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!
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.