may have otherwise been dolled out to others. The best charge they can bring against Avon is ATTEMPTED possession of narcotics, from the recorded conversation in which he sent D’angelo to New York. He gets seven years. D’angelo has to eat shit harder to the tune of 20 years, and the judge asks him if he’s sober and cognizant before accepting D’angelo’s guilty plea. Slow motion shot #3 finds Avon mugging the detectives triumphantly as he’s led out of the courtroom.

All that’s left is to deal with the various ramifications of all that’s transpired. Freamon joins the homicide department. McNulty gets put on the boat as predicted. Daniels is passed over for promotion. Herc shares his newfound appreciation for intelligent policework with narcotics recruits. Bubbles relapses and continues thieving with Johnny Weeks. Bodie and Poot run the courtyard with the methods they’ve learned from their mentor D’angelo. Santangelo is demoted to walking a beat for failing to provide Rawls with dirt on McNulty. Kima begins her physical rehabilitation. Stringer works the Organization’s cash.

It’s the sort of season finale that will separate the truly invested viewers from the tourists. Very little is provided in the way of archetypically satisfying resolutions. It’s not a conclusion where they’re restating the thesis statements, but rather pushing the material even further to new levels of sophistication. It emphasizes the cyclical nature of the institutions, but also shows you that things have changed, and reminds you of the emotional level with which we’ve become invested. However it closes with one crowd-pleasing tidbit: a gleeful Omar robbing a dealer while in exile in New York. Somehow, the knowledge that Omar is still out there, being true to his game, greatly comforts this viewer.

~ by renfield on February 27, 2012.

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