Friday, September 28, 2012

Top 11 Scenes from The Wire


I’m doing two things today that I never do: posting about TV and encouraging (some) people to not read a post.

I make it a habit of not posting about television shows, simply because I don’t watch a lot of TV. The Wire, however, is different. Anyone who has seen the show in its entirety knows that the hyperbolic praise it continues to receive is more than justified. Funny thing: a few days ago, I asked my friend (who is as obsessed with this show as I am) to randomly list his favorite scenes from the series. He quickly fired back 15 picks, none of which were on my list. Point is, the amount of remarkable scenes from The Wire is limitless, these are just the 11 that stick with me most.

Finally: please please please do not read further unless you have seen every episode of the show. I’m going to spoil many of the major (and best) events from the series, and believe me, they are far better off discovered in the context of the entire show. For fans who’ve seen them all, I hope you enjoy my picks. For Wire rookies, feel free to bookmark this post, marathon all of the episodes and come back later!

11. “At this rate, we’re never gonna get it in.” – Season 1, Episode 4

The Wire knew how to start an episode. Sometimes, the pre-credit intros discreetly set up the 55 minutes that were to follow, other times, they acted as nothing more than perfect character development.

Take this scene, in which rough cut cop, Herc (Domenick Lombardozzi) is trying to move a desk around the office. When others realize Herc can’t manage, they offer a hand, but to no avail. This scene has nothing to do with anything, plot wise. Instead, it humorously shows the stubbornness that many of the show's male characters are laced with.

10. “Let’s go home.” – Season 5, Episode 10

We started with an intro, and it feels appropriate to continue with a close. Of the five brilliant montages that end each of the show’s seasons, none sums things up better than the close of the entire series. We get a glimpse into the lives of most of the major principals involved – some have made it, some have fallen, some have become blinded by corruption, and others have been let upstairs. An equally moving and haunting collection of scenes.

9. “Well get on with it motha—” – Season 3, Episode 11

After doing his best to pit enforcers Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts) and Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) against one another, Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) is finally outsmarted and taken out.

Now, this is arguably the most discussed scene of the series, and for good reason. Creator David Simon had perfectly set up Stringer as the ultimate drug lord. The man who was doing his damnedest to go legit, and thereby completely take over the game. Then he got greedy. Then he got dead. This kill proved that The Wire didn’t give a fuck who you were or what you were going to do. In the streets, no one is safe.

8. “We didn’t even wait to get the mo’fucka in the house.” – Season 4, Episode 10

I love moments in which action (or hell, mere camera placement) completely redefines a character. A single word is spoken, or brief crime committed, and you have an entirely different vision on the character.

Chris Partlow (Gbenga Akinnagbe) is the most levelheaded enforcer the show ever depicted. He never lost his cool or raised his voice above speaking level. So when he is ordered to discreetly take out a man who is suspected of, among other things, molesting young boys, Chris’ reaction is about as shocking as anything The Wire ever displayed. Instead of killing the man softly, Chris beats him mercilessly in the open. Punching and kicking and pistol-whipping again and again. And again and again and again. It is fucking ghastly, and it says everything we need to know about a man who rarely says anything.

7. “Don’t nobody wanna hear them dirty words.” – Season 1, Episode 5
Omar Little is a bad motherfucker. And damn fly, too. The man has mad swagger, and, up until this point in the show, has proved himself as The Wire’s most feared force. But once we see him behind close doors, our perception of him changes entirely within in a matter of seconds.

As he gears up to rob a drug dealer, Omar and his (male) partner in crime briefly discuss the job, before Omar moves in and kisses his partner, tongue and all. In an instant, everything we thought we knew about Omar is irreversibly altered. Maybe it’s just me, but this single scene makes Omar (and the man who created him) that much more badass.

6. “Us, man.” – Season 3, Episode 11

There aren’t too many moments from The Wire that shake me up more than this one. Childhood friends Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) have made it together. After years of grinding, they’ve singlehandedly taken over the Baltimore drug game. But because of their differing ideologies (Stringer wants to run everything as a business, Avon prefers to simply stay a gangster, I suppose), it’s time for them to split off.

This isn’t directly mentioned of course, but rather hinted at. As the two share a rooftop drink while reminiscing of memories past, it’s obvious that they’re saying goodbye, even if they aren’t actually saying goodbye. THAT is how you write a fuckin’ scene.

5. “Buy you a drink?” – Season 3, Episode 10
Better than any moment in the show, this brief scene perfectly redefines an essential character by simply having a man move out of the frame.

Bill Rawls (John Doman) is a hard ass. Rather, the hard ass. Perpetually stuck in a bad mood for any number of reasons, this Acting Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department never seems at ease. But late in season three, as Brother Mouzone sends one of his lackeys around to every gay bar in town in search of Omar, we get the briefest of glimpses of Rawls completely content with himself. The fact that the scene takes place in a gay bar, where Rawls seems more than comfortable, completely redefines the character.

And, in typical Wire fashion, what we see here is Never. Mentioned. Again.

4. “I’m telling you I’m not drivin’ a car tonight!” – Season 2, Episode 8

Dominic West’s portrayal of Jimmy McNulty is the best depiction of a drunk since Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas. The man is simply hopeless. Jimmy does many (…many) things to prove that his addiction owns him, but none are more desperate than the scene in which he fails to make a turn. Twice.

Driving completely shitfaced one night, Jimmy takes a turn too wide and rams his car into a concrete beam. He slowly gets out of the car, mutters the words “bite me,” then gets back in, reverses, and tries to make the turn again. I’ve seen a lot of movies about drunks, but I’ve never witnessed a scene as perfectly humorous, and positively helpless, as this one. It quite simply tells you everything you need to know about Jimmy McNulty.

3. “Awwww. Fuck.” – Season 1, Episode 4

Challenge: how can you effectively pull off a scene in which two ace detectives solve a murder by only uttering different variations of the word fuck?

Really, it’s an impossible feat. So the fact that West and Wendell Pierce (playing Bunk Moreland) are able to make this scene as compelling as it is really says something about everyone involved. The caliber of the people behind and in front of this show is on full display here. I have no idea how the hell David Simon thought of this scene, but it is one of the most ingenious crime scene investigations I have ever watched unfold on screen. Fuckin’ priceless.

2. “You, McNulty, are a gaping asshole.” – Season 1, Episode 11


After an undercover deal goes bad and well-liked cop Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn) ends up shot, two of the show’s most hardened characters are given the chance to fully flex their dramatic skills.

Rawls hates McNulty. With every fiber of his being. So when McNulty breaks down in the hospital waiting area, violently vomiting into a trash can, Rawls’ gentle reaction is that much endearing. Rawls slowly walks over, helps McNulty off the ground, and sits him down in a nearby chair. Then, in a brief monologue that deserves to win about a dozen Pulitzer Prizes, Rawls explains in perfect detail how much he detests McNulty, and how McNulty should not, for a second, blame himself for Griggs getting shot.

Watch West’s reaction here as he tries to force out the words, “Yes it is.” His bloodshot eyes are blurred with tears, and instead of speaking, he can only managed a slight nod.

Anyone with a remote interest in acting professionally should watch this scene on repeat. It’s as powerful a moment ever witnessed on television (or film, for that matter).

1. “Ain’t no shame in holdin’ onto grief, as long as you make room for other things, too.” – Season 5, Episode 9

Picking a favorite character from The Wire certainly isn’t easy, but when forced, I must relent that no one from The Wire moves me more than helpless drug addict, Bubbles (Andre Royo).

Bubs has had it rough. A police informant who spends the entire series doing whatever he has to do to achieve his next fix, Bubbles is about as far-gone a drug addict as I’ve ever seen on screen. Late in season four, he hits bottom after Sherrod, a young boy he cares for, shoots a bad batch of heroin that Bubbles has cooked. Blaming himself for Sherrod’s death, Bubs attempts to end his life, but is ultimately saved.

By season five, I was as excited as I was stunned to see Bubbles clean and sober. Slowly working through his recovery, everyone in Bubbles’ life encourages him to tackle his demons by discussing Sherrod’s death at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

But Bubs is scared. Open the door for amends, and you may begin to gain a sense of acceptance, which is something Bubbles feels he doesn’t deserve. But, as the series heads toward conclusion, we are privy to the show's most moving moment.

In all honestly, I’m unable to fully articulate the power of what Bubbles’ shares at this particular NA meeting. It’s a scene of such vulnerability and admitted guilt, that the first time I saw it, I nearly had to turn the TV off. It was that gut wrenching. But in letting it play out, I can confidently say that The Wire achieved a great deal, none more effective than what occurs in this moment. How Royo didn’t win (or even get nominated for) every major television acting award is far beyond me. I cannot tell you how happy I am that Bubs finally made it upstairs. One day at a time, my dear dear friend.

44 comments:

  1. Oh my, that ending montage. Seeing Dukie shooting up just ripped my heart out. The endless cycle of hopelessness that pervades this society is harrowing. Seeing these ruined childhoods is the most powerful and devastating thing about this show for me. :(

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    1. Yep, I could not agree more with you. But that's also what I love most about that show. It's just so goddamn real. Some kids are adopted my a former police captain. Others end up in a hardened orphanage. Others rob. Some shoot up.

      That's the demonization of the streets. Fucking devastating.

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  2. Without a doubt, the greatest show ever. These picks are all very legit. My favourite Wire quote comes from Stringer Bell, during one of the brilliantly corporate Co-Op scenes;

    "Nigga, is you taking notes on a criminal fuckin' conspiracy? The fuck is you thinkin', man?"

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    1. Stringer just had the best shit to say. And the way he spoke was just priceless. Like a ghetto Shakespeare or something.

      Glad to hear you dig the show so much. Best show ever.

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    2. Of course, man! I put off watching it (past the first couple of episodes, anyway) for about a year after I got the boxset, then obviously once I got into it I realised what a dumb asshole I was being!

      Totally agree with your point about how nobody in the show...on the street, is safe. When D'Angelo got whacked in prison I thought he was gonna get away because he'd been such a focal point of the show and the viewer had sorta been trained to empathise with him. Again, I was wrong. I'm noticing a trend here.

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    3. Ha, I was the same way man. Had them all lined up to watch, but kept putting it off in fear that it wouldn't live up to the hype.

      Wroooong.

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  3. Love those choices! The desk scenes always makes me laugh. I skipped the ones from season 5 as I have yet to see this one. I'd also add the scene where Rawls wrecks the desk, believing it's McNaulty's desk and the scene where Stringer tells Avon it was him who ordered the murder of his nephew.

    Also - how could they do this do my Stringer? That was brutal?:(

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    1. Oh those are all great scenes you mentioned. Can't wait to hear what you think of the entire series.

      I don't like what they did to your Stringer, but I kinda love what they did to your Stringer. Ain't no one safe. It's all in the game.

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    2. I've only seen one episode of The Wire, what's wrong with me??! Btw, I knew Sati would LOVE this post ;)

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    3. I'm so happy she did! Ruth, I cannot recommend the show highly enough. As good as everything you've ever heard.

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  4. Man, a lot of these scenes rolled through my head too when you asked me to pick random favorites.

    One of particular note is the "us, man" one. It's directly linked to my "there's games beyond the fucking game" one.

    Phenomenal show. Insanely difficult list to make. I bet if you did this in 5 months you'd pick almost all new scenes. Same with top 10 characters.

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    1. Yeah, really, the possibilities are endless here. I could do a Top 10 per season and it'd probably be just as good as a Top 10 of the series. Everything about it was just perfect, from start to finish.

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  5. I haven't seen an episode of The Wire, but I plan to watch it in the near future. So, I'm taking your advice and NOT reading this post. Once I eventually see the entire series, I'll make my way back here. :)

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    1. Nice man! Yeah, bang them all out, then come back here and tell me what you think! You'll love the show.

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  6. Hell. Fucking. Yes. The best TV series I have ever seen.

    Love your choices, man. The "fuck" crime solving scene is just brilliant. Another one of my favorites that I thought might have been included:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1HUlTKvDUI

    But damn, you've made me want to go and watch the entire series again.

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    1. Nice! I had no idea you loved The Wire this much. Fuckin' awesome. Oh, the chess scene was DEFINITELY on my shortlist. Brilliant parallels there.

      Making this list has forced me to start the show again. I made this list from memory but then I was like, Well, why not go back and watch 'em all? Rock 'n' roll.

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  7. Alex, I feel like you've just scratched the surface with this list. There are so many great moments in here. I love the Stringer/Avon conversation where both think they have the upper hand and are ready to dispatch the other one, yet still admire the other guy. Rawls is such a remarkable character because he's such a jerk but isn't just pure evil. He has his own sense of justice, and that scene with McNulty is just perfect. I'm not as big a fan of the last season, but the final montage is excellent and ends it on just the right note.

    Excellent work!

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    1. Thanks Dan! Oh tell me about it, this list could've been my top 100 moments, easily. So much classic shit in this entire series. I think I dig the last season more than most people due to my journalism background, but either way, the show as a whole has yet to be beat. Best there ever was.

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  8. For me, one of the lines/scenes in The Wire that I thought was really good was the scene with Marlo and the security guard. Marlo blatantly steals candy at a convenience store where the security guard works not caring that the security guard sees him. The security guard follows Marlo outside and confronts him telling him he doesn't like his job, all he is trying to do is support his family, and he knows who Marlo is and isn't disrespecting him, but Marlo should also show respect.

    Marlo: You want it to be one way.
    SG: What?
    Marlo: You want it to be one way.
    SG: Man, I don't...
    Marlo: You want it to be one way.
    SG: Man, stop... stop saying that...



    Marlo: But it's the other way...

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    1. Dude that is a GREAT scene, definitely one of my favorites. And then they take the poor bastard out, just for asking for a little respect. Marlo was a heartless thug.

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  9. I love the scene where John Doman(Rawls) gives the "These are for you,McNulty" speech to Dominic West(McNulty)with both middle fingers up. I loved every single scene of John Doman's, he's just brilliant and has great dialogue to work with.
    (Watched all seasons recently, Season 2 was a personal favorite)

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    1. Rawls was such a bad motherfucker, wasn't he? Which is what makes that number 5 moment above so impactful, in my opinion. I LOVE that moment you're talking about as well. Perfect delivery there.

      Interesting that Season 2 is your favorite. It'd probably rank last for me, even though it is still brilliant. Such a classic show.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  10. I recently completed the series and my god does the show live up to all the praises. I really enjoyed your list and agree that each of the scenes are quite memorable. I am a bit disappointed that you did not include one awesome scene in which Frank Sobotka is killed (Season 2).

    One of the first things which one notices about The Wire is the minimal use of background music and whenever any music is used in a scene, it is usually emanating out of a radio or something. This according to me was one of the many things which gave the show the real and gritty feel. But the use of the Greek soundtrack in the climax of the second last episode was so beautiful. A lot of people try the counterbalancing of intense drama with a fun and out of place soundtrack, but this show really showed us how to do it with perfection.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

      Season 2 is definitely the weakest for me, but man, that Sobotka scene is so perfect. Heavy shit. I agree, while I do think songs in movies/TV can be effective, The Wire proved that music definitely isn't necessary to drive the story. Great observation there.

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  11. I've seen the complete series at least a couple of times. Now I have to watch it again! The scenes noted in the article and comments section are classics. Happy viewing to me :)

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    1. Happy viewing to you, indeed! I've been wanting to go back and check this out again. Watched it all the way through twice. So damn good.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  12. Great list man, I am a devoted follower of the wire having been through the series several times! To mention just a few of my favourite scenes;
    I was surprised at how much you liked Rawls, I always preferred Landsman for his comedic qualities, I especially liked the season 1 scene between the two of them discussing Mcnulty and Jay's attempt of an act on himself.
    I also found Omar's death more shocking and powerful than stringers, the way it seemed to come out of left field, the scene felt ominous from the start but having seen Omar fight his way out of numerous work place issues Shocked was the only word!
    Any one of the hundreds of Bubbles scenes, his attempt at getting clean at the end of season 1, where McNulty sends him back to the life unknowingly I thought was brilliant yet sad. Finally his whole path to redemption played out perfectly within season 5.
    Time to start the series again I think...

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    1. Hey man, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. So happy to connect with other fans of The Wire.

      I loved all of your picks as well. Landsman was such a trip. Such comedic perfection. I suppose Stringer's death was such a surprise because I had no idea it was going to happen. I thought he was going to remain the "villain" for the rest of the series, then BAM. By the time the middle of Season 5 came around, I assumed Omar would die, but I had NO IDEA he would die the way he did. Either way, great show all around. There's never a bad time to restart this series.

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  13. Hey I can finally view and comment on this post! Just finished up with the entire series this week and wow I wasn't disappointed. The best t.v crime drama ever made lived up to it's billing from you and several other people that couldn't recommend it higher for me. Love how much the creators entrench us into Baltimore and this world of law enforcement and drug dealing. Everything is so authentic with no false notes. Takes bites and pieces from show that came before it but perfects everything to a nth degree.
    All your picks for the best scenes are great indelible moments, especially Avon and Stringer's last conversation, the season 5 ending, the "fuck" scene, and Stringer's last scene.
    I would only add as some of the stand-outs for me Michael holding up the remaining dealers: a new Omar is born, D'angelo's explanation of Great Gatsby, Colvin's paper bag speech, and McNulty's Police "wake" in the last episode. Not much on TV put a smile on my face more than the rest of the department knowing that McNulty is no cop anymore, but acknowledging he did what he did to try and do SOMETHING about the status quo. All great stuff, so thank you fro being the tipping point in getting me to take in the entire series.

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    1. Awesome, it's so gratifying when a film or show actually lives up to the impossible hype that has preceded it, isn't it? Really happy you enjoyed the show.

      I love all the scenes you mentioned. Michael's final scene on the show was incredible. A new Omar is a'comin.

      So happy I could help push you to watch the show. Maybe it's time for me to give the whole thing a rewatch. Hmmm...

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  14. Hey man, this is a great list. And like you said, the show is so fantastic you could come up with over 50 scenes that are all amazing. I'm pretty fond of the final sequence of season 2's (a very underrated season and the third best, in my opinion, behind 3 and 4) "Bad Dreams".

    Anyway, I read that you don't watch many tv shows, so if you are a fan of great tv, I'd recommend Breaking Bad. It's already widely considered to be one of the best shows of all time, and I'd say it's as good as The Wire. And although many consider season 5 to be The Wire's weakest season, Breaking Bad just got better and better, with one of the last episodes of the show, "Ozymandias", being probably the best TV episode I've ever watched.

    In case you have the time to watch it though, avoid youtube videos of the show, 'cause they contain lots of spoilers.

    Thanks for the list.

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    1. Thanks so much for the comment, I really appreciate it. Always love finding other fans of The Wire. I actually finished Breaking Bad last month (finally), and loved it. "Ozymandias" was definitely a highlight of the series, but Jesse Plemons really nailed his part as well. I've never seen a psychopath played with such utter indifference. He really had no idea how fuckin' crazy he really was.

      Either way, thanks so much for the reco. I'm really glad I finally finished that show.

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  15. Don't forget the opening scene of the whole series, snot boogie and the classic line, "Got to. This is America"

    Captures the breadth and scope of what's to come, the insanity, the brutality, the epic systematic structural failure, the gallows humor and human resilience all in one tight shot.
    It's genius

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    1. Arguably my favorite opening scene of any show, ever. Love that scene so much.

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  16. Where's "WHERE'S WALLACE AT?"?!

    Also, an honourable mention for Slim Charles, always seems to get forgotten but he was one of the few I can think of who ended it both alive and uncorrupted

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    1. Thing is, there are SO. MANY. classic scenes in this show, picking 11 is damn near impossible. I love that "Where's Wallace" scene, and I always loved Slim. His send-off of Cheese was fuckin' classic.

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  17. Snoop buys a nail gun

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    1. Nah, yo, you earned that buck like a mothafucka.

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  18. The Wire was such a great fucking show. I would love to see one of these for The Sopranos at some point, since I know you dig that show too. I consider the two of them to be the greatest TV shows of all time. HBO at it's peak were fucking untouchable.

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    1. Hell yeah man. And a post like this for The Sopranos is a great idea. Did you see Starz's The Girlfriend Experience? Best new show I've seen in a long, long time.

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    2. I haven't, man. I'll check it out, as I was a big fan of Soderbergh's film.

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    3. I love the film as well, but the show improves on the film, for sure. I watched Season 1 in one sitting. It really is remarkable. The cold cinematography, pulsating music, detached acting... god, I loved that damn show.

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