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.
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In this episode, Kenard takes the life of fan-favorite Omar Little while he is buying smokes in a convenient store. The detectives that arrive on the scene call Bunk to inform him about Omar's fate. Afterward, Bunk discovers Omar's hit list of guys from Marlo's crew that he was tracking down in the name of street justice. Omar was a truly original character, an openly gay, street-level tough guy who robbed drug dealers.
Meanwhile, McNulty's serial killer ruse is getting way out of hand and affects his personal life. Beadie threatens to leave with the kids, pushing McNulty to clue her into what's going on. The show, known for mixing in bits of humor with heavy drama, focuses on McNulty as he listens in on the FBI's elaborate profile for a suspect that doesn't exist. The profile is McNulty: a high functioning alcoholic who has issues with authority.
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.
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.
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.