YMMV / The Wire

  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Unsurprisingly for an HBO drama, the show is full of this:
    • Is Jimmy McNulty the Only Sane Man in a city full of police officers who have lost their way, or is he a dangerously unhinged Knight Templar with no regard for the law?
    • Is Stringer Bell a coldly pragmatic criminal mastermind who only cares about profit, or is he a Noble Demon who tries to bring some much-needed dignity and integrity into the criminal underworld that he was born into? In the end, did he meet a Karmic Death after telling one lie too many, or did he meet a tragic death after futilely trying to rise above his station in life?
    • Is Omar Little a bona fide modern-day Robin Hood (and the closest thing Baltimore has to a genuine hero) or is he just another crook who profits off of the drug trade and causes chaos for the simple thrill of it?
    • Tommy Carcetti. He's either a sellout, a narcissist who ultimately only cares about himself and his career, or a well-meaning politician who is forced to make compromises due to events beyond his control.
    • Baltimore, which is a character by itself. Is the town a forsaken post-industrial rotten apple that never found a new drive, or just a deeper of examination of ''the'' American City, and by extension America? The writers go beyond that and affirm that Baltimore represents any city of the Western civilization.
    • Was Avon trapped in a life of crime because he didn't know anything else or did he simply enjoy it?
      • Did he come to enjoy it because he was trapped?
  • And You Thought It Would Fail: The series was initially rejected by HBO, who weren't even sure that they wanted a police procedural in their programming lineup - they had to be convinced by David Simon (who had previously collaborated with them on 2000's The Corner) to produce a pilot episode. The resulting season didn't fare so great in the ratings, and the series was on the verge of cancellation - until critics started promoting the show as one of the best new series in years. The show subsequently survived multiple attempts at cancellation, lasted five seasons, and has been regarded as one of the best dramatic series produced from the 21st century.
  • Anvilicious:
    • Bunny Colvin's "legal drug zone" and the results thereof, reducing violent crime by 14% only for the plan to be struck down and Colvin forced to resign due to a PR shitstorm, seems to be a commentary on how the War on Drugs is a complete failure... but doing anything to stop it is political suicide.
    • While they are well crafted into the general theme about dysfunction, the metaphors about The War on Terror in general and the then ongoing Iraqi War (season 3 was produced in 2004) in particular are not subtle by the standards of the The Wire. But then again, many would agree than Simon's vision was Vindicated by History, if not right from the beginning.
      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.
  • Award Snub: The Wire didn't win a single Emmy and was nominated for only two (for writing). This despite routinely being the subject of gushing critical praise and more than once being declared the Best Show Ever. This might be because the Emmy nominations are done on the strength of a single episode that the producers submit to the judges, and this show is difficult to appreciate (or even understand) by watching a single isolated episode.
  • Better on DVD: Due to the huge cast, intricate plot, and stubborn refusal to hold the viewer's hand, it's much easier to catch all of the details by binge-watching. (Between this aspect and the relentless focus on the drug war, policing, race, and the headaches of the modern American city, it seems to have been tailor-made not for the decade it was made in but the one after.)
  • Commitment Anxiety: One of the reasons why the show wasn't more successful. The show can be downright intimidating to newcomers, as the deliberate pacing, ruthlessly bleak tone, absolute rejection of Acceptable Breaks from Reality and Expospeak, and a level of Shown Their Work that demands some knowledge on the fields covered, all seem purpose-built to drive off anyone not willing to meet the show on its level.
  • Complete Monster: Marlo Stanfield, the Big Bad in seasons 4 and 5, is introduced in season 3 as a ruthless, up-and-coming drug lord who forgoes a membership in a profitable coalition of drug lords who teamed up to increase their profit, end the violence between their factions, and deter police attention, and instead decides to wage war against the Barksdale organization after the gang's Number Two made the offer, interpreting his pragmatism as weakness. Marlo's crimes include ordering Junebug and his family killed because there was hearsay Junebug called Marlo a "dick-sucker"; ordering Snoop to kill his 14-year-old soldier, Michael on the suspicion he was a rat; and murdering his mentor, Proposition Joe, when he learns everything he could from him. The most horrifying reveal about Marlo is the discovery of his tombs, vacant houses where he stores the preserved bodies of people he ordered murdered. Over twenty people were found in the tombs, and not just rival criminals. One of his most pointlessly cruel acts was after he deliberately egged on a security guard in a convenience store by committing petty theft in front of him. Though the guard only responded by telling Marlo he had a family to support, and essentially asked for nothing more than to be treated like a human being, Marlo still ordered him killed for "talking back." In a crime series where even the most despicable criminals were humanized and sympathetic to some degree, Marlo Stanfield was just a power-hungry sociopath whose mere presence darkened an already pessimistic show known for its Grey and Gray Morality.
  • Creator's Pet: Gus Haynes, an obvious stand-in for David Simon whose Incorruptible Pure Pureness sticks out like a sore thumb.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: The show's bleak tone, with so many sympathetic characters ground between the cogs of the system while the same system rewards some of its most heinous members, can alienate some viewers. That said, the show does have a lot of humor on it, which Simon has admitted to inserting to prevent the show from too depressing.
  • Death of the Author: There have been some arguments that the creator's stated message and moral for the show is not the same as the message that many viewers infer. There was even a Harvard symposium that addressed this at one point. This is probably because the show's depiction of Baltimore's social structure is so realistic and detailed that it presents realities that are open to a wide variety of interpretations. It's fairly easy for a viewer to come to a different conclusion than David Simon's (mostly left-wing) views.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: Inevitable given the moral complexity of the show. The criminals are so nuanced and three-dimensional that it's easy to forget they can be very bad guys. The charismatic Stringer Bell, a man trapped between two worlds, is a main example. Being played by Idris Elba also helps.
  • Ear Worm: The Wire is second only to its contemporary and HBO stablemate The Sopranos for effective use of music in the Golden Age of Television, and much of it has a habit of getting stuck in the viewer's head:
    • Each variant of "Way Down in the Hole" used as an opening theme is an ear worm in its own way.
    • The Greek songs (both by legend of '60s-'80s Greek pop Stelios Kazantzidis) played towards the end of Season 2's "Bad Dreams" have a particular way of getting stuck in your head, particularly the one viewers usually call "Ephyge" (because of the refrain), but actually entitled "Ena sidero anameno."
  • Ensemble Darkhorse:
    • Omar Little. Even Barack Obama has called him his favorite character. Dennis Lehane revealed that he was given the duty of writing Omar's death scene specifically because none of the other writers wanted to be known as the guy who killed Omar.
    • Slim Charles is also very popular for a relatively minor character. Reliable, competent, honorable and loyal, he displays plenty of positive but scarce virtues.
    • During a premier party for Season 5's debut, the loudest cheer for cast/character accrediting went to Michael B. Jordan/Wallace.
    • Pryzbylewski, for some.
    • Senator Clay Davis. Owing it to his magnificent bastardy and his trademark catchphrase. In seasons 1 and 2 he's mostly a One-Scene Wonder any time he appears, in seasons 3 and 4 he's much more involved in some of the series' subplots and finally in season five he's a regular cast member appearing in most episodes and even having one mostly devoted to tying up his storyline.
    • Bodie too.
    • Felicia Pearson/Snoop. The opening scene of Season 4 when she bought a nailgun probably had something to do with that.
  • Evil Is Cool:
    • Prop. Joe, Avon and Stringer are highly competent, have more than a fair share of introspective and quotable dialogue and benefit from superb and naturalistic acting, which turns them into magnetic characters without harming the realism, as they don't rely on over-the-top exploits, just their deep personality.
    • Omar is undoubtedly cool, but it's left up to the viewer to classify him as evil or not. Brother Mouzone, another smooth operator who doesn't target civilians is a similar case.
    • Among the major players, Marlo is probably the one who avoids the trope, as he's very cold, aloof and unsophisticated. But even Stanfield is given a shining moment when he single-handedly bests two corner punks in the finale.
  • Fandom Rivalry: The Wire nowadays gets comparisons to Breaking Bad.
  • Genius Bonus: "Herc" is notable for his strong South Bronx accent. South Bronx is the birthplace of hip hop, and its resident DJ Kool Herc is considered the father of the genre.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • We get a lot of looks into the culture of the Baltimore P.D., including some of its more violent tendencies—and then, early in Carcetti's tenure as Mayor, there's an incident where the police culture is brought into question after a minister gets the wrong end of it and the suggestion that a civilian review board be established be brought up and politicking between the State's Attorney and police about what to do. Fast forward to 2015: the death of Freddie Gray brings that selfsame culture of the BPD to national attention, and the result is protests across Baltimore City (and even Baltimore County) and riots in West Baltimore; proposals for stronger civilian review of police brutality; the State's Attorney filing charges of murdernote  against one of the cops responsible and serious manslaughter charges against the rest; and the federal Department of Justice starting a "pattern and practice" inquiry into the BPD at the Mayor's request. Oh, and Martin O'Malley (of whom Carcetti is generally seen as being something of a No Celebrities Were Harmed version)—he was running for President on the left wing of the Democratic Party at the time. The incident drew attention to O'Malley's role in creating the BPD's culture during his tenure as Mayor (particularly his acceptance of the systems that encouraged stats-juking), shifting him from being a long-shot candidate to no-shot.
    • As per the title of the show, wire-tapping and other methods of electronic surveillance factor heavily into the methods of the BPD. While the show already lends moral ambiguity to many of its characters and their actions, many of the attempts and victories managed by the CID are much more troublesome to post-Snowden American viewers.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Rawls is very angry in the first episodes because the Deputy is "busting his balls" over some case he has no clue about. Once the viewer learns how overbearing Rawls is, it's funny and gratifying to hear that for once, someone is sweating Rawls and giving him a hard time.
    • Lester Freamon, likely the best detective of the story, is dismissed as a hump or a cuddly house cat in the first episodes. Little do they know he's natural police.
    • McNulty picking up the waitress in season 2, after Dominic West got a whole show about his character cheating on his wife with a waitress, The Affair. And he clashes once again with John Doman, who is his father-in-law. Just think about a family reunion with Rawls and McNulty.
    • After playing a perpetual screw-up cop here, Jim True-Frost would play the straightest of straight-arrow cops Eliot Ness in Boardwalk Empire.
    • We finally get to see Avon and Wallace together in the Rocky spin-off film Creed.
    • In the creator's commentary, David Simon mentions how hard Idris Elba took his character getting killed off and says that he had to assure Elba that he was talented enough get other roles. Elba has since become the most successful alumni of the show.
    • Scott Templeton, the reporter of The Baltimore Sun who finds success through falsifying flashy stories, is played by Thomas McCarthy, who would go on to direct the movie Spotlight, which was about the dedicated reporters of the Boston Globe who cracked open the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in Massachusetts. McCarthy went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, making it even more hilarious.
  • Ho Yay:
    • Herc and some gangsters are messing around with the Make-a-Face program at the station, making their ideal girl. Carver then walks out and the camera subtly highlights the similarity. Not to mention Herc and Carver reuniting in season two.
      Carver (from off-camera): Don't you be grabbin' my dick, faggot!
    • When Carver is promoted in the finale, his family is nowhere to be seen. Herc is there instead, quick to congratulate and embrace him first.
    • In episode 5 when McNulty gets so excited that Prez has solved the phone number code that he grabs Prez and kisses him on the mouth.
    • If it weren't for Herc and Carver, Bunk might just be the patron saint of Ho Yay.
    Bunk: Fuck Norris. You're my real partner Lester. My life partner. (*Norris laughs)
    Lester (*starts to walk away): Don't tease, bitch.
    Bunk (*to Norris): Look at that bow-legged motherfucker. I made him walk like that.
    • And Avon and Stringer have a Heterosexual Life-Partners dynamic in the first season, which gets strained in the second when Avon is in prison and Stringer figuratively gets into bed with Prop Joe without telling Avon, which is treated like Stringer having an affair behind Avon's back. In the third season, they play traditional gender roles; Stringer is the distant "husband" who arrives suitcase in hand, late and tired after a day's work, while Avon is the "housewife" who stays at home taking care of it and of the internal problems.
  • Hype Backlash: Inevitable, given that it is regularly called the "Greatest Television Show Ever", with some going so far as to call it the modern "Great American Novel", thanks to its many literary aspects.
  • Magnificent Bastard:
    • Stringer, Proposition Joe, and McNulty attempt it at various times, with various levels of success.
    • Clay Davis is more successful than all of them, carrying out his corrupt schemes and getting away with them scot-free.
    • He's lower-key than the other examples, but Freamon quietly maneuvers with the best of them, usually right under everyone else's noses.
    • The biggest in the series, however, is probably the Greek. In spite of all the shit he's involved in, the cops can only connect him with a nickname. The punchline? He's not even Greek.
    • Valchek deserves some credit for being the last man standing. He's not "one of the natives" and never moves a finger to improve the city, but he's very good at playing politics and no matter what he does or how much of a jerkass he is, he always gets away with it and winds up rising in the ranks.
  • Memetic Badass: Omar and Brother Mouzone, in-universe.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "Where's (insert name of thing here) at?"
    • "Omar coming!"
    • "It's all in the game."
    • "Sheeeeeeeeeeeit." There have been posters made parodying the famous Obama Hope poster, with Davis replacing Obama and the word SHIT replacing HOPE.
    • Basically, any and all of the Catch Phrases listed above.
    • "Got that WMD!"
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • For Stringer: arranging D'Angelo's death. Dee was one of the only completely likeable members of the Barksdale gang and was on the way up education-wise at The Cut. Then Stringer has him killed and makes it look like a suicide just because he's afraid of Dee ratting to lower his sentence, and he does so without Manipulative Bastard Avon's consent. Not to mention the fact that before and after the hit he spends a lot of the time fucking D'Angelo's girlfriend, and even has the balls to pick up and hold D'Angelo's infant son while he's plotting to have his dad murdered. Holy shit.
    • Carcetti goes from being a decent candidate with ambition not only for high office but also to make a difference, to leading an administration perhaps more morally bankrupt than the one that preceded him. His corruption is complete when he refuses to ask for money from the Republican governor to save the city's education system as this will hurt him politically when he runs against the governor, abandoning the city he promised to save.
      • AND THEN, after justifying the above decision by saying he can help the schools from a better position, when he begins his race for governor, he promises half of any new school funds created in the state to be sent to Prince George's County just to avoid a primary challenge.
    • Marlo was never very far from it to begin with, but all of his early killing were at least related to The Game. Then, in season 4, he deliberately shoplifts a $.25 lollipop while making eye contact with the security guard just to tweak him. When the man confronts him outside the store and basically asks to be treated like a human being, Marlo blows him off. And then has him murdered.
      Marlo: You want it to be one way, but it's the other way.
  • Offending the Creator's Own: David Simon, who is Jewish himself, caught a lot of flak for creating such a stereotypically villainous Jewish character as Maurice Levy.
  • One-Scene Wonder: The 1968 mayor, "white Tony", who, in the parable of the bowls of shit, graphically describes governing as eating shit from one community or another, time and again.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
    • Michael B. Jordan has become easily the most successful of the show's younger actors, making it pretty fun to see him so young here.
    • This was Idris Elba's first major role. Near the end of his stint, David Simon had to reassure a struggling Idris that he would find good acting jobs again.
    • After the huge success of Game of Thrones, Tommy Carcetti is probably better known to people as Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish.
    • Likewise, Lance Reddick may be better known to people not as Cedric Daniels, but as Philip Broyles.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Practically mandatory, as you can appreciate just how well put together the show is far more when you're not spending the first couple episodes of every single season drowning in new characters. This is a major factor in the show's above-mentioned Award Snub.
  • The Scrappy:
    • Kenard for being a horrible, sociopathic little brat. Oh yeah, there's also the fact that he killed Omar.
    • Ziggy seemed to exist for no reason other than to constantly make things worse for himself and those arond him through sheer stupidity, and fans disliked him as much as the characters themselves.
    • Templeton. In a series where almost no one gets a happy ending no matter what side of the law they'r eon or how sympathetic they are, the fact that a slimy, dishonest reporter like him wins a Pulitzer and faces seemingly no punishment really rubbed fans the wrong way.
    • Herc for being a belligerent and corrupt idiot who doesn't seem to learn anything despite having multiple opportunities to do so.
  • Seasonal Rot: While not considered bad by any means, there are those who think that Season 5 is weaker and unrealistic compared to the other seasons.
  • Slow-Paced Beginning: Newcomers will be likely overwhelmed by the staggering number of characters and the molasses slow exposition that unfolds during the first season. The exact point when new viewers' opinion of the show crosses over from "above-average cop drama" to "GREATEST SHOW EVAH!!!" varies - from a few episodes to the entire first season.
  • Strawman Has a Point: Baltimore Sun Managing Editor Thomas Klebanow tells Gus Haynes he doesn't like his profanity. We're supposed to see Klebanow as the bad guy because of the cuts to personnel that have been occurring (and he was based on a real person that David Simon reportedly hated), but he's correct that professional settings call for a certain decorum, and as the boss he is perfectly within his rights to request that and expect his instructions to be obeyed.
  • Viewer Gender Confusion: Unless you know that Felicia Pearson is Snoop (the credits don't connect characters to actors), it can take viewers a long time to realize that Snoop is a girl. There is a brief shot where you see her picture on the unit's case board that lists her real name, but it's pretty easy to miss.
  • What an Idiot:
    • Stupid, stupid Ziggy.
    • Prez as a teacher falls for every trick in the book when he first starts out (although anybody who's had a new teacher in school knows that this is Truth in Television).
    • McNulty's Jamison's fuelled season five gambit, which he realizes is unbelievably stupid when he finally explains it out loud.
    • Lex effectively signs his own death warrant when he shoots Fruit. This is actually Lampshaded with Bodie telling Lex that since Fruit is Stanfield's man, he should really let his beef with Fruit go.
  • The Woobie: Poor, poor Bubbles.
    • Wallace, a sweet kid who wasn't cut out for the gang lifestyle. If only he had stayed in the countryside...
    • The Sobotka family and the rest of the men working at the Baltimore docks. Their working class livelihood is on it's way out due to mechanization and economic progress elsewhere. It's sad because they're largely shown to be a fine bunch of guys but are slowly losing out to desperation and despair as the decline of their profession steepens. Frank Sobotka is especially tragic, with all his efforts to save the docks getting him killed and ultimately being for nothing.

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