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It's all in the tropes, man. It's all in the tropes.

  • 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.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Squeak. The show can sort of get away with this because it has plenty of more nuanced female black characters.
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  • 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.
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    • 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.
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  • 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."
    • Bunk invokes this—"I'm out! I'm outta here!"—after his attempt to have Lester talk McNulty out of concocting a serial killer on the loose in order to get the city to commit enough resources to the police for him to investigate Marlo again results, instead, in Lester joining forces with McNulty to make the stratagem work better.
  • 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...
  • Self-Punishment Over Failure: When one of Omar's robberies from the Barksdale Organization goes wrong and gets a member of his gang killed, he is deeply remorseful for having insisted on doing the robbery despite signs that the Barksdales were beefing up security due to his prior attacks, and does a bit of atonement by putting out a lit cigar in his palm.
  • 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.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog:
    • Although each season ends with successful convictions of drug dealers, it becomes progressively more and more clear with each season that the best the police can do is sweep up low and mid level operators. Everyone sufficiently high up is (almost) untouchable, and American social and political systems make effecting actual change impossible. In the final episode, McNulty has to resign from the force, Internal Reformist Cedric Daniels is forced to resign when he refuses to cooperate with the new Mayor's insistence to "fix the statistics", (to make it look as though crime is going down when it's actually going up) Mayor Tommy Carcetti and Commander William Rawls are both promoted when they don't deserve it, and the crooked newspaper reporter who falsified his stories (along with the bosses who enabled him) gets lauded. Most of the supporting characters also come to realize that they can't change the system, and will be shuffled into the background while a new generation of thugs and cops dominate Baltimore.
    • In spite of his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Omar never gets the chance to kill Marlo Stanfield, nor does he make any significant impact on stopping the flow of Stanfield goods onto the Baltimore streets. He gets shot in the head by Kenard, a kid, while he stopping at a convenience store to buy a pack of smokes. This was arguably deliberate on creator David Simon's part, as he wanted to show that being the most feared vigilante in the city doesn't mean much, and the character ultimately realizes how futile his struggle is in the scene prior to his death. When the show creator piles on the uselessness of the show's plot, he piles it on.
    • Conversely, Omar's plotline also affects Marlo Stanfield's. After a season of learning how to be a better criminal and getting away from common-thug tactics, Marlo's operation is efficiently dismantled by the efforts of McNulty and Lester, who figure out his coded signals with The Greek's operation and arrest the majority of his organization. The charges don't stick on him, but Marlo is forced to become a legitimate businessman. However, he soon learns that he's trapped in his own personal hell, that he can never go back to the life he once wanted, and his name means absolutely nothing on the streets. (Evidenced by the two men discussing the growing legend of Omar's death and not knowing who Marlo is.)
    • Frank Sobotka's subplot in Season 2 is a particularly cruel example. Throughout the season, all of his actions are driven by a desire to help the struggling workers at the ailing Baltimore docks, where paychecks are light and work is scarce. His involvement with the Greek's smuggling organization comes to a head when his son Ziggy winds up in jail after killing the Greek's lieutenant George Glekas over a personal quarrel. The Greek agrees to help him beat the murder charge by convincing the sole surviving witness to change his story (allowing him to plead self-defense), but only in exchange for absolute loyalty. The problem? Frank already went to the FBI and agreed to testify against the Greek, and the Greek has a mole at the FBI who helpfully informs him of that fact. As soon as he shows up to parley with the Greek's men, they promptly kill him for his betrayal. And afterwards, it comes out that Ziggy already confessed to killing Glekas without provocation, and the police have a signed statement to that effect. There was never any chance of saving Ziggy, and Frank died for nothing. And after he dies, the stevedore's union immediately caves, and hundreds more dockworkers wind up on the streets as a set of luxury condominiums are built over the docks. Damn.
    • At the end of Season 3, McNulty finally has Stringer tied to the Barksdale drug operation, when a wiretap catches Stringer ordering a hit. However, before he can make the arrest, Brother Mouzone and Omar, working together, catch up to Stringer and kill him in revenge for him having set the two of them against each other the previous season. McNulty has to settle for arresting all the other Barksdale players, and letting Avon himself see on the warrant just who provided the tip.note 
    • D'Angelo's arc in the first two seasons. In the first scene of the series he beats the rap for an impulse killing thanks to one of the two witnesses against himnote  recanting her identification of him. Despite his tough exterior, he shows Hidden Depths and seems to want to leave the life of crime, almost flipping to the police twice. At the end of the season he gets a 20-year prison sentence after taking one for the family and pleading guilty to a murder he didn't commit. In prison during season 2, he has an epiphany after reading The Great Gatsby and realizes that he needs to leave his own past behind. But due to this perceived weakness, he's killed in prison to prevent him from snitching and it's made to look like a suicide
  • 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.
    • When Prez likens the school district's announcement that all teachers will focus on preparing for the state tests, and that means that he, as a math teacher, must do language arts for part of his classes since the school needs to improve those scores, to the stats-juking he saw in the police department, a fellow teacher responds "Wherever you go, there you are"
    • 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.
    • After McNulty and Perlman finish their productive interview with D'Angelo following his arrest in New Jersey, they're shown walking outside a New Jersey State Police building that indicates it is a barracks for Troop D—the troop that, in real life, exclusively patrols the New Jersey Turnpike, where D'Angelo was arrested.
  • 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.
  • Society Marches On: After Greggs is shot in Season 1, her live-in girlfriend comes to the hospital. The police commissioner has come to pay a visit himself but, after the other cops explain to him rather elliptically what that worried-looking woman's relationship to Greggs is, he can't bring himself to talk to her. In the early 2000s, when that scene was shot, that behavior was not unusual, but today, when Greggs and she could legally marry, it would be.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Marlo, who no matter the situation, no matter what he's asking people to do, never raises his voice. The fact that he's eloquently laconic makes this trope even more terrifying in his hands.
  • 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.
  • Stealing from the Till: Happens a few times on the street with the dealers, and also the dockworkers often divert product to their own benefit.
  • Storming the Castle: In "The Detail", Carver, Herc and Prez are hanging out drinking together late one night when they basically decide to do this, driving their department cars right up to the towers Barksdale's organization controls and making a big scene, ostensibly to do field interviews. It doesn't go very well.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Omar's boyfriend, Brandon Wright. Displayed on the hood of a car in the projects.
  • Stunned Silence: Daniels is speaking with McNulty and is about to have him be Easily Forgiven after McNulty swears loyalty. McNulty stuns Daniels by promptly quitting Major Crimes and choosing to be a beat cop.
  • 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.
  • Technology Marches On: Invoked in-universe. In S1, the cops find it odd that the Barksdale crew are all still using pagers and pay phones, but this turns out to be by design, helping to obfuscate and compartmentalize communications. Stringer even mentions later that as cell phones become cheaper and more accessible, telecom companies not in that market become less of a good investment.
  • 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.
      "Nigga, 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 Decades Behind: Lampshaded after Snoop returns to Marlo's gang with the $668 nail gun she bought with $800 cash and then told the salesman to keep the change: "He said it was the Cadillac of guns. He meant Lexus."
  • 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
  • Unintentional Period Piece:
    • Kima is observed in S1 struggling with a manual typewriter and needing to use actual whiteout to correct mistakes. Reference is made to computers existing, but not being available to everyone yet due to funding. By the start of S2, she has a computer, but "still can't fucking type."
    • When McNulty visits the federal office in "Undertow", you can literally see agents taking down the seal representing the INS for the Homeland Security one. The INS was dissolved in 2003, and replaced by Homeland Security and USCIS.
  • 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 Win32 GDI apps running on Windows XP. The animations on the dock monitoring software are a little unbelievable (a little truck drives away with the container?), and once a search for "suspects" was done using what appeared to be the Windows Explorer File Search (with a call to the contact done through the Windows Telephony dialog), but jaggy, aliased 2D polygons and unframed text boxes in clunky custom programs are far more believable on a city police computer than full-3D operating systems that can enhance a 4 pixel area.
    • Perhaps the worst is Nick's search for the uses of the chemicals Vondas wants him to steal. The first hit is an absurdly simplistic page that literally just says they're used to process cocaine.
  • Vandalism Backfire: 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.
    • Season 4 plays this literally and for laughs. Omar gets up one morning and, finding he and Renaldo are out of breakfast cereal, goes out in his silky pajamas, unarmed, to get more from the corner store. Upon seeing him, all the local bangers scatter, and when he sits on a step to light up, a stash bag is dropped from the upper story to land next to him. In other words, he robbed the dealers without even intending to.
  • 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.
    • In season three, we hear one of the other police brass doing this in the bathroom as Colvin prepares himself for another Comstat session with Rawls. The officer's queasiness turns out to be entirely justified as he's relieved of command at the meeting after failing to impress Rawls yet again with his awareness of what's happening in his district.
    • Later that season, as McNulty and Bunk are out on the sidewalk at Kavanagh's at Cole's wake, another detective comes out, hands them both shots and then proceeds to barf in the gutter.
  • Wakeup Makeup: Averted when McNulty goes to Rhonda's house and wakes her up early the morning. She comes to the door in a bathrobe, with no makeup and her hair mussed.
  • Was It Really Worth It?: Discussed between Lester and McNulty in the aftermath of the Stanfield case, without a clear answer.
  • 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.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Namond and Michael need to beat up Namond's insubordinate hopper. Namond can't bring himself to hurt an innocent child. Michael can.
  • "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 Everybody Knows Your Flame: Averted. The lesbian bar or bars where Kima hangs out aren't all that unusualnote , and the gay bar where Lamar seeks Omar is so vanilla, other than the slightly Camp Gay patrons and bartender, that Rawls hangs out there.
  • Where Were You Last Night?: In season 5, McNulty has such a scene with his lady, who knows he's cheating.
  • White Gangbangers:
    • 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.
  • Witless Protection Program: Witness Protection rarely works out for anyone. Because the city is so broke that it can't afford a proper witness protection program, on numerous occasions over the course of the series witnesses are killed or people who try to come forward with evidence of crime unintentionally give themselves away to their fellow criminals and pay a heavy price as a result.
  • 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.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Cutty, who despite seeming to be considering going straight has no problem striking Squeak in the facenote  to get her to admit that Bernard gave her the money for all the jewelry, money he took from the crew's take.
  • 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!
    • In the first episode of season 3, Herc and Carv spend most of a drug bust chasing down a runner who has a corner stash. It's later revealed that they called most of patrol, helicopter and K-9 units in order to track down one kid, who as it turned out, just faked having a drug stash to distract them. When Major Colvin asks why they used so many resources for one kid to whom they can't even put a drug charge on, Carv just replied that the bad guys don't get to win.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Valcheck congratulates Carcetti on having put Burrell in a tight spot because either outcome works in his favor: if the mayor pushes back and keeps Carcetti from using his council position to help Burrell, it's the mayor's fault that crime is up, but if he doesn't, then Carcetti has a snitch in the mayor's inner circle.
    • Burrell returns the favor the next season when he refuses to resign. Carcetti doesn't have the political capital to overcome the resistance he'd face from Campbell and the black ministers if he fired Burrell, and they could keep the pay raise Carcetti wants from passing the council. And by staying, he guarantees that he can reassert control over the department.
  • You Do Not Want To Know: After Bird is convicted of murdering Gant because Omar lied on the stand about having witnessed the killing, McNulty asks Omar if he really did see Bird kill the man. "You really askin'?", Omar replies.
  • You Are Too Late: A common occurrence. Most notable in the second season where, due to an FBI mole, the Greek's organization twice gets tipped off just in time to destroy the evidence or murder the key witness. One scene literally cuts back and forth between the cops frantically typing up warrants and the dealers washing the heroin down the drain.
  • You Bastard!: David Simon is very clear that everyone is responsible to some degree for the problems depicted in the show. His finale letter basically tells his fans to get up and do something about it.
  • You Have Failed Me: This is done with disturbing frequency by the Barksdale drug empire, and taken even further later by the Stanfield empire, who supplant the Barksdales as the most powerful criminal organization in West Baltimore. If someone screws up in a job or seems insufficiently reliable at a time when the cops are cracking down on these groups, then those people tend to disappear or be found dead later.
    • A rare, non-lethal example from the heroes' side: In Season 3 the police brass start having to attend weekly Comstat meetings where the district commanders are grilled by Burrell and, especially, Rawls. One commander, Major Taylor, is seen at one to seem incompetent, having to look through his paperwork for information about recent crimes in his district that Rawls already knows off the top of his head, and not having spotted obvious patterns in the crimes. Before a second meeting Taylor is so nervous he throws up in the bathroom, and after a similarly unimpressive performance, Rawls announces that Taylor's deputy is now in charge of the district, in front of all the assembled brass.
    • In Season 4, when Little Kevin goes to Marlo himself to explain how he said nothing about Lex's murder during his recent jail stint and interrogation, he lets slip that involving Randy as a cutout was his decision. Marlo is so disgusted by this freelancing, which needlessly created another potential witness, that he has Kevin killed immediately afterwards.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Marlo does this 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.
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