"It's Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you."The Wire
—Commissioner Ervin Burrell
is a deconstruction of the Police Procedural
and Criminal Procedural
genres. Set in Baltimore
, Maryland, the show examines with equal intensity the lives of characters on both sides of the law. The resulting drama is rife with social commentary and criticism.
The most overt theme of the series is the notion that the "War on Drugs" is a complete and total failure in its current form of "lock up the drug dealers and throw away the key" logic. In addition, there is the more nihilistic notion that the institutions that make up the American way of life are irreversibly corrupt, and that it is impossible to reform them. To try to reform them is to be crushed by the system.
The show illustrates its messages through the lives of characters entrenched in various systems throughout the city. Starting with the police investigation of a single drug ring, the series broadens its scope with each season to incorporate other aspects of Baltimore life, including education, politics and the media, showing how each system affects the others and perpetuates the cycle of self-destruction.Season one
is focused on the police and the drug trade. One of the unique aspects of the show is that, rather than having a crime each week, each episode is just a chapter in a single, season-long case for the Baltimore Police Department's special detail (later the BPD's Major Crimes Unit). Thus, the viewer sees in great detail the political wrangling on either side of the drug war, as financial constraints, personal vendettas and career opportunism get in the way of the guys just trying to do their jobs—whether those jobs are maintaining law and order or keeping up a steady supply of heroin to Baltimore's numerous "fiends."Season two
moves most of its focus to the ailing Baltimore docks and their uneasy racial balance of power, as dock manager Frank Sobotka discovers the price for taking money from organized crime—even if he's only doing it to keep the docks from dying. We also see how the drug trade deals with the power vacuum left in the wake of the previous season.Season three
adds City Hall to the mix, looking in particular at the up-and-coming mayoral hopeful Tommy Carcetti as he plays all sides to get into a position of power. Thus, the season is able to show how street-level policing is dependent on the whims of those higher up the food chain and examine the issue of reform.Season four
is about education and continues to show Carcetti's rise as he runs for mayor, but a large chunk of the air time now also focuses on four young friends: Dukie, an impoverished son of junkies; Michael, a troubled victim of abuse who looks out for his younger brother; Namond, born into a junk-dealing family; and Randy, a small-time huckster just trying to get by. These four youths find themselves equally attracted and repelled by the opportunities and dangers of Baltimore's drug trade.
and final season wraps up the stories of everyone that has been featured in the show thus far, but also introduces a new set of reporters working for The Baltimore Sun, a newspaper that is constantly suffering cutbacks and buy-outs as the experienced old guard are replaced with naďve new reporters. Two such reporters subsequently become involved in a scam by one of the MCU's detectives to bring down new drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield.
With the rotating focus every season, the show is anchored by the police officer characters and the often ignored power struggles that go on within major city police departments. The rank and file detectives and patrol officers are often portrayed as helpless pawns of their superiors, who are more concerned with their own petty vendettas and personal ambitions than the city and its citizens. Detectives regularly find their investigations spiked the moment they start to become a financial burden for the department or threaten the status quo.
Counterbalancing the police are the city's drug dealers, who range from the ruthless Marlo Stanfield and Avon Barksdale, to the more affable "Proposition Joe" and ambitious social climber Stringer Bell. Also in the mix is Omar Little, a deadly Robin Hood-like figure who robs drug dealers; the drug-addicted police informant "Bubbles"; and the mysterious European crime lord known as "The Greek," who supplies both drugs and prostitutes to the city of Baltimore.
Although the series has been critically acclaimed, The Wire
never managed to earn anything more than a small but devoted following while it was on the air. Part of the reason, says co-creator David Simon
, is that it has a primarily black cast representing the racial makeup of the real-life Baltimore. Indeed, the show's best-rated season is its second, which was the only one to have an equal number of white faces, being set in Baltimore's docks. Over the years, however, word-of-mouth helped widen the show's audience beyond its initial broadcast viewers, elevating it from overlooked gem to widespread cult phenomenon
to national phenomenon (quite famously, Barack Obama
considers it his favorite TV series).
A proposed spin-off series, The Hall
, would have run between the third, fourth and fifth seasons of The Wire
in order to focus on the political-themed aspects of the series and the Tommy Carcetti storyline, but the low ratings resulted in the spin-off not being greenlighted and the plotlines absorbed into the main series.
Co-created by former cop Ed Burns and former journalist David Simon, The Wire
premiered on HBO
on June 2, 2002 and ended on March 9, 2008, comprising 60 episodes.
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The Wire contains examples of:
- Abandoned Playground: Several, considering that Baltimore is a shooting gallery. Most notably, Nick laments Ziggy in one in Season 2, Marlo holds court in one for most of Season 3, and Lex is ambushed by Snoop in one in Season 4.
- Absentee Actor:
- Dominic West during much of the fourth season (his character, McNulty, works as a beat cop); this was done largely to accommodate West, due to him landing several movie roles during the period that season four filmed.
- McNulty disappeared through much of season two as well, getting assigned to "harbor unit", which the writers then promptly turned into a key plot point of the season. The writing is overall so strong that major characters cycle in and out of the narrative, and if something life-altering happens to a character (for instance, a life prison term), it's permanent, and the overall arc is so strong that it supports it completely, and we simply focus on other characters.
- Due to only being pulled in from another department for a short time Leander Sydnor is not included in the Major Crimes unit in Season 2, but returns for 3-5, the only original member still on the unit at the end of the show.
- Abusive Parents: Unfortunately numerous:
- Namond and D'Angelo have some of the worst mothers around. Both continually press their sons into the drug game (read: mortal danger) to maintain their own lifestyles. Both are eventually called out on it, in a brutal manner. Wee Bey allows Namond to live with Bunny Colvin, for a chance at a real future. When D'Angelo is "suicided," McNulty goes to his girlfriend with his suspicions instead of his mom because "Honestly? I was looking for somebody who cared about the kid." scene The ironic and sad thing though, is that his girlfriend didn't really care about him either.
- Wallace, Michael and Dukie's mothers were even worse, since they were all junkies who couldn't care less about their sons' well being. Wallace ran away from home and lived in the low rise projects with other (presumably) runaway kids for this reason. Dukie was constantly deprived of essential needs, and had to rely on what his teacher gave him, and eventually stayed in Michael's place, which he acquired after getting involved in the drug game. In Michael's case, he was forced to take responsibility of the welfare money issued out to his mother every month, because she kept using it on drugs instead of food, clothes and other household essentials. If Michael didn't step up to the task, he and his little brother would have starved. Michael's stepfather is strongly implied to have sexually abused Michael.
- Added to that, the fathers of all these people are not even around at all. The only one who could have been a father figure was Michael's stepfather and he was worst of all.
- Actually Pretty Funny
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Inverted with Jay Landsman. See for yourself—the real Jay Landsman (Lieutenant Mello's actor) and the fictional Jay Landsman both appear in the show. Conspicuously, the fictional character is at least 50 pounds heavier than his Real Life counterpart.
- Advertised Extra:
- Really, did Neal Huff deserve a spot in the opening credits of season 5? Did Michelle Paress?
- Dominic West still gets top billing in Season 4 despite there being many episodes where he doesn't appear at all.
- Aesop Amnesia: At the end of Season 1, Herc is seen giving a couple of rookie Narcotics detectives a speech about the importance of being a Guile Hero in their work. He immediately forgets all about that lesson in subsequent seasons.
- Affably Evil:
- Proposition Joe. "Don't believe we've met. Proposition Joe. You ever steal from me, I'll kill your whole family."
- Spiros and the Greek
- Clay Davis
- Clarence Royce
- Brother Mouzone
- The Alcoholic:
- Alliterative Name: Brianna Barksdale, Bodie Broadus
- All Lesbians Want Kids: Subverted with Kima and with elements of a deconstruction. Her partner is the one who wants kids, Kima just goes along with it. This ends up driving a final wedge between them and Kima essentially becomes a deadbeat dad.
- All Men Are Perverts: Mostly played straight. There is not a single character who is still with the same partner at the beginning of the show as at the end, there's cheating galore (both McNulty and Bunk cheat on their wives/partners, and later Kima does too), and this is seen as normal. But it's taken Up to Eleven with Poot, who has probably done all the girls in his 'hood.
- Ambiguously Gay: Rawls appears in the background in a scene at a gay club, among other hints such as a Bathroom Stall Graffiti at the police station that reads "Rawls Sucks Cock." Confirmed by David Simon.
- Ambition Is Evil: One of the recurring motifs of the series, many of the city officials and public servants engage in shady activities and schemes to advance their own careers and the drug lords who lust after power, money and/or respect casually rely on violence to attain their goals. Examples include:
- Stringer Bell is sometimes an inversion, as his ambition to rise above the gangster life implies a pragmatic approach to crime and a reduction of violence.
- One prominent unionist insists the stevedores should settle for the more modest goal of the grain pier, but Sobotka aims higher with the dredging of the canal (not for personal gains but for the well-being of the workers). This implies a closer criminal collaboration with The Greek.
- When Carcetti is forced to choose between helping the city he was elected to save and his own political ambitions, he chooses the latter to avoid hurting his chances of being elected governor. He rationalizes he would be able to help from a higher office, but it's strongly suggested that he would have new priorities by then.
- Templeton wants to become a household name in journalism and work in a big paper -the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post- and has no qualms about fabricating stories to achieve that.
- American Dream: The portrayal of Baltimore can be seen as the opposite, the American Nightmare where very few individuals have a chance to enjoy a decent life outside the criminal world and where the new generation just take over the roles of the older one in a neverending cycle. The "dark corner of the American experiment", in Landsman's words
- Amoral Attorney: Maurice Levy
- And Then What?: Lester gives McNulty a speech about how every case, no matter how big or glorious, ends, and you've got to have something else in your life.
Lester: Tell me something, Jimmy. How exactly do you think it all ends?
McNulty: What do you mean?
Lester: A parade? A gold watch? A shining Jimmy-McNulty-Day moment, when you bring in a case sooooo sweet everybody gets together and says, "Aw, shit! He was right all along. Should've listened to the man." The job will not save you, Jimmy. It won't make you whole, it won't fill your ass up.
McNulty: I dunno, a good case—
Freamon: Ends. They all end. The handcuffs go click and it's over. The next morning, it's just you in your room with yourself.
McNulty: Until the next case.
Freamon: Boooooy, you need something else outside of this here.
McNulty: Like what, dollhouse miniatures?
Freamon: Hey, hey, hey, a life. A life, Jimmy. You know what that is? It's the shit that happens while you're waiting for moments that never come.
- Antagonist in Mourning:
- Anti-Villain: Most of the people on the bad side of the law could qualify, as very few of them consciously choose a life of crime or actively take pleasure in suffering and fear. With the notable exception of the Stanfield gang, of course. Of particular note are D'Angelo Barksdale, Bodie and Co., and Frank Sobotka.
- Anyone Can Die: To the point that by the final season, most of the Barksdale clan's members who weren't arrested were killed on the streets; long-running characters like Bodie and Omar Little are killed off suddenly as well.
- Arc Words:
- Armoured Closet Gay: Bill Rawls is a somewhat downplayed case. He likes to casually use lewd remarks and at one point he intentionally rifles through Landsman's porno mag and
- Ascended Extra:
- Kenard is seen in a quick season-three scene playing with two other kids before he gains more screentime in the fourth and fifth seasons.
- Detective Colicchio was initially an unnamed background character in Major Colvin's unit before gaining an abrasive personality and more dialogue.
- Jeff Price (a court reporter for the Baltimore Sun) appears in one season three sequence (a press conference) asking a question, then becomes a full-fledged supporting character in the fifth and final season
- As You Know: Averted as a rule in a show that aims to be clever with its exposition and relies on Let Me Get This Straight instead. There's a rare but very neat example during a funeral when Joe approches Stringer to talk shop and prefaces one of his propositions with a summation of the Barksdale dilemma, prime real estate but weak product. Stringer interrupts Joe and asks "when are you gonna tell me something I don't know?", urging Joe to get to the point.
- Awesomeness by Analysis:
- The Major Crimes Unit shines over regular units due to its painstaking police work and meticulous data gathering and interpretation, in radical contrast with the departments policy of drug-on-the-table and short-term arrests that lead to nowhere. At the core of it lies Lester Freamon, who in Daniel's words is by himself the MCU.
- Some examples outside the MCU include Bunk-McNulty's surgical F-reconstruction and McNulty's tide calculations.
- Back for the Finale: Pretty much everyone that's not dead has one last hurrah as a One-Scene Wonder at some point during the final season. Even Nicky and Johnny Fifty from season 2's docks plotline show up for cameos.
- Badass Beard: Prez in the series finale.
- Badass Boast:
- Avon finger-wagging Daniels after shaking off the police tail.
- Omar in the first season: "Lesson here, 'Bey. You come at the king, you best not miss."
- McNulty to Stringer, right after arresting Avon: "Catch you later."
- Averted in season 3, where Stringer gets killed before McNulty can arrest him. "I caught him, Bunk. I caught him in the wire. I caught him. And he doesn't even know it."
- "Police work detective, police work". Carver answer to an impressed Lester about how he procured Marlo's number (courtesy of Herc, actually)
- Lester in the second to last episode shows the clock to Marlo to demonstrate to his face the code was cracked and he is the one who has beaten him
- Badass Bookworm: Brother Mouzone, who enjoys reading Harper's. He even references it by saying, "What's the most dangerous thing in America? A nigga with a library card."
- Badass Gay: Omar Little. Shown holding up a group of heavily armed drug dealers in one of his first scenes, kissing his boyfriend in one of his other first scenes.
- Badass in a Nice Suit: Brother Mouzone, who wears a suit and bow tie at all times. Mocked, at his own peril, by Cheese.
- Badass Longcoat: Omar Little, sporting a characteristic Sawed-Off Shotgun.
- Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Inherent in the System. The show is full of them. The top brass are so devious, biased, prejudiced and so full of personal vendettas that it prevents them from doing any actual police work. When Judge Phelan and McNulty set in motion the creation of the MCU, Rawls makes it his top priority to screw McNulty over. The Deputy Ops himself is reluctant to do any meaningful police work either. The whole thing is so disorganized that the only time they do have to act selflessly ( after the shooting of Kima Greggs), the amount of personnel that swarms to the scene just clutter everything until the commanding officers proverbially tell everyone unnecessary to fuck off.
- The Bad Guy Wins:
- Scott Templeton, who wins a Pulitzer for his fabricated story while Gus is demoted.
- The Greek and his cronies in the second season get away scot-free with the police still having no idea who they really are; even the criminal organizations that use their services have no clue who these guys are at all. Made worse when they resurface in the story a couple seasons later and we see that they've managed to avoid prosecution and are back in business in Baltimore. Curiously, the audience has about as much idea of their identities as the police do.
- Senator Clay Davis, who is a compulsive conman with strings everywhere and a silver tongue. By his own wits, he is able to overturn a charge of corruption brought by the Baltimore D.A., who wanted to shine at his expense; unwittingly, the failed prosecution also brought down the federal syndication that the FBI wanted to pin on him.
- Bad-Guy Bar: Orlando's is the strip club, plotting nefarious deeds variant. Butchie's bar is the dingy, neutral variant; criminals from a variety of different organizations seem equally likely to spend time there, and it is the location of choice for Stringer Bell or Proposition Joe to parley with Omar Little from season two and onwards.
- Bald Black Leader Guy: Cedric Daniels and Howard Colvin. Ellis Carver also becomes one.
- Battle Couple: Omar and his three boyfriends; Kimmy and Tosha.
- Being Evil Sucks: Unless you manage to get away with it. Though even that isn't always what it's cracked up to be, ask Marlo.
- Being Good Sucks: Not surprising considering the cynical nature of the show. Then again: the bad guys don't always have it easy either (see above).
- Big Applesauce: McNulty puts Omar on a bus there to get him away from drug deal retribution, the West Side's drug connection runs through there for the first few seasons, and drug deals (and eventually hitmen) show up from New York periodically. The final shot of season 1 takes place in New York.
- The Big Board: A corkboard laying out all of each case's suspects. Also, the white board in the Homicide division that shows all the open cases, unsolved ones in red. The big board eventually spilled out over the walls as the cases grew larger.
- Big "NO!": After a mother's son catches a stray bullet during a shootout.
- Big Sleep: Rampant in the first couple seasons. Glekas is the first character to exhibit Dies Wide Open at all, late in season 2.
- Bilingual Bonus: A brief sub-plot in series one concerned two older cops named Polk and Mahon. "Póg mo thóin" (pronounced Pogue Mahone and source of The Pogues' band name) is Irish for "Kiss my ass".
- Black and Gray Morality: Whenever Stanfield and his crew become involved, particularly in his ascendant Big Bad status in Seasons Four and Five, The Wire slips into this trope instead.
- Black Comedy: Quite often. The most hilarious examples include Bodie ordering a wreath for his friend's funeral in Season 2 or Herc and Carver trying to apply Good Cop/Bad Cop routine in Season 1.
- Blood Knight: Snoop, in spades.
- Blue and Orange Morality: Chris and Snoop have some... odd ways of looking at life and death. Snoop seems to think that killing is a natural part of life, and it makes no difference who does it, or whether or not they deserved it. If someone says it's their turn to die, it's simply their turn to die.
- Bluff the Eavesdropper: Marlo tricks Hauk into wrongly arresting him in order to discover which agency is behind his surveillance.
- Bluff the Impostor: Chris and Snoop's questioning of New York drug dealers in the fourth season.
- Breakout Character: Omar most definitely.
- Break the Cutie: Randy in season four may have been a mischievous and somewhat naive teen, but he's also a sweet and likable person that no one wanted to do bad things to. When Randy tells a teacher about the vacant house murders. everyone in the neighborhood gets wind of what Randy said and things start getting really bad for him, very fast. It's mild at first, with the kids at his school not wanting to associate with him, then it escalates into daily fights; enough to the point that his legal guardian forcibly withdraws him until he can be transferred to another school. Unfortunately, that never happens, because several nights later, two random thugs toss Molotov cocktails into his guardian's house and set it on fire. Randy is intact, but his guardian gets horribly burned and is unable to care for him anymore. So Randy has to go to a group home with other volatile neighborhood kids who beat him up everyday for what he did, despite Carver trying to adopt Randy to avoid that fate. When Randy briefly reappears in season five, he has become a hardened, violent individual.
- Brick Joke: When Ziggy meets Sergei Molotov for the first time, he derisively calls him "Boris" as a dig at his Eastern European heritage. Near the end of the season, when Sergei is being interrogated by the cops and refuses to speak, McNulty just shrugs and calls him "Boris" because he won't tell them his name. He rolls his eyes and mutters "Boris. Why always 'Boris'?" It gets a Call Back in season 5 when Marlo calls him "Boris" when he meets Sergei in prison.
- In Season 1, Judge Phelan tells Rhonda that if she keeps up the good work, she'll be a judge in 10 years or so. In the last episode, during the End Montage, she's become a judge.
- Brief Accent Imitation:
- Briefcase Full of Money:
- Marlo's bribe for the Greeks in the fifth season. Mocked, because the Greek won't accept it as it comes, dirty from the streets. Marlo misses the point thinking it only means literally dirty, used not as in unlaundered and tries again.
- Stringer Bell also gives a case full of drug money to "the faucet", a corrupt public official willing to approve building plans in return for a bribe only to later find out that the man he sees is just a random public official and the whole thing was just an elaborate scheme by Clay Davis to swindle him out of cash. This can be seen as a subversion of the trope of sorts as Levy points out that a State Senator like Davis wouldn't be willing to risk his career by walking around with briefcases full of drug money to give to public officials who might rat them out.
- The police pull some intel off the wire and pull up a bagman coming out of the towers. They pull him over expecting to find drugs, but really, they find a garbage bag full of cash. They are ordered to give him back his money and let him go.
- Broken Pedestal: Although it's accidental (see Chekhov's Gunman) Kenard's relationship to Omar looks like this. He's first seen wanting to play Omar in a game with some other kids; when he eventually meets him face-to-face, the guy is smashed up and limping on a crutch after his Super Window Jump, and Kenard seems decidedly unimpressed. He then trails him to a shop and shoots him in the back, looks shocked at what he's done, and runs away.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: After going to prison, Avon sees Wee Bey being constantly harassed by a guard. Turns out Wee Bey killed the guard's cousin on Avon's orders, but when Wee Bey tries to remind Avon and tell him about the details, Avon doesn't remember a thing about it. "Need a scorecard to keep up with your lethal ass."
- Butch Lesbian:
- Kima drinks, sleeps around, and kicks in doors right along with the men of the series.
- Snoop as well. She has the "One of the Boys" aspect down nearly to a tee to the extent of causing Viewer Gender Confusion, wearing almost exclusively baggy men's clothing (concealing her fairly feminine build seen on the one exception), being one of the top two enforcers for Marlo, and with a voice deeper than most males on the show. Her sexual orientation is only once referred to, and that fairly obliquely (where she claims that she, like Bunk, is "thinking about some pussy"), but the actress who plays her is also a Butch Lesbian.
- Butt Monkey: Ziggy, though he mostly brings it on himself. He can arguably be seen as a Deconstruction of the trope, once you see his fate at the end of the season: he gets so tired of being the punchline of every joke that he snaps and murders George Glekas after he cheats him in a business deal and humiliates him. He gets a lengthy prison term for the crime.
- But Not Too Gay: The fairly prominent gay character of Omar never gets a sex scene, and over three boyfriends and five seasons, only has two on-screen kisses (three if you count kissing Brandon's forehead in an early episode): he barely even touches the third boyfriend, Renaldo, even in a non-sexual way (possibly as a result of some controversy about the fairly steamy make-out scene with his previous boyfriend, Dante). However, this is averted as Omar is one of few characters who never hides his relationships, and what we do see is still a lot more than some examples from other media.
- Byronic Hero: McNulty.
- By-the-Book Cop:
- Greggs. She refuses to cut corners in the identification of her shooters. In the series finale she is influenced by Carver's example below and the Cowboy Cops are brought down by this trope; they're not mad about it, since they were resigned to getting caught and were glad Greggs was the one to do it.
- Carver is a very informal cop but Colicchio pushes his luck after a demonstration of excessive force and gets officially reported by Carver, who was initially flexible.
- Even the bent Burrell gets in the act occasionally. When Carcetti has to do something about Herc's latest wrongdoing, Burrell shows up in a meeting with the actual book of police regulations to make a point that they could find the grounds to fire a saint if they go by the book.
- Camera Sniper: Happens a lot, particularly in season one. For instance, the scene where Bubbles is doing his red hat trick and Kima is on the roof photographing them.
- Cardboard Prison: It takes Bodie about three minutes to break out of juvenile hall.
- Catch Phrase
- McNulty: "The fuck did I do?"
- Bunk: "Happy now, bitch?"; "Givin' a fuck when it ain't your turn to give a fuck"
- Proposition Joe: "I got a proposition for you"
- Clay Davis: "Sheeeeeeeeeeit" This is the actor's catchphrase, which he used in 25th Hour.
- Omar: "Indeed."
- D'Angelo: "Mos' def'."
- The whole damn cast: "All in the game."
- Snoop: YERP!!
- Interesting use with Lt. Mello. His actor, former police detective Jay Landsman, had his own real life catch phrase: he used to pretend to light up a joint and pass it around when something crazy came up in discussions with fellow officers, saying, "Good shit, right?" The writers incorporated it into his character; Lt. Mello does the same thing when scoping out potential locations for Major Colvin's "experiment."
- Stringer Bell: "Lock / shut that door"
- "The Western District Way"
- Daniels: "(This is some) Bulllllshit" and "Rhonnie, dear / Rhonnie, darling"
- Glekas: "Malaka!"note
- Celebrity Paradox:
- Method Man plays Cheese, but Wu-Tang Clan songs have been heard on the radio at least once. We get a clear view of his Wu logo tattoo on his hand in season 4.
- The reference to former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke in Season 5 despite a guest appearance by the same in Season 3, playing a health official.
- In one episode, McNulty pontificates that the core cop cast of the show are among maybe ten or twenty truly good cops in Baltimore. One of the cops that he names is Ed Burns, one of the show's co-creators who is indeed a former cop. Burns was many years retired from police work when he began working on this show, so the cop in question would have to be a different Ed Burns.
- The real Jay Landsman plays Lt. Mello, while Delaney Williams plays "Jay Landsman." Made more confusing in a scene in the fifth season where Lt. Mello, Jay Landsman, and Detective Munch (who was based on Landsman) all appear in a bar.
- Omar is a Fan of HBO's Oz, although many cast members on The Wire (including the actors who play Herc, Carver, Rawls, Daniels, Bodie, Freamon and Cheese) have appeared on it.
- In one episode, Avon mentions the Real Life Baltimore drug kingpin "Little Melvin" Williams when he's wondering how future generations in Baltimore will remember him. The now-reformed Williams (who was himself the inspiration for Avon) later got a recurring role as the Deacon in Season 3.
- Chaotic Stupid: Ziggy Sobotka makes a mess out of absolutely everything he says and does; Lighting hundred dollar bills on fire in a pub full of poor working men, buying a pet duck and giving it whisky, repeatedly picking fights with bigger and tougher people, whipping out his member in a crowded bar—if it's stupid, and he thinks there's a laugh in it, he'll do it. Although he finally wises up when it's too late to do any good.
- Chastity Couple: Omar and Renaldo are not shown so much as holding hands, in comparison to Omar's being shown as affectionate with his first two boyfriends.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The "Get out of Jail Free" Card.
- Chris' Spiteful Spit on Michael's step-father
- Dozerman's stolen service weapon
- The nail gun in season four.
- Daniels' past corruption investigation, which is mentioned in the third episode and becomes relevant in the Finale, 5 seasons later.
- Chekhov's Gunman:
- Colvin, who appears briefly in Season 2 only to become very important in Seasons 3 and 4.
- Kenard, who appears briefly in season 3 as a kid on the street proclaiming, "It's my turn to be Omar!". He returns in season four, and then in season five is the one to shoot Omar. The best part is that this wasn't even intentional on the writer's part, they only found out later that it was the same kid and he just happened to be cast for both roles. In one interview Dennis Lehane jokingly declared that I Meant to Do That.
- The card-hoarding hobo in season 5.
- Chekhov's Skill: Michael learning "The Game."
- The Chessmaster: Many including Stringer, Prop Joe, etc. though their successes vary. Probably the most successful however, is Lester Freamon who is a Magnificent Bastard despite being a good guy.
- Chess Motifs: In the third episode, Bodie and Wallace play checkers with a chess set. D'Angelo comes over and tries to teach them chess in terms of the drug trade and the characters, with plenty of subtext; the pawns are street dealers and muscle, the boss of the clan, Avon is the King and the all-powerful and flexible Stringer Bell is the Queen. Everyone stays the same, but very successful pawns can become queens in rare circumstances, or so they are made to believe. Slim Charles proves that some mobility is possible.
- Children Are Innocent: Played straight with characters like Michael's brother, Bug, and then defied with characters like Kenard, who lies, steals, kills Omar, and is eventually arrested. Not to mention swears like a sailor on leave. He's even seen about to set a cat on fire before being distracted by Omar..
- Child Soldiers: Not always the case for every West Baltimore kid, but it's certainly expected, given the ruthless nature of the drug game. In some cases like Bodie and Poot, they voluntarily joined for the monetary benefits and because it's almost encouraged by their environment. Even the language enforces it; for instance they refer to their new homes as "cribs". The most blatant and tragic case is Michael. Although he became a very good soldier for Marlo Stanfield, he joined because he needed an escape from his horrible living conditions, junkie mother, and paedophile stepfather.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
- McNulty for pretty much the entire series.
- Proposition Joe
- The City: Baltimore
- Clear My Name: A strange example. Herc and Carver arrest a cash mule and turn the money over to the Major Crimes Unit. However, it is several thousand dollars short of the amount that they heard being discussed on the wire. So Daniels tells them to get it back before he reports them—Herc and Carver tear apart the squad car and find that it has somehow gotten under the spare tire in the trunk. Carver notes that Daniels will never believe they didn't try to steal it. And since they have both seen each other doing so in the past, neither of them really believes the other didn't hide it there.
- Clueless Detective:
- Cluster F-Bomb: McNulty and Bunk spend an entire scene investigating a crime scene and reconstruct it with great precision while muttering nothing but well timed variations of the word "fuck."
- Comically Missing the Point:
- Common Nonsense Jury: The jury for Clay Davis's trial are seemingly under the impression that massive campaign finance fraud ceases to be illegal if you give away all the money.
- Commuting on a Bus: McNulty as above-mentioned in Absentee Actor in season 4. In season 5, to great hilarity, the show also provides a literal example, McNulty arrives at a crime scene on a bus because BPD has no funds for cars.
Fellow cop: Well now I've seen everything.
- Consummate Liar: Quite a few of those, but Clay Davis and Scott Templeton are the best examples.
- Continuity Nod: frequent references to prior events and conversations; especially evident in the final two seasons.
- Cool Old Guy: Lester Freamon is the oldest of the detectives and at first glance is considered a "hump" who spends all his time painting miniature furniture. He's soon revealed to be the smartest guy on the whole damn show. There's a reason they call him "Cool Lester Smooth". He also gets a Let's Get Dangerous moment when he punks Bird with a bottle during a season one arrest.
- The Coroner: Dr. Frazier in the first, second, and third season.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Andy Krawczyck.
- Corrupt Politician: Corrupt doesn't begin to describe Clay Davis, who is also a scummy Sleazy Politician.
- Corrupt the Cutie:
- Carcetti starts out idealistic and messianic, but slowly but surely gets dragged into the politics game. His New Era Speech is genuine but it turns out to be an ironic twisted example in hindsight.
- Tragically, Randy. He starts out a sweet kid who wants to play with his friends and make some extra money by selling candy to other kids. After Herc lets slip that Randy is a snitch and the other kids burn his house down, injuring his foster mother, he has to go to a group home. At the group home he is abused and tortured, and when we see him again in season 5, he has become hard and violent.
- Country Matters:
- McNulty fails to get away with indirectly applying the word to his ex-wife in Season One. The word also features in a line in Season Three which is so offensive it shocks Stringer.
- Bird, the charming gentleman who spouts this word, and many other slurs, several times at Kima and the other detectives while in homicide's interview room. He's actually so offensive and obnoxious that even Daniels joins in on the asskicking.
- Ziggy to Double G. It doesn't end well.
"Thieving. Greek. Cunt."
- Cowboy Cop:
- Herc and Carver are deconstructed versions of this trope, showing how their gung-ho, headcracking style of busting street corner hustlers is actually not very useful policework. Over the course of the show, Carver matures into a more competent policeman who becomes a part of his community and uses more intelligent tactics to disrupt the drug trade. Herc, not so much.
- McNulty is also a Deconstruction of this Trope. He's a cowboy who plays by his own rules and is constantly getting into hot water with his superiors despite the fact that he gets results. How he goes about it, however, is completely the opposite of a standard movie cowboy cop. His tactics involve navigating government bureaucracy and patiently building up intelligence on high-ranking targets rather than busting street hoodlums, which is what his superiors actually want him to do.
- Lester Freamon is a kindred spirit with McNulty and is also willing to buck the system in an attempt to do real good for the community. While McNulty is a reckless hothead, Freamon is a quiet Chessmaster, making him less of a true cowboy.
- Crapsack World: Almost every aspect of the setting.
- Creator Cameo: David Simon plays a reporter during Frank Sobotka's arrest, and briefly at the Baltimore Sun in the final season. Other writers and producers have appeared in minor roles on the show, including Dennis Lehane as bored cop Sullivan in the special equipment room in the season 3 episode "Middle Ground" (with a porno magazine called Irish Lasses, no less).
- Crime Time Soap: The show focuses drastically more on personal and professional relationships and favors than "real police work", yet still portrays police work in an accurate manner. It's the way it shows how such relationships shape crime and police work, always in a realistic and believable way, that makes it so authentic.
- Criminal Procedural: It tends to be evenly split between the lives of the criminals and the lives of the cops that are stalking them. Later seasons broaden this to politicians, journalists, and children who are getting into a life of crime.
- Cryptic Background Reference: Plenty of "back-in-the-day" events and characters are normally and casually mentioned during regular conversations, dropping the idea that Baltimore has a rich but small habitat where everything is related, connected, or cyclical.
- Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: Done by Wee-Bey after he's stopped in the middle of the street and released of his handcuffs with no charges.
- Cultural Posturing: Facing a serious challenge from Carcetti (who is white), Mayor Royce (who is black) redesigns all his campaign materials in African colors to inspire racial solidarity at the ballot box. Even lampshaded by Carcetti.
- Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Stringer Bell plans to apply his shrewd knowledge of economics to become "the bank", winning the game through real estate, legitimate business and untraceable laundered money, shifting away from the risky street trafficking. Avon Barksdale would have none of it.
Avon: I'm just a gangster I suppose. I want my corners.
- Da Chief: Commander Rawls, who rips his underlings to shreds with gusto.
- Danger Room Cold Open: The second to last episode of season 4 opens with Snoop and Chris chasing Michael down the streets with guns, seemingly serious about shooting him. It turns out they're firing paintballs and it was a training exercise for Michael, who delivers a very good performance.
- Darker and Edgier/The Good, the Bad, and the Evil: The generational shift in Season 3 is represented this way, with Marlo representing a Darker and Edgier amalgamation of Stringer's conservative and calculating nature, and Avon's brutality and pride. Similarly, Chris Partlow is a darker and edgier version of Wee Bey Brice while the Stanfield bit players also seem to be a little rougher around the edges than their Barksdale counterparts. Barksdale is given a few Pet the Dog moments via Cutty that underscore Marlo's greater evil, later confirmed with the massacres at the vacant houses.
- Dartboard of Hate: Sobotka has one with the face of Bob Irsay, the owner of the Colts who moved them from Baltimore to Indianapolis.
- Dawn of an Era: Carcetti's "new day" is set to mark one for Baltimore but —along with his Big Good potential— it's quickly subverted in a way considered illegitimate by McNulty and Freamon.
- Dead Guy on Display:
- Brandon in season one, presented on the hood of a car as a warning.
- Also in the case of every informal policeman's wake held in an Kavanaugh's Pub, when the body of the deceased is put on the pool table with a cigar and a glass of whisky in his hands.
- Deadly Euphemism: Being "walked down an alley" by Chris and Snoop is known to everyone to mean they aint coming back.
- Deadpan Snarker: Most of the characters get their moments to some degree, but the ones who stand out include Bunk, Lester, and Norman Wilson. Daniels too, when he's off the job, reveals a rather mischievous wit.
- Death Is Dramatic:
- Usually averted, but the scene of Stringer's death had quite an aesthetic tinge to it.
- Bodie's last stand is also fairly meaningful up until its seemingly anticlimactic end.
- The death of Omar is a biting aversion, from the initial killing shot, to his murder not making the paper, to his name tag almost being switched up. Also Played With for the rest of the series whenever a corner boy tells some tall tale of how he fell.
- Snoop's death is also surprisingly poignant.
- Death Glare: The non-verbal part of the frequent What the Hell, Hero? Bunk gives to McNulty in season 5. One downplayed example◊ . Daniels sometimes gives such a look.
- Decade Dissonance: BPD is still using typewriters and obsolete gadgets well into the new millenium. In stark contrast both FBI and DEA have state of the art devices and technology.
- Decomposite Character: The Real Life Avon Barksdale's life of crime was so long and eventful that the writers had trouble fitting it all in. As such, many of the traits and acts perpetrated in his years as a juvenile offender were transferred to Bodie instead.
- Defective Detective: McNulty, whose life outside of his excellent police work is a train wreck.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Even many of the more sympathetic characters in inner-city Baltimore are written as openly homophobic (sometimes violently so), even though the cast of the show includes quite a few well-rounded gay and lesbian characters.
- Demoted to Extra: The fifth and final season gives this treatment to various (fairly) major characters from previous seasons such as: Roland Pryzbylewski, Randy Wagstaff, Namond Brice, and Dennis 'Cutty' Wise, among others.
- Derailed for Details: In season 4, Prez tries to set his class a Train Problem and they pester him for details that would be relevant to an actual journey (which station it's leaving from, what the purpose of this guy's trip is, etc.), but not to the basic maths problem he has in mind.
- Despite The Plan:
- In season three, an otherwise simple robbery by Omar and his crew turns deadly when they realize that the house is more heavily guarded than they were expecting, and they have to shoot their way out, resulting in deaths on both sides of the gunfight.
- Omar faces a similar scenario in season 5, leading to a Super Window Jump.
- Diabolus Ex Machina: Just when it seems that Carcetti's New Day may become a reality, a massive budget deficit that went unnoticed during several administrations is found in the school system. This imposes huge, crippling cutbacks in many other departments, specially in the Police Department, and derails any chance of reform.
- Diegetic Switch: The show as a rule, only uses Source Music, with the exemption of the montages in the season finales and the Greek music in the second-to-last episode of the second season. Used switches include:
- Dirty Cop: Daniels, who has some skeletons in the closet about it, openly implies that corruption runs rampart in the Eastern district.
- Disposable Vagrant : Zig-zagged; invoked and deconstructed. In season 5 McNulty fabricates a fraudulent Serial Killer case using forsaken vagrant victims in order to atract media and political attention and divert funds to real police work. He even "abducts" one live vagrant to further drive the point home.
- Disposing of a Body: Marlo's hit squad Chris and Snoop have a genius system that allows them to off a huge number of rival dealers before the police start to notice (22 bodies are eventually recovered, but their actual hit count is unknown). They take them at gunpoint into one of hundreds of derelict row-houses, kill them and cover the body in lime, then wrap them in a plastic sheet and board the house back up.
- Disproportionate Retribution:
- Proposition Joe matter-of-factly warns Omar, "You ever steal from me, I'll kill your whole family". This exemplifies how Joe's bark is deliberately worse than his bite; when Omar does steal from Joe, they quickly make a pragmatic deal.
- In the 5th season, Marlo gets wind of someone spreading rumors that he's gay. His reaction? Order the guy who started the rumor murdered, along with his wife and kids.
- Dissonant Serenity: Brother Mouzone and Marlo Stanfield, though Marlo is more stoic than serene; the latter's lieutenant Chris Partlow also counts.
- Divided We Fall
- Divorce Is Temporary: In a season 2 episode McNulty and his estranged/ex-wife have a passionate one night stand, the next morning he thinks they're back together but she insists that its just a one time thing. Averted trope. They never get back together for the remainder of the series.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
- In season 5 when McNulty goes to the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit for help on the serial killer he made up, the profile describes him perfectly. You can see in his face that this isn't lost on him.
- David Simon has confirmed, in the audio commentary for Season 3, that Season 3's overarching conflict was conceived as a partial metaphor for the then-ongoing Iraq War. Little touches, like the West Side dealers naming their new package "WMD", the season finale being ironically titled "Mission Accomplished", and Colvin's speech about the impossibility of governing a populace that you've declared "the enemy", flesh the metaphor out. The season starts with those two towers at Franklin Terrace going down, and Slim Charles' speech to Avon in the season finale, about the war with Marlo Stanfield really drives it home.
Slim Charles: Don't matter who did what to who at this point. Fact is, we went to war, and now there ain't no going back. I mean, shit, it's what war is, you know? Once you in it, you in it. If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight.
- The Dog Bites Back: Attempted in the fourth season of wherein Rawls reveals Burrell's manipulation of the stats to the newly elected Carcetti. Backfires when Carcetti lacks sufficient political clout to have Burrell fired.
- The Don: In season 2, "The Greek", unnamed patriarch of the Greek crime syndicate. He's very soft spoken, has a calm civility of another age, masking an icy ruthlessness.
- Don't Answer That:
- Zig-zagged; in the first season, a detective tries to make one of the Barksdale clan's top dealers (D'Angelo Barksdale) write an apology letter to the (fictional) family of a man killed for witnessing against him. Amoral Attorney Levy's reaction is something to behold. This also counts as a case of Shown Their Work, as this is a common trick the police use to elicit written confessions from crooks who don't know better.
- Played with hilariously in a later episode, where they convince a young punk that a photocopier is a Lie Detector. The kid confesses because he assumes the jig's up now anyway after he's made to believe his accomplice folded and is enjoying a Big Mac menu because of it.
- Double Meaning Title: A wiretap case happens in every season, but the title can take on a variety of more metaphorical meanings.
- It can refer to the act of "walking the wire"—that is, to the metaphorical "balancing act" that Baltimore cops must perform in order to fight crime while staying loyal to the forces that perpetuate it.
- It can refer to the proverbial "thin line" that separates cops from the criminals that they fight.
- It can refer to the metaphorical wire that connects Baltimore citizens of all walks of life, thus ensuring that one group's actions always affect the other.
- The title also suggests pulling the thread.
- Downer Ending: Don't expect this show to, like any other cop shows, have a happy ending. With the brutal honesty and the creator's unwillingness to just give the audience what they want, most of the stories in the show are an example of this trope with a few, very rare and very happy exceptions.
- Do You Want to Haggle?: The reason for Proposition Joe's name.
- The Dragon: From season 3 through the end of the series, Chris Partlow fills this role for Marlo Stanfield, though his constant training and use of Snoop may amount to making the two of them Co-Dragons.
- Dragon with an Agenda: Stringer Bell, The Consigliere and also Dragon-in-Chief for a while.
- The Dreaded:
- Omar Little has such a reputation that hoppers will shout, "Omar comin'!" whenever they spot him, triggering the streets to clear out. It even works when he's in his bathrobe.
- Chris, Marlo's prime hitman, to the point that kids tell spook stories about him and think that he's supernatural.
- Brother Mouzone from New York is one for the druglords, but his feats aren't widely known in the streets of Baltimore. Though Proposition Joe has heard that he has "more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetery."
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Done deliberately at the very end of season 5 with Omar. He's such an epic badass that other hardened criminals are terrified of him, so of course he'll go down in a blaze of glory, right? Wrong. This show is not Scarface, he is shot from behind by an eleven year old while trying to buy a pack of cigarettes.
- Driven to Suicide:
- Bubbles in season four. He is saved just in time. Also, "No Heart" Anthony Little (Omar's older brother) got his nickname from a failed suicide attempt after he was sentenced to several years in prison; he tried to shoot himself in the chest, but ended up with only a contact wound "and a new nickname".
- McNulty comes VERY close to the edge over the course of Season 3, he seems very tempted to simply stay on the train tracks.
- Drowning My Sorrows: McNulty's nighttime antics of drinking buckets, getting into a car accident, re-attempting that accident, and going home with his waitress after ending up at the diner.
- Drunk Driver:
- Cops are regularly shown driving to an out-of-the-way spot to chat and get plastered on beer, then driving home.
- Major Rawls at one point attempts to get revenge on McNulty by pressuring Detective Santangelo to catch him driving under the influence: Santangelo is dismayed; it is implicit that freedom to drive drunk is an unwritten sacred right for Baltimore police.
- In one of the show's funniest moments, McNulty is driving home drunk, takes a turn too wide and scrapes the side of his car against a freeway support. He stops, gets out, surveys the damage and the scene, and then gets back into the car and reverses around the corner. He then tries to take the turn again and hits the support again. Watch
- Due to the Dead: BPD has the Irish wakes, Boadie and Prop Joe are shown doing funeral arrangements for fallen comrades. On the other extreme dwells Marlo and his ruthless crew. They dump and forsake bodies in vacant houses and refuse the anguished plea of their own associate Old Andre to be disposed in a way that his people can learn of his demise and give him later a decent burial.
- Dying Moment of Awesome:
- Bodie, who carries it like a true soldier and fights.
Yo this is my corner, I ain't goin nowhere.
- Stringer Bell, in season 3. Two of the baddest killers around need to team up just to take him down. He does try to run at first, sure. But once he sees he can't get away, he stands tall and reaps what he had sown.
Stringer: Well? Get on with it, motherf—
- Election Night: The episode "Margin of Error" chronicles the Election Day of the Democratic primaries. The actual mayoral election is so uneven against the Republicans that it doesn't get any focus at all.
- Elegant Weapon for a More Civilized Age: Cutty learns Revolvers Are Just Better no longer applies, now sheer firepower (15 bullets per mag) is more important than a reliable weapon.
Cutty: The game done changed.
Slim Charles: Game's the same—just got more fierce.
- Empathy Doll Shot: Discussed in season five, when Gus complains about a fellow journo's habit of submitting these.
- Empty Cop Threat: almost never happens because the gangs have more credible threats and can act more swiftly. The cops acknowledge that this threat is empty once—right before it's noted that lying to the Grand Jury can be prosecuted.
- Ending Theme: A downbeat song called "The Fall"
- Enemy Civil War: Season 3 turns into this rather quickly.
- Enemy Mine:
- Omar and the BPD against the Barksdales, to the point that after turning a blind eye to Omar's exploits for his collaboration, Kima wonders if they are still cops.
- Brother Mouzone and Omar, once they discover they weren't actually enemies and it was Stringer all along
- Avon prefers to endorse Marlo and introduce him to The Greek connection for a fee rather than endure an East Baltimore (Prop Joe) prominence.
- Enhance Button: Prez at one point in Season 3 works some magic with a security footage on a computer and gets a license plate number by blowing up the right portion of the image. Lampshaded hilariously.
Prez: Nothing there. It's so tiny. No mere mortal can... *click* You see what he just did? *click* What? He did it again? Who is this man? *click* Where does he come from? *click* Can anybody stop him? Please don't hurt us. *click* Please my eyes, my eyes. It's so big and clear and bright!
Daniels: Sometimes, you still scare me, you know that?
- Epigraph: Each episode begins with one, usually spoken by a character in the episode. The only episodes which avert this are the finales for seasons 4 and 5, where the quotes are instead a notice for animal control ("If animal trapped call 410-844-6286.") and a quote from H.L. Mencken ("...the life of kings."). However, they are both displayed prominently in the episodes themselves.
- Equal-Opportunity Evil: The Greek's syndicate includes Greeks, Ukrainians, and Israelis (in addition to whatever nationality the Greek himself really is) and does business with both Polish and black associates.
- Escalating War: The entire fight between Valchek and Sobotka in season 2 stems from when both men donate stained glass windows to a local church, and Sobotka refused to withdraw his larger, more expensive window which had been installed first. Valchek has Sobotka investigated in terms of where he got the money, having police ticket the Union workers' cars, and doing a "random" DUI screening in the morning to catch the Union guys coming out of the bar, so the Union retaliates by stealing his valuable district surveillance van from right under his nose and shipping it from port to port, sending him photographs from each destination. And even better, even after Sobotka is killed, the van continues to travel around the world, and when Valchek gets the final envelope there's even a bit of what sounds like admiration in his voice.
- Establishing Series Moment: The Wire starts with Detective McNulty's talking with a witness while investigating a murder. The subject of the conversation is not about what happened, but about who the victim was and includes a casual jab at the American way. It demonstrates that this series has a different outlook than your usual police procedural, and indicates where on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism the series falls.
- Et Tu, Brute?: Several examples
- Stringer and Avon, who are like brothers, betray each other for the sake of the business.
- Proposition Joe is betrayed by Cheese, his ambitious nephew. Ironically Joe had revealed his connection with the Greek to Marlo to prove Cheese's innocence -and save his life- regarding an Omar robbery. Joe remarks he treated Marlo like a son before Marlo capitalizes on Cheese's betrayal.
- Kima tells the higher-ups in the BPD that McNulty and Lester are faking the serial killer. In a bit of a subversion, the latter two aren't even angry when she tells them it was her, and agree that it had to be done.
- Even Evil Has Standards:
- Evil Power Vacuum: The internal leadership problems and the decay of the Barksdale organization are quickly exploited by Proposition Joe and by Marlo. The ascendancy of the former means a reduction of the violence, the opposite is true for Marlo's.
- Evil Matriarch: De'londa Brice who is a criminal version of a Stage Mom and (to a lesser extent) Brianna Barksdale.
- Evil Sounds Deep: A few of the drug dealers. Stringer and Slim Charles are the most obvious examples.
- Evil Virtues: The higher-ups of the drug trade had to fight or outwit their way to the top and as a result are more hard-working, competent, smart, determined and reflective than most of their counterparts from the other side of the law, who spend more efforts on playing politics than on fighting crime.
- Evil Will Fail: In season 1, the nature of "The Game" of drug dealing has everyone looking out for themselves, to the point where innocent bystanders or even friends who might pose a risk have to be dealt with. It's this repeated brutality that ends up winning allies for the investigation team again and again from players who want out after someone they care about gets hurt.
- And invoked by Carver in Season 3's first episode, where he tells the hiding dealers "You do not get to win!"
- Expy: Johnny, Bubbles' friend and fellow addict, is basically an extension of Leo Fitzpatrick's character from Kids. Carcetti is based on current Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (though O'Malley himself apparently exists in the world of The Wire, having been referred to once in season 5.)
- Expospeak: Very little from a story standpoint, and no As You Know explanations. You can't skip an episode to follow the plot, and if you don't have a cursory knowledge of each season's field, then be sure to have a web browser open and a pause button handy. The closest the show gets is Bunk and Lester saying as McNulty flirts with women in a bar:
Lester: Ain't he married or some shit now?
- Face Death with Dignity: Snoop. "How my hair look, Mike?"
- "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Stringer Bell's last words, when cornered by Omar Little and Brother Mouzone, are "Get on with it motherf-".
- Fake Guest Star: Quite a few. This is yet another series where many "regulars" were not billed as such. The first season gave us Lester, Prez, Herc and Carver, as well as Bodie, Wallace, WeeBay and Landsman, all of whom were credited as guest stars. Some of those later got opening-credits billing, but not all. Perhaps the most glaring example happened in season four, wherein Namond and Randy were clearly the central characters for that season, with Mike and Dukie close behind. None of them were credited in the opening credits. The fifth season does promote Dukie and Mike, but arguably both have less screen time after that.
- Fake Nationality: Sergei, supposedly from the Ukraine, is played by Chris Ashworth, born and raised in the USA. In-universe example with "The Greek"... who's not even a Greek. He does head a mostly-Greek gang though.
- Faking the Dead: The audience is led to believe that McNulty is dead, and a wake is being held for him in a Baltimore pub; that is, until he then starts laughing uncontrollably when one of his fellow officers makes a joke about him. It turns out that the "funeral" is a retirement party in the uniquely morbid style of the Baltimore P.D.
- Failure Is the Only Option: No matter who gets put away, the Game is the Game.
- Fanservice: Avon runs his drug operation out of a strip club, Orlando's. The show is always kind enough to include a looong establishing shot of a dancer whenever the location is visited, as though the producers think the audience will forget it's a strip club unless they see tits.
- The Farmer and the Viper: In season 5, Proposition Joe takes a certain up-and-comer named Marlo under his wing and teaches him how to be a truly successful kingpin. He is rewarded appropriately for his efforts. Boom, Headshot
- Fat Bastard: Quite a few, including Jay Landsman, Bill Rawls, Ervin Burrell, and to a lesser extent Proposition Joe.
- A Father to His Men: Colvin, especially towards McNulty and Carver.
- Favors for the Sexy: Judge Phelan nurses a torch for ASA Rhonda Pearlman, who uses this—on several occasions—to gain authorization for wiretaps, DNRs, and warrants for the Major Case Unit. Reaches it's apogee in the season 3 episode "Reformation", where she, in order to gain his approval for a very dubious wiretap, actually crosses her legs Catherine Tramell-style and gives him what is implied to be a view of her vagina.
- False Rape Accusation: An 8th grade girl has sex with two boys in the school bathrooms, and when they shun and scorn her afterwards, they get accused of rape. In the end this ruins quite a few lives and sends ripples through the entire criminal underworld after Randy, who acted as lookout at the door, discloses his knowledge of Lex's murder to avoid punishment for his involvement.
- Five-Bad Band: Three notable ones:
- The Barksdale Organization (Season 1)
- The Greek's organization (Season 2)
- The Stanfield Organisation
- The Big Bad - Marlo Stanfield
- The Dragon - Chris Partlow
- The Evil Genius - Monk, who runs drug distribution in season 4 and 5 and is clearly the best reader in the scene in central booking.
- The Brute - Snoop, despite her small size
- The Dark Chick - Michael, though male, "keeps himself apart" this leads to Marlo putting a hit out on him.
- Flash Back: Used once. In the Pilot. To a scene from earlier in the pilot. Enforced by HBO against David Simon inclinations, who ended up conceding it was probably a good addition anyway.
- Flipping the Bird: Rawls' Establishing Character Moment. These are for you, McNulty
- In the second season, Nick and Frank Sobotka serve as a foil for D'Angelo and Avon Barksdale. Both are uncle-nephew duos who are born into the same business, and both involve the nephew trying to break away, but their respective environments (working class Polish vs. inner-city Black) and subtle differences in character dynamics ia contrast.
- Stringer and Proposition Joe are both pragmatic businessmen, but while Stringer wants to be sophisticated and to rise above a life in the underworld, Joe is his own boss, is happy with being a simple druglord, is content to work and use a dingy appliance store as his headquarters and has no desire for legitimacy.
- Slim and Cheese are both high-ranking lieutenants of the game, but while Slim is loyal, friendly, competent and reflective, Cheese is a polar opposite.
- Norman Wilson and Michael Steintorf in Mayor Carcetti's cabinet. Norman will usually vouch for an approach that will benefit the Mayor in the long term while Steintorf vouches for a more immediate benefit. Carcetti would almost always have to choose between the two; though he would rather lean on Norman's side in a morally conscious stance, the struggles of the Mayoral office make Carcetti have to rely on Steintorf's more morally gray position.
- Foreshadowing: Many instances
- The chess conversation in the first season
- McNulty's confession that he doesn't want to end up "on the boat" in the pilot
- Kenard pretending to be Omar;
- Almost all of Bodie's appearances in season four foreshadow his death
- Prez not wanting to see Randy get chewed up by the system.
- Forever War: In the first episode Carver corrects Greggs remarking there isn't such a thing as a "war on drugs", as wars end. Recalled from time to time, on one occasion the police finds the streets empty and jokingly declare they have won, maybe.
- Forgotten Fallen Friend:
- Subverted. It seems as though Wallace has been pretty well forgotten by Poot and Bodie after season one, but the mention of his name in season four provokes Bodie into panicked alarm.
- Inverted with Brandon.
- Four Lines, All Waiting: a rare example of this done well. You sometimes have to wait several episodes for a minor plotline to advance at all, and it might be by a single line of dialogue; however, since you really have to be paying attention to enjoy this show at all, it usually works.
- Framing the Guilty Party:
- McNulty and Bunk put Omar on the witness stand, knowing that he will perjure himself to convict Bird in retaliation for Bird's torture of Omar's boyfriend. Everyone on both sides of the case knows Omar is lying—everyone except the jury.
- Marlo has Chris kill a taxpayer and has the only witness blame Omar for it. Bunk is given a hard time by his peers when he tries to exonerate Omar, because as Bunk himself pointed out in the past, Omar is guilty of other unsolved murders (which were part of the game but made children glorify his violent ass and continue the game's vicious downward spiral.) However, Bunk is convinced to help clear Omar's name because, as Omar points out "If Omar didn't kill that delivery lady, then someone else did."
- A variation in the final season The scheme pulled by McNulty and Lester is based on a fictional and fabricated case intended to attract funds towards police work and judicial coverage and then divert the efforts againts Stanfield, because Marlo's conviction is just a matter of getting proof. They just have to make a switcheroo and conceal the illegal procedure in the end. Unfortunately Levy gets in their way Spotting the Thread and it backfires, greatly.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus: During a police/community meeting about drug dealing in city neighborhoods, a chart shows the success of enforcement efforts with drug arrests going up between 2003 and 2004—however arrests for every other crime are down. This of course reinforces the third season's premise that the drug war distracts from real police work.
- Freudian Excuse: The show goes to some pains to show how the street villains of the series are the product of the environment they grew up in as children. More specifically, Chris Partlow is confirmed by Word of God to have been molested as a child.
- Freudian Slip: When McNulty is decrying the idea of ending the Barksdale investigation in Season 3 due to lack of progress, he complains that two years earlier they'd left "a real bastard" (Stringer) on the street and then asks if "we're gonna let that same son of a bitch beat me again?". The rest of the team notices, but McNulty does not and continues on his rant.
- Functional Addict: McNulty is a professionally functional alcoholic. It get's lampshaded by his FBI profile. The trope is subverted because he is not fully functional as Rhonda Pearlman gets to lament (nothing is more useless in bed than an irish drunk) and his alcoholism is one of the causes behind the wreckage of his romantic relations. Bunk is overall a more successful one, altough he embarrass himself once, puking at work in front of Lt. Daniels.
- The Fun in Funeral: The Baltimore police have a tradition of holding rowdy Irish wakes for their own, Landsman delivers a fair poignant eulogy and then it culminates in a passionate sing-along of the Pogues' "The Body of an American."
- Gangsta Style:
- Gayngster: Omar and Snoop.
- Generic Ethnic Crime Gang
- Genre Shift: There is humor throughout the show, but Season 5 is driven by absurdist dark comedy as much as drama. It was the only place left to go after the downward spiral of despair the city went through in the first four seasons. Hard to say what makes the better punchline—McNulty's FBI profile or Clay Davis's trial. Or maybe it was Valchek becoming Commissioner.
- "Get out of Jail Free" Card: Omar in season two (for testifying in a court case). In the end, the card itself hardly matters.
- Gilligan Cut: An incredibly drunk McNulty in "Duck and Cover":
McNulty: I'm looking you in the eye, Gus, and I'm telling you, I'm not driving a car tonight!
(cut to McNulty driving across three lanes)
- Go-Karting with Bowser: The East side and West side gang lords have a truce day where they meet and play a high-stakes basketball game. This series is full of examples of this, fairly cordial interactions between sworn enemies.
- Good Adultery, Bad Adultery / Sympathetic Adulterer: In season 1 D'Angelo hooking up with Shardene despite having a wife and young child (who he led Shardene to believe he was separated from) was depicted very sympathetically. His wife Donette hooking up with Stringer in season 2 wasn't depicted so sympathetically, especially since Stringer was the one who arranged D'Angelo's death.
- It's actually never stated that D'Angelo and Donette are married. She's just his baby-mama.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: Subverted: season one, episode five has this shtick turning into "Bad Cop, Pissed Cop" when Bodie sees right through it.
- Good Is Not Nice: Many of the cops who can be considered decent are nevertheless rough around the edges, in varying degrees.
- Good Guy Bar: Kavanagh's, the bar where McNulty and Bunk regularly go to drink, and where the Irish wakes are held.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Omar has a pretty distinctive antihero scar running down the left side of his face, which goes a long way towards solidifying him as a Badass. Interestingly, that scar isn't a prosthetic—Michael K. Williams actually has a scar like that, which he got from a bar fight. Marlo has a less noticiable scar around the left side of his jaw, which is also an actual scar. Nobody seems to notice that Hassan Johnson (Weebey) has a scar on his jaw almost identical to Marlo's.
- Grammar Nazi:
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: In the second season's opening credits, a passport ostensibly from the Russian Federation (despite still having Communist stationary and reading "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" at the top of one page) reads: ??????????? D????? ??????????? (Fedorovskal Dovlasch Lschtvkrfyrsht). The passport's gender reads M and something that looks like a cross between an F and ?, and the "transliterated" name is "Dobrav Naberezhnyi".
- Greedy Jew: Maurice Levy, the Amoral Attorney who profits handsomely by protecting drug dealers, makes a number of references to his Jewish culture, while Rhonda Pearlman, his honest counterpart, is also Jewish, but you'd never know it. McNulty at one point calls Pearlman "a member of [Levy's] tribe," but in the context he may very well be referring to the fact that they're both lawyers.
- Greek Chorus:
- The touts, who you constantly hear (and sometimes see) in the background shouting out the name of the latest brand of heroin. "Brands" like "WMD" "pandemic" and "election day special" are amongst the more memorable ones. These are often punctuated with shouts of "Five-O!" or, famously, "Omar! Omar coming!".
- Or in once instance, "Haha! Check out that little kid getting his ass beat!"
- Grey and Gray Morality: Doesn't matter who you work for; the cops, the drug gangs, the schools, the government or the press. If you dare to buck the system in the name of what's right, then the institution to whom you were loyal will find a way to destroy you for it. If you play loyal and are willing to do horrible things for your superiors, then you may be rewarded, or you may be chewed up as cannon fodder. Nobody is portrayed as better than anyone else.
- Gun Porn: Given that Baltimore is a shooting gallery, a great deal of weaponry is inherent to the narrative. One prominent example occurs when the Barksdales are readying their arsenal to wage war on Marlo, including grenades and lots of semi-autos.
- Guns Akimbo: Done briefly by Marlo during a target practice session.
- The Guards Must Be Crazy:
- Bodie escapes from juvenile hall in suburban Baltimore by simply grabbing a mop bucket to pass the guard booth and then walking out the side door. And the disguise is not even tested as the guard is distracted chatting with a lady. Grabbing the mop may have been less about needing a disguise and more about wanting help standing after the vicious beating he had taken.
- Also when Omar and his crew put on disguises and convince the muscle at the Barksdale stash house to carry him up the stairs on his wheelchair before they rob them.
- A Half-Dozen Guys in a Basement: The Major Case Squad, for basically all of the show's run.
- Harmless Villain: How many see Marlo Stanfield. It really comes back to bite the cops in the ass.
- Headbutting Heroes:
- Heel Face Door Slam: While the heel/face lines are often very blurry to begin with, basically any time a character involved in organized crime decides to become an informant, they inevitably die. The most prominent example is probably Bodie Broadus.
- Hello, Attorney!: Rhonda Pearlman. Both in and out of universe.
- He Knows Too Much: Several examples; the standard anti-informant measure.
- Hidden Depths:
- Pryzbylewski is initially dumped on the Barksdale detail because he's an incompetent detective who once accidentally shot up his own car in a panic. On his first day he accidentally discharges his gun in the office, and later gets another car destroyed by needlessly inciting the local community. The only reason he doesn't get fired is nepotism. However, after being restricted to office duty, he begins to excell and becomes a specialist in penetrating the drug dealers' heavily slurred, slang-laden, and coded communications. He also becomes a decent teacher during season 4.
- In his appearances during seasons 1-3 Wee Bey is portrayed as an unrepentant hardened criminal with no shame for his actions. In season 4 though its clear that he sees his son headed down the same path and doesn't want him to end up in prison like him and lets Colvin take him in.
- Really you could apply this to nearly every character that places even a remotely substantial role. Most characters are more complex than they initially seem.
- Hidden in Plain Sight: The Greek rarely meets contacts directly, instead sitting and inconspicuously reading a newspaper nearby while his second-in-command Spiros talks to them, allowing him to know what's going on and remain anonymous.
- History Repeats: In the series finale several characters end up in situations that harken back to the pilot episode (in tandem with Call Back). Most notably, Detective Leander Sydnor goes to Judge Phelan and asks with his help investigating a major case (which Detective Jimmy McNulty did, in a conversation with the exact same character, five seasons prior). The "Where Are They Now" Epilogue insinuates that Baltimore is a cyclical place, and that characters will always end up in certain roles (e.g. Michael becomes the new Omar, Dukie becomes the new Bubbles, Carver takes the torch from Daniels, etc)
- Honey Trap: Devonne to Marlo, who sees her coming.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Shardene.
- Homage: the opening scene of the fifth season recalls a sequence from Homicide: Life on the Street (another David Simon series) in which two detectives use a photocopier as a Lie Detector to fool a suspect into telling the truth. This ruse was unsanctioned but used anyway by real BPD detectives.
- How's Your British Accent?: McNulty (played by Brit actor Dominic West) puts on a ridiculous English accent to go undercover at a brothel in season two.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The titles of the finales of every season (or the second-to-last episode, in Season 5's case) relate back to the area of the city that said season focuses on, always having something to do with finishing a task.
- The finale of Season 1 (which focuses on the police) is called "Sentencing".
- The finale of Season 2 (which focuses on the docks) is called "Port in a Storm".
- The finale of Season 3 (which is about city politicians) is called "Mission Accomplished".
- The finale of Season 4 (which is about the school system) is called "Final Grades".
- The second-to-last episode of Season 5 (which is about the city newspaper) is called "Late Editions".
- Applies to the proper finale as well; "-30-" signals the end of an article or press release.
- Incompatible Orientation:
- Idiot Ball:
- Brianna calls Avon out for sending D'Angelo in an ill-fated drug run without proper backup or decoys, when Avon feels that he couldn't trust anybody else
- The always smart Stringer Bell tipping his hand to Brother Mouzoune when he asks "them?" (re: Mouzone attacker/s) and without hiding his surprised tone. Avon calls him out for questioning Mouzone, as a soldier like the Brother should be left to his own devices.
- If It Bleeds, It Leads: Invoked by Lester and Jimmy during their serial killer scheme; they know that the more lurid the story is, the more coverage it will get. The trope is later discussed and namechecked by Gus when the case draws the attention away from the indictment of Clay Davis.
- Incredibly Obvious Bug: inverted; Herc hides a camera in a brick wall during the fourth season, which is then immediately found by a drug dealer and placed in a pigeon cage. In the 2nd season, that same cop buys a small microphone from
his own his partner's money, intending to record some incriminating evidence quickly and then return the mic for a refund. They place it in a tennis ball in the gutter next to the dealer's street corner, but he unknowingly picks it up and throws it into traffic out of boredom. Hilarity Ensues.
Carver: Fifteen... hundred dollars.
Herc: Twelve-fifty with the police discount." (sigh) It just couldn't stand up to the modern urban crime environment, man.
- Incredibly Obvious Tail: Stringer should really have been concerned that Bodie and his friend didn't notice the black SUV that was no more than one car behind them every step of the way from Baltimore to Philadelphia and back again. If it hadn't been Stringer's men, there would have been trouble.
- I Never Said It Was Poison:
- The detectives show one of the perps a bag with three guns saying that they found his fingerprints on one of them. The perp knows that they cleaned them, so asks the detectives which one it is. They point to another gun. Subverted as the perp calls his lawyer immediately.
- During an interrogation, Herc accidentally reveals too much about his informant (Randy), which gets the kid branded as a snitch, his house firebombed, his foster mother hospitalized, and generally ruins his life.
- An example entirely between criminals: Brother Mouzone clues in to the fact that Stringer was responsible for Omar coming after him because the usually shrewd Stringer tips his hand asking, in a surprised tone, about the existance of more than one assailant.
- Infant Immortality: Ruthlessly averted. Not only do children get killed in the series, but Cheese also shoots his dog dead.
- Inherent in the System: The overarching theme of the series is that the characters are trapped inside the machinations of the city of Baltimore, and no one can ever really shake up the system.
- Internal Reformist: Daniels, Colvin, Carcetti, Stringer Bell and Proposition Joe try new approaches in their respective lines of work and trades. They all get defeated, crushed or assimilated by the game.
- Insistent Terminology: Lester Freamon, a highly capable detective, was forced into pawn shop unit for thirteen years "and four months."
- Rarely on this show is anyone referred to as a "cop". They're a "Police". Just like that: "a Police." If you're a cop, it's pronounced "Poh-LEESE." If you're street, it's "POH-leese." This is largely Truth in Television.
- In-Series Nickname: Quite a few of them, several of whom are Only Known by Their Nickname.
- Bird (real name: Marquis Hilton)
- Black (real name: Marlo Stanfield)
- Bodie (real name: Preston Broadus) Also referred to as "Mr. Shit" and "Mr. Entrapment" by an amused McNulty
- Boris (real name: Sergei Malatov)
- Bubbles / Bubs (real name: Reginald Cousins)
- The Bunk (real name: William Moreland)
- Bunny (real name: Howard Colvin)
- Cheese (real name: Calvin Wagstaff)
- Cutty (real name: Dennis Wise)
- Dukie (real name: Duquan Weems)
- Fifty (real name: Johnny Spamanto)
- Fruit (real name unknown)
- Herc (real name: Thomas Hauk)
- Horseface (real name: Thomas Pakusa)
- No Heart Anthony (real name: Anthony Little)
- Poot (real name: Malik Carr)
- Prez / Prezbo / Mr. P (real name: Roland Pryzbylewski)
- Proposition Joe / Prop Joe (real name: Joseph Stewart)
- Puddin (real name: Herbert De'Rodd Johnson)
- Shamrock (real name: Shaun McGinty)
- Slim Charles / Slim / Tall Man (real name unknown)
- Snoop (real name: Felicia Pearson)
- Snot Boogie (real name: Omar Isaiah Betts)
- Stinkum / Stink (real name: Anton Artis)
- Stringer Bell / String (real name: Russell Bell)
- The Greek (real name unknown)
- Vondas (real name: Spiros Vondopolous)
- Wee-Bey (real name: Roland Brice)
- White Mike (real name: Michael Mc Ardle)
- Ziggy / Zig / Fucknuts / Malaka (real name: Chester Karol Sobotka)
- Becomes a plot point when Bunk has to track down Dozerman's service weapon, and the only evidence he has to go on is the thief's nickname: Peanut. It brings up hundreds of hits in the police computer.
- Landsman ties two murder cases together on the tenuous grounds that each has a suspect known as "D".
- Also concealed a minor bit of characterization: Cheese is Randy Wagstaff's Disappeared Dad.
- Herc and Carver try to cover up using the listening device (hidden in a tennis ball) by crediting their information to a fake informant (Herc's cousin) they named "Fuzzy Dunlop."
- To general amusement, Colvin reveals McNulty was known as Bushy Top.
- Instant Death Bullet: Quite frequently for a show renowned for its realism, though justified at times.
- Insult Backfire:
- Omar's Shut Up, Hannibal! given to Levy mentioned below in Not So Different. (I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase)
- A conversation about Vondas and his outfits where The Bunk shows his knowledge.
: You know what they call a guy who pays that much attention to his clothes, don't you? The Bunk
: Mm-hmm, a grown-up
- McNulty and The Bunk talking to D'Angelo and Bodie.
McNulty: This is just us talking right? Just you, me, my partner and... what did you say your name was?
Bodie: I didn't say shit.
McNulty: Just you, me, my partner and Mr. Shit here.
- Ironic Echo: Many. Prominent examples include:
"I'll take anybody's money if he's giving it away." Senator Davis, Namond Brice
"I'm tired of this gangster shit." Stringer Bell, Marlo
"A man must have a code". The Bunk, Omar (quoting Bunk) quite a bit later.
"Get on with it, motherfucker." Stringer, Bunny Colvin.
"Nicely done." McNulty to Stringer Bell in the Pilot Stringer Bell to McNulty in the Season 1 finale
"Move, Shitbird." Prez in the first season, then Valchek in the second.
"Fuck you, fat man." Bird in the first season and Kima in the fourth, both times said to Jay in the same exact tone.
"A title 3 makes this case, or you don't do it all. Chain of command" McNulty vs Daniels
in the first episode and then inverted in the season 4 finale.
"That whole area [Howard Street] is like Inner Harbor East ten years ago—New Westport is like Howard Street ten years ago." Andy Krawczyk's pitching sale to Stringer Bell in 2004 and to Marlo in the finale.
- Ironic Nickname: Both "Little Man" and "Little Kevin" are anything but, with the latter example being lampshaded during Herc's search for him.
- Irony In addition to the many ironic echoes above:
- Stringer is very insistent about locking doors. In his final scene, several locked doors prevent him from escaping
- In the finale, Marlo leaves the game with Stringer Bell's utopia at hand; legitimate businessman above street pettiness. For Stanfield however this is a personal hell
- After a impune killing spree, the one Pay Evil unto Evil crime done by Chris leads to his life imprisonment. The brutality of such action may hinder this "empathic" interpretation, though.
- I Shall Taunt You: Omar uses this against Marlo, who places his name and street reputation above everything.
- It Will Never Catch On: In one of the prequel shorts, we see a young Omar robbing an innocent man at a bus stop with his older brother Anthony and a Friend. When Omar is disgusted with the robbery and forces the older boys to return the man's money, The Friend rolls his eyes and says "You're not cut out for this shit." Yeah...
- Job-Stealing Robot: Sobotka is horrified by the upcoming trend of automation -after he's shown it's already in full use in the port of Rotterdam- as this would render the stevedores' job obsolete.
- Jurisdiction Friction:
- Inverted; several times, the Baltimore PD wants the FBI to come in and take over (they're better funded and equipped, and glad-handed when it comes to manpower), but they refuse because they only want terrorism or corruption cases and political calculations obstruct the way in later seasons.
- The homicide cops hate McNulty with a passion after he aggravates the workload of the Homicide unit when he proves the case of the thirteen dead women doesn't belong to another jurisdiction as initially assigned. The heads of the other agencies do argue about the jurisdiction but Rawls is able to dodge the case until McNulty intervenes as payback against Rawls, who exiled him from the Homicide unit.
- Valchek brings the FBI into the investigation when he realizes his case is no longer focused on his target, who's inadvertently gotten into bed with an international drug- and prostitution racket. The unit are actually glad to have them, although it means they have to re-prioritize their targets, and the feds withdraw their support as soon as the union corruption charges have been made.
- Jury and Witness Tampering: The premiere episode has a witness killed and drug lieutenant D'Angelo Barksdale acquitted for murder, via witness tampering. Protecting the life of state's witnesses -or solving their murder cases- becomes a very serious political issue afterwards.
- Just a Kid:
- Just Like Robin Hood/Karmic Thief: Omar Little often epitomizes the Robin Hood archetype. He steals from drug dealers and has been seen on more than one occasion giving money to poor kids. Additionally, Stringer tells Avon at one point that his 'Robin Hood' style is why he's so untouchable, despite the sizable bounty on his head; he's known to share his take of the drugs with addicts in the areas he settles in, so they won't pass on his whereabouts to the Barksdales.
- Karma Houdini: Subverted by Marlo's ambiguous fate. Played straight many times: Maurice Levy, Andy Krawczyck, Scott Templeton, Valchek, The Greeks, and Senator Davis, among others.
- Karmic Death:
- While it's hard to say that Omar's death is considered karmic, due to the fact that he is somewhat of a sympathetic character, he is killed by a small child in a convenience store in the fifth season. The same kid who had seen Omar having a shoot-out in the street back in season three, and who Bunk noticed imitating Omar. He had previously stated in the series that he didn't consider children as a threat.
- Cheese's death at the hands of Slim Charles as retribution for selling out Proposition Joe, his own uncle, which Cheese had essentially implicated himself in during the speech he was halfway through before Slim shot him.
- Snoop's death, as Michael got the better of her by using the same techniques and advice that she and Chris Partlow had taught him.
- Stringer's death also qualifies, as it's a direct result of his attempts to set Omar and Brother Mouzone against each other.
- Kavorka Man: Bunk is lazy, overweight, smokes a lot, has a bad attitude, may very well be an alcoholic, is unquestionably misogynistic and rarely has a kind word for anyone. He also cheats on his wife with beautiful women, who for some odd reason find him irresistible.
- Kick the Dog:
- Marlo, at least once in the fourth season (for example, flagrantly shoplifting lollipops just to intimidate the security guard). This being The Wire, though, it's played as much to explore his ego issues as to establish that he's just plain evil. The payoff of this Kick the Dog moment comes when he has that same security guard murdered for daring to ask him to stop.
- A friend of Shardene is abused while overdosed in a party and then thrown in a dumpster rolled up in a carpet. This deeply affects Shardene, D'Angelo's girlfriend, and snowballs into dire repercussions for the Barksdale organization.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Whenever Obstructive Bureaucrats like Burrell or Valchek get shit in the way. One especially memorable instance happens in season 2, when the kicking is done to Burrell by Valchek.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Stringer Bell and Omar.
- Kingpin in His Gym: in Season One, Avon Barksdale and Russell "Stringer" Bell were shown working out at the gym and on the basketball court while planning gangland operations.
- Knight in Sour Armor: The vast majority of the good cops know perfectly well just how much of a Crapsack World Baltimore really is, and how little of what they do will change it. However, this doesn't stop them from trying.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: Implicit; Sobotka stages his own undoing by escalating a minor conflict against an influential police officer. The Greek however makes a pragmatic exit as soon as he learns he is under scrutiny, forsaking a valuable last container.
- Landslide Election: The Democratic candidate wins the offscreen mayoral election with over 80% of the votes. Baltimore being a one-party town, it's just mentioned in passing, along with a quip that anything less than that margin would had been an embarrassment.
- Large and In Charge:
- Avon and Stringer are noticeably taller than most of their mooks, which adheres to the King, Queen and pawns analogy.
- Prop. Joe and Fat Face Rick are heavyweight bosses. Rick even looks like the Shaquile O'Neal of drug dealers.
- Slim is a very tall lieutenant and a straight example in the finale.
- Daniels is a commanding officer who is usually the tallest policeman of the room.
- The Last DJ: Lester Freamon was this before getting a second chance in the first season. McNulty and Daniels too, even though Daniels does eventually enjoy a string of rapid promotions, he is ultimately forced to retire his post as commissioner because he's unwilling to compromise his principles.
- Last Stand: Bodie: "This my corner, I ain't runnin' NOWHERE!"
- Law Procedural: Occasional, especially in later seasons
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: One editorial conflict at the Sun may very well apply to the show and its intellectual respect for the viewer; Gus defends stories with uncompromising integrity and deep sociological examination while the editor thinks such overcomplexity needs to be watered down to have any kind of success.
Gus: I think you need a lot of context to seriously examine anything.
Editor: I don’t want some amorphous series detailing society’s ills. If you leave everything in, soon you’ve got nothing.
- Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club:
- Stringer has a copy shop where he parleys with McNulty. Subverted as Stringer wants it to be a serious business, not a mere front, and chides his lazy underlings —who don't understand a word of the business-studies jargon he starts throwing around— for their lack of professionalism.
- The Barksdales' well known headquarters are initially located at Orlando's bar, and more concealedly inside a funeral house later.
- Let Me Get This Straight: Often used, though the way it's usually phrased is "let me understand". For example:
: Let me understand something. You are having the deputy bust my balls over a prior-year case?
Rhonda: So let me understand. You're married, and a date is a room at the Best Western with the blinds closed. Now you're single, and a date is you coming over unannounced to learn the legal requisites for a pager intercept?
McNulty: Pretty much.
- Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics:
- A source of dysfunction and discontent among the ranks; the police work is not shaped to tackle the roots of the urban problems but to polish the clearance rates, cooking the numbers if necessary. Unmodified data is leaked as a political weapon against the Commissioner, and detectives whose actions alter the workload of the Homicide unit are heavily frowned upon.
Landsman: You know what he is? He is a vandal. He is vandalizing the board. He is vandalizing this unit. He is a Hun, a Visigoth, a barbarian at the gate, clamoring for noble Roman blood and what's left of our clearance rate.
The stat games... that lie, it’s what ruined this department. Shining up shit and calling it gold
, so that Majors become Colonels and Mayors become Governors; pretending to do police work while one generation fucking trains the next how not to do the job.
- The "numbers game" is also an inherent problem in the education system; instead of a balanced curriculum the teaching is focused on specific answers to test questions in order to improve the official ratings. The "no child left behind" policy is also portrayed as a cosmetic and hindering tool.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Around 30 regulars as of the end of season four, plus recurring and irregular characters.
- Lovable Rogue: Omar Little.
- Lying to the Perp: BPD favourite interrogation technique. "The bigger the lie, (the more they believe.)"
- Lyrical Dissonance: When the Greek mobs go fugitive and season 2 ends, they play the genuine Greek pop song "Efuge, Efuge". Its mood sounds just about right, but if you speak Greek you instantly realise it's actually a Breakup Song: "She's gone, She's gone". On the other hand, the Greeks have just gone fugitive.
- The Ukrainian Sergei Malatov is played by an American actor, Chris Ashworth. "Malatov" is also not a Ukrainian name—however, it might be a fake name, made to conform to American stereotypes. He works for The Greek (who isn't Greek).
- Partially averted in season 2, where at least one of the Russian prostitutes is played by a native Russian speaking actress.
- MacGuffin: Old Face Andre's ring in season 4. Marlo demands it from Andre after his stash is stolen. Omar steals it from Marlo when he sticks up a poker game. Officer Walker steals it from Omar when the latter is arrested for murder. Michael steals it from Officer Walker in retribution for breaking his friends' fingers. Marlo spots it on a chain around Michael's neck, but chooses to let him keep it.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: D'Angelo is killed, and the scene is dressed to make it look like a suicide. McNulty knows best.
- Making Love in All the Wrong Places. McNulty yet again; he is banging a random blonde in the hood of his car when he is halted by some passing patrolmen. He just pulls out his badge, flashes it and then continues about his business. The beat cops are not surprised to learn he is from CID (Investigation Dept.) scene
- Malicious Misnaming: During a scene where McNulty confronts Stringer in his copy shop, Stringer refers to him as 'Officer' (i.e. Patrolman, etc.) when Jimmy's rank is 'Detective'. Stringer, having encountered McNulty several times (even once drawing a picture that read 'Fuck you, Detective') is fully aware of McNulty's rank and does this ostensibly to piss him off.
- Manly Tears:
- Omar fixing up and then walking on a broken leg. Ouch.
- Seeing his boyfriend, Brandon's, mutilated corpse.
- In the aftermath of Dante accidentally shooting Tosha during an ambush because he wasn't paying attention to where his gun was pointed in season three. In fact, Omar cries a lot, and yet he is still never less than manly.
- Married to the Job: Kima and McNulty, who gets a prophetic "Get a life" speech from Lester.
- May-December Romance: Of all people, Lester ends up with Shardene in late season one, and they remain together for the rest of the series; she shows up again in the finale.
- Meaningful Rename: Stringer learns about rebranding in his college course, follows the example of World Com and strategically changes the name of the drugs periodically to create a sense of novelty and fake competing. It only takes him so far, the customers are not that stupid and even a dope fiend can wise up.
Bodie: Same shit, new name.
- Men Can't Keep House: McNulty's apartment is just marginally better arrayed than the houses from the projects. A reflection on his wrecked life. Subverted with Daniels, his house seems a mess but only because he recently moved in, he even apologizes for the disorder in the middle of a sexual affair.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Season Two: Wharfie with suspicious amounts of money buys a stained-glass window for a church + Shipping container full of dead prostitutes -> International drug and human smuggling cartel, city-wide crime organizations merging.
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: Discussed in "Unconfirmed Reports", inspiring McNulty to cross his Moral Event Horizon.
- The Mob Boss Is Scarier: The cops tend to have a hard time getting anyone to testify because of this fact. This is lampshaded by Carver to explain why the police can never win the drug war.
Carver: They fuck up, they get beat. We fuck up, we get pensions.
- Mobile Kiosk: In Season 3, Bubbles starts selling white t-shirts to the drug dealers and users around Baltimore from a shopping trolley. Later in the season and in season four he starts to expand his operation, offering cans of paint, pirated DVDs and other such assorted goods from his trolley. Later, he uses two trolleys, so we can say that he goes trolleys akimbo, right?
- Mob War: In Season 3, between the Barksdale and Stanfield crews.
- The Mole:
- Carver is Burrel's mole inside Daniels' detail in the first season.
- Agent Koutris, who feeds information to the Greek about the joint BPD-FBI investigation into his activities in exchange for counterterrorism intel.
- In the last episodes it's revealed Gary Dipasqale, a Gambling Addict was the Grand Jury mole for proposition Joe
- Momma's Boy: D'Angelo shows some signs of this early on, but Namond fits this trope fully.
Bodie: "Your momma is what niggas call a 'Dragon Lady'
Namond: "Yeah, she don't blink."
Bodie: "Give me some insight, though."
Namond: "To what?"
Bodie: "Why you is, what you is."
- Montage Out: The season finales
- Mood Dissonance: Omar's sort-of leitmotif is... The Farmer In The Dell. On the other hand, Omar whistles it so that in resembles a marching music. Since he only whistled it, the tune resembles that of the very relevant 'A-Hunting We Will Go'.
- Mother Russia Makes You Strong: 'Boris' points out that American prisons are not real prisons as he has been a 'guest' to the actually harsh Ukranian ones.
- Motivational Lie: Stringer likes to use them to control how people will act, such as getting Brother Mouzone and Omar to fight each other. Later, after Stringer dies, Slim Charles uses Stringer's death as one to get the Barksdale crew ready to fight Marlo.
- Mythology Gag: A character named Rock-Rock is often mentioned but never seen. The character is a call back to a season six Homicide: Life on the Street episode (at least partly written by David Simon), featuring a character named Rock-Rock who was witness to the murders of two priests.
- Nepotism: Baltimore runs on this trope:
- Never Heard That One Before:
- Never Going Back To Prison: This is Avon's attitude after his stint in prison, and Omar's older brother Anthony tried to commit suicide rather than go back.
- Never Hurt an Innocent: One of Omar's principles—and the one that earns him the limited respect of McNulty and Bunk—is that "the game" should never spill over into killing civilians.
Bunk: So, you're my eyeball witness, huh? [Omar nods] So why'd you step up on this?
Omar: Bird triflin', basically. Kill an everyday workin' man and all. I mean, I do some dirt, too, but I ain't never put my gun on nobody that wasn't in the game.
Bunk: A man must have a code.
Omar: Oh, no doubt.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
- Before Season 1 started, Lester Freamon had been forced to work in the pawn shop unit for, well, doing his job investigating a homicide.
- McNulty gets a similar treatment at the end of season 1 for getting people in his homicide unit involved in the drug case that Season 1 was all about; he is forced to work in the loathed Baltimore Marine Unit for half of the second season as revenge by his former commander.
- Haynes and Gutierrez also find this out the hard way in Season 5.
- Bunny Colvin's reward for cutting the felony crime rate in his district by 14% and improving the general quality of life for its citizens is to be busted down to lieutenant, fired in disgrace, blacklisted and vilified to the media as an "amoral" and "incompetent" man who "buckled under the pressure" of his command.
- Senator Davis invokes the quote regarding himself during his demagogue defense.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Chris Partlow delivers a gruesomely fatal one to Michael's stepfather, Devar.
- Non-Indicative Name: "The Greek" isn't actually Greek. Little Man and Little Kevin are not exactly little either, much to the confusion of the police.
- Nothing Can Stop Us Now: During the heyday of the Barksdale empire, while Avon is still flying under the radar, Stringer explains D'Angelo that crazy as it is, the drug business is forever. If the merchandise is strong, they sell it, and if it's weak they sell twice as much because they are dealing in a captive market where the clients are addicts and the supply is about the same for everybody. String doesn't anticipate that a competitor with a much better product can undermine and destroy his credibility and profit, which is what Proposition Joe ends up doing in the second season.
- Not So Different:
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: As has been said, many considered Marlo Stanfield to be a wannabe punk who wasn't worth much trouble, especially compared to Avon Barksdale. This includes both gangbangers and cops. However, by the end of the fourth season, they all see just how wrong that assumption was, as he proved himself to be far more ruthless than Avon ever was.
- Number Two:
- Various characters in the drug trade, including Stringer Bell in the first season, Spiros Vondapolous, Chris Partlow and Slim Charles.
- In the legit society: Rawls to Burrell, Mello to Colvin, Carver to Mello, Norman Wilson to Carcetti and Rhonda to Rupert Bond.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Seemingly a dime a dozen in Baltimore, and they make life hell for those on the side of the law. Most of them aren't malicious, just lazy or more interested in protecting themselves than in accomplishing anything worthwhile. Lieutenant Marimow is a notable exception; he is given command of the Major Case squad specifically in order to put the brakes on them so they won't continue to embarrass political bigwigs.
- Office Golf: Burrell does a lot of this.
- Offscreen Villainy: Barksdale commits a number of heinous crimes onscreen, but most of the body count has already happened at the beginning of the story, losing some of its impact. This contrasts with Marlo, who in no small part comes off as more ruthless because his racking up is contemporary and shown to the audience.
- Oh, No... Not Again!: When Stringer begins one of his speeches about economics, his challenged minions immediately show apprehension and sigh, obviously tired of the lectures.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: When Bunk and Lester hang out in an after work bar, Bunk quickly starts talking about women, while Lester keeps talking about the case against Marlo, and the dialogue still flows naturally.
- Old Media Are Evil: Averted, as many of the staffers at the Baltimore Sun decry the death of traditional newspapers, and are just trying to make it through the day without getting hit with buyout offers or a lack of people to cover story beats.
- One Steve Limit: Averted surprisngly often, such as with Dennis "Cutty" Wise and Dennis Mello; Roland "Wee-Bey" Brice and Roland Pryzbylewski; William "Bunk" Moreland and William Rawls; Tommy Carcetti, Thomas "Herc" Hauk and Thomas "Horseface" Pakusa; Johnny Weeks and Johnny "Fifty" Spamanto; Omar Little and Omar Isaiah 'Snotboogie' Betts; Ray Cole and Raymond Foerster. Probably due to Loads and Loads of Characters.
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Several actors do this in their more emotional moments. Idris Elba manages to avoid it as Stringer Bell. Michael K Williams as Omar affects a pretty good Bawlmer accent for the most part, but slips a couple of times into his natural Brooklyn, particularly noticeably when he's acting across from Ernest Waddell, also from New York (and who uses his real accent). In the scene were Carcetti is pretending to make a phone call he sounds very Irish.
- Orphaned Punchline: Doubling as a nod to Lewis from Homicide: Life on the Street, one scene has Landsman telling a raunchy joke about a bear wherein only the final part is heard: "You didn't really come here to hunt, did you?"
- Outside-Context Villain: The smugglers and human traffickers in Season 2. The cop protagonists are very experienced in the customs and economy of the drug trade in Baltimore, but most are life-long Baltimore natives and not particularly worldly, with almost no knowledge of how the smuggling world operates.
- Pac Man Fever:
- Michael's little brother is clearly playing Pokémon Red Version in a Game Boy Advance, yet the sounds it makes are beeps and boops.
- Namond is shown playing on his X-Box, without the TV in view, and, despite showing him playing Halo 2 in other episodes, we hear random stock ninja sounds playing over and over.
- Parental Neglect:
- Jimmy is not a favorite to win the father of the year award: he loses sight of his children when they are made to play-tail Stringer in a market, and on another occasion leaves the kids alone in the house to have a quickie in a hotel, in the middle of the night.
- Frank Sobotka, who ignores his wayward, attention-seeking son Ziggy until it's too late.
- Passed Over Promotion: Several examples, the carrot and stick approach to appointments is a traditional weapon used by the higher-ups.
- Pay Phone: In the first season, the drug communication is all done on pay phones and pagers, to avoid taps. In later seasons (when those pay phones have all been torn out), the gangs buy short-term prepaid phones in bulk from all over the state of Maryland so they can stay one step ahead of the court orders.
- Perp Walk:
- Invoked by Valchek, as the whole purpose of the case for him was to ruin his rival Frank Sobotka. While the rest of the suspects are taken in a carefully synchronised dawn raid, the ones tasked to take Sobotka are told to wait until he's at the union office, and once they've gone in they wait until a suitably sizeable press gang has assembled before Valchek personally walks him out to the car.
- Discussed by the Baltimore Sun staff after they miss Clay Davis' perp walk.
- Personal Effects Reveal: Stringer's refined and "non-gangsta" apartment. McNulty is completely puzzled by it, he finds the book The Wealth of Nations and utters "Who the fuck I was chasing"
- Pet the Dog:
- Rawls telling McNulty that Kima's shooting wasn't his fault—albeit in the most abusive way possible.
- Wee-Bey Brice's love of his pet fish could qualify, and his fourth-season decision to let Bunny Colvin take custody of his son so he could have a chance at an actual future definitely does.
- Omar showing affection to the adorable baby of a dope fiend hitting him up for a free fix is the first sign that he's more than just a criminal. In season three, it's revealed that he also takes his grandmother to church once a month.
- Herc apologizes sheepishly to Bodie's grandmother for the inconvenience after the police come blazing into her house
- McNulty goes out of his way in the case of the thirteen "Jane Does" (unidentified dead women) and involves himself in a personal, humane level when nobody from Homicide gives a damn about'em. This shows Beadie that deep down, Jimmy is a decent guy.
- Landsman's letting Bubbles off, and "fuck the clearance".
- Mayor Royce's consideration of Hamsterdam.
- Cutty opening a boxing club in Hamsterdam, and Avon and Slim Charles seemingly dismissively laughing off Cutty's request for some funding for the gym. It turned out they were laughing because the amount of money he was asking for was too low, and Avon donates five thousand dollars more than Cutty asked for.
- The only time Chris Partlow isn't seen scowling is when he discusses his love of club music. Also with his kids
- Even Marlo Stanfield gets one. Despite repeatedly demonstrating that he's the coldest motherfucker in the series, he also keeps good care of a coop of pigeons, even hiring someone to take care of it.
- Carcetti assigning random tasks to the municipal services, which scramble in a massive cleaning spree of the city to curtail the undetailed problems.
- Even the thuggish, amoral Cheese gets a close-to-literal example, becoming genuinely distraught over the death of his pet dog (albeit only after using it in a dog fight).
- In the finale, McNulty taking care of the vagrant he abducted.
- Phrase Catcher: People describing McNulty as an 'asshole'.
- Plot Armor:
- The cops and politicians justifiedly have it way easier than anyone on the street. Nobody in the game knowingly shoots a cop. Through the course of the series, the number of officers to die in the line of duty amounts to one, and that officer was not a character until his death to friendly fire at the hands of Prez.
- Highlighted effectively by the Barksdale crew's panic after accidentally shooting an undercover officer. Also shows the consequences as the police then kick in every damn door they have a lead on the very next day. Shooting a cop is VERY bad for business.
- Avon calls Stringer out when the latter is considering offing Senator Davis, the Clay Davis from downtown. All hell would break loose on them. Even the hitman of choice -Slim Charles- is reluctant.
- Plot Parallel: Season 3 portrays two attempts to reform the game from opposite sides of the law, with mirrored outcomes : "Get on with it, motherfu—-"
- Poirot Speak: Omar's boyfriend Renaldo.
- Police Are Useless: Zigzagged to say the least, the trope is played with in every possible way.
- Police Brutality: Most officers on the show at least one incident of brutality towards suspects in their custody, and this is simply considered part of the Game.
Carver: (yelling out to find a hiding suspect) So I'm only gonna say this one time: If you march your ass out here right now, and put the bracelets on, we will not kick the living shit out of you! But if you make us go into them reeds for you, or come back out here tomorrow night, catch you on a corner, then I swear to fucking Christ we will beat you longer and harder than you beat your own dick!
- Police Brutality Gambit: When Bird is arrested, a Polaroid is taken of his existing injuries so he can't claim they were inflicted in custody. This does not stop the Baltimore Police Department from beating him. While he is handcuffed to a table, no less, and they ceremoniously tear up the Polaroid before they do it, just so Bird knows what's about to happen.
- Police Procedural: In this case a huge Deconstruction.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Any time a gangster refers to Omar using an anti-gay slur instead of his name, take a shot.
- Porn Stash: Sergeant Landsman is more often than not casually inmersed in his porn magazines while he retorts with his fellow detectives and subordinates in the last seasons.
- Prequel: Omar, Proposition Joe, McNulty and Bunk's backstories were shown in short vignettes before the premiere of the fifth season, to heighten speculation about who would die.
- Prison: Season two, more briefly in season three, still more briefly in seasons 4 and 5.
- Pragmatic Villainy:
- In Season 2 The Greek and Vondas contemplate killing Frank Sobotka, not out of genuine malice but rather because police are using damning evidence of his corruption in order to turn him for the prosecution against them. Vondas convinces The Greek it would be more pragmatic just to buy Frank's loyalty (and silence) by manipulating Frank's son Ziggy's murder trial and preventing a conviction. Unfortunately, Frank had already made a deal with the FBI by then, and both The Greek and Vondas find out from a "friend" in the FBI while Frank is on his way to meet with them. After The Greek tells that him that "Your way... it won't work", Frank is shown with his throat sliced open in the beginning of the next episode.
- In Season 3, once Stringer Bell takes over Avon Barksdale's drug empire, he negotiates with other Baltimore players to create a co-op; his period of control marking what was almost certainly a low point in violent drug-crime, since it wasn't in the best interests of any of the dealers. Stringer had also been taking economics courses, and so this pragmatic course of action was a solid application of coordinated action to avoid the "tragedy of the commons". Unfortunately for them, Marlo's refusal to join their cartel and continued use of violence also solidly illustrated the free-rider problem and "prisoner's dilemma".
- Avon calls Stringer out when the latter is considering offing Senator Davis, the Clay Davis from downtown. All hell would break loose.
- A point in one of the last scenes. One druglord kills another and is berated just because the action is economically unsound.
Cheese: There ain't no back in the day [...] When it was my uncle, I was with my uncle, when it was Marlo, I was with him but now nigga...
:What the fuck did you do that for?
, now we are short the 900K. Slim Charles: That was for Joe. Shorty:
This sentimental motherfucker just cost us money.
- Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Michael Lee gives several:
Michael: Hey, do y'all terrace niggers know that boy who go by the name "Deez"?
Michael: Yeah, Deez Nuts! (*punches bully in the face and steals his bike)
Other Bully: You ain't gonna stand by no rat, are you?
Michael: No, I ain't standing with no rat (*hits bully with schoolbag)
- Product Placement:
- An aversion: Verizon pops up with great frequency, especially in the early seasons. This is because Verizon handled most of the payphones and inner-city telecommunications in Baltimore at the time, not because of paid consideration.
- Season 1 features quite a bit of Heineken beers being tossed around.
- Under Armour apparel is featured a lot and very visibly, but then again it's a Baltimore-based firm.
- Professional Killer: Brother Mouzone, on loan from New York to bust some heads in Baltimore. Member of the Nation of Islam.
- Punch Clock Villain: Various individuals of the Barksdale organization would qualify; D'Angelo pretty much treats his criminal actions as a profession.
- Putting the Band Back Together: What Lt. Daniels spends most of Season 2 doing. The hardest one to get back is, of course, McNulty.
- Rabid Cop:
- Detective Collichio in the fourth and fifth seasons; he becomes so exasperated by the actions of the street dealers in Baltimore that he takes out his frustrations on a middle-school teacher driving to work.
- Officer Walker decides that the most reasonable response to Donut's constant car thievery is to break his fingers. The boys get their revenge on him for this.
- Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: The MCU.
Lester: Same fuck-ups in the same shit detail, workin' out of the same shithouse kind of office. You people lack personal growth, you know that?
- Rainmaking: Senator Clay Davis in season three
- Raised Catholic:
- Reality Ensues: Happens quite a bit. Most notably in season 5 with Omar's death.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Producer Robert F. Colesberry died from surgery complications and his character, Detective Ray Cole, passes away while working out in the gym in Season 3. Richard DeAngelis who played relatively unimportant Major Raymond Foerster, died of cancer during Season 4. They receive an In Memoriam wake at Kavanaugh's Pub. Cole's one is the first of the series.
- Real Men Wear Pink:
- Omar is so tough that he can walk down to the corner grocery store in a turquoise silk bathrobe and drug dealers will still toss their stashes to him out of fear.
- McNulty pokes fun at Bunk and comments it takes guts to wear a pink in shirt on BPD... guts or a familiarity with alternative lifestyles.
- Real Estate Scam: Maurice Levy constantly suggests his clients from organized crime turn to real estate; they do. One of the background subplots is that drug money is being funneled to State Sen. Clay Davis, who then tells Stringer which buildings are due to get revitalization grants so Stringer can buy them while they are still dirt cheap. It turns out the scam is on Stringer
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Notoriously averted, such that the show has acquired a reputation for being occasionally incomprehensible to non-Baltimorians and/or people unfamiliar with ghettospeak.
- Reality Has No Soundtrack: The show has no background music beyond end of season montages.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Many praise the show for its realism, however, some critics and opinion writers have criticized the show for going too far in the direction of institutional determinism to the point where it is more bleak than reality.
- Possibly falls under Acceptable Breaks from Reality—the message "Sometimes our institutions fail us and other times they don't, depending on the individuals and circumstances involved", if more realistic, doesn't exactly make for compelling drama or social criticism.
- Omar's Super Window Jump had to be toned down because of this trope. It was inspired by a real life incident, performed by Donnie Andrews, which happened from a higher altitude and resulted in lesser injuries.
- Real Song Theme Tune: Tom Waits's "Way Down In The Hole", performed by a different artist each season (including Waits himself in Season 2).
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Quite a lot of them considering the cynical nature of the series, though none are without flaws.
- Cedric Daniels is shown to be a good cop at heart and while he's at first very cautious because he is not willing to antagonize his superiors and has a somewhat corrupt past, he's protective of his subordinates and is concerned about doing real police work, unlike the rest of the brass.
- Howard Colvin is a father to his men, but he risks everything on a poorly conceived gambit that inspires some angry tirades from cops.
- Carver learns from Daniel and Colvin's advice and becomes a reference in the neighbourhood, a competent policeman close to the citizen as opposed to a perpetual antagonist to the street felon
- Frank Sobotka does everything he can to save the docks, but essentially sells his soul to do so.
- Carcetti seems to be one during his early career and political campaign, but his ambition causes him to go down the same roads as everyone else.
- Prez turns into one over the course of season 4, though he'd already shown himself to be a truly incompetent and even violent cop.
- Judge Phelan is almost always willing to help the police and to prosecute the drug dealers, shaming the obstructive chiefs if necessary, but he panics and halts his crusade at one point, when he fears he is being punished for it after he is initally excluded from an electoral ticket.
- Reassigned to Antarctica:
- McNulty, at the end of the first and third seasons (the latter being used to allow Dominic West to be Written-In Absence while filming several feature film roles).
- Daniels, when he's assigned to Evidence Control.
- D'Angelo after he returns home from jail.
- Santangelo is demoted to beat cop following the end of the Season 1 Barksdale case, but ends up liking it way more than being a Homicide detective.
- Lester Freamon, stuck in the pawn shop unit for thirteen years. And four months.
- Alma at the end of Season 5 to the bureau in rural Carroll County after backing up Gus when he revealed to the bosses that Templeton was making up stories.
- Colvin defies it, since he is months away from his retirement he no longer fears the usual retaliations. In the end he is demoted, with a lower pension as punishment
- Reassignment Backfire: To a certain extent the premise of The Wire. A Ragtag Bunch of Misfits is put on a dead-end assignment, but the MCU turns out to be a elite unit that grows beyond mere buy-and-bust corner arrests meant to appease the higher-ups and juggle the statistics and its great diligence starts to generate problems on its own to the rigid system.
- Prez gets justifiably stripped of his gun and stuck on a desk to get rid of him. Turns out his intelligence and skill at pattern-recognition mean he's much more effective as a desk jockey than he was as a beat cop.
- McNulty is exiled to the marine unit. Through painstaking police work McNulty single-handedly manages to pin a waterfront related case of 13 dead women back to Rawls' homicide unit, aggravating the workload of such unit. McNulty is so low on the career ladder that the infuriated Rawls can't do anything meaningful in retaliation anymore.
- Reckless Gun Usage: Kima is assigned to a murder of a State's witness in an alley. There's quite a bit of backroom scheming because it's a mayoral election year, so she under pressure from one side to solve the case quickly and from the other to bury it. It turns out, a pair of drunken knuckleheads two blocks away were shooting at beer bottles and hit the guy by accident.
Det Norris: So our guy's dead because a bullet misses a bleach bottle and this fuck Carcetti gets to be the mayor behind the stupidity. I fucking love this town.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Several.
- Jimmy McNulty is the Red Oni to Bunk Moreland's Blue Oni. On occasions when he's paired with them, Lester Freamon and Kima Greggs fill the Blue Oni role as well.
- Avon Barksdale is the Red Oni to Stringer Bell's Blue Oni.
- Bodie Broadus is the Red Oni to Poot Carr's Blue Oni.
- Ziggy Sobotka is the Red Oni to Nick Sobotka's Blue Oni.
- Snoop Pearson is the Red Oni to Chris Partlow's Blue Oni.
- Reformed, but Rejected:
- Ultimately subverted. Cutty Wise is shocked at the state of the world after his release from prison (he's held up at gunpoint by a dealer soon after getting home); most of the third season chronicles his unsuccessful attempts to find work and go straight. He eventually joins the Barksdale crew, but realizes "the game ain't in him no more" and opens a boxing gym instead, which flourishes with young trainees.
- Potentially played straight with Michael's stepfather in Season 4, although the entire arc is shrouded in ambiguity.
- Bubbles' sister lets him stay in her basement, but is unwilling to believe he's reformed enough to let him into the house. Subverted in the season five finale.
- Revealing Cover Up: The whole season 5, ending up with a Treachery Coverup + local Government Conspiracy scheme on top of it
- Right Hand Versus Left Hand: A defining theme in the series. Organizations and the people within them fail to work together because of personal ambition, poor communication, outright malice or simple incompetence. People on the same "side" are constantly working at opposite ends, from the police to politicians to the pushers. This is symbolized early in the series when several cops are failing to get a desk through a doorway until they realize that the people on both ends are trying to push the desk into the opposite room.
- Right in Front of Me:
- Day Day, the bagman and driver of Clay Davis engages in criminal talk with Daniels, who introduces himsself as "I mostly go by Lieutenant". Cue Oh, Crap face. Scene
- A clueless pusher tries to sell drugs to Colvin, who is wearing the uniform, drives an obvious cop car, rises the volume of the police radio and finally has to put on his hat for the Too Dumb to Live dealer to realize it. Watch
- Road Sign Reversal: Played for lots of drama during an undercover operation.
- Robbing The Mob Bank: Proposition Joe manipulates Omar into robbing a poker game attended by Marlo Stanfield. This kickstarts a major feud between them.
- Roman ŕ Clef: At times, The Wire is largely a fictional account of events that occurred in real life Baltimore. Most characters are based on real people known, chronicled or researched by the authors -or based on the authors themselves- and many stories actually happened in some fashion or another.
- Running Gag:
- Herc's issues with surveillance, Valchek's surveillance van touring around the world
- Omar's attempts and failures to get Honey Nut Cheerios
- Donut's intermittent, and hilarious, appearances in various high-priced SUVs.
- A subtle one with Stringer's obsession with non-closed doors.
- Stringer and his underlings living in two separate worlds is played for laughs with a pattern. Every time he begins one of his lectures, the reaction shots say it all. Sometimes the mooks are just confused by the business-studies jargon he throws around. Eventually when String starts at it, they sigh and their faces show apprehension as they quickly recognize what is coming.
- In season 2, Jimmy's inability to tie up a boat properly is mocked by several people you wouldn't expect to know the first thing about it.
Jimmy: Here, Bubs, tie this to that thing, will ya?
Bubbles: The cleat? [ties it off perfectly]
- McNulty picking up the daily paper without buying one, even from a newspaper rack before the previous customer closes the box.
- When a homicide detective is caught sleeping on duty, he gets his necktie cut and pinned to a board.
- The fact that no one in the police can properly type or even spell is a recurring joke throughout the series.
Bunk: Well, would we be police if we could?
- Poot's inability to keep it in his pants leading to his many trips to a clinic for treatment of venereal diseases.
- Rustproof Blood:
- Subverted: at first, it appears that Michael has shot Chris and Snoop, but it turns out that it was a training exercise with paintball rounds.
- Played straight, however, with the blood of the store clerk left to frame Omar.
- Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: The Greek. While Baltimore's drug gangs rule over petty kingdoms and fall apart almost as soon as they rise, the Greek's empire is a serious international crime syndicate.
- Sarcastic Confession: Major Colvin did tell the other majors that he was planning on legalizing drugs in his district. They just thought he was kidding.
- Save Our Students: Played fairly straight. Prez struggles to adopt to his new life as a teacher, and the class barrier between him and his students makes his transition very difficult, but he grows pretty quickly and gets his class in line within the first school year. Even still, he cannot win every battle.
- Scary Black Man: Most of the gangs' enforcers. The cops even have a shorthand for less-than-useful witness descriptions, "B. N. B. G." ("Big Negro, Big Gun").
- Scenery Gorn: The beautiful locales of West Baltimore are captured in all their glory.
Santangelo: No disrespect to your appendix, but if them terrorists do fuck up the Western, could anybody even tell?
- Schmuck Bait:
- Herc and Carver roust a corner of the drug dealers, when one of the youngest ones grabs the drug stash and takes off through the alleys. The cops all tear off in pursuit, and then another kid comes walking by, casually picks up the real drug stash, and disappears.
- Season 5, during one of the corners "time out" moments. Kenard blatantly stashed a brown bag "package" in plain view for the western "narcos" to see. Without question, militant cop Colicchio snatches the whole corner. When he reaches inside the package, he pulls out a hand full of dog shit.
- School Study Media: College courses on The Wire abound.
- The Scream: Omar's reaction after viewing the mutilated body of his lover Brandon at a Baltimore morgue. The camera cuts to McNulty's sons (who are waiting in the main lobby for their father) freezing in shock when he screams.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful! : Hello, Attorney! Rhonda Pearlman uses Judge Phelan's attraction to her to get favorable rulings out of him a few times. In Season 3, Rhonda uses a short skirt and a seductive smile to convince Judge Phelan to authorize a wiretap that the cops technically don't have a valid probable cause for.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right/Honor Before Reason: Many examples where personal or professional ethics clashes with the wishes of the higher-ups and the chain of command. It's almost a foregone conclusion how that usually turns out for the mavericks.
- Secret Test of Character: Stringer sends Bodie and some other Mooks to Philadelphia to pick up some drugs stashed in a parked car. He has Bodie memorize the route and plans to check his odometer down to the tenth of a mile. What Bodie doesn't know is that Stringer has a car following Bodie the whole time, and the route he picked goes right through a construction zone (necessitating a detour) just to see how Bodie would handle it.
- Second Coming: Judge's Phelan amusingly cites it as his criteria to grant parole to a convicted murderer.
: Mr. Hilton, are you the second coming of our savior? [...] Are you Jesus Christ come back to Earth?
- Series Fauxnale: The ending of season three, since David Simon wasn't 100% sure whether The Wire would return for the fourth and fifth seasons.
- Serious Business:
- The annual basketball game between the Barksdale crew and Proposition Joe's men. The entire neighborhood shuts down to watch it and Avon thinks nothing of paying $20,000 to hire a ringer for his team.
- Business doesn't get more serious than a stained glass window at Father Lewandowski's church. Because of a beef over that window, lives are destroyed, careers are made, a union is brought low, and the MCU is formed.
- Sex Slave: The plot of Season 2 kicks off when a shipping container full of dead Eastern European sex slaves are found on the Baltimore docks.
- Shaggy Dog Story: One of the main themes of the show is the idea that no matter what, the game is always on. Which is pretty much reinforced with the last montage showing how every character is replaced by someone in one way or another.
- Sherlock Scan:
- Lester: "This is a tomb. Lex is in there." Cue baffled looks from his colleagues.
- A subtle variant shows up in the third episode. When Sydnor is preparing to go undercover as an addict in the Pit, Kima asks Bubbles to give him feedback on the disguise, which Sydnor thinks is completely flawless. Bubble points out that any drug dealer would immediately know that he's a cop because he's wearing a wedding ring (when a real addict would have long since pawned off such a valuable item to pay for drugs) and because the soles of his shoes are clean (when a real addict would have broken glass on their shoes from walking over discarded vials).
- Shirtless Scene: McNulty, Avon, Daniels, D'Angelo, Omar, Stringer.
- Shown Their Work: When it was on the air, The Wire was considered to be quite possibly the most realistic, accurate, and brutally honest television show on the air. One sociologist called the show the greatest sociological text ever created.
- Shrouded in Myth: Omar. After he is shot by Kenard the story makes the rounds through the streets getting bigger each time it's told. When another character who knows the truth tries to correct someone, no one believes him. 'The bigger the lie, the more they believe.'
- Sibling Yin-Yang: The Sobotka brothers; Frank is crooked while Louis is straight, their children (brotherly cousins) too. Ziggy is The Ditz, The Load, a malaka (wanker) who talks way too much while Nick is smart, reliable and concise.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Played straight with almost every character from the police, the politicians, corner boys, workers, and fiends. Notably averted by Omar Little, who (after one incident early in season one) never swears at all. When he finally breaks his habit in an explitive-laden public tirade against Marlo, it's a sign of his degenerating composure and state of mind.
- Slave to PR: An omnipresent driving force behind many situations. After all, politics it's part of the game.
- Sleeping Single: As part of the Daniels' marital breakdown, by the end of season 2 they're in separate bedrooms.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Definitely on the cynical side.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Cheese is the game's version of this. There is not a single season that he appears in where he doesn't get completely punked out at least once, and if he weren't Prop Joe's nephew he probably wouldn't have gotten anywhere near where he got. And then when he finally gets on top of the drug game, it lasts all of one scene before Slim Charles puts a bullet in his brain.
- Smart People Wear Glasses: Lester, Stringer and Prop. Joe's cleverness is often underscored by their need to use reading glasses. Landsman puts on glasses when he pretends to be a professor operating a lie detector.
- Smoking Is Cool: Omar and Bunk.
- Smug Snake: Ervin Burrell, Maurice Levy and Clay Davis.
- Sophisticated as Hell:
- Used in both a verbal and non-verbal sense when Stringer is shown attending an Introduction to Macroeconomics class (and uses the lesson in the next scene).
- This trope is to David Simon as Buffy Speak is to Joss Whedon.
Bubbles: You're equivocating like a motherfucker, man.
Carver: Did you just use the word 'habitat' in a sentence?
Brother Mouzone: Let me be emphatic, you need to take your black ass across Charles Street where it belongs.
Bodie: Man, better go on before I lose my composure out this bitch!
Stringer: Nigga, you ain't got the floor. Chair don't recognise yo ass. [...] Adjourn your asses.
Fat Face Rick: Uh, point of order and shit
Cheese: Shit was unseemly man—Incursions? Ain't you the articulate motherfucker?
Poot: Do the chair know we gonna look like a bunch of punk-ass bitches?
- Spell My Name with a "The": The Bunk.
- Spiritual Successor:
- To Homicide: Life on the Street and an unofficial expansion/continuation to Simon/Burns' The Corner.
- Also to Oz. It's an epic crime drama with a huge cast of characters, it's known for blending gritty depictions of crime with philosophy and liberal social commentary, and it spends much of its running time discussing institutional dysfunction and the perils of government bureaucracy. The fact that a huge chunk of Oz's cast is also in The Wire note just strengthens it.
- Got its own in the form of David Simon's Treme, which keeps the show's general style and format (large ensemble cast, interweaving plotlines, etc.) but takes place in New Orleans instead of Baltimore, and widens its scope beyond the world of crime and law enforcement.
- Spoiler Opening: Every opening contains clips from episodes later on in the season, but they don't make much sense until you see them in context.
- Spotting the Thread:
- Bubbles easily tears apart Sydnor's cover during the rehearsal and points out anyone on the street would do the same; a dope fiend would have pawned his ring a long time ago and his shoes are too clean with no trace of broken drug vials.
- In the last episodes, Levy realizes something is fishy in the Stanfield case, as Jimmy and Lester tainted the due process, but he can't really Pull the Thread as he has his own skeletons in the closet
- Stuffed into the Fridge: Omar's boyfriend, Brandon Wright. Displayed on the hood of a car in the projects.
- Straight Gay: Omar, Omar's various boyfriends, and Word of God confirms this about Commander Rawls.
- String Theory: The Major Crimes Unit's pegboards are a fairly low-key example.
- Stealth Pun: The tale of Frank Sobotka, particularly how he ends up. It's a Greek tragedy.
- Stupid Crooks: Zig-Zagged, which is pretty much Truth in Television. David Simon writes in Homicide, for instance, that what helps homicide detectives in the vast majority of cases is murderers tend towards incompetence. Of course, Avon, Stringer, Marlo, and Prop Joe are anything but stupid, and the disciplines they devise (such as Avon's payphone scheme) help mitigate this as it applies to their organizations. Played straight with various other characters, like Cheese, DeShawn Fredricks, and Bird.
- Stylistic Suck: McNulty's intentionally horrible British accent—Dominic West is British himself.
- Super Window Jump: Unfortunately, it doesn't work too well for Omar; he ends up with a broken leg that never fully heals. note
- Surrounded by Idiots: There is a chronic deficit of competence across the spectrum.
- Valchek, who is protrayed in a villainous light, vocally complains that the first Sobotka detail under Lieutenant Grayson is full of "humps", and he's right.
- Proposition Joe suffers from it thanks to an enforced nepotism.
Joe: I got motherfuckin' nephews and in-laws fucking all my shit up all the time and it ain't like I can pop a cap in their ass and not hear about it Thanksgivin' time. For real, I'm livin' life with some burdensome niggers.
- Sometimes Played for Laughs with Stringer Bell and his subordinates, the more he interacts with his minions, the more it becomes evident. By season 3 you can tell this is going through his head all the time as he tries to use his business smarts to reform the Barksdale gang. Comically aggravated by his use of advanced economics terms with barely literate underlings whose intelligence is like a 40 degree day.
- Slim also feels this way thanks to less than competent members of the gang like Sapper and Gerard.
As usual man, y'all fools are missing my point.
- In Season 3, Avon is unable to recruit any quality muscle for a while—with Slim being an honorable exception- and is burdened with a bunch of morons at first, until he hires some soldiers from the Eastside. On rare occasions, Avon has to call Stringer out on his mistakes.
- Suspect Is Hatless: The Baltimore Homicide Unit equivalent for a generic useless description is "Big Negro, Big Gun" or "BNBG" as coined by Bunk. The term is introduced in the Season 3 finale when Andy Krawczyck fails to describe Omar—who on top of being Famed In-Story doesn't go anywhere without his Badass Longcoat and has a distinctive scar right across his face and stands in front of him long enough for the witness to take a good look at his face. This conveys how the street is an alien world for an uptown white citizen and the minuscule help the police can expect from most of them.
- Suspiciously Apropos Music: Subverted with the music that plays as Ziggy gets his ass handed to him in season two. Love child. The prank prompts an Actually Pretty Funny smirk from Nick.
- Swiss Bank Account: The unsophisticated Marlo has to be schooled about this (Antillean off-shore version) and even then he decides to visit the bank in person to verify that his money is actually there.
- Sympathetic P.O.V.: The point of the show, as the story itself is seen through the perspectives of cops, drug dealers, foreigners, students, politicians and the media, showing in great detail the context behind every problem.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage:
- In the second season, with people who all claim not to speak English.
- In season 3 The Bunk, when trying to recover a police gun, interviews several convicts who can't help him, including some who try to sell him other guns.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Happens quite often.
- McNulty gets several over the course of five seasons, even Rawls slips one in while trying to console Jimmy in the wake of Kima getting shot. Landsman crafts the ultimate in the last episode and Bunk delivers comprehensive ones regularly:
Bunk: You've lost your fucking mind, Jimmy. Look at you. Half-lit every third night, dead drunk every second. Nut deep in random pussy. What little time you are sober and limp-dicked, you're working murders that don't even exist!
Bunk: The thing of it is, Lieutenant... Jimmy McNulty, when he ain't policing he's a picture postcard of a drunken, self-destructive fuck-up. And when he is policing... he's pretty much the same motherfucker. But on a good case, he runnin' in front of the pack. That's as close as the man comes to bein' right.
- Sobotka gives one to Valcheck that roots their feud deep into personal territory.
- Omar gets a nasty armor-piercing one from Bunk in Season 3:
Omar: Shit, the way y'all look at it [a double murder] there ain't no victim at all.
Bunk: Bullshit, boy. No victim? I just came from Tosha's people, remember? All this death, you don't think it ripples out? You don't even know what the fuck I'm talking about. I was a few years ahead of you at Edmondson, but I know you remember the neighborhood, how it was. We had some bad boys, for real. Wasn't about guns so much as knowing what to do with your hands. Those boys could really rack. My father had me on the straight, but like any young man, I wanted to be hard too, so I'd turn up at all the house parties where the tough boys hung. Shit, they knew I wasn't one of them. Them hard cases would come up to me and say, "Go home, schoolboy, you don't belong here." Didn't realize at the time what they were doing for me. As rough as that neighborhood could be, we had us a community. Nobody, no victim, who didn't matter. And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherfuckers like you. And out where that girl fell, I saw kids acting like Omar, calling you by name, glorifying your ass. Makes me sick, motherfucker, how far we done fell.
- Carver gets a rare lenient one from Colvin on how he isn't much of a police officer.
- Avon calls Stringer out when he grows tired of him trying to avoid war even after Avon is almost killed.
- One of the best has Nicky Sobotka slapping Frog hard with his "You Know You're White?" speech.
- Theme Music Power-Up: Omar whistling "The Farmer in the Dell".
- Thicker Than Water: Factored in, anticipated and defied by Stringer in his decision to off D'Angelo, Avon's nephew, as explained in his motive speech
Stringer: But there go a life that had to be snatched, Avon (...) Twenty years above his fucking head. He'd flip, man! They got you, me, and Brianna! No fucking way, man! Hell, no! Now, I know you family, you loved that nigga, but you wanna talk that Blood is thicker than water bullshit, you take that shit somewhere else, nigga! That motherfucker would've taken down the whole fucking show, starting with you, killer!"
- Thieves' Guild:
- Stringer trying to run syndicate meetings according to Roberts' Rules of Order. Often played for laughs, as the members of the board aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer.
Nigger you ain't got the floor. Chair don't recognise yo ass, man.
- Stringer and Prop. Joe take it to citywide levels with the Co-Op, while Marlo is opposed to it.
Joe: For a cold-ass crew of gangstaz, y'all carried it like Republicans and shit.
- Third-Person Person: Bunk, Omar, Bubbles and Cheese all do this from time to time.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Chris and Snoop in season 4.
- Those Two Guys: Bodie and Poot in the first two seasons; Herc and Carver throughout the series
- Three-Way Sex: Jimmy has a threesome with two prostitutes while he is undercover during a bust; he ends up justifying it as, "I was outnumbered." and has to write a report on why he did it, as obviously he wasn't meant to "close the deal" before the other police arrived to arrest everyone. It becomes such a legend in the Baltimore PD that other characters are still talking about it several seasons later.
- Too Clever by Half:
- Jimmy "I'm the smartest asshole in three districts" McNulty is mostly propulsed by his intellectual vanity and this consumes his life (when he is not philandering). He's even professionally trounced once by Freamon and Bunk when they have already figured out one case before he is able to smugly expose it. Finally his shenanigans lead to no good.
- Stringer Bell, a businessman at heart, knows or thinks he is way above the "gangsta bullshit", but he quickly fails in the respectable suit and tie part of the game and his manipulations end up backfiring on him.
Avon: I look at you these days, String, you know what I see? I see a man without a country. Not hard enough for this right here and maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there.
- Took a Level in Badass:
- In the series finale, we find out that like many rookie teachers after a few years, Prez has become a pillar of authority, with a Badass Beard to boot.
- Between the third and fourth seasons, Carver also Took a Level in Badass after taking to mind Major Colvin's lecture about needing to know something about the street, and not just bust heads.
- Lampshaded by Bunk and McNulty regarding Beadie, "She wasn't much when we started, now she's got game"
- Trademark Favorite Food: Omar loves his breakfast cereal, particularly Honey Nut Cheerios, which he finds hard to get.
- Tragic Hero: Frank Sobotka is an intricate character and in consonancy with the complexity of the show he is portrayed with Anti-Villain, Well-Intentioned Extremist etc traits, but in any case he gets dragged into the nefarious game while his only goal is to save the comatose waterfront and the jobs of his workers.
''We used to build shit in this country. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket"
- Trauma Conga Line: Season 4 subjects Randy and Bubbles to this, especially in the Wham Episode.
- Trojan Horse: A few.
- When Rawls is frustrated by the Major Crimes Unit, he sends in Lieutenant Marimow to take over command and disrupt the unit from within. Marimow forces the unit to focus on "street rips," which is the exact thing the unit was created to get away from, rendering the MCU useless. Rawls even calls him "Marimow, my Trojan Horse."
- When Omar wants to rob a Barksdale stash house and disguises himself as an old man in a wheelchair to gain entry, claiming to be related to the home's owner. He even has the guards carry him up the stairs before Kimmy pulls out a gun and Omar gets one from a guard.
- When Freamon slickly sells the entire drug ring pre-tapped cell phones.
- True Companions: A lot of the cops might hate each other. In fact, a lot of them do. But when a cop gets shot, the all forget their differences and all work together.
- Twofer Token Minority: Korean-African-American Lesbian Detective Kima Greggs is at least a twofer, though her tokenhood is questionable given the show's diverse cast.
- Two-Teacher School: Averted in the fourth season. Multiple scenes show teachers at an inner-city Baltimore school debating issues such as curriculums, test preparations, and overall teaching structures; we also see shots of teachers giving lectures to their classes. Played straight when it comes to actual class focus, however.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm:
- Lt. Marimo, with a well known unit-killer reputation in the fourth season. Invoked by Rawls, who sends him to the unit to specifically disrupt the unit from inside. The previous laid-back mild boss returns once the political tide changes.
- Marlo dismantling the Co-Op and assuming an autocratic rule over the drug trade mirrors the classic takeover executed by many tyrants in the history of mankind.
- Übermensch: Omar Little, personal-code warrior
- Unwinnable by Design: As remarked by Bodie ("This game is rigged man") and Marla Daniels ("You cannot lose if you do not play.") amongst others. The game is the game; the system in The Wire shapes itself and is merely perpetuated by those at the top, who are just an instrument to screw over those below them.
- Updated Re-release: The Wire was remastered into widescreen high definition in late 2014, 6 years after ending its original run. Since the opus was conceived in a 4:3 ratio, a lot of thought and care went into the process from all sides to respect the artistic integrity of the work.
- Urban Segregation: Many districts are a perpetual warzone and there is a big concern about Baltimore becoming a Dying Town. One episode has Bubbles traveling from a nice residential zone to his usual decayed habitat and remarking "thin line 'tween heaven and here".
- Utopia Justifies the Means: Bunny Colvin's Hamsterdam project can be considered a mild example. It greatly improved public safety and quality of life for Baltimore citizens, but it involved allowing criminals to peddle drugs unhindered, and brutally punishing the dealers who refused to move to the free zone.
- Viewer-Friendly Interface:
- Apparently, on The Wire, Halo 2 features its title at the bottom of the screen at all times during gameplay.
- For the most part, however, this is averted: most applications seen on the show are plain Win32 GDI apps running on Windows XP. The animations on the dock monitoring software are a little unbelievable (a little truck drives away with the container?), and once a search for "suspects" was done using what appeared to be the Windows Explorer File Search (with a call to the contact done through the Windows Telephony dialog), but jaggy, aliased 2D polygons and unframed text boxes in clunky custom programs are far more believable on a city police computer than full-3D operating systems that can enhance a 4 pixel area.
- Perhaps the worst is Nick's search for the uses of the chemicals Vondas wants him to steal. The first hit is an absurdly simplistic page that literally just says they're used to process cocaine.
- Vandalism Backfire: Major Rawls trashes a desk thinking it belongs to Jimmy McNulty, his soon-to-be former (in)subordinate. He is informed that the stuff actually belongs to another detective. In line with his usual bluntness, Rawls doesn't seem to care much for the mistake.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: You're expected to keep up with multiple plot lines, a dozen-plus characters and their sub-stories, and all their field terminology with no Expospeak provided. David Simon's quote "Fuck the average viewer" famously summarizes his writing style.
- Villain-by-Proxy Fallacy: A major theme of the series. Best shown in their depiction of the drug war, or from Major Valchek. Check out the trope itself to see the details.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Senator Clay Davis.
- Villainous Breakdown:
- Omar shows signs toward the end of season 5 as his physical condition deteriorates and his Roaring Rampage of Revenge becomes more and more disasterous.
- Stringer has one in "Middle Ground", unfortunately for him it gets cut short by Brother Mouzone and Omar showing up.
- Marlo has one when he hears about Omar calling him out all his time and flies into a complete rage for the first time in the series.
- Villain Decay: The Barksdale organization begins the series at the height of its power, ruling the drug trade of West Baltimore with an iron fist and flying under everyone's radar until McNulty takes issue against them. The police, the law, internal dissent and other street rivals gradually bring the organization down and Avon's kingdom ceases to exist in the last seasons.
- Villains Out Shopping: Several times.
- In the Third Season, Herc and Carver run into Poot and Bodie while all four of them are on dates.
- The fourth season opens with a hilarious scene of Snoop buying a nailgun at Home Depot. Subverted as it turns out it's a work-related purchase.
- In Season 1 McNulty catches Stringer Bell out grocery shopping and has his children tail him, a fact that doesn't impress his estranged wife.
- A reversed Season 3 partial example has Stringer trying to sell a condo to McNulty. In this way, Stringer points out real estate and not villainy is now his full-time job.
- Villainous Friendship:
- Avon and Stringer go way back and are like brothers. Avon and Wee-Bay have a genial relationship.
- The Greek and Vondas are genuinely close.
- Marlo is unvariably cold but has a rare affective relationship with Chris.
- Vomiting Cop:
- McNulty in season one, when he listens to the tape of Kima getting shot. Slightly different from most examples in that he's not even at the scene, and when it actually happened he kept his cool. It's only in reliving the experience when he loses it.
- In season two, it looks like Beadie's about to throw up after the discovers the 13 dead girls in a shipping container, but she keeps it together. Not bad for a woman whose main work experience up to that point was taking tolls, and a hint that she's a lot tougher than she looks.
- Was It Really Worth It?: Discussed between Lester and Jimmy in the aftermath of the Stanfield case, without a clear answer.
- The War on Terror:
- The local Baltimore police discovers that drug trafficking has fallen off the FBI's priority list and they can't get Bureau assistance in their anti-drug cases anymore, counter-terrorism is now the focus. The last remaining case, powerfully finished is used as a counterpoint to the miseries faced by BPD. However Agent Fitz is a dear friend of McNulty's, the wiretapping idea originates from him and provides valuable assistance from time to time on a personal level; Agent Fitzhugh hooks them up with an expedited wiretap by registering Stringer Bell as a homeland security threat named "Ahmed") and ironically they crack the case with the help of equipment granted to the BPD by a Homeland Security grant that was buried on a back shelf for years
- Season 2 has the closest FBI-BPD collaboration since waterfronts are a homeland security issue
- The Greek invokes the new anti-terrorist sensibilities against some colombian drug dealers (narcoterrorists) who cheated him. It's implied the FBI mole protects The Greek regularly in exchange for counterterrorism information.
- One of the enthusiastically peddled drugs is called WMD. It supersedes "Bin Laden" in the market, but it's the same drug.
- The local cops being trained by the FBI crack jokes about the futility of their counter-terrorist instruction, Baltimore being already a war zone and how the drug-dealers would scare off any potential terrorist. Several Baltimore-Fallujah comparisons are made through the series.
- Old Face Andre compares being robbed by Omar to a terrorist act where there should be flexibility with the affected business, like with the airlines but Marlo shoots down the analogy and shows no sympathy to his plea.
- In the last episodes there is a plot about an Iraq war story of a marine embellished by a Sun journalist. The creators of the show would go on to truthfully examine the invasion in Generation Kill, which premiered just four months after the end of The Wire
- Watering Down: Due to its heavy focus on drug gangs, The Wire features the drug version of this trope in spades. Numbers are thrown around between the gangs to talk about the strength of their product; 'Take it to ten' or 'This stuff is ninety', referring to what percentage of the product is actually the drug, and in hard times, they weaken their product by cutting it with whatever similar-looking substance comes to hand to make more profit. In season two, there are five deaths and eight hospitalizations in the Correctional Facility because the supply of heroin has been cut with rat poison.
- We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: Averted: On the eve of the election, Mayor Royce distributes flyers near polling places that show Carcetti with a notorious slumlord. Even though they immediately determine them to be fake, Carcetti doesn't have the time to properly debunk them.
- Wham Episode: Usually the second-to-last episode of each season; most memorably, the eleventh episode of the third season.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: Averted. Nearly every one of the street thugs has a backstory and character development, and the deaths of even minor mooks are given dramatic weight.
- What Have I Done: One of the intonations of McNulty's catchphrase, "The fuck did I do?".
- What the Hell, Hero?:
- Bunk on the night after Jimmy's Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
- Subverted when Bunk brings Lester into the loop to talk some sense into Jimmy "Shit like this actually goes through your fucking brain?". But what Lester means is the lie needs more wings to fly and ends up encouraging McNulty to sensationalize the story.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: seen at the end of each season, with an extra-length one at the end of season five.
- Where Da White Women At?: Pearlman and Daniels must initially keep their relationship a secret because it becoming known that Daniels was divorcing his wife Marla and dating a white woman instead would harm Marla's political career.
- Where Were You Last Night?: In season 5, McNulty has such a scene with his lady, who knows he's cheating.
- White Gang-Bangers:
- The hoppers in white neighborhoods are generally portrayed as posturing wanna-bes. Herc visits Kima just to joke about how incompetent they are and suggests there should be Affirmative Action for white gangbangers. Herc and Nick Sobotka both deliver a "You know you're white, right?" line to a white gangbanger.
- "White Mike" McArdle is a mid-level dealer who seems to have a better grasp of the game. Given his nickname, he apparently associates with black gangs.
- Why Are You Looking at Me Like That?: In "Duck and Cover", the eighth episode of the second season, the major crimes unit is debating over who to send undercover at a brothel. Herc isn't subtle enough, Carver doesn't look like he'd have to pay, and Kima and Bunk both have domestic issues. In walks McNulty.
Kima: Takes a whore to catch a whore. (everyone starts laughing)
- Also done in Season 1; while in the office, [McNulty] finds out he's being called into an emergency custody hearing, and he doesn't have a lawyer. Then he and Landesman look at Perlman.
- Wicked Cultured: Stringer Bell attends college and gives his economical lessons a great practical use. The police are genuinely surprised when they discover his refined and elegant penthouse, full of classical books and styled very differently from the archetypal mansion of a drug-lord.
- Window Love: A staple of the second-season prison conversations.
- Working the Same Case: Rawls succesfully manages to unload the "clearance-killer" case of the thirteen dead women to Daniel's detail, also working the waterfronts for the Sobotka case. The tentative connection is eventually proven right by "Boris".
- Worthy Opponent:
- McNulty is proud to be chasing Barksdale, since "stupid criminals make stupid cops". Lester makes a similar remark, later expanded to Marlo after underestimating him at first.
- At the end of season 1, Stringer Bell tells McNulty "nicely done" at the trial. Which echoes McNulty saying the same to Stringer in the pilot.
- Wretched Hive: Bodymore, Murdaland. 300 murders a year. Note that the show goes out of its way to show "Hamsterdam" getting worse.
Rawls: If we had the population of New York, we'd be clocking over four-thousand murders at this pace.
- X Must Not Win: Freamon and McNulty take professional offense and put their careers on the line after Marlo stops being investigated.
Bunk: Marlo ain't worth it. Nobody is.
Jimmy: Marlo's an asshole. He does not get to win, we get to win!
- You Are Too Late: A common occurrence. Most notable in the second season where, due to an FBI mole, the Greek's organization twice gets tipped off just in time to destroy the evidence or murder the key witness. One scene literally cuts back and forth between the cops frantically typing up warrants and the dealers washing the heroin down the drain.
- You Bastard: David Simon is very clear that everyone is responsible to some degree for the problems depicted in the show. His finale letter basically tells his fans to get up and do something about it.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Marlo to Proposition Joe, who taught him the more complicated aspects of the game. It comes back to bite Marlo, as it leads to the discovery of the Grand Jury mole, which ultimately brings down his organization.
- Your Cheating Heart: Several examples. A chronic second nature for McNulty, The Casanova. Bunk to a lesser extent. The two hang out together pitching escapades in turn and play wingman or farcical comedy to home in the target of opportunity.
- Young Entrepreneur: Randy
- You Won't Feel a Thing: A variant appears in the fourth-season premiere, where enforcer Chris Partlow prepares to execute a dealer in a vacant house.
Chris: Don't fret, boss. I've got you covered. Quick and clean, I promise."
- Zipping Up the Bodybag: We see Omar's body bag being zipped up in the morgue at the end of an episode. Furthermore, in this scene, it's shown that there was a mistake with the ID tags, which the ME has to correct, which further emphasize the point: he's no longer a character, just a statistic.
It's all in the game.