HBO’s gritty crime drama The Wire rarely drew more than 4 million viewers and never won an Emmy. However, the greatest Wire episodes show why the series has such a rabid fan base and often tops so many “best shows ever” lists.
Set in Baltimore, Maryland, every new season of The Wire deconstructed a different city institution: substance trafficking, the seaport system, government and bureaucracy, schools, and print news media. However, the heart of the series detailed the elaborate game played between the city’s drug dealers and Baltimore law enforcement. The show was unflinchingly realistic and steered clear of happy endings. Its most consequential episodes often centered on an important player's passing or the tragic consequences of fallible characters that viewers expected more from.
Make your voice heard. Vote up the episodes of The Wire that you think mattered the most.
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The penultimate episode of Season 3 is best known for the scene where Omar and Brother Mouzone take the life of Stringer Bell. Before they do, they inform Stringer of Avon's betrayal.
What makes this episode such a gem is the conversation on the balcony between Stringer and Avon beforehand. The two old friends chat about the salad days of their youth, among some innocent business talk. The spectator is aware that they are both betraying the other, but neither man realizes what's really going on. At one point, Avon tells Stringer, "It's just business." It's a loaded statement that holds a world of meaning.Was this an important episode?
'Cleaning Up' (Season 1, Episode 12)Photo: HBO
The penultimate episode of Season 1 focuses on Avon and Stringer's need to clean house. They also eliminate pagers and phones. This episode also lets the viewing world know that this series is unwilling to cater to fan favorites. Stringer tells Bodie to end Wallace, a teenager who wanted to do the right thing and get out of the game. Wallace snitched on Stringer and told police about his involvement in Brandon's demise.
The police try to keep Wallace safe until he's able to testify at trial but ultimately fail. Wallace returns to the streets of Baltimore out of sheer boredom, which results in his end. Wallace's best friends, Poot and Bodie, take his life while the young man begs to be spared.
Wallace's end is one of the main events that divide D'Angelo and Stringer. D'Angelo is distraught when he hears about Wallace and questions his own moral position in the game.Was this an important episode?
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The Season 4 finale concludes the stories of the four middle school students that viewers met at the beginning of the season. The outcome is not great for any of them. It seems that no institution - not foster homes, the schools or social services - can save a street kid from working the corner when their time comes.
This episode also features a memorable conversation between Bodie and McNulty on a park bench. The kid tells the detective that the game is rigged and he feels like he's a pawn on a chessboard. He agrees to flip on Marlo. Unfortunately, after Bodie is spotted talking with McNulty, he is slain later that same night. Bodie's end devastates McNulty and pushes him to once again pursue Marlo.
Mayor Carcetti selfishly decides not to take the much-needed money to help the school's budget. He has his eyes set on a run for governor and believes that if he cashes in on the taxpayers' dime, it will hurt his chances for election. He justifies his decision by saying that he can help more if he's elected governor.Was this an important episode?
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Omar takes the witness stand against Bird for slaying Gant. Omar has little trouble under what is supposed to be a difficult cross-examination and makes the lawyer Levy look bad in front of everyone in the courtroom. Bird is found guilty and sentenced to life. After the trial is over, McNulty questions Omar about his testimony, and it becomes clear that Omar didn't really see Bird take Gant's life.
Stringer Bell pays an inmate to asphyxiate D'Angelo and make it look like he took his own life. It's another huge loss on the series. D'Angelo may have been one of Barksdales's middling drug dealers, but he constantly fought with his conscience.Was this an important episode?