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Series / The Wire

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"It's Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you."
Commissioner Ervin Burrell

The Wire 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. Co-created by former BPD cop Ed Burns and former Sun journalist David Simon, The Wire premiered on HBO on June 2, 2002 and ended on March 9, 2008, comprising 60 episodes over 5 seasons. A widescreen remaster was made in late 2014.

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 cynical notion that the institutions that make up the American way of life are irreversibly corrupt, and that it's 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 a special Baltimore Police Department 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 expands the focus of the show to encompass the city of Baltimore's economics, examining how the failing docks perpetuate the drug trade. Well-meaning stevedore union manager Frank Sobotka struggles to keep the docks from dying by taking money from organized crime, but winds up deep in a criminal cover-up that threatens everything he's worked for. 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. Meanwhile, the Major of the Western Baltimore Police District tries to end the War on Drugs in his area by legalizing drugs without telling his superiors, which inevitably gets him into conflict with them. 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, whose incarcerated father was a top enforcer for one of the large drug gangs brought down by the Major Crimes Unit; and Randy, an entrepreneurial hustler just trying to get by and put all his business ideas into practice. These four youths find themselves equally attracted to and repelled by the opportunities and dangers of Baltimore's drug trade.

The fifth and final season wraps up the stories of everyone that has been featured in the show thus far, but also introduces a new group of characters: a 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 naïve 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, to the violent and suspicious but reasonable Avon Barksdale, to the more affable "Proposition Joe", and the business-minded 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.

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.

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The Wire contains examples of:

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  • 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 (during which 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.
    • 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, making him the only original member still on the unit at the end of the show.
  • Aborted Arc: Bill Rawls being seen in a gay bar. The actor apparently told the showrunners to not pull any punches, but aside from some graffiti in season 5, it's never brought up again.
  • Abusive Parents: Unfortunately numerous:
    • Namond Brice and D'Angelo Barksdale 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 (delivering a subtle but scathing "The Reason You Suck" Speech to De'Londa in the process). When D'Angelo is assassinated on Stringer's orders, McNulty goes to his girlfriend Donette with his suspicions instead of his mother. When Brianna asks McNulty why, he says "Honestly? I was looking for somebody who cared about the kid." 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's parents and Michael's mom all figured out ways to use anything coming into their respective homes—including welfare—to feed their habits (usually by selling stuff provided to their children or purchased with food stamps or other welfare and buying drugs with the proceeds), to the point where Dukie had to rely on things provided by his teachers (and eventually staying in Michael's place, which Michael acquired after getting involved in the drug game), and Michael had to take control of the family's welfare card personally to ensure it went to buying food and clothing for himself and for his younger half-brother Bug. 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.
    • It's implied that Chris Partlow had a stepfather similar to Michael's, given that he chooses to beat the guy to death rather than shoot him like everyone else he's killed.
    • Added to that, the fathers of all these people are not even around at all, and (with the exception of Namond's father Wee-Bey, who seems to have been a good father to Namond while he was free despite being an enforcer for the Barksdale Organization) seem to have been completely out of the picture for most of their children's lives. The only one who could have been a father figure (with the exception, again, of Wee-Bey) was Michael's stepfather and he was worst of all. (Actually, Wee-Bey being as decent a dad as he could have been under the circumstances is probably the biggest factor in Namond being the only one of these men and boys who was well-adjusted enough to successfully exit the game.)
  • Actor Allusion: Mixed with Real Person Cameo: (Examples)
    • Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich playing a security guard at the governor's office.
    • Donnie Andrews, the real-life inspiration for Omar Little, who appears as his sidekick a few times and is ultimately killed when Omar makes his Super Window Jump. That scene was based on an incident in Andrews' real life.
    • Guess which character is played by notorious former crimelord "Little" Melvin Williams, the inspiration for Avon Barksdale? Give up? The Deacon.
    • Felicia Pearson basically plays a fictionalized version of herself. Somewhat.
    • The woman playing the principal of the local school? Actually the principal of the real high school. No wonder you sat up straight when she yelled.
    • Lt. Dennis Mello is played by the actual Jay Landsman, a long-time homicide detective in the Baltimore Police Department. Not to be confused with the fictional homicide detective Jay Landsman named in his honor.
    • Det. Ed Norris is played by Edward Norris, former Baltimore Police Commissioner who had a somewhat controversial career that ended in indictment. His lack of respect for the current Commissioner is a running gag and some of his dialogue in season 1 is self-deprecatory as it was filmed while he was still commissioner.
    • When he goes undercover in the Greek's brothel, McNulty's alias is "James Cromwell", in reference to "the English fuck who stole my ancestors' land". Dominic West played Oliver Cromwell in the Channel 4 miniseries The Devil's Whore.
    • Lester accuses the boys of being "A bunch of draft-dodgin' peace-freaks". Clarke Peters was arrested in an anti-Vietnam war demonstration and later accused of draft-evasion when he was working in Europe.
  • Actually Pretty Funny
    • Rawls sometimes gives credit to his antagonist and is amused by his actions or remarks. Most notably, he laughs when one of the floaters comes back to his jurisdiction thanks to McNulty's calculations.
      Rawls: Fuckin' Jimmy. Fuckin' with us for the fun of it. I gotta give the son of a bitch some credit for wit on this one. Cocksucker.
    • Nicky breaks out a smile when he realizes the "Love Child" affair is just a prank.
    • Valchek finds some amusement in the stolen van being toured around the world due to the feud with the stevedores. Sadly, he only starts to find the humor in it after Frank Sobotka is found dead at the end of season 2.
    • McNulty usually takes with a smile many of the numerous jabs he receives. When Lester chews McNulty out with a remarkable "get a life" speech, Jimmy finds some of the quips very funny.
    • When the MCU comes up with a plan to bust a careful and disciplined drug lieutenant in the hopes that Drac, a moronic nephew to Proposition Joe who doesn't even speak in code, will take his place, Burrell asks why do they think that Joe will promote the wrong man. Daniels answers that the police do it all the time. After a brief pause, Burrell laughs.
    • Butchie tells Omar to sell back to the Co-Op the shipment he stole for 20c on the dollar and that Prop. Joe would find some humor in the audacity. Joe isn't amused, but Marlo and Chris do find it funny when they learn about it.
    • invoked Norman Wilson laughs his ass off when the serial killer scheme -used as a political platform- is exposed as a fraud, despite Carcetti calling up Dude, Not Funny!.
    • Maurice Levy just laughs when Stringer tells him that Clay Davis just walked away with thousands of dollars out of his pocket to "bribe" the City Planning Commission, when just about anyone with ties to City Hall could have warned him about the infamous Senator.
  • 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 McNulty 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. A scene early in season 2 implies that the rigors of paperwork for property seizures was too much for him.
  • 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
    • Wee-Bey
    • Clarence Royce
    • Brother Mouzone
    • Even though Chris Partlow is willing to murder anyone without question, he usually acts calm and friendly towards his victims. The way you'd soothe an animal before you euthanize it.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • McNulty is a functional alcoholic: sharp while on the clock but prone to drunken benders at night.
    • Augie Polk is a less functional example. After he turns up drunk to work one morning, Daniels orders him to take medical leave to treat his alcoholism. His partner Mahon isn't much better.
      Cedric Daniels: Between the two of them, I don't have a designated driver.
    • The dockworkers are all heavy drinkers. In spite of rarely getting work, they spend their days at a local bar. Their typical breakfast is a raw egg cracked into a beer. Johnny "Fifty" Spamanto gained his nickname after drinking over fifty cans of beer on his 25th birthday.
  • 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.
  • Alternate Catchphrase Inflection: Jimmy McNulty tends to say, "What the fuck did I do?" when reprimanded in a way that denies responsibility for whatever they're talking about. Sometimes, however, the ramifications of what he's done get through to him and he says it in a guilty tone.
  • 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 Frank Sobotka aims higher with the dredging of the canal (not for personal gain—Frank has enough seniority personally that the docks would have to become completely automated for him to be unable to find enough hours—but for the well-being of the workers). This implies a closer criminal collaboration with The Greek.
    • Ambition is Marla's defining trait and to satisfy it she recommends practical, if amoral choices. She also cites ambition as being the chief trait that first attracted her to Cedric, but his ambition has since given way to his conscience.
    • 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.
  • 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:
    • Downplayed with Valchek, but still notable by his callous standards after Frank Sobotka's demise.
      Valchek: Almost feel sorry for the son of a bitch.
    • McNulty spends half the show trying to build a case on Stringer, and finally gets him on tape incriminating himself. That very afternoon, Stringer is betrayed to Omar and Brother Mouzone, who ambush and murder him. McNulty is distraught.
      McNulty: I caught him, Bunk. On the wire, I caught him. He doesn't fucking know it.
  • Anti-Climax: Discussed during the arrest of Avon Barksdale. McNulty states that he expected the moment to feel more satisfying. He and Daniels then call back the SWAT team and unceremoniously arrest Avon themselves with barely a word spoken.
  • 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:
    • The phrase "new day" frequently comes up when people talk about or try to change the system. Carcetti runs with the slogan "It's a new day in Baltimore", and multiple drug crews form the "New Day Co-Op." McNulty and others will occasionally use "new day" to talk about a potentially bright future, either sarcastically or not.
    • "Same as it ever was" gives the lie to the "new day" arc words. Nothing really changes, at least for the better.
    • "The game", the name given for the drug trade, gang and political wars of Baltimore.
      Cutty: The game done changed.
      Slim Charles: Game's the same — just got more fierce.
    • "Keep my name out of it," from people refusing to get involved.
    • Variations of it being "your turn," usually for something bad to happen to them, showing that people are at the mercy of a cyclical system.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: At the end of the first season, D'Angelo Barksdale is convinced by his mother Brianna to be the Fall Guy for his drug kingpin uncle Avon, because Avon's activities support their entire family. The result is D'Angelo getting sentenced to 20 years in prison. While in prison, D'Angelo decides he wants to distance himself from his pre-prison life, a decision that includes distancing himself from his uncle. Unfortunately, this makes it seem to Stringer—who's running the outside parts of the operation while Avon is incarcerated—that D'Angelo is too much of a liability, and so Stringer has him killed and has the killer make it look like a suicide. When McNulty finds out about the death and quickly concludes it was no suicide, he goes to D'Angelo's girlfriend to tell her about his suspicions, and never visits Brianna. When Brianna finally hears about this and comes to McNulty for answers, including why he never approached her with his suspicions, McNulty's response leaves her devastated.
    Brianna: Why go to her first? Why not come to me?
    McNulty: Honestly? I was looking for someone who cared about the kid. I mean, you did make him take the years, right?
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Valchek only appears once in season 1, after the fallout from Prez's incident in the projects. He then plays a major role in season 2 onwards.
    • 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.
    • Anthony 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 D'Angelo's funeral when Joe approaches 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 and McNulty's surgical reconsfucktion 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 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's 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 Gay: Omar, obviously. Snoop qualifies as a villainous example.
    Bunk: (chuckling) I was just thinking about some pussy.
    Snoop: Yeah? Me too.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: Inherent in the System. The show is full of them. This doesn't mean that all cops are bad or incompetent, but those who aren't so limited by the system that they often can't do their work properly. 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, which is why the first Barksdale detail is so composed of unwanted "humps". The whole thing is so disorganized that the only time the top brass do have to act selflessly (after the shooting of Kima Greggs), the amount of personnel that swarms to the scene just clutter everything until Rawls has to give orders for unnecessary personnel to get lost.
    Cedric Daniels: You'd rather live in shit than let the world see you work a shovel.
  • 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.
    • Valchek, possibly the most self-serving police official in a series where there is a lot of competition for that dubious honor, becomes police commissioner so he can juke the stats for Carcetti. Rawls becomes superintendent of the Maryland State Police. Really, everywhere you look as the series ends, the amoral are triumphant and the idealistic are shoved to the margins. This is not an accident.
  • 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.
  • Batter Up!: Bodie and Poot in the Season 1 finale, defending the Pit as their territory against some upstarts.
  • 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 spills out over the walls as the cases get 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 "humps" named Polk and Mahon. "Póg mo thóin" (pronounced Pogue Mahone and source of The Pogues' band name) is Irish for "Kiss my ass."
    • Season 2, Episode 3 has a scene where Bunk and Freamon are interviewing the crew of a ship (their crime scene). If you speak two or more of the languages,note  you quickly realize they're all saying almost the exact same thing ("I have nothing to do with this, I'm just trying to make some quick money for my kids and go home").
    • When the Greeks skip town, a Greek pop song plays with lyrics lamenting that a lover has gone away.
    • In Season 4, Episode 3, Namond is showing his friends the sketches of potential tattoos, including two Chinese characters which he say mean "lion" and "heart." His friends mock him, saying he had no way of knowing that they didn't actually say "bitch" and "pussy," but if you can read Chinese, you know that Namond is closer to the truth. However, the one he thinks means "lion" actually means "heart," and the one he thinks means "heart" actually means "tiger."
  • 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 (rather than its usual Grey and Gray). Not for nothing is Marlo's nickname "Black".
  • Black Comedy: Quite often. The most hilarious examples include Bodie ordering a wreath for D'Angelo's funeral in Season 2 or Herc and Carver trying to apply Good Cop/Bad Cop routine to Bodie in Season 1.
  • Bluff the Eavesdropper: Marlo tricks Herc 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.
  • Book Dumb:
    • Most street hustlers have a very limited education, but some are quite cunning.
    • It's almost a Running Gag for police reports to be filled with grammar and spelling errors.
  • Bookends
    • Season 1: D'Angelo stands trial in the pilot. He faces trial again in the finale with the majority of the Barksdale organization.
    • Season 2: Jimmy finds the floating dead body of a girl in the premiere. In the finale Frank is the floater.
    • Season 3 begins and ends with building demolitions; 221 Towers and Hamsterdam.
  • Book-Ends: Season one ends with hoppers saying similar lines, and with a reversal of McNulty's opening scene congratulating Stringer in court.
  • 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 has become a judge.
  • Brief Accent Imitation:
    Herc: Sounded Chinese.
    Carver: Like you can fucking tell the difference.
  • 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.
  • Burner Phones: Burners become crucial to the wiretapping cases from the second week onwards. Much of the series revolves around a surveillance and countersurveillance arms race between police and drug dealers.
    • Though The Wire didn't invent the term, it is probably more responsible for injecting the name "burner" into the public consciousness than any other piece of fiction.
  • 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 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.
    • Old Face Andre. His misfortunes start when the stash house he runs for Marlo’s crew gets ripped by Omar. As payment for this “failure”, Marlo takes from him his silver ring, which he attached a high sentimental value towards. When Chris Partlow murders a convenience store owner, he is bullied into helping frame Omar for the murder by giving a false witness statement. Eventually, the police begin to suspect that Omar was in fact innocent of this crime, and haul Andre into court with a subpoena. Knowing that he either faces up to 10 years in prison for perjury if he sticks with his original story, or ends up in a vacant if he cooperates with the police, he runs to Proposition Joe in the hope that he will smuggle him out of Baltimore in exchange for a $2,000 payment. By this point Joe has already set up a co-op with Marlo’s crew, and gladly hands Andre over to them after having accepted payment.
  • 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 three on-screen kisses. However, he does have a fairly steamy make-out scene with Dante, which goes beyond what almost any other show was depicting at the time, and he does very frequently appear shirtless; also, Episode 3 of Season 4 opens with him waking up naked in bed with Renaldo, and yes, you do get a (brief) shot of his front. Kima, a lesbian, does get a pretty graphic sex scene. Also, when the audience finds out that Rawls is gay, we never see any hint of him having a romance with another man.
  • 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 (putting red hats on the suspects being monitored) and Kima is on the roof photographing them.
  • Call-Back: The final episode has a number of callbacks to previous episodes and seasons:
    • There's a montage of many of the primary locations featured in previous seasons, such as the Pit, the docks, the first detail HQ.
    • There's a shot of two people getting into an elevator, shot from the angle of a security camera, which calls back a similar scene in the first episode.
    • A shot from the POV of another security camera getting a rock thrown at it, which is a callback to a similar scene in the first season that is also in the opening credits for every season.
  • Cardboard Prison: It takes Bodie about three minutes to break out of juvenile hall.
  • The Casanova:
    • Poot is quite popular with the ladies and has many girlfriends. Bodie makes fun of how often he has to go to the VD clinic.
    • The fact that Cutty connects with so many of his students' mothers becomes a point of contention between them and him. He agrees to back off and appears to be in a relationship with a nurse at the end of his story arc.
    • Omar apparently has boys everywhere.
    • McNulty, at least when he's drinking a lot. During his more stable phases, his Casanova tendencies disappear.
  • Catchphrase
    • McNulty: "The fuck did I do?" It highlights the way he plunges heedlessly through life without care for the damage he causes. The phrase is occasionally given a serious turn, such as after he starts blaming himself for Kima's shooting and asks an anguished, "What 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 Isiah Whitlock, Jr.'s catchphrase, which he also used in 25th Hour.
    • Omar: "Indeed" (or "Oh, indeed", if he’s about do do something he really enjoys) and "No doubt".
    • "Yo, Omar comin'!": Anyone running away from Omar.
    • D'Angelo: "Mos' def'." Interestingly, his mother also uses it.
    • Snoop: YERP!!
    • Interesting use with Lt. Dennis Mello. He's played by former police detective Jay Landsmannote , who 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; 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!" It means "wanker." Almost always referring to Ziggy Sobotka. He eats that word in the end though.
    • Series wide: "It's all in the game", to the point of being Arc Words.
  • Celebrity Paradox:
    • Tupac Shakur existed in The Wire universe yet no one notices Avon Barksdale looks a lot like Wood Harris who costarred with Tupac in Above The Rim.
    • 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 John Munch (who was based on Landsman) all appear in a bar.
    • Speaking of John Munch's cameo, there's quite a bit of overlap between the casts of The Wire and Homicide Life On Street (justified, as both shows were filmed in Baltimore and East Coast casting is not as robust as West Coast casting).
    • 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.
  • Central Theme: Systems are fundamentally corrupt, and individual members of every system will sabotage it by playing to their self-interest. In addition, each season has a central theme, usually established in the opening scene:
    • Season one: America is a rigged game, and people get hurt. The street gamblers always let Snot Boogie gamble with him, but he always steals the pot money, and this time they kill him for it.
    • Season two: The failure of industry, which drives people to desperate measures. Several characters note the dead factories that used to create steel, and the dying docks take up a large section of the plot.
    • Season three: The failure of politics, which can only fix the damage it did last time it tried to fix something. In the opening scene, the government knocks down a tower block that it built a generation ago to fix urban blight but caused unexpected crime. The crowd gets caught in the resulting dust cloud, symbolizing the unexpected ramifications that this action will cause.
    • Season four: The failure of education, which doesn't help unless it adapts to the needs of the students. In the opening scene, Snoop learns about nail guns by relating it back to something she understands: firearms. Throughout the series, we see students more easily understanding concepts when presented in terms they deal with day to day.
    • Season five: The failure of media, which is focused on sensation rather than public service to stay alive. We see journalists struggling to write stories about real issues, McNulty trying to generate interest in crime by creating a serial killer, and Michael angrily turns off Dexter to focus Dookie on important matters.
  • 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.
  • Characterization Marches On: In an issue of Early Installment Weirdness, Omar casually curses in his very first scene in the series. After a scene in episode three where he chides his lover Brandon for using "ugly language," it becomes a character trait that he never swears.
  • 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
    • Bird's signature .380 pistol. Unlike savvier criminals who would toss their guns after using them, Bird continued to carry the same weapon that he used in a murder. Omar was also able to identify him on the witness stand because of it.
    • Dozerman's stolen service weapon
    • Omar starts carrying a Desert Eagle in Season 5. He later uses it to rob Old Face Andre, since the enormous rounds can penetrate bullet-proof glass.
    • 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. In truth, he says, the game is rigged against pawns like them.
  • 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 pedophile stepfather.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder:
    • Stringer.
    • Jimmy "fuck the bosses" McNulty for pretty much the entire series.
      Daniels: We're all pieces of shit when we're in your way. That goes with the territory.
    • Proposition Joe
  • The City: Baltimore
  • Clear My Name:
    • In one episode, Herc and Carver arrest one of the Barksdales' 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.
    • Happens to Omar after the Stanfield organization frames him for murder. The exoneration process is more difficult for Bunk since Omar is guilty of other murders.
  • Clueless Boss: There are numerous ones throughout the course of the show, especially in the BPD:
    • The most on point example is Lieutenant Jimmy Asher, the man that Lester picks to be the Puppet King of the MCU after Daniels is promoted at the end of Season 3.
    • Lt. Charles Marimow, put in charge of the MCU by Rawls early in season 4. He's abrasive and has a reputation for destroying units and alienating his mennote . The fact that Herc knows how the drug crews move their stashes around and Marimow doesn't is proof of his incompetency.
    • When Carver transfers out of the MCU and becomes the head of Major Colvin's Drug Enforcement Unit, he's unable to provide any useful information when Colvin asks about the turf war between the Barksdale and Stanfield crews. Colvin eventually summons Carver to his office to give him a compassionate teardown explaining his need to connect with the street. Carver takes this to heart and greatly cleans up his act by season 4.
    • The reason Major Colvin is able to get away with creating and running Hamsterdam for as long as he does is in part to this trope, as both his superiors and peers, even the well meaning ones, are drastically out of touch with life in the city and what is happening where.
    • Colvin has a hard time getting information on the drug crews so he can set up Hamsterdam, due to the other district commanders being stretched thin and busy focusing on street rips. When Colvin stops by the MCU detail office, he's incredulous seeing that Daniels and his small unit have more information than any of the districts or headquarters.
    • After McNulty debriefs Judge Phelan, the proto-MCU is kickstarted when the judge shames Burrell and Rawls for their ignorance and inaction about Avon Barksdale.
  • Clueless Detective: In line with the above.
    • Ray Cole is another average homicide detective with a middling clearance rate. McNulty got promoted from beat cop to detective by correcting Cole's mistake.
    • Cedric Daniels' Major Crimes Unit is designed as the dumping ground for the dead wood and humps from several departments.
      • Michael Santangelo is a bad homicide detective who frets over his low 40% clearance rate, which he tries to justify on the grounds that he doesn't get that many "dunkers" (easy to solve cases). This in part is why Rawls tries to use him to spy on McNulty. When Avon and Stringer pay a rare visit to the pit, Santangelo is pissing at the opposite side of the roof where he was supposed to be and misses them. When he tires of being Rawls' spy, Rawls gives Santangelo an ultimatum: clear one of his open cases, give something on McNulty, or leave the Homicide Unit altogether. Thus, Jay Landsman tricks him into seeing a phony psychic named "Madame LaRue", keeping him out of the way while McNulty and Bunk clear one of his cases, giving Santangelo the spine to refuse Rawls' demands. He's demoted to patrol and placed in the Western District. Santangelo finds himself much happier in this position.
      • Augie Polk and Pat Mahon are two drunken and lazy detectives from other departments who get dumped into Major Crimes. When they are tasked by McNulty with putting a face to Avon Barksdale, they come back drunk bearing a photo of a middle-aged white man. Polk's only real concern about the job is paid overtime. Mahon is of the same ilk and jumps at the chance of early retirement after he's injured by Bodie during a raid, scheming that he'll even complement his pension with a cushy underground economy job. Appropriately, their last names, "Póg mo thóin" (pronounced Pogue Mahone and source of The Pogues' band name) are Irish for "Kiss my ass."
      • Zigzagged with Roland Prezbylewski. He has genuinely been a terrible cop to date, managing to shoot up his car and later pistol-whipping a kid in the projects after going out drinking with Herc and Carver. While confined to the office, he proves to be great at data analysis and paper chasing. All his skills as an analyst and codebreaker notwithstanding, he is revealed to still be an utterly terrible street cop. But, when he leaves the unit, Sydnor—who is Board-certified Natural Police—laments his absence.
      • Subverted with Lester Freamon. Dumped from the dull pawnshop unit, he remains uninvolved at first, preferring to work on his dollhose furniture, giving the impression he's another hump and being called "a cuddly house cat" by Daniels. However, the Avon Barksdale case piques his interest and he's quick to produce a photo of the elusive Avon after several unsuccessful attempts by other detectives. From there, he consistently shows he's one of the smartest detectives out there. A few years later, Daniels acknowledges that Lester is the MCU.
    • Jimmy "I'm the smartest asshole in three districts" McNulty fully exploits it in his season 5 scheme while working at Homicide.
      McNulty: Most of the guys up here couldn't catch the clap in a Mexican whorehouse!
    • Happens again in season 2 when Major Stanislaus Valchek, in a bitter feud with Frank Sobotka over a stained glass window, wants an investigation opened into Sobotka's finances. Valchek offers Ervin Burrell political influence from the Polish council members in his district in exchange for a special unit devoted to investigating Sobotka. Rawls sends an investigative team from CID to Valchek, all "highly recommended" officers, who are, like the Barksdale detail from season 1, just dead-weight "humps" that other divisions wanted to get rid of. Witnessing the task force's lack of work ethic infuriates Valchek, who promptly demands a real police detail under Daniels' command (on Prez's recommendation and repaying a favor Valchek owed to Daniels from Season 1), threatening to complicate Burrell's effort to become Commissioner if he doesn't agree.
  • 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". One wonders if the entire scene was titled "Reconsfucktion" or similar on the original script.
  • 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, when McNulty arrives at a crime scene on a bus because BPD has no funds for cars.
    Brian Baker: 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.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The show sometimes jumps through hoops to keep its characters involved in related matters each season.
    • Prez's stepfather creates a detail to investigate Frank Sabotka just as a murder case crops up at Sabotka's harbor that attracts McNulty's interest.
    • Prez and Colvin both leave the force and start working at the same middle school in the same year, working with the same grade of students.
  • Cool Old Guy: Lester Freamon is the oldest of the detectives and at first glance is considered a "hump" and a "housecat" 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.
  • Cop Killer: It's repeatedly driven home that criminals doing anything to incur the ire of the police is a very, very, bad idea, and everyone involved in organized crime is cognizant of this. Only the extremely foolhardy or most aggressive criminals try to do such a thing.
    • Near the end of season 1, Savino Bratton, Wee-Bey Brice, and Little Man carry out a hit on Orlando Blocker, who they suspect of snitching to the police. They kill Orlando, but in the process, Little Man shoots the woman accompanying Orlando. What they don't know is that the woman in question is the undercover Kima Greggs. Kima survives, but the entire Baltimore police department cracks down hard on the Barksdales. The Barksdales acknowledge the utter stupidity of Little Man's improvised actions. Savino Bratton is forced to turn himself in, while Wee-Bey kills Little Man on Stringer's orders for his foolishness.
    • In season 3, the undercover officer Kenneth Dozerman is trying to buy drugs when the dealers he's talking to simply rob and shoot him instead. Dozerman survives, but once again it triggers a massive police reaction. When the shooter is found, he does confess after the patrol wagon takes an "unscheduled stop", and the officers "mistake him for a pinata". Bunk finds himself being saddled with the task of recovering Dozerman's gun, while the shooting itself is also the final straw that leads to Major Colvin's creation of Hamsterdam.
    • Roland Pryzbylewski quits the force in season 3, when, responding to a distress call, he fails to properly identify himself as an officer and ends up fatally shooting a plainclothes officer, Derrick Waggoner, in a case of night-time mistaken identity. He is brought up on administrative charges and suspended, and there's the prospect of even his fellow officers turning on him, because Prez is best known in the BPD for being a chronic screw-up riding on the coat tails of his influential father-in-law, while Waggoner was considered an outstanding member of the BPD. Prez is horrified at having killed another officer and in full Heroic BSoD mode, so he winds up quitting the force rather than try to fight the effort to push him out.
    • The first part of painting Marlo Stanfield as more dangerous than the Barksdales is the fact that the Stanfield gang is perfectly willing to use violence against the police. Major Colvin sends Herc and Carver to tell Marlo Stanfield to show up at a parley that Colvin is doing with various drug gangs in the Western District. When Marlo refuses, Herc gets up in his face over this disrespect....and then Carver notices that Marlo's men are all starting to reach for weapons, obviously with the intent of killing both Herc and Carver if they don't back off. Carver gets Herc to stand down, but the fact that the Stanfield gang has absolutely no compunction about killing cops proves to be an early hint about just how ruthless and bloodthirsty the group will turn out to be.
  • The Coroner: Dr. Frazier in the first, second, and third season.
  • Corrupt Church: Not even the Church is beyond the corruption that grips Baltimore as it's revealed in the final season that one reverend (and possibly more) helps Proposition Joe launder his money.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Andy Krawczyck.
  • Corrupt Hick: McNulty is clearly under the assumption that rural police departments are run by these. In season 3, before heading inside one office, he announces he going to meet "Buford Pusser. When he meets the cop in charge, McNulty starts making casually racist comments under the belief that this will ingratiate him to the man. When the rural cop turns out to be married to a black fellow police officer, McNulty is left hurriedly backpedaling on his previous statements and offers to introduce him to his partner, Kima.
  • 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.
      Kima: Did you just refer to the mother of your children as a cunt?
    • 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.
      "Fuck you. You 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.
      • There's also another layer of deconstruction present with Jimmy. On several occasions he gets impatient with doing things the proper ways and tries to take shortcuts in getting the information he wants. He winds up getting the information... only to find that other competent detectives going through the proper ways have already gotten the same information, or more than he did, without committing unprofessional or possibly illegal actions, as Jimmy did.
    • 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.
    • FBI agent Fitz provides assistance to the BPD, something not sanctioned or known by the bosses most of the time. In season 3, he expedites a wiretap by registering Stringer Bell as a homeland security threat named "Ahmed".
  • Crapsack World: Almost every aspect of the setting.
    Jimmy: You think about clearing your courtroom?
    Phelan: On what grounds? It's an open court in a free nation of laws.
    Jimmy: I thought this was Baltimore.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Deconstructed. Colvin's "Hamsterdam" and Jimmy's made-up serial killer schemes only work in the short term and they both only do more harm than good.
  • 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.
    • Bubbles does it when Santangelo releases him from custody after McNulty intercedes in his favor.
  • 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.
    • Several druglords admit that they have more money than they can spend, but continue to sell drugs and risk imprisonment or assassination.
  • Da Chief: Commander Rawls, who rips his underlings to shreds with gusto.
  • The Dandy: Both Bunk Moreland and Mayor Royce are impeccable dressers. Bunk is intimately familiar with the minutiae of menswear (being able to identify Vondas' blazer as a Joseph Abboud at a distance based on the color of the buttons), while Royce has a very sharp if somewhat flamboyant look featuring a lot of French cuffs, patterned shirts, and pink ties.
  • 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.
    • It's heavily implied that Avon himself was far more similar to Marlo in his earlier days as many of the old timers fondly remember the kingpins before him. When Bodie tries to claim that Marlo is more violent due to ordering hits on people that might possibly betray him, Poot reminds him that they killed Wallace for much the same reasons on Avon and Stringer's orders. Keep in mind one of the reasons he lost out to Marlo was that his reliable muscle at that point was either dead or in jail. The final montage includes a shot of Wee-Bey and Partlow both in jail together, emphasizing the similarities of the two.
  • 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: A major theme of the show has people proclaiming that a new era is arriving, to the point that "New Day" are Arc Words of the show. This always gets subverted by things either staying the same or getting worse. The most obvious example is Carcetti's "new day" campaign, which is quickly subverted and criticized by characters such as 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 being switched with an old white man's at the morgue. 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:
  • Death Seeker: Even after he's no longer suicidal, Bubbles seems disappointed that he's not HIV-positive. He states that it doesn't seem right to be spared after so many years of heroin abuse.
  • 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.
  • Deconstruction: Of The American Dream, via its failure. With Baltimore being, in Landsman's words, the "dark corner of the American experiment"
    • Omar Little is it, at least according to one of his T-shirts. While he embodies the values of self-sufficiency and individualism, he might be seen as the opposite; rather than an honest businessman working to raise himself out of poverty, he's an inveterate criminal who gives most of his money back to the community that a certain kind of capitalism exploited out of it.
    • Season 2 is a bitter examination of the corruption of the dream. Working class Polish-Americans are on the verge of extinction, while Italian and Polish-American political schemers and lobbyists prosper.
      Frank Sobotka: You know what the trouble is, Brucey? We used to make shit in this country, build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket.
    • Also attacked very briefly and indirectly via The Great Gatsby, during the prison library club's discussion. D'Angelo embraces that "there are no seconds acts in American lives."
  • Decoy Protagonist: D'Angelo is set up in the first season as a deuteragonist of the show, serving as the principle viewpoint character for the underworld just as McNulty does for the police side. However, he's killed in the second season.
  • 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: Given the number of plotlines going on in each season, it's not uncommon to see characters get this treatment once their storylines are completed.
    • Wee-Bey Brice is a pretty defining case, after season 1. With the exception of season 4, where he has slightly more prominence because of the storyline surrounding his son Namond, in seasons 2, 3, and 5 he gets only one or two appearances per season.
    • 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:
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat:
    • Even after Bunny Colvin creates Hamsterdam (where any drugs can be bought, sold, and used completely legally), some of the gangsters in the city still refuse to use it and just go about riskily doing their business where they always have, despite knowing perfectly well that a safer alternative is available to them. Apparently, some people will break any rule, even one they know would benefit them.
    • Implied with Marlo. In the series finale, thanks to Levy's legal wrangling, Marlo is able to dodge his many, many charges almost completely unscathed and set himself up as a legitimate businessman, wholly apart from his prior gangster lifestyle...but his very last scene, where he leaves an upper-class party and starts a pointless physical altercation on a rough street, implies that he's just not cut out for the world of legitimate business, and that it won't be long before he becomes active in street crime again despite the fact that he has everything to lose by doing so.
  • 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 attract 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 darkly ingenious 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:
    • In season one Prez hits a fourteen-year old-boy so badly the kid loses an eye. His reason being the kid called him an asshole.
    • 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.
    • Valchek creates a special unit to destroy Frank Sobotka because Sobotka's Stevedores Union beat out Valchek's Police Union for the honor of donating a stained glass window to their local church.
    • A murder in Hamsterdam occurred because the victim laughed at his killer's shoes.
    • In the 5th season, Marlo gets wind that Junebug is spreading rumors that he's gay. In reaction, Marlo orders a hit on Junebug, along with Junebug's wife and entire family.
  • 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: The show runs on this trope. The office politics and rivalries within the police department and city management is Inherent in the System, causing investigations that would actually do something about the rampant crime rate or projects that would reverse the hollowing out of the schools to be scuttled by those higher up in the chain for the sake of their own careers, which depend on results. The result is juking of the stats and nothing being fixed.
    • The Barksdale crew implodes due to this. Stringer believes that making money is important, while Avon believes that maintaining the gang's reputation is key. Season 3 has Stringer getting Avon sent back to prison, while at the same time Avon gives up Stringer to Omar and Brother Mouzone to be killed.
  • 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. Subverted 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.
  • Don't Answer That:
    • Zig-zagged; in the first season, Bunk and McNulty try to make D'Angelo write an apology letter to the (fictional) family of a man killed for witnessing against him. 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 Bunk, Norris and new rookie Christeson 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 McDonald's meal because of it.
    Christeson: So this shit actually works?
    Ed Norris: Hell yeah! Americans are a stupid people, by and large. We pretty much believe whatever we're told.
  • 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.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • The death of Hamsterdam in the Season 3 finale is full of this: After Colvin reveals his little experiment to the higher-ups, Mayor Royce is sufficiently impressed by the reduction in crime in the Western that he tries to figure out a way to sell/spin applying the de facto legalization experiment more generally, and accordingly tells Commissioner Burrell to hold off on plans to shut it down. However, he fails to make it clear to Burrell and the Police Department more generally that this is what he's planning, so Burrell thinks that the Mayor is trying to find a way to spin it so the blame rests with the Commissioner, and thus makes plans to make a jump on Burrell by leaking the information to Councilman Carcetti along with his (false) theory that Royce was trying to screw Burrell over. At the same time, Royce's strategy for selling de facto legalization as "harm reduction" and "refocusing of resources on high-profile targets" would be much more credible if the police could produce a bust of a major high-level drug organization. The viewers know that Lt. Daniels' Major Crimes Unit is at that very moment on the verge of completely destroying the Barksdale Organization, which although a shadow of its former self is still a formidable force in West Baltimore's drug market. But nobody talking the mayor—not even the State's Attorney—has a clue.
    • The FBI give McNulty a profile on the serial killer that he's tracking, which fits McNulty to a T, without realizing that McNulty himself invented the serial killer.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Omar Little has such a reputation that hoppers will shout, "Omar comin'!" whenever they spot him, triggering the streets to clear out. He even inadvertantly robs a stash house, when leaned against a wall to light a cigarette and a cache of drugs and money just drops out the window. Bonus points, he was in his bathrobe and slippers and had just gone down to the store to get some groceries.
    • 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."
  • Drink-Based Characterization:
    • Daniels, intellectual, refined man that he is, will often go for wine. Nobody calls him out on this because he's a definite hardass.
    • McNulty is always seen drinking Jameson from pint bottles, sometimes on duty. He sneers at Bushmills as "Protestant whiskey," though ironically John Jameson, the Scottish founder and namesake of Jameson whiskey, was likely Protestant as well. Jameson whiskey seems to be the liquor of choice for most Baltimore police, which goes along with them all being "honorary Irish."
  • Drinking on Duty:
    • The Defective Detective McNulty regularly drinks on the job, and will even drink while behind the wheel of a police cruiser. His prequel segment shows him hitting the bottle in the office with Bunk the very same day Jimmy landed in Homicide.
    • Polk and Mahone regularly arrive to work sloshed. Even McNulty is disgusted, because at least he's a Functional Addict.
  • 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 alcoholism is an obvious result of being a Defective Detective with a mess of a personal life.
    • Various cops are shown drinking heavily at bars or tailgating so that they can bitch about their sorrows to each other.
  • 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 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.
    • When Valchek is messing with Frank Sobotka, he exploits this by setting up a DWI checkpoint on the route between Delores' bar and the docks at 8 a.m., knowing full well that all of the longshoremen would have had the "stevedore's breakfast" of raw egg dropped into a pint of beer, probably plus a shot of whiskey and maybe another beer as Hair of the Dog.
    • 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, backs up, and recreates the accident.
  • The Drunken Sailor: Well, the drunken longshoreman: the time for drinking down the docks is "anytime you're awake."
  • 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 Face Andre to be disposed in a way that his people can learn of his demise and give him later a decent burial.
  • Dumb Muscle: Herc and Carver are brought into the detail to serve this purpose. Their specialty is busting heads. Through Character Development, they manage to lift themselves beyond this role. As early as the Season 1 finale, Herc pompously lectures some newbies about the importance of intelligence over brawn.
  • 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—
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The show manages to stay very consistent, but there are some examples.
    • Early episodes occasionally include video footage from security cameras pointed at the action. This gets dropped after a while, though these shots make a return during the series finale as a fond nod to the early episodes.
    • Omar swears in his very first scene, but it's quickly established as a notable character trait that he never swears. Michael K. Williams was even given permission to remove any curse words from his dialogue if any mistakenly got put in.
    • In the sixth 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.
  • Election Day Episode: The episode "Margin of Error" centering in large part on the Democratic primary race for Mayor of Baltimore, including the campaigning and game-playing in both the Carcetti and Royce camps. Somewhat unusually, it extends out into other areas, showing the impact of the election on the police (specifically, how Kima and another detective are forced to serve as uniformed officers for a day to monitor the polls so that they can't complete their investigation of a politically sensitive murder before the election) and the street (with Randy being given money to distribute flyers for a candidate). The actual mayoral general 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.
  • Embarrassing Nickname:
    • Some people get saddled with very unflattering street names, including Snot Boogie, Stinkum and Dookie.
    • Major Colvin reveals that McNulty's old nickname was "Bushy Top." He's not overjoyed when that gets brought up.
  • 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:
    • A realistic example pops up in Season 2 when the police "enhance" a screencap of a license plate. The difference between the two images isn't any more than a real "Sharpen" tool would produce in Photoshop.
    • 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—probably Greek Cypriot, we think anyway) and does business with both Polish and black associates.
    • Whatever else you might say about Marlo Stanfield, he does keep Snoop—a woman, and a lesbian (albeit extremely butch) at that—as basically the Number Three in his organization.
  • 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 the officers in his district 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 McNulty 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 vs. 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:
    • Many of the gangbangers respect a "Sunday Truce" prohibiting violence on that day. When two clueless hitmen spot Omar taking his grandma to a church, they make a move on him. Both Omar and Avon are completely livid at this breach, and it's mentioned that other drug lords are equally outraged. Avon orders the hitmen to replace Omar's grandmother's hat—her "church crown"—which was ruined in the attack.
    • Burell, who while not as evil as the others in this list is still not squeaky clean, is clearly disgusted when the Commissioner refuses to speak to Kima's girlfriend after Kima is shot and looks to be doing his best to comfort her.
    • Omar's code of not killing anyone not in the game as well.
      Bunk: A man must have a code.
      Omar: Oh, in-deed.
    • Avon and his sister put family before everything else, Stringer and Avon always put a high value on their genuine friendship until business gets in the way.
    • Chris Partlow is a hitman who has no mercy for pedophiles. To him, Michael's step-father didn't deserve a clean death inside a vacant house, but a brutal bludgeoning for everyone to see. Even Snoop was shocked when she watched him commit the act. David Simon states that the standard is a result of Chris being a victim of molestation himself.
    • Bodie bordered on evil territory at times, but even he couldn't stomach Marlo's methods for dealing with his enemies.
  • Everybody Has Standards: Jimmy points out that murdering state witnesses is unacceptable even in a place like Baltimore.
  • 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!"
  • Exact Words / Loophole Abuse:
    • Dennis is filled in on a major reason the local school system is so broken in Season 4: the school maintains its government funding so long as each student attends even one school day a month, so the school administration doesn't expend much effort in tracking down and penalizing students who have already hit that quota, leading to severe truancy issues.
    • Legally, the police are supposed to stop interrogating potential suspects as soon as they ask to see legal counsel, leaving cross-examination to the courts. In the Season 1 episode "The Detail", Bunk cleverly gets around that rule by convincing D'Angelo to write a letter of condolence to William Gant's (nonexistent) children, trying to trick him into confessing to Gant's murder. When Maurice Levy yells at Bunk for keeping the interrogation going after D'Angelo asked to see his lawyer, Bunk points out that he didn't actually "interrogate" him; he never asked him any questions, and didn't record any of his statements.
  • Expy:
    • Johnny Weeks, Bubbles' friend and fellow addict, is basically an extension of Leo Fitzpatrick's character from Kids.
    • Tommy Carcetti is based in part on Martin O'Malley, Mayor of Baltimore 1999-2007, Governor of Maryland 2007-15, and Democratic presidential candidate in 2016. Oddly, O'Malley himself apparently exists in the world of The Wire, having been referred to once in season 5.
    • By the same token, Nerese Campbell, the President of the City Council, is clearly based on Sheila Dixon, Council President for all of O'Malley's term and his successor when he ascended to the Governorship. Also like Campbell, Dixon was caught up in some shady campaign finance dealings; she was eventually convicted of misdemeanor misappropriation and forced to resign.
  • 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?
  • "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 Omar, Bodie, Wallace, Wee-Bay 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. "The Greek," too; played by American Bill Raymond. In-universe example with "The Greek"... who's not even a Greek. He does head a mostly-Greek gang though—and he might be Greek Cypriot anyway.
  • Fake Relationship: Cedric Daniels actually was in a relationship with his wife Marla (obviously), but they have secretly broken up just when her career in politics is about to take off. Daniels is actually involved with Pearlman at that point, but for public appearance's sake, he still shows up to a dinner his wife is hosting for several important guests before going upstairs to wait until they're gone.
  • 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.
  • 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. However, we never hear directly from the girl in question - one of the male students asks Randy to be the bathroom lookout, and Assistant Principal Donnelly refers to the event as a rape when talking to Randy - so both what the girl consented to and what she later claimed happened are unknown.
  • Fell Off the Back of a Truck: Nick, Ziggy, and Johnny Fifty almost make this literal with their way of stealing shipments.
  • Financial Abuse: After the Barksdale organization collapses and the money flow to Wee Bey's family dries up, Wee Bey's wife De'londa pressures her teenage son Namond to become a drug dealer so she can continue her lavish lifestyle, even going on a shopping trip to New York when Namond is picked up for slinging.
  • 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
  • Foil:
    • 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 treacherous, incompetent, impulsive asshole.
    • Norman Wilson and Michael Steintorf in Mayor Carcetti's cabinet. Norman will usually vouch for an approach that will benefit Carcetti in the long term while Steintorf vouches for a more immediate benefit. Carcetti almost always has 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.
    • The 3 cops Herc, Carver and Prez could have ended up like the 3 corner boys Bodie, Poot and Wallace, and vice-versa had their situations been different.
  • Fluffy the Terrible
    • The street names for many hardened criminals are not particularly scary, such as Cheese and Peanut.
    • Major Colvin is a tough veteran of the police force whose nickname is "Bunny."
  • Foreshadowing: Many instances
    • The chess conversation in the first season about how pawns get sacrificed, while the people in power stay in power.
    • 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.
    • An early fifth-season episode has Gus suspect that one of his photographers is planting dolls to create more sensational Empathy Doll Shot photos. As the season develops, one of his writers will start faking sensational news stories.
  • 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.
  • 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 out his ass. 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 several other unsolved murders. Bunk was in fact ready to let Omar take the fall until Omar reminds him that doing so will give the real murderer a free pass.
    • 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 against 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.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: A fan theory about the Stanfield gang believes that some members, especially Chris Partlow, may have spent time in the military, based on their rigid discipline and the training new members get in marksmanship. Commented on in-universe as well, as Cheese quips "Y'all some Semper Fi motherfuckas ain't ya? Where Cheese go to enlist?" during a deal with the Stanfield gang.
  • Functional Addict:
    • McNulty is a professionally functional alcoholic. It gets 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, although he embarrasses on occasion because he's not as good at holding his liquor or dealing with the aftereffects, the most notable occasion being the time he pukes 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. After a poignant eulogy, they culminate in a passionate sing-along of the Pogues' "The Body of an American." They apparently use this tradition for retirements as well.
  • Gang Bangers: Half the cast are in drug gangs. The corner boys and hoppers of Baltimore's drug underworld may talk, act and dress like the bangers they see and hear about in mass media, but they learn to grow out of that mentality quick if they want to move up the ladder. Kingpins like Avon, Stringer, Prop Joe, and Marlo are savvy, shrewd, cunning and, above all, low-key. Flashy, attention-seeking gangsters don't last on those streets.
  • Gangsta Style:
    • Played straight frequently, but shown to be ineffective, because most 'gangstas' have no idea how to use guns. A shootout between two gangs is shown in season two where they fire like this, (half the time covering their eyes) and the only person they hit is an innocent child upstairs in an apartment not far away.
    • Actively defied by Marlo, Chris and Snoop—the first thing they do on recruiting Michael is teach him how to shoot properly. He lampshades the trope later when he's teaching Dukie how to shoot; he tells him not to do any of that "gangsta bullshit" when using his gun. Cutty and Slim are also shown aiming down the sights when shooting. The minor drug dealers may not know how to shoot, but the professional muscle know how to do it right.
      Snoop: Fuck them West Coast niggas. In B'more, we aim to hit a nigga, you heard?
  • Gayngster: Omar and Snoop. Omar receives quite a lot of flack for it, while Snoop is treated as {{theLadette one of the guys]].
  • Genre Deconstruction: Of crime dramas.
    • Law enforcement operates through "salutory neglect", passing off really hard cases to other agencies, juking the crime stats so it look likes the force is doing good on paper and pulling off the occasional buy-bust for the news. Policing is a taxing, thankless job so many simply concentrate on climbing the hierarchy so they can have enough in their pensions. Actual police work is boring at best and deadly at worst. The cops who actually want to do their jobs inevitably messes up their personal lives and careers.
    • Gangster life isn't all is cracked up to be either since too much flash could attract attention from cops. Paranoia is rife because you could be killed for suspicion of being a traitor.
  • 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:
    • Jimmy McNulty and Rhonda Pearlman in Season 1, Ep 3.
      Rhonda: 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.
      Rhonda: No.
      McNulty: Okay. I hear you.
      (cut to McNulty and Rhonda enthusiastically rutting in bed)
    • 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!
      (cuts to McNulty driving across three lanes and drunkenly singing along to "Transmetropolitan" by The Pogues)
  • 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 long-term relationship and young child with Donete (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.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Subverted: season one, episode five has this shtick turning into "Bad Cop, Pissed Cop" when Bodie sees right through Herc and Carver's attempt to use it on him.
  • 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.
  • Gossip Evolution: The deaths of Stringer and Omar transform with the telling.
  • Gracefully Demoted:
    • Bumbling detective Michael Santangelo is demoted from the Homicide Department to a patrol officer after he refuses to help Major Rawls spy on and kick fellow detective (and the closest thing the show has to a main character) Jimmy McNulty off the force. Santangelo later admits that despite the fact that the reassignment is supposed to be a punishment, he actually prefers the position, as he keeps his old pay rate, it gets him away from Rawls and others like him, and Santangelo is much more competent at being a beat cop than he ever was as a detective.
    • Santangelo's story also gives Jimmy the impetus to ask for a demotion to patrol, as Jimmy realizes that his obsession with solving cases as a detective exacerbates all his worst traits. Between this epiphany and forging a new relationship, Jimmy steps away from investigative work to try to get his life in order. It works... for one season.
  • Grammar Nazi:
    • Judge Phelan admonishes McNulty for a report plagued with grammatical mistakes. It's a justified trope since an official document should be written properly, and also because in real life, judges are notorious for being very picky about grammatical errors and other solecisms. The complaint reflects more on McNulty's dissipated ways.
    • In the pilot Rawls insists that McNulty's punishment report be written in a certain format with no spelling mistakes. And be sure to use those little dots. "Deputy likes dots". When Jimmy relates his task to his Sergeant, Landsman doesn't give a damn about it.
      Landsman: Fuck you and your dots.
    • After reading the detail's Door Stopper of a report requesting phone surveillance, Ronnie comments, "You guys can't spell for shit."
    • Being a grammar watchdog is part of the job description of city editor Gus Haynes, of The Baltimore Sun. In one of his first scenes, Gus schools Alma Gutierrez, a rookie journo on the usage of "to evacuate". Buildings are evacuated, not people, unless you mean the persons are getting an enema. David Simon was chastised in a similar way back in the day, but Alma is not entirely incorrect.
  • 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. (David Simon said he based Levy on some real Jewish drug lawyers he knew in Baltimore—insisting that all or nearly all such attorneys in Baltimore were Jewish—and claimed privileges to use the trope, as Simon is Jewish himself.)
    • It's heavily implied that the drug dealers think that having a Jewish lawyer equals having a really good lawyer.
  • 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.
  • Gunpoint Banter: Brother Mouzone and Omar have a very genial standoff - each complimenting the other on their choice of weapon and Nerves of Steel.
  • 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.
    • Omar wields two guns when he robs Marlo's poker game.
  • 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. He's next seen trying to hitch a ride 'right outside the prison'.
    • 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: Major Crimes in season 1 is based out of a basement in a nondescript location.
  • Hand Cannon: Omar possesses a Desert Eagle, but he uses it sparsely. When he's actually out robbing people, he prefers smaller handheld guns or a Sawn-Off Shotgun that he can hide under his trenchcoat.
  • Happy Marriage Charade: Cedric Daniels and his wife are separated, but they still pretend to be happily married to keep up appearances so she can get her political career off the ground.
  • Hard Work Fallacy: Deconstructed with Bodie, a lowly soldier in The Game who figures that by doing everything he's told and working hard in the drug trade he can eventually advance beyond his station. By the later seasons he's still in the same position if not worse off, and realizes that The Game is rigged.
    Bodie: We like them little bitches on the chess board.
    McNulty: Pawns.
  • Harmless Villain: How many see Marlo Stanfield. It really comes back to bite the cops in the ass.
  • Headbutting Heroes:
    • A minor case in season 3. The MCU is slowly turning into a dump unit for solving impossible cases, but McNulty doesn't want anything with it and continues his investigation on Stringer Bell. On the other side, Lester Freamon is compliant out of loyalty to Daniels and happy to do actual police work after years in terrible units. They both annoy each other at the beginning, with McNulty appealing to Lester's pride and longing for puzzles to solve and Freamon berating Jimmy for being a selfish jackass pissing on the unit he himself created. Hilariously, they both give themselves food for thought.
    • Jimmy locks horns with almost every ally at some point or another.
      Daniels: We're all pieces of shit when we're in your way. That goes with the territory.
  • 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.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Herc is constantly waffling between fairly stupid but well-meaning grunt and dangerously incompetent ladder climber. Eventually he starts working for Levy, but uses the opportunity to leak Marlo's cell number. Then he erases all that goodwill by milking Carver for insider info and sabotaging the investigation that his own leak made possible.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Rhonda Pearlman. Both in and out of universe.
  • He Knows Too Much: Several examples; the standard anti-informant measure.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Avon and Stringer have known each other since childhood and have been a package deal ever since. They have disagreements, but at the end of the day, it's all "us."
  • 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 excel 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.
    • D'Angelo, in "The Buys", is shown to be quite fond of Chess. He also develops an appreciation for good literature while in prison.
    • Bubbles often shows that he's smarter and more knowledgeable than you'd expect for a hobo junkie, which makes his current situation more sad.
  • 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: A motiff tied-in to the immovableness of the system. In the series finale several characters end up in situations that harken back to the pilot episode. Most notably, Detective Leander Sydnor goes to Judge Phelan and asks with his help investigating a major case (just like 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)
    Same as it ever was.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • Throughout the series some officers are shown on both the day, evening and night shifts in a short period of time, some even within the same day. The Baltimore Police Department rarely gives shift changes until the next fiscal year.
    • Throughout the last two seasons, Tommy Carcetti repeatedly refers to a possible gubernatorial challenge in 2008, after serving two years as Baltimore mayor. Maryland's gubernatorial elections are held on the midterm cycles - 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, etc. The new governor would have been elected the same year that Carcetti was elected mayor - 2006 - and up for re-election in four years, not two.
    • Averted in the Montage Out of the final episode. We see that Pearlmann and Daniels have both moved on to careers as a judge and lawyer, respectively. The only problem is that they're lovers and he's trying a case in her court, so she has to recuse herself.
    • The Baltimore Police Department's Comstat system is in real life known as 'Citistat'.
    • While all of the police department characters hold ranks that did exist in the Baltimore Police Department at the time of the show's production*, the show's chain of command skips over a few ranks. In the real chain of command, from the Commissioner downwards is Deputy Commissioner, then Chief, then Colonel, then Lieutenant Colonel, then Major, Captain, Lieutenant, Sergeant, and lastly, Detective/Officer. In The Wire, any mention of the ranks of Chief, Lieutenant Colonel, and Captain are omitted. Presumably this is to avoid confusion and make the relationships between different members of the hierarchy clearer to the viewer.
  • 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 bluff a perp by convincing him that a photocopier is actually a Lie Detector. This ruse was unsanctioned but used anyway by real BPD detectives.
  • Honey Trap: The Barksdales attempt to carry out a hit on Marlo by sending a woman named Devonne to seduce him. Chris Partlow senses a trap, and thus is able to foil the attempt. Marlo then personally executes Devonne outside her house.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Shardene.
  • Horrible Judge of Character
    • Wallace never believed Bodie and Poot would kill him to rise higher in the Barksdale organisation.
    • Burrell told Daniels he can keep Prez and Freamon in his unit. He had no idea they are the smartest guys in there.
    • Prop Joe takes Marlo under his wing, under the belief that Marlo can learn how to be more diplomatic and businesslike. Marlo murders Joe as soon as he gets the Greek drug connection, and dissolves the New Day Co-Op.
  • How's Your British Accent?: A Take That! to the fact that Dominic West actually is British, McNulty puts on a ridiculous English accent to go undercover at a brothel in season two.
  • Human Traffickers: The Greeks, an international crime syndicate which first appears in season 2, engages in sex trafficking among several other illegal activities such as the drug trade. They first come to the attention of the BCPD when a group of Eastern European girls are left to suffocate in a crate in the Baltimore docks.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Characters like Wallace, Omar, Michael, Randy and Dukie just didn't quite make it thanks to poverty and turned to crime.
    • In an example closer to the Trope Namer, Avon Barksdale was once a talented Golden Gloves competitor before following his father into a life of crime. However, it seems like he was much more successful as a drug lord then had he continued to be a boxer.
  • Identifying the Body: After the Barksdales start retaliating against Omar and his gang, they gruesomely torture and kill his boyfriend Brandon before dumping his body to Make an Example of Them. Omar asks McNulty to "see Brandon" to confirm it's really him, who accompanies him to the morgue. The sight is unbearable enough to cause the normally stoic Omar to howl in rage and despair.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison:
    • After a gang shootout, Bodie wipes fingerprints off the guns used, puts them in a backpack, and throws the backpack from a car into the river, where it lands on a barge and is turned over to the police. Cole and Norris later interrogate Bodie, produce the backpack and claim they found his fingerprints on one of the guns. Bodie calls their bluff and asks for a lawyer.
    • 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 existence of more than one assailant.
    • An even more understated example than the one above: after Brianna Barksdale learns from McNulty about how her son D'Angelo's death in prison wasn't a suicide, she confronts Stringer and Avon. When the conversation gets to Brianna softly asking Avon if him and D'Angelo had beef, Avon shuts her down, saying he could never do that. However, he says "I ain't have shit to do with it" at the end, to which she says "to do with WHAT?!". To Brianna, this slip up signals that Avon knows what really happened (at the very least).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Played straight most of the time, highlighting the reality that while gangbangers may have access to firearms and not be shy about using them, they don't really know much about shooting accurately. A prime and tragic example is in Series 2, where Bodie's crew and another gang unload dozens of rounds at each other and fail to cause even a single injury... except for a little boy in an upstairs bedroom who gets a stray bullet through the head. Most of the bangers don't even aim properly when they shoot, and have their eyes closed when they pull the trigger.
  • Incompatible Orientation:
    • McNulty starts to pull the moves on Greggs, but he is informed better by Bubbles
      Bubbles: You a dog McNulty? Cos if you are, you are barking at the wrong pussy.
    • Greggs and McNulty go to a lesbian bar where he contemplates hitting on a girl, but he is discouraged
      Greggs: Please, don't embarrass yourself.
  • 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 season 2, Herc buys a small microphone with Carver'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 as they're forced to hire Herc's cousin to pose as an informant named "Fuzzy Dunlop" to recuperate the costs.
      Carver: Fifteen... hundred dollars.
      Herc: Twelve-fifty with the police discount. (sighs) 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.
    • The only exception to this really would have to be Marlo's crew, or at least his soldiers. They all have regular shoots in the woods outside Baltimore, emptying hundreds of rounds at makeshift targets. Chris Partlow even puts new recruits through training scenarios in derelict buildings with paintball guns, and Snoop in particular is a very good shot (with some theorizing that Partlow may have a military past).
      Snoop: Fuck them West Coast niggas, in B-More we aim to hit a nigga, y'feel me?
  • Infant Immortality: Ruthlessly averted. Not only do children get killed in the series, but Cheese also shoots his dog dead.
  • Informed Attractiveness:
    • In Season 2, McNulty and his Marine Unit partner Claude Diggins note how attractive a floater they pulled out of the river is. It's ultimately revealed that she was being smuggled into America as a prostitute.
    • Carver is rejected for the role of an undercover john because Pearlman says he doesn't look like he needs to pay for it. This results in McNulty being the selected undercover.
  • Informed Judaism: In contrast to the explicitly Jewish defense lawyer Maurice Levy, you would never know that assistant state's attorney Rhonda Pearlman is also Jewish if it weren't for two things: Word of God and a very subtle remark by McNulty. He referred to Pearlman and Levy with the phrase "your twisted little tribe". Since he was complaining that they were both officers of the court, it's not even clear that he meant any Jewish subtext.
  • 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. This affects every aspect of the city:
    • Law enforcement: Police brass are only interested in looking good to their superiors, which means they are constantly directing their subordinates to focus on short-sighted actions that will temporarily produce favorable statistics while failing to address the roots of crime.
    • Drug gangs: Ambition and greed of power to control more of the drug trade will always drive the gangs to war with each other over territory, perpetuating the cycle of violence that imperils profits and cuts lives short.
    • Labor unions: The dockworkers aren't making enough money to support themselves, but can't rehabilitate their industry without political capital, which they're too poor to afford, so they have to resort to criminal connections, which do further damage to the dockworkers' position.
    • Local government: To keep their jobs, politicians must be more concerned about getting re-elected than actually governing well. Everything they do is dictated by how it will play to voters, affect their fundraising, and earn them political alliances. If they don't play the game, they'll get voted out and replaced by someone who does.
    • Public education: Teachers, just like cops, are under pressure by top officials to produce favorable statistics rather than do their real jobs. Their time is taken up by manipulating standardized testing practices and scores to give the illusion of quality education while actually leaving many students behind.
    • The media: Sensational and low-quality online reporting is making it harder and harder for journalists to do their jobs. The managers of once-prominent newspapers are slashing their budgets and staff while focusing on shallow stories to compete with the rest of the industry in a race to the bottom.
  • Innocence Lost: The young characters (Wallace, D'Angelo, Bodie, Dukie, Michael).
  • 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.
  • Intimate Telecommunications: In season 1, the group of detectives who have wiretaps on the Barksdale drug empire listen in on one member of the gang having phone sex with one of his girlfriends. The detectives are all amused by the cheesy descriptions the two are using and such, but after the phone sex ends the two have a discussion that's actually relevant to the case.
  • 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). Oddly, this nickname is only ever used when people mention that he has this nickname. In actual conversation, he's called by his real name.
    • Bodie (real name: Preston Broadus) Also referred to as "Mr. Shit" and "Mr. Entrapment" by an amused McNulty
    • Boris (real name: Sergei Malatov). He hates this nickname:
      Sergei: Boris. Why always "Boris"?
    • Bubbles/Bubs (real name: Reginald Cousins)
    • Bushy Top (real name: Jimmy McNulty)
    • The Bunk (real name: William Moreland)
    • Bunny (real name: Howard Colvin)
    • Cheese (real name: Calvin Wagstaff)
    • Cutty (real name: Dennis Wise)
    • Dee (real name: D'Angelo Barksdale)
    • Dukie (real name: Duquan Weems)
    • Fifty (real name: Johnny Spamanto)
    • Fruit (real name unknown)
    • Herc (real name: Thomas Hauk)
    • Horseface/Horse (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, although presumably his first name is Charles)
    • Snoop (real name: Felicia Pearson)
    • Snot Boogie (real name: Omar Isaiah Betts)
    • Socks (real name: Lester Freamon). This is his old nickname from his Patrol days in the Southern, and only his old beat partner is ever seen using it; however, others are likely to call him "Cool Lester Smooth" whenever he pulls something especially slick.
    • Stinkum/Stink (real name: Anton Artis)
    • Stringer Bell/String (real name: Russell Bell)
    • The Greek (real name unknown)
    • Vondas (real name: Spiros Vondopolous, and he later states that even this isn't his real name)
    • 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 Kenneth Dozerman's missing service weapon, and the only evidence he has to go on is the thief's nickname: Peanut. Which brings up hundreds of hits in the police computer.
    • Jay 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, Major Colvin reveals McNulty was known as Bushy Top when he first worked patrol in the Western District.
  • 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.
      McNulty: 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:
    "Who's your daddy now?" Judge Phelan, McNulty
    "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 Landsman in the same exact tone. Jay clearly recalls the first instance the second time around.
    "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. The second time, they seem to be very much recalling the first conversation.
    "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: Frank 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.
      McNulty: What, we don’t have enough love in our hearts for two wars?
    • 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, Frank Sobtoka, who's inadvertently gotten into bed with an international racket dealing in drugs, women trafficked for purposes of prostitution, and stolen goods (especially cars and high-end electronics). 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 Gangster: The trope namer, and it contains several examples
    • Avon's quote to Stringer when he rejects Stringer's proposals to make the Barksdale Organization a legitimate group is the source of the trope name. Avon has grown up in The Game and knows that the outside world doesn't hold anything for him.
    • Marlo would desperately wish to have the option to remain Just a Gangster, but his hand is forced into becoming legitimate, which ironically is his own private Hell.
  • Just a Kid:
    • Bad idea, Omar.
    • Said by Vinson during the final minutes of the series finale, regarding Michael's rise as the new stick up man, a la Omar.
      Vinson: Shit, you just a boy!
      (Michael fires his shotgun at Vinson's knee)
      Michael: And that's just your knee.
  • 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.
    • The addict who assaults and robs Bubbles in Season Four sadly goes unpunished.
  • 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, when he flagrantly shoplifts lollipops just to intimidate the convenience store 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 comes when he has that same security guard killed by Chris Partlow and Snoop 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 and Stringer are 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 both 6'3" and 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 at 6'5 1/2" and a straight example in the finale.
    • Daniels and Rawls are 6'4" and 6'3" commanding officers who are usually the tallest policeman of the room when not together.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In season 1, Nakeisha Lyles is a security guard who saw D'Angelo Barksdale shoot somebody in the 221 building she patrolled, but was bribed to lie on the stand about it. This contradicted the testimony of an earlier witness - William Gant - who was later killed by the Barksdales for testifying (even though D'Angelo walked free). Later on in the season, when the Barksdales are tying up loose ends (including killing witnesses) due to the police coming down, she is one of the first ones to die thanks to the bribery.
  • 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.
  • Less Embarrassing Term: When Mayor Royce finally hears about "Hamsterdam," he realizes—in an unusual display of progressive thinking—that Colvin might be on to something (or at the very least realized that it's a quick and cheap way of reducing the crime stats, thus burnishing his record) and wants to figure out a way to make it more general. However, he also realizes that "Baltimore legalized drugs" is guaranteed to play poorly in the press and kill a lot of incoming federal dollars, so he casts about for a less embarrassing way of saying "we legalized drugs." Unfortunately, by the time he settles on "harm reduction" as the acceptable term, the media has already caught wind of Hamsterdam and he has to fall in line. (This, incidentally, is the last time Royce is portrayed remotely positively.)
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: Often used, though the way it's usually phrased is "let me understand". For example:
    Rawls:: 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, juking 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.
      Daniels: 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.
    • The same goes for the Baltimore Sun plot, and the paper's willingness to tolerate Scott Templeton's fabricated stories.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: When Herc and Carver lose an expensive bug hidden in a felt-skinned Dunlop tennis ball, they create the fictional informant "Fuzzy Dunlop" (played by Herc's cousin) to help pay for the loss.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Around 30 regulars as of the end of season four, plus recurring and irregular characters.
  • Lonely Bachelor Pad: For a while, McNulty's apartment has nothing but a mattress on the floor, which makes it very uncomfortable when he wants his kids to visit.
  • Lovable Rogue: Omar Little.
  • Lying to the Perp: A Baltimore Police Department 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 Break-Up Song: "She's gone, She's gone". On the other hand, the Greeks have just gone fugitive.
  • 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.) Like it's nobody's business.
  • Malaproper: Clay Davis brings a copy of Prometheus Bound to his court date to pass himself off as an erudite martyr. It's obviously on the advice of his lawyer, because he mispronounces both "Prometheus" and "Aeschylus."
  • 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.
  • The Man in Front of the Man: The crime lord known only as "The Greek" sits in on conversations with other gangsters by having his actual second-in-command Spiros do the talking and disguising himself as one of his lackeys.
  • 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.
  • 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 second house seems a mess but only because he recently moved in, he even apologizes for the disorder in the middle of a sexual affair.
  • Miles Gloriosus: A bigshot at the FBI pops in on Kima and McNulty to casually brag about his role in the Unibomber investigation. After he leaves, McNulty notes that the Unabomber was only caught after his brother informed on him.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A petty dispute between Frank Sabotka and Stan Valchek causes Valchek to start an investigation into Sabotka's large coffers. That investigation combines with a case of thirteen murdered prostitutes and ultimately reveals an international human trafficking and drug smuggling empire.
  • 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 Burrell'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: Each season finale ends with one.
  • 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 whistles it, the tune resembles that of the very relevant 'A-Hunting We Will Go' or 'Bringing In The Sheaves' (sheaves being defined as any bundle, cluster, or collection, appropriate considering he often takes large sums of money or drugs).
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Sergei 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.
  • Mr. Smith: When Monk passes himself off as a cop hunting for Omar, he introduces himself as "Detective Smith."
  • 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:
    • D'Angelo is soft and not really cut out for the game, but his kinship with of Avon (his uncle) gives him great leeway.
    • The same goes for Ziggy, who is repeatedly "fired" by his boss, Frank Sobotka, only for him to return the next day because Frank is his father.
    • The dangerously incompetent Roland Pryzbylewski owes his police career to being the son in law of the influential Major Valchek. Subverted, though—although prone to overreacting and panic when out in the field, Prez is actually frighteningly competent when analyzing data and working the paper trail. He'd probably have made a great analyst for the FBI or CIA, but he happened to marry Valchek's daughter...
    • Cheese is in a similar position, as his uncle Proposition Joe has to bear with him.
      Proposition Joe: I got motherfuckin' nephews and in-laws fuckin' 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 Thanksgiving time.
    • Another of Proposition Joe's nephews is Drac, who is so incompetent that he doesn't even speak in drug slang ("Cocaine, nigga!"). The MCU contemplates busting a dealer higher up the chain in hopes that Drac gets promoted.
    • Pushed by his mother, Namond Brice coasts on his father's name and street reputation, but everybody realizes he's not cut out to be a player. Everybody, that is, except his own mother, who seems to think Namond could build a street empire the way Wee-Bey did with Stringer and Avon—with disastrous results.
  • Nerd Glasses: Glasses are occasionally used to make a character seem more academic or intelligent.
    • Stringer and Prop Joe are the only drug dealers to wear glasses, highlighting their professionalism and intelligence.
    • Lester wears glasses as part of his generally "tweedy" look.
    • Shardeen has a pair of oversized spectacles that she uses while not on the job. They help portray her as someone with more going on than just stripping.
  • Never Heard That One Before:
    • Implied when Mouzone asks, "You know what the most dangerous thing in America is, right?" Lamar and the other flunky look at each other wearily as the Brother answers, "A nigger with a library card," and laughs at his own joke.
    • Sergei's plight.
      Bunk: Not gonna give us your name? How 'bout we just call you Boris, then?
      Sergei: (sighs) Boris. Why is it always "Boris"?
  • Never Going Back to Prison: This is Avon's stated attitude immediately 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.
  • Nice Hat:
    • When some incompetent Barksdale lieutenants spot and try to kill Omar, it is a Sunday and he is escorting his grandmother to church, and she is wearing one of the extraordinarily nice hats Black women wear to church on Sundays (which are so nice they're called "church crowns"). Omar's grandma's crown gets shot up during the botched hit—which is viewed as an especially egregious violation of the Sunday truce all the gangsters respect basically for this reason—and a furious Avon orders a new one made for her as an apology.
    • Fruit's distinctive pimp hat, which sets him apart from all the new drug dealer characters who show up in Season 3.
    • On a lark, Herc asks a dim-witted hopper wearing a sideways baseball cap where to find one of those hats with the bill over the ear. The hopper patiently explains that they're ordinary hats, just turned sideways. Herc solemnly thanks him for the information.
  • 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 from Rawls.
    • 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.
  • Not Hyperbole:
    • In Season 3, all the police majors are rounded up in a meeting and dressed down by their superiors for letting the crime rates spike. On their way out of the meeting, the majors all exasperatedly discuss mundane ways of getting their stats down, while Bunny Colvin, in a moment that sounds like a joke but is actually foreshadowing, says:
      "Me? I thought I might legalize drugs."
    • When Daniels rebuilds the Major Crimes Unit in Season 4 with Lester bringing up the rear, Daniels jokingly (?) tells Lester "you can pick your own boss, for all I care." Lester ends up doing exactly that, installing Asher as head of the unit, because Asher is a do-nothing who is solely focused on planning his imminent retirement and demonstrably will let the MCU investigate whatever and whoever it needs to, however it wants to, a much-needed return to smart police work after the Marrimow debacle.
  • Nothing Can Stop Us Now!: During the heyday of the Barksdale empire, while Avon is still flying under the radar, Stringer explains to 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. Stringer 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.
  • Nothing Personal: No matter how much the war on drugs takes from everyone, it's just "All in The Game".
  • 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.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Omar is able to get into a Barksdale stash house by pretending to be an old man in a wheelchair (with one of his crew pretending to be a nurse).
  • 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 Charles Marimow is a notable exception; he is given command of the Major Crimes Unit 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.
  • Officer O'Hara:
    • The Baltimore Police Department is known for having many Irish traditions, such as Irish wakes for fallen officers at Kavanaugh's Pub and everyone engaging in a passionate sing-along to The Pogues' "Body of an American." This even though more cops seem to be black or Polish than Irish. As explicitly stated in David Simon's book Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, on which the show is partially based, no matter your origin, when you join the Baltimore PD you become an "honorary Irish".
    • McNulty has very distant Irish ancestry, but still seems to identify closely with Ireland. He's obviously Catholic, drinks Jameson Irish whiskey and sneers at Bushmills as "Protestant whiskey."
  • 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.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Very common considering many of the characters are criminals who only go by their street names. Lampshaded by Omar during this exchange at Bird's murder trial:
    ASA Ilene Nathan: And do you see the gunman who killed Mr. Gant anywhere in the courtroom today?
    Omar Little: (calling out) Ay, yo, what up Bird?
    Nathan: For the record, you are identifying the defendant, Marquis Hilton.
    Omar: He just Bird, to me.
  • 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 "Bill" Rawls; Thomas Klebanow, 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. Note well though that in almost every case, nicknames distinguish them (nobody ever calls Wee-Bay Roland—and usually Roland Pryzbylewski is just called "Prez").
  • 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?"
  • Outdated Outfit: Fresh off a 14-year stint in prison, Cutty shows up to a job interview in a double-breasted suit jacket, having obviously not updated his old wardrobe since he got out.
  • Outside-Context Problem: 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 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 his nemesis McNulty that Kima's shooting wasn't his fault.
      "You, McNulty, are a gaping asshole. We both know this. Fuck if everybody in C.I.D. doesn't know it. But fuck if I'm gonna stand here and say you did a single fucking thing to get a police shot. You did not do this, you fucking hear me? This is not on you. No, it isn't, asshole. Believe it or not, everything isn't about you. And the motherfucker saying this, he hates your guts, McNulty. So you know if it was on you, I'd be the sonofabitch to say so."
    • After Kima gets shot, Burrell asks the Police Commissioner to say a few words to her "roommate." The Commissioner refuses, so Burrell does it himself.
    • Wee-Bey Brice instructs tells his baby-momma to let Bunny Colvin take custody of his son so he could have a chance at an actual future.
    • 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 them. This shows Beadie that deep down, Jimmy is a decent guy.
    • Landsman letting Bubbles off after he confesses to accidentally killing Sherrod, knowing that his guilt is a far worse punishment than anything that the legal system can dole out. When his deputy asks him about the clearance rate, he just says "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 $5,000 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.
    • 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 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 only 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 a cop. 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, and it's understood by everyone in the game that it's just not done, period.
    • Avon calls Stringer out when the latter is considering offing Senator Davis, the Clay Davis from downtown. All hell would break loose. Even the hitman of choice - Slim Charles - is reluctant to go through with it.
  • Plot Parallel: In season 3, Major Colvin and Stringer Bell are seen as simultaneous attempts to reform the game from opposite sides of the law, with mirrored outcomes when they fail: "Get on with it, motherfucker", which is said by Stringer when Omar and Brother Mouzone kill him, while Colvin says it when Burrell is relieving him of duty at COMSTAT.
  • 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.
    Ellis 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!
    • Of course, brutality is only acceptable when it's against criminals in the game. It's not acceptable when it's inflicted on an innocent civilian, like Herc's roughing up of a black church minister due to bad information, or Colicchio attacking a school teacher who just asked him to move his car.
  • Police Brutality Gambit: When Bird is arrested, Jay Landsman snaps a Polaroid of his existing injuries so he can't claim they were inflicted in custody. This does not stop Daniels, Landsman and Kima from beating him after he launches too many vulgar insults at them. While he is handcuffed to a table, no less, and Daniels ceremoniously tears 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...
      [Boom, Headshot!]
      Shorty :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"?
    Bully: Deez?
    Michael: Yeah, Deez Nuts! (punches bully in the face and steals his bike)
    • Later on:
      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)
  • Pretend Prejudice: This backfires in an episode when McNulty and Kima visit an out-of-town Sheriff, and McNulty makes some off-hand racist comments as he hopes it will endear him to the Sheriff, figuring him for a small-minded hick. When the Sheriff's black wife (and deputy) walks in, he quickly changes his tune.
  • 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:
    • Anthony Colicchio 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.
    • Eddie 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:
    • The stevedores and Valchek are Polish-American lapsed or cultural catholics. Their conflict is kickstarted by their incompatible desire to be seen as the major pillar of the church.
    • Jimmy makes the sign of the Cross before tampering with the vagrants and Bunk theorizes that his background is the reason behind McNulty giving a damn about the family of one of the deceased girls in Season 2.
      The Bunk: How does that matter? You see, this is that Catholic shit, Jimmy. This is that little altar-boy-guilt talking.
  • 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 Ensues:
    • Happens often, most notably with Omar's arc in the final season. An injured man going on a one man revenge spree against the most powerful drug gang in Baltimore is unlikely to end well for him, regardless of how badass or determined he is. After using every shred of street guile he had and sometimes just his fearsome reputation to continue attacking and harassing Marlo Stanfield's drug empire despite his injury, Omar winds up getting shot in the back by a young kid with a gun who wanted to become famous for killing the legendary Omar and claim the bounty Marlo had put on Omar's head.
    • Major Colvin, in an attempt to drive down the murder rate in his district, creates a safe zone, called "Hamsterdam", where dealers can sell their dope without fear of arrest. With the help of Carver and his other officers, he's able to keep this under the radar from his superiors downtown, and even accomplish his goal of significantly reducing homicides within his district. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for Burrel & Rawls to find out, and by the end of the season, he's demoted & forced to resign, while dozens of cops descend on Hamsterdam to arrest everyone.
      • Among the drug dealers arrested when the police raid Hamsterdam is Bodie, who manages to beat the charges simply by claiming that the Police entrapped him.
    • Stringer wants to have Clay Davis, a state senator, murdered for scamming him out of thousands of dollars. Avon then has to explain to him why that is a Very bad idea.
    • Stringer also finds out the hard way that a lifetime of screwing people over will come back to bite you in the ass, especially if they're gun-toting criminals.
    • One episode deconstructs A-Team Firing, by having a little kid in the second floor of a house be the only casualty during a gang-on-gang shootout on the street below.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The show has no background music beyond whatever songs the characters happen to be listening to & 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' "Way Down In The Hole", performed by a different artist each season (including Waits himself in Season 2). Specifically, the rundown goes like this: Season 1: The cover version by The Blind Boys of Alabama in a traditional blues/gospel style (note: this version is often considered the best). Season 2: Tom Waits' bluesy-ish but really just Tom Waitsy original. Season 3: A version by the Neville Brothers; it has some distinct funk and reggae influences. Season 4: A contemporary R&B version by DoMaJe, a vocal group brought together specifically for the purpose, consisting of actual Baltimore City public school kids. Season 5: A rock/alt-country version by Steve Earle (who plays Bubbles' NA sponsor Walon and gets a substantial amount of screen time that season).
  • 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.
    • Major 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 Daniels and Colvin's advice and becomes a reference in the neighborhood, 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 when he fears he is being punished for it after he is initally excluded from an electoral ticket.
    • FBI agent Fitzhugh is a friend and major ally of McNulty and goes out of his way to help the struggling BPD. The overwhelming resources and prowess of the Bureau make him a real law enforcer working for a real agency.
  • 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 is stuck managing a bunch of hoppers in the Pit 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 forced to retire as a lieutenant, with a lower pension.
    • Agent Fitz fears that he will end in "fucking Montana" if he's ever found out providing extraofficial, alegal help to the BPD.
  • Reassignment Backfire: To a certain extent the MCU was at first designed as a dumping ground for useless "humps", 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.
    • Daniels is initially assigned "humps" to send a message from Burrell that Daniels needs to find a charge against Barksdale and close it down fast. Some of them (such as Polk and Mahon) live up the reputation, but two of the detectives so dismissed are Lester Freamon and Roland Pryzbylewski, both of whom prove instrumental in turning the case into both a major threat to the Barksdale organization and a major headache for Burrell. Notably, even as he thinks he's hamstringing the investigation, Burrell remains clueless that this trope is in play.
      (Burrell is reassigning people from Daniel's unit)
      Burrell: What's the name of that old detective from pawnshop? And that young one, Valchek's brain-dead son-in-law?
      Daniels: Freamon, Pryzblyewski.
      Burrell: Keep 'em. Send back Sydnor and Santangelo.
      (Daniels smiles quietly)
    • Prez gets justifiably relieved of his gun and stuck running the office. 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.
    • Santangelo gets busted back to patrol for refusing to be Rawls' spy. When McNulty and Kima run into him in season 3, he tells them he loves his new post since he keeps the same pay and pension without having to work with people like Rawls.
    • 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. He's gung-ho, while they are more practical.
    • Avon Barksdale is the Red Oni to Stringer Bell's Blue Oni. Avon is a street warrior, while Stringer is a businessman.
    • Bodie Broadus is the Red Oni to Poot Carr's Blue Oni. He's always worked up about something, but Poot seems more interested in getting laid.
    • Ziggy Sobotka is the Red Oni to Nick Sobotka's Blue Oni. Ziggy's a psychopath, while Nick is even-mannered.
    • Snoop Pearson is the Red Oni to Chris Partlow's Blue Oni. She's always eager to bust some caps, but Chris is methodical.
    • Barksdale's soldiers Chipper and Country. Chipper is loud and reckless while Country is cautious but has no backbone. Their inability to get along gets them killed in a failed driveby shooting.
  • 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.
  • Reformed Criminal: Cutty, Shorty Boyd, Poot, the flower store owner from season 2 and Bubbles.
  • Revealing Cover Up: The whole season 5, ending up with a Treachery Coverup + local Government Conspiracy scheme on top of it
  • Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: In season 3, Senator Clay Davis and a few other public officials take part in a golden shovel ceremony to inaugurate a new construction project. This also appears in the opening credits for that season, and given how corrupt Davis really is, it's meant to show his hypocrisy.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The origins of Howard "Bunny" Colvin's unusual nickname go entirely unaddressed.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Valcheck is motivated to investigate Sobotka purely out of spite for outbidding him on the donation of a stained glass window at a local church, but he's not wrong that Sobotka's union has more money than it should, and something fishy really is going on.
  • Right Hand vs. 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 replies, "Cedric Daniels, but I mostly go by Lieutenant".
    • Late at night, Major Colvin goes for a drive through his district in uniform and driving an unmarked but obvious police car. A clueless pusher named Justin tries to sell drugs to Colvin. Colvin is so baffled he can only say "What?" Justin asks again, so Colvin turns up the volume of his police radio, and finally has to put on his peaked cap, at which point Justin finally gets it and lets Colvin go, while his friends break out in hysterical laughter.
  • 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 à 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, including his tendency to get surveillance equipment lost or broken.
    • 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, McNulty apparently being the only person in Baltimore who knows absolutely nothing about boats, (even Bunk, who practically has a phobia about boats due to his inability to swim, corrects him on terminology at one point) and especially McNulty's inability to tie up a boat properly, which 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? Ain't you know nothing? [ties it off perfectly, then looks at McNulty's knot on the other cleat in disgust] What the hell is that?
      Jimmy: [Dismissive hand wave] Baltimore knot.
      Bubbles: Baltimore knot? What the hell is a Baltimore knot?
      Jimmy: I don't know, but it's never the same thing twice.
    • 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. There is a necktie mausoleum.
    • 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.
    • Bunk responding to the outcome of Jimmy's antics, (which generally just get Jimmy and Bunk in deeper trouble) by asking "You happy now, bitch?"
    • Littering seems to be Baltimore's most common non violent crime.
  • 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! : 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Poot is the only hopper shown to actually leave the game successfully. After he flees from Bodie's assassination, he's not seen again until Season 5, when Dookie bumps into him working at a shoe store. Poot admits, "Shit just got old."
  • 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.
    Phelan: Mr. Hilton, are you the second coming of our savior? [...] Are you Jesus Christ come back to Earth?
    Bird: Uhmm...
  • 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.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Sgt. Jay Landsman often provides sarcastic commentary in a theatrical style using overly fancy language.
  • 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. Bubbles 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 "dead soldiers", Bubs street slang for discarded heroin vials).
  • Shirtless Scene: McNulty, Avon, Daniels, D'Angelo, Omar, Stringer.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Cutty's roommate in the hospital is watching Deadwood. The man chuckles to himself, "Ha ha ha, he called him 'cocksucker'!" It's probably a bit of a Take That!.
    • In season four, Little Kevin mentions SpongeBob in a conversation with Bodie and some other runners. Bodie chides them for watching too many cartoons.
    • In season five, Dukie and Bug watch Dexter and are obvious fans. This is probably another Take That!, calling the show childish.
    • When Bunk and Lester are interviewing the crew members from the ship in Season 2, at one point Lester yells "English, motherfucker!" . Bunk opts for "yabba-dabba-doo".
    • Omar and Dante are shown watching a season six episode of Oz together.
    • Some of the cops choose music on their car stereos to compliment their mood. When rallying to shut down Hamsterdam, Rawls plays "The Ride of the Valkyries". When prepping to chase drug runners down alleys, Herc chooses the Shaft theme.
      Herc: He's a complicated man, and no one understands him but his woman.
      Carver: Seek therapy.
    • In the second season, Bodie discovers that radio stations are different outside of Baltimore by accidentally tuning into A Prairie Home Companion. When we cut back to him later, he's still listening to it.
    • The graphic novel Watchmen features a company called "Pyramid Delivery", as does the second season of The Wire. In both works, the company turns out to be a front set up by the Big Bad ( Ozymandias and The Greek, respectively).
    • McNulty is nicknamed The Prince of Tides by Landsman when the case of a dead women is revealed to be within homicide jurisdiction thanks to McNulty's thorough seafaring calculations in the episode Ebb Tide. He's later called Clarice during his season 5 Serial Killer case.
    • Marlo's analysis on Omar's escape: "That's some Spider-Man shit"
    • A Take That! to CSI; when Greggs lands in Homicide she suffers a number of novice practical jokes, she eventually asks if they are coming again with "some other "CSI" bullshit that don't exist?" . A second Take That! via the petulant and not really competent FBI boss who says he is a consultant for that show.
    • Senator Davis brings up Survivor, Fear Factor and Prometheus Bound in his Chewbacca Defense
    • The 5-0 moniker for incoming police originates from Hawaii Five-O
    • In the pilot, McNulty discusses with Bunk The Bridge on the River Kwai as the origin of his Catchphrase, in the My God, What Have I Done? sense.
    • Colvin uses An Offer You Can't Refuse during his debrief on Hamsterdam
    • When Avon calls out Stringer for wanting to kill Clay Davis, he says, "You need a Day of the Jackal type motherfucker to do some shit like that."
    • Bunk is seen reading In a Strange City, a novel by Laura Lippman, David Simon's wife.
    • In the Season 3 episode "Reformation", Jen Carcetti can be seen reading a novel by Dennis Lehane, who worked as a writer on this show.
    • When the police are about to assault the Barksdale's HQ "Delta Force-style", Jimmy remarks they are mistaking Avon for Tony Montana, so Daniels and McNulty simply walk up calmly into the compound and arrest him peacefully.
    • Several drug dealers wear T-Shirts with the face of Tony Montana.
    • John Munch: makes a cameo in the fifth season as a bar patron. Munch was Jay Landsman's expy in Homicide and in The Wire he shares the counter with Mello, who is played by the real Jay Landsman!
    • One of the bosses of The Baltimore Sun wants to portray the "Dickensian aspect of the homeless situation. This is part of showing his preference for crowd-pleasing narratives over accurate and relevant journalism.
    • In the episode "Refugees", Prez's line "One side just loses more slowly" is paraphrased from a similar line in Night Moves.
    • In the penultimate episode "Late Editions", Snoop says, "Deserve's got nothin' to do with it."
    • When Old Face Andre claims he was robbed by a masked attacker, Bunk asks in disbelief if he was like Zorro.
    • McNulty derisively refers to a rural police officer as "Buford Pusser," a reference to Walking Tall (1973) (and the real Tennessee lawman it was about).
    • Clay Davis tries to pass himself off as a modern-day Prometheus by bringing Prometheus Bound to his court date, though he mispronounces both the title and the author.
    • McNulty's sons name-drop the neo-psychedelic band Dead Meadow as the music they're listened to. Out of touch, McNulty asks what's wrong with The Ramones.
  • 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.
    • In the episode "The Detail", The Wire turns out to be one of the few cop shows ever to point out that police interrogations are supposed to end as soon as the suspect asks to see legal counsel—a fact that pop culture depictions usually ignore for Rule of Drama. Bunk cleverly gets around that rule by instead trying to trick D'Angelo into confessing to William Gant's murder by asking him to write a letter of condolence to Gant's (nonexistent) children. When Levy barges in and yells at Bunk and McNulty for not ending the interrogation, Bunk points out that he didn't actually ask D'Angelo any questions, and didn't record any statement he made.
    Levy: He calls his lawyer, that's supposed to be the end of the interview!
    Bunk: Your client gave no statement, we took no statement. He just decided, voluntarily, to write a letter to the victim's family.
  • 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 expletive-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 vs. 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.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Kima Greggs is the only female poh-leece who gets any focus during the show.
  • Some of My Best Friends Are X: After McNulty makes some racist statements in hopes of ingratiating himself to a local cop, he realizes his error and immediately starts talking about his black partner, Kima, to show that he's not actually racist.
  • 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: '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.
  • Spiteful Spit: Michael asks Chris Partlow to kill his stepfather, Devar. Normally Chris carries out hits in a dispassionate manner, killing with a headshot. However, it's implied that Devar has sexually abused Michael, and upon hearing Devar admit to raping other inmates in prison (or at least, that's what Chris takes from it), Chris beats him to a bloody pulp, spitting on the corpse afterwards.
  • 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 McNulty and Lester tainted the due process, but he can't really Pull the Thread as he has his own skeletons in the closet
  • The Starscream:
    • Rawls and Burrell are thick as thieves once Rawls is promoted to Deputy Ops, but when Burrell becomes threatened, Rawls immediately moves in to get him fired and take his place.
    • Cheese to Prop Joe. He's just too stupid to see the wisdom in Joe's moves and decides to ally with Marlo against Joe.
  • Status Quo Is God: Life in Baltimore is cyclic with new characters taking the roles of old characters. Nothing really changes.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Omar's boyfriend, Brandon Wright. Displayed on the hood of a car in the projects.
  • Straight Gay:
    • Omar and most of his boyfriends are stick-up men without the standard gay mannerisms.
    • Bill Rawls is just as chauvinistic and crass as the rest of the cops in Baltimore, but he's shown drinking at a gay bar in a single scene. Without that scene, you'd have no idea.
  • 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.
  • Stick 'em Up: In a fifth-season episode ("The Dickensian Aspect"), Omar uses a glass bottle to "hold up" Rick.
  • Straight Edge Evil:
    • Baltimore kingpins do not get high and prohibit their employees from using drugs as well. When a few flunkies show up high at Avon's welcome home party, Avon has them thrown out. Bird gets caught because he violates this rule and he uses the same gun from kill to kill.
    • Baltimore kingpins rarely, if ever, show any Conspicuous Consumption. It's standard for them to own almost nothing in their own name. Prop Joe for example, is still living in a humble old house he inherited from his family. In season three, Stringer Bell's legitimate enterprises allow him and Barksdale to actually own property.
    • Marlo does not drink and does not dance. While he does pick up women in clubs, he proves immune to a Honey Pot. His one true vice is gambling. When he and Chris discuss blowing off some steam, Marlo wants to go to Atlantic City to hit the casinos.
  • Stupid Crooks: Many of the low-level street criminals are ignorant kids with little education and little knowledge outside of their bubble. Their crimes are often poorly conceived and sloppily conducted. And the police love to take advantage of them any way they can, such as passing off a copier as a lie detector.
  • Stylistic Suck:
  • Suicide Watch: After Officer Prezbylewski accidentally shoots another police officer while chasing a suspect in the projects, his superior Lt. Daniels comes to visit a despondent Prez as the rest of the department heads are discussing what to do next. After Daniels leaves the room, he tells Deputy Rawls to send somebody home with Prez to make sure he doesn't kill himself out of guilt.
  • 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 at first portrayed 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 Charles 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 (real life) Baltimore Homicide Unit equivalent for a generic useless description given by witness to a murder is "Big Negro, Big Gun" or "BNBG." The term is used by Bunk 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 in the center of his face and stands in front of him long enough for the witness to take a good look at his face.
  • 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.
  • The Syndicate: The New Day Co-Op, gathering up all (well, almost all) the major drug dealers in Baltimore around three organizing principles: (1) pooling together to get a better deal on bulk dope (2) respecting each others' territory, and (3) talking out their problems rather than applying violence. It's basically Lucky Luciano's Mafia "Commission" but with black gangsters in Baltimore, not Italian ones in New York.
  • Teens Are Short: D'Angelo is a head shorter than Avon and Stringer. He's supposed to be a generation younger than Avon and Stringer, but Lawrence Gilliard Jr. is only two years younger than Wood Harris and one year older than Idris Elba.
  • Tell Me Again: Often used in preference over As You Know. For example, Jimmy asks Lester to explain again how he's secretly routing a wire tap to their own investigation.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage:
    • In the second season, with sailors who all claim to not 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.
  • That Wasn't a Request: The following exchange when Omar's crew is robbing a drug kingpin at a high-stakes card game.
    Omar: Money ain't got no owners, only spenders. Tell you what, I sure like that fancy ring you're wearing.
    Marlo: [non-response]
    Omar: [puts his pistol up against Marlo's throat] Boy, you confuse me for a man who repeats himself.
  • "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 Valchek 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 lenient one from Major Colvin on how he isn't much of a police officer. It inspires him to clean up his act and become more community-minded.
    • 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.
    • Odell Watkins delivers one to Mayor Royce when Royce's corruption becomes too much.
      Odell Watkins: Look at you, Clarence. Just look at you. You've forgotten your agenda. You've forgotten your base! You think a shave and some Marcus Garvey posters are gonna get you over? You think that's going to make up for jumping in bed with every damn developer? Shit, you're even on Clay Davis' tit.
      Clarence Royce: Now don't you go getting all self-righteous with me, Odell. Campaigns run on dollars, you know it.
      Odell Watkins: Whose dollars? Those sons of bitches you got around your card table ever month, feeding your kitty? Oh yeah, I know about that too. You... the trouble with you. (Gives up and turns to leave) FUCK YOU, Clarence!
    • McNulty gives one to Scott Templeton, which amounts to McNulty admitting that he's full of shit but having no clue what Templeton's excuse is.
  • 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 Barksdale Organization 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 recognize 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. Avon and Stringer have some level of dynamics here.
  • Those Two Guys: Bodie and Poot in the first two seasons; Herc and Carver throughout the series
  • The Three Faces of Adam:
    • Within the Baltimore drug trade, Marlo Stanfield is the Hunter (young, building his empire, making lots of mistakes, making big moves), Avon Barksdale is the Lord (well-established, fighting for what he's got, trying to keep things stable), and Proposition Joe is the Prophet (older than Avon by a good ten years at least, concerned about the future of the drug trade, tries to impart wisdom on Marlo).
    • Among the BPD detectives, Jimmy McNulty is the Hunter (comparatively young, trying to make a name for himself, making big—occasionally ''huge—mistakes, but also aggressively going after big cases), Bunk Moreland is the Lord (although willing to go out of his way to make a good case, he is at the end of the day content to be a Homicide detective and trying to keep things that way), and Lester Freamon is the Prophet (although he's still working cases, he is mostly trying to guide younger detectives into the methods of good police work and impart the wisdom of his years and mistakes upon a new generation of cops).
  • Three-Way Sex: McNulty 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 he gave the signal. Bunk warns him that his perverted report will make him a Baltimore PD legend. Several seasons later, Dozerman brings it up and McNulty only halfway denies it.
  • 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 acts 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"
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Major Colvin's Hamsterdam project in season 3.
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • Omar loves his breakfast cereal, particularly Honey Nut Cheerios, which he finds hard to get.
    • D'Angelo often requests and is often seen drinking ginger ale.
  • 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"
  • Tragic Villain
    • Wallace tries to go straight but is unable to and chooses The Game for good. String has Bodie kill him because he thought he couldn't be trusted.
    • D'Angelo is trapped by his family's legacy as crime lords. He offers to testify for a chance at being normal but his mother guilts him into staying quiet. He distances himself while in prison, causing String to have him killed because he thought he couldn't be trusted.
    • Avon is a good man who just happens to be a crime lord and The Game is just a means to an end to him for the sake of helping his community. He gets caught between avenging Dee or protecting his friend String and he chooses the latter. String later betrays him to the police because the New Day Co-Op threatens to cut off their drug supply because Avon won't back down from his war with Marlo, despite String promising to back him up like always. Avon is now serving 25 years in prison and while he is still formidable inside, he has lost both his family and his only friend.
    • Bodie like any other ambitious young man believes working hard and keeping your nose clean will get him far. He's sacrificed everything for The Game including his friend Wallace but has nothing to show for it. Bodie finally realises "The Game is rigged" and agrees to testify against Marlo but is killed before he does.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Season 4 subjects Randy and Bubbles to this, especially in the Wham Episode.
  • Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: In season 4, Randy Wagstaff, an eight-grade student in the Baltimore public school system, talks to the police after witnessing a murder perpetrated by the Stanfield drug gang. After word gets out, he is immediately targeted by his peers as a snitch, culminating in his house being firebombed and his foster mother permanently disfigured. Randy eventually has to go back to the badly-funded group home he already stayed in for years.
  • Trojan Horse: A few.
    • When Rawls is frustrated by the Major Crimes Unit serving subpoenas to high-ranking city officials, he sends in Lieutenant Charles 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.
    Omar: Do tell.
    • Bernard is the Barksdale Organization's burner phone runner, dispatched weekly to pick up burner phones. His girlfriend Squeak gets annoyed at how he drives long distances to only get two phones at each store. The MCU use this to their advantage. Bubbles, who knows Squeak, approaches them and claims he knows a guy who can bulk-sell them burner phones at a good price. What he doesn't tell them is that said black market cell phone salesman is actually an undercover Lester Freamon, and these phones have been pre-tapped.
  • 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 out of Three Ain't Bad: When Carcetti becomes mayor, he's told that if he wants to run for governor in a few years, his administration's policy goals should be to 1) authorize a major construction project he can put his name on, 2) lower Baltimore's crime rate, 3) not interfere in the city's schools, and 4) do his best to keep his boyish good looks. He fails to lower the crime rate, shortly after being told all this it's discovered that the city schools are millions of dollars in debt, and in the end Carcetti has to break or compromise all his campaign promises. He does manage to be at the center of a big revitalization project opening. When he gripes about all this to his aide Norman, Norman snarks that one out of four isn't bad.
  • 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, focusing primarily on Prez's courses and the experimental learning environment that Colvin is involved in.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm:
    • Lt. Charles Marimow, 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 Stanfield 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 Baltimore 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: Major Colvin's Hamsterdam project can be considered a mild example. It greatly improved public safety and quality of life for Baltimore citizens, but it involves allowing criminals to peddle drugs unhindered in designated areas, and brutally punishing the dealers who refuse 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 Win 32 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: Rawls trashes a desk thinking it belongs to McNulty, his soon-to-be former (in)subordinate. He is informed that the stuff actually belongs to Crutchfield, and McNulty sits at the opposite cubicle. 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 disastrous.
    • 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.
  • Villainous Gentrification: This trope constantly hangs over the series. Gentrification is presented as, at best, attempting to paper over the problems of the city, and at worst as almost an equal force with the city's prodigious crime rate in making the city unlivable and unable to pull itself out of its downward spiral. Also, every real estate developer encountered for more than a few seconds is greedy, corrupt, and willing to screw over anyone to make a few dollars. Specific examples include:
    • Real estate developer Andy Krawczyk is a major behind the scenes power in Baltimore. He's also the very model of a corrupt developer, pushing to do things like building luxury condos after doing a land grab, skirting the law to bribe officials, bending city hall to do his bidding in everything from zoning laws to who gets promoted within the police force.
    • Drug kingpins often buy up cheap real estate in bad neighborhoods, then profit massively from corrupt deals made with developers or the city when the land has to be bought for urban renewal.
    • The second season features a protracted fight between the union dockworkers and the aforementioned Andy Krawczyk over a pier that has fallen into disuse. The dockworkers want to repair and reopen the space for commercial use, which could mean adding hundreds of badly needed jobs and giving that area of the city a chance at genuine renewal. Krawczyk wants to simply take the land and build luxury apartments near the water.
      • The second season also has a short incident where Nick Sobotka, the nephew of the head of the dockworkers union, attempts to by a house that used to belong to an aunt of his, only to find that due to gentrification the prices of real estate have soared so much that he could never hope to buy property in that neighborhood, showing how blue collar locals get squeezed out by gentrification.
    • There's a darkly humorous case in the third season. Stringer Bell, the Dragon-in-Chief of what was the biggest drug empire in the city when the story began, is trying to move into legitimate business and become a real estate mogul/developer. The business partners who are supposed to be helping him do this, Andy Krawczyk and State Senator Clay Davis, are actually conning him out of money while his projects go nowhere. They are literally bigger crooks than one of the biggest drug dealers in town and can cheat him with impunity. Stringer's attempt to get into the real estate business is discussed by a group of detectives who investigated him in Season 1 and are now doing so again.
      Detective Freamon: You know, a couple of years ago when they were buying all that downtown real estate, I thought they were buying it to flip it. Get the cash when the federal payout lands and the properties are condemned.
      Detective Pryzbylewski: Bell and Barksdale haven't sold any of it. They're buying more, in fact, and applying for building permits.
      Detective Freamon: Seems that Stringer Bell is worse than a drug dealer.
      Detective Pryzbylewski: [with distate] He's a developer.
  • 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 affectionate relationship with Chris Partlow.
  • Visual Pun: A great example that overlaps with Black Comedy when Omar walks into Proposition Joe's repair shop (a front for his criminal enterprise, but otherwise legitimate) out for revenge for Joe previously having betrayed him, but just presents an old, broken clock and asks Joe to fix it up. When Joe asks what's wrong with it, Omar immediately whips out a Desert Eagle and says "Ran out of time!".
  • 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 port cop, 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 McNulty 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 Baltimore PD 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 outsider instructors, Santangelo in particular, 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. 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 Scott Templeton. 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 at the prison due to Avon and Stringer conspiring to have the drugs Tilghman smuggles into the prison be tainted with rat poison, as part of a plot to get early parole for Avon.]]
  • We Used to Be Friends: The four boys introduced in season 4 go their separate ways and are unrecognizable by the end. Namond gets adopted by Colvin and gets free of the game, Michael becomes a stickup man, Randy becomes a thug and Dukie becomes a drug addict.
  • We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: Averted: On the eve of the election, 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.
  • Wham Line: Carcetti learns that all his high-flying plans to rebuild Baltimore, and particularly its police department, are about to go to shit.
    Finance Advisor: The system is running a 54-million-dollar deficit.
  • 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 McNulty. "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 wannabes. 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 Frog.
    • "White Mike" McArdle is a mid-level dealer in Prop Joe's East Side organization.
  • 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.
      McNulty: What?
      Kima: Takes a whore to catch a whore. (everyone starts laughing)
      McNulty: What the fuck did I do?
    • 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.
      Perlman: What?
  • 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.
  • Would Harm A Child: "Hoppers" are young kids who act as couriers for drug lords. They're considered expendable. Many of the older drug dealers are also still technically juveniles, though they are considered fair fame for assassinations.
  • Wretched Hive: Bodymore, Murdaland. 300 murders a year. Note that the show goes out of its way to show "Hamsterdam" getting worse.
    Bill Rawls: Here's a fun fact for you, people: If Baltimore had New York's population, we'd be clocking 4,000 murders at this rate.
    • In other words, Baltimore's murder rate is EIGHT times higher per capita - New York City peaked at 2245 murders in 1990 and by the early 2000s in which the show is set, was down to 500-600 a year.
  • 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.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Quite a few 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. Kima cheats on her girlfriend. Daniels cheats on his wife (though their marriage is kinda dead at that point) with Rhonda. Carcetti cheats on his wife at least once that we see. D'Angelo cheats on his girl Donette to start his side-relationship with Shardene. Donette starts a relationship with Stringer Bell while D'Angelo is in prison.
  • 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.
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: Rawls does a double-take that's the silent version of this trope when McNulty pays a visit to Homicide in season 2 and salutes him.
  • 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.

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