These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
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.
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.
Most fans suppose the reason for this is that the Emmy nominations are done on the strength of a single episode that the producers submit to the judges, and this show simply cannot be properly appreciated by any single episode, but only by looking at the story as a whole.
Better on DVD: It's an HBO drama, what would you expect? In fact it's almost incorrect to call this thing a TV show, DVD really serves it that much better.
Quite possibly a large part of the reason why the show didn't make a big impact during its initial run (despite being showered with critical and cult adoration from early on), finding greater success on DVD.
Big Lipped Alligator Moment: In the episode "The Wire," Avon and Stringer enter the Pit in slow motion and scored with music, a blatant violation of the show's rules about a lack of any artificial storytelling techniques except for the montages at the end of each season. Nothing like it ever happens anywhere else, making it even weirder on rewatch.
Broken Base: Season two and season five, which shifted the focus from the drug trade to different arenas in Baltimore. Season four, which added a focus on city schools, tends to be rather well liked.
Season two's focus on the Southeast Baltimore docks and the Sobotka family. A number of fans praise it for its unconventional focus on the decline of a profession while also giving an introduction to an overlooked profession, while other viewers dislike it because it takes attention away from the West Baltimore drug trade that the rest of the series revolves around.
Some are convinced that David Simon had shifted to the dock in response to criticism that the focus on urban black culture alienated white audiences. The ratings bump can be read either way.
The flipside argument for season 2's mostly white cast is that the show needed to show a predominantly white crime conspiracy at least once, as otherwise the show would have been interpreted as fundamentally about race instead of Simon's preferred focus on class. While the large number of middle-to-upper-class black characters on the side of law may be enough of an indicator that class is bigger than race, other seasons tend to show predominantly black criminal gangs.
Season five's focus on the press, slight shift from stark realism to dark humour, and some character personality changes, were also criticized by some in the base.
The Baltimore Sun storyline also garnered perhaps the most criticism the show ever got, with the characters accused of being unusually flat, and David Simon appearing to mostly use it as an excuse to air his dirty laundry about the issues he had while working at the paper (his Author Avatar Gus Haynes is a positively saintly bastion of virtue struggling against the corruption surrounding him).
Complete Monster: Marlo Stanfield from seasons 4 and 5 has the distinction of being the only completely unsympathetic and irredeemable character in the show. Introduced as an up-and-coming drug lord, Marlo runs his territory with ruthlessness and unrelenting brutality. When Stringer Bell, the Number Two in the Barksdale organization, approached him with an offer to join the Co-op, a coalition of drug lords who teamed up to share their product to increase their profit and end the violence between their factions to deter police attention, Marlo refuses, taking the offer as a sign of weakness. Marlo and the Barksdale wage a bloody gang war with each other, which claims many lives, until Marlo eventually ends up in control of West Baltimore's best territory. Among Marlo's crimes are having his lieutenants torture, and eventually kill, Blind Butchie to get at his friend Omar Little, having 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 the kid talked to the cops, and murdering his mentor, Proposition Joe, when he learns everything he could from him. Marlo then usurps Joe's drug connections and disbands the Co-op, becoming the biggest drug kingpin in Baltimore. By far the most horrifying reveal about Marlo is the discovery of his tombs, where it's revealed that he's been having his soldiers, Chris and Snoop, murder people then preserve their bodies with quicklime and seal them up in vacant houses. Over twenty people were found in this manner, and they weren't just rival criminals either. One of his most pointlessly cruel acts was after he deliberately egged on a security guard in a convenience store by stealing something in front of him. When the guard caught up with Marlo, he told him he had a family to support, and asked for nothing other than to be treated like a human being. Marlo responded by having him killed for "talking back" and hiding his body with the others. In a crime series where even the most despicable criminals were humanized and sympathetic to some degree, Marlo Stanfield was nothing more than a power-hungry sociopath whose mere presence managed to darken an already pessimistic show known for its Grey and Gray Morality.
Simon has said he inserted quite a bit more humor into the show than was really warranted, just to keep it from being too depressing for anyone to watch.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Felicia Pearson/Snoop. The opening scene of Season 4 when she bought a nailgun probably had something to do with that.
Hilarious in Hindsight: 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.
After playing a perpetual screw-up cop here, Jim True-Frost would play the straightest of straight-arrow cops Eliot Ness in Boardwalk Empire.
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 its extensive praise as '"The greatest show ever" and the fact that it most definitely is not for everyone
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. Of course, he's not even Greek.
Valcheck 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.
For Stringer: What he does to Wallace. And if that doesn't convince you, 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: Simon, who is Jewish himself, caught a lot of flak for creating such a stereotypically villainous Jewish character as Maurice Levy.
Kenard. Probably the only justified example of one.
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.
Well, there's also a brief shot where you see her picture on the unit's case board. It lists her full name as Felicia Pearson.