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  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Unsurprisingly for an HBO drama, the show is full of this:
    • Is Jimmy McNulty the Only Sane Man in a city full of police officers who have lost their way, or is he a dangerously unhinged Knight Templar with no regard for the law?
    • Is Stringer Bell a coldly pragmatic criminal mastermind who only cares about profit, or is he a Noble Demon who tries to bring some much-needed dignity and integrity into the criminal underworld that he was born into? In the end, did he meet a Karmic Death after telling one lie too many, or did he meet a tragic death after futilely trying to rise above his station in life?
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    • Is Omar Little a bona fide modern-day Robin Hood (and the closest thing Baltimore has to a genuine hero) or is he just another crook who profits off of the drug trade and causes chaos for the simple thrill of it?
    • Tommy Carcetti. He's either a sellout, a narcissist who ultimately only cares about himself and his career, or a well-meaning politician who is forced to make compromises due to events beyond his control.
    • Baltimore, which is a character by itself. Is the town a forsaken post-industrial rotten apple that never found a new drive, or just a deeper of examination of ''the'' American City, and by extension America? The writers go beyond that and affirm that Baltimore represents any city of the Western civilization.
    • Was Avon trapped in a life of crime because he didn't know anything else or did he simply enjoy it?
      • Did he come to enjoy it because he was trapped?
  • And You Thought It Would Fail:
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    • The series was initially rejected by HBO, who weren't even sure that they wanted a police procedural in their programming lineup - they had to be convinced by David Simon (who had previously collaborated with them on 2000's The Corner) to produce a pilot episode. The resulting season didn't fare so great in the ratings, and the series was on the verge of cancellation - until critics started promoting the show as one of the best new series in years. The show subsequently survived multiple attempts at cancellation, lasted five seasons, and has been regarded as one of the best dramatic series produced from the 21st century.
    • At a reunion of some of the cast in 2014, it was revealed that the actors weren't all that satisfied with the show at first. "I told my agent to call Law & Order", said Wendell Pierce; Sonja Sohn said, "A lot of us were like, 'I don't know, it's kind of slow.'"
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    • Dominic West was reluctant to do the series since it meant signing a five-year contract to live in Baltimore. His agent eased his fears by telling him "don't worry, it'll only last one season."
  • Anvilicious:
    • Bunny Colvin's "legal drug zone" and the results thereof, reducing violent crime by 14% only for the plan to be struck down and Colvin forced to resign due to a PR shitstorm, seems to be a commentary on how the War on Drugs is a complete failure... but doing anything to stop it is political suicide.
    • While they are well crafted into the general theme about dysfunction, the metaphors about The War on Terror in general and the then ongoing Iraqi War (season 3 was produced in 2004) in particular are not subtle by the standards of the The Wire. But then again, many would agree than Simon's vision was Vindicated by History, if not right from the beginning.
      Slim Charles: Don't matter who did what to who at this point. Fact is, we went to war, and now there ain't no going back. I mean, shit, it's what war is, you know? Once you in it, you in it. If it's a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight.
  • Award Snub: The Wire didn't win a single Emmy and was nominated for only two (for writing). This despite routinely being the subject of gushing critical praise and more than once being declared the Best Show Ever. This might be because the Emmy nominations are done on the strength of a single episode that the producers submit to the judges, and this show is difficult to appreciate (or even understand) by watching a single isolated episode.
  • Better on DVD: Due to the huge cast, intricate plot, and stubborn refusal to hold the viewer's hand, it's much easier to catch all of the details by binge-watching. (Between this aspect and the relentless focus on the drug war, policing, race, and the headaches of the modern American city, it seems to have been tailor-made not for the decade it was made in but the one after.)
  • Commitment Anxiety: One of the reasons why the show wasn't more successful. The show can be downright intimidating to newcomers, as the deliberate pacing, ruthlessly bleak tone, absolute rejection of Acceptable Breaks from Reality and Expospeak, and a level of Shown Their Work that demands some knowledge on the fields covered, all seem purpose-built to drive off anyone not willing to meet the show on its level.
  • Complete Monster: Marlo Stanfield, the final Big Bad, wages war against the Barksdale organization after a member makes him an offer to join their coalition, seeing the partnership as a sign of weakness and preferring the bloody combat that ensues. A ruthless sociopath, Marlo orders Junebug and his whole family killed in response to an alleged verbal insult; orders Snoop to kill the 14-year-old Michael, on the mere suspicion he was a snitch; and murders his own mentor, after feeling he is of no further use to him. Revealed to keep vacant houses as "tombs" for the bodies of people he orders killed, over twenty corpses are found in them, both of Marlo's enemies and innocents. Egging on a security guard by purposefully committing petty theft in front of him, when the man tells Marlo he would rather avoid confrontation and just wants to support his family, Marlo orders him killed for "talking back".
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: The show's bleak tone, with so many sympathetic characters ground between the cogs of the system while the same system rewards some of its most heinous members, can alienate some viewers. That said, the show does have a lot of humor on it, which Simon has admitted to inserting to prevent the show from being too depressing.
  • Death of the Author: There have been some arguments that the creator's stated message and moral for the show is not the same as the message that many viewers infer. There was even a Harvard symposium that addressed this at one point. This is probably because the show's depiction of Baltimore's social structure is so realistic and detailed that it presents realities that are open to a wide variety of interpretations. It's fairly easy for a viewer to come to a different conclusion than David Simon's (mostly left-wing) views.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: Inevitable given the moral complexity of the show. The criminals are so nuanced and three-dimensional that it's easy to forget they can be very bad guys. The charismatic Stringer Bell, a man trapped between two worlds, is a main example. Being played by Idris Elba also helps.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Omar Little. Even Barack Obama has called him his favorite character. Dennis Lehane revealed that he was given the duty of writing Omar's death scene specifically because none of the other writers wanted to be known as the guy who killed Omar.
    • Slim Charles is also very popular for a relatively minor character. Reliable, competent, honorable and loyal, he displays plenty of positive but scarce virtues.
    • Brother Mouzone, for much the same reasons as Omar. Appeared in six episodes of the whole series, but his popularity rivaled some of the regular characters. And then taken up to eleven when he first fought Omar and then teamed up with him to take revenge on Stringer.
    • During a premier party for Season 5's debut, the loudest cheer for cast/character accrediting went to Michael B. Jordan/Wallace.
    • Pryzbylewski, for some.
    • Senator Clay Davis. Owing it to his charisma and his trademark catchphrase. In seasons 1 and 2 he's mostly a One-Scene Wonder any time he appears, in seasons 3 and 4 he's much more involved in some of the series' subplots and finally in season five he's a regular cast member appearing in most episodes and even having one mostly devoted to tying up his storyline.
    • Bodie too.
    • Out of the child characters, Michael Lee is probably the only one with a significant fandom, thanks to a combination of his warm-hearted personality, tragic childhood and signs of genuine badassery. His pounding the shit out of Kenard didn't hurt, either.
    • Felicia Pearson/Snoop. The opening scene of Season 4 when she bought a nailgun probably had something to do with that.
    • Chris Partlow, who's strangely likable despite (or perhaps because of) his being the single most prolific killer in the entire series.
  • Evil Is Cool:
    • Prop. Joe, Avon and Stringer are highly competent, have more than a fair share of introspective and quotable dialogue and benefit from superb and naturalistic acting, which turns them into magnetic characters without harming the realism, as they don't rely on over-the-top exploits, just their deep personality.
    • Omar is undoubtedly cool, but it's left up to the viewer to classify him as evil or not. Brother Mouzone, another smooth operator who doesn't target civilians is a similar case.
    • Among the major players, Marlo is probably the one who avoids the trope, as he's very cold, aloof and unsophisticated. But even Stanfield is given a shining moment when he single-handedly bests two corner punks in the finale.
  • Fandom Rivalry: The Wire nowadays gets comparisons to Breaking Bad.
  • Genius Bonus:
    • "Herc" is notable for his strong South Bronx accent. South Bronx is the birthplace of hip hop, and its resident DJ Kool Herc is considered the father of the genre.
    • In the first episode of Season 2, Frank Sobotka asks his priest to set up a meeting with a Senator Mikulski who attends the Polish-language Mass. Political junkies know that Maryland's senior U.S. Senator at that time was Barbara Mikulski, who was from a Polish-American family and whose political base was "ethnic" working-class people like Sobotka and his longshoremen.
  • Growing the Beard: The first nine episodes are perfectly serviceable police drama. You start to get invested in the story and wondering how the detail is gonna put the Barksdale crew behind bars... and then "The Cost" happens. In a single scene, the show's HSQ shoots into the stratosphere and you realize that while you weren't looking, the characters slowly snuck up on you and made you care for them. It's impossible not to be addicted after that point.
    • Seasons 1 and 2 are certainly good television but Season 3 is when it really lives up to its promise. We're back on the street, new characters such as Bunny Colvin and Tommy Carcetti are introduced, we get a better balance between worlds and we see the social side of Police Drama. This coincides with Omar growing his goatee into a thick beard and Cutty, also bearded, arriving onto the scene. And then Season 4 also improved on that, continuing to look on the politics but also the education system.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • We get a lot of looks into the culture of the Baltimore P.D., including some of its more violent tendencies—and then, early in Carcetti's tenure as Mayor, there's an incident where the police culture is brought into question after a minister gets the wrong end of it and the suggestion that a civilian review board be established be brought up and politicking between the State's Attorney and police about what to do. Fast forward to 2015: the death of Freddie Gray brings that selfsame culture of the BPD to national attention, and the result is protests across Baltimore City (and even Baltimore County) and riots in West Baltimore; proposals for stronger civilian review of police brutality; the State's Attorney filing charges of murdernote  against one of the cops responsible and serious manslaughter charges against the rest; and the federal Department of Justice starting a "pattern and practice" inquiry into the BPD at the Mayor's request. Oh, and Martin O'Malley (of whom Carcetti is generally seen as being something of a No Celebrities Were Harmed version)—he was running for President on the left wing of the Democratic Party at the time. The incident drew attention to O'Malley's role in creating the BPD's culture during his tenure as Mayor (particularly his acceptance of the systems that encouraged stats-juking), shifting him from being a long-shot candidate to no-shot.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Rawls is very angry in the first episodes because the Deputy is "busting his balls" over some case he has no clue about. Once the viewer learns how overbearing Rawls is, it's funny and gratifying to hear that for once, someone is sweating Rawls and giving him a hard time.
    • Lester Freamon, likely the best detective of the story, is dismissed as a hump or a cuddly house cat in the first episodes. Little do they know he's natural police.
    • McNulty picking up the waitress in season 2, after Dominic West got a whole show about his character cheating on his wife with a waitress, The Affair. And he clashes once again with John Doman, who is his father-in-law. Just think about a family reunion with Rawls and McNulty.
    • After playing a perpetual screw-up cop here, Jim True-Frost would play the straightest of straight-arrow cops Eliot Ness in Boardwalk Empire. Similarly, Omar would finally graduate from street thug to top man in the same show as Chalky White.
    • We finally get to see Avon and Wallace together in the Rocky spin-off film Creed.
    • In the creator's commentary, David Simon mentions how hard Idris Elba took his character getting killed off and says that he had to assure Elba that he was talented enough get other roles. Elba has since become the most successful alumni of the show.
    • Both Stringer Bell and Wallace would later join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Stringer as the Gatekeeper of Asgard and Wallace as Erik Killmonger.
    • Scott Templeton, the reporter of The Baltimore Sun who finds success through falsifying flashy stories, is played by Thomas McCarthy, who would go on to direct the movie Spotlight, which was about the dedicated reporters of the Boston Globe who cracked open the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in Massachusetts. McCarthy went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, making it even more hilarious.
  • Ho Yay:
    • Herc and some gangsters are messing around with the Make-a-Face program at the station, making their ideal girl. Carver then walks out and the camera subtly highlights the similarity. Not to mention Herc and Carver reuniting in season two.
      Carver (from off-camera): Don't you be grabbin' my dick, faggot!
    • When Carver is promoted in the finale, his family is nowhere to be seen. Herc is there instead, quick to congratulate and embrace him first.
    • In episode 5 when McNulty gets so excited that Prez has solved the phone number code that he grabs Prez and kisses him on the mouth.
    • If it weren't for Herc and Carver, Bunk might just be the patron saint of Ho Yay.
    Bunk: Fuck Norris. You're my real partner Lester. My life partner. (*Norris laughs)
    Lester (*starts to walk away): Don't tease, bitch.
    Bunk (*to Norris): Look at that bow-legged motherfucker. I made him walk like that.
    • And Avon and Stringer have a Heterosexual Life-Partners dynamic in the first season, which gets strained in the second when Avon is in prison and Stringer figuratively gets into bed with Prop Joe without telling Avon, which is treated like Stringer having an affair behind Avon's back. In the third season, they play traditional gender roles; Stringer is the distant "husband" who arrives suitcase in hand, late and tired after a day's work, while Avon is the "housewife" who stays at home taking care of it and of the internal problems.
  • Magnificent Bastard:
    • Omar Devon Little is a "stick-up man" in Baltimore who robs drug dealers for a living. His first episode has him robbing one of Avon Barksdale's Stash houses. Avon puts out a hit on him and his crew and manages to succeed in killing one of his crew and torturing Omar's boyfriend to death. Over the course of the next three seasons, Omar retaliates against the Barksdale organization, culminating in him killing Stringer Bell, Avon's right-hand man. In part due to Omar's actions, the Barksdale organization collapses soon after. In season 4 Omar robs Marlo Stanfield, a new westside kingpin. Marlo, wanting revenge, frames Omar for murder. Omar beats the charge, and then blackmails Proposition Joe, another kingpin, into giving up Marlo's new drug shipment, though Omar double-crosses Joe and then steals a much larger shipment instead of Marlo's. Omar then sells it back to Joe and announces his retirement. In season 5, Marlo, who still wants revenge, has Omar's mentor killed. Omar returns to Baltimore, but he is briefly outgunned. He then goes on a warpath and calls Marlo out to face him. While he dies before this can come to fruition, the taunts prove to be very effective, as by the end of the series Marlo has faded into obscurity whereas Omar has become a legend.
    • Brother Mouzone, a legendary hitman from New York, is called down to Baltimore by Avon Barksdale to deal with Proposition Joe's drug dealers in season 2. He first shoots Cheese, Joe's nephew, with a rat shot, and is then able to intimidate Joe’s gang into staying away with his presence alone. Stringer Bell, Avon’s right-hand man, had cut a deal with Joe, and manipulates Omar into attacking Mouzone, claiming Mouzone tortured Omar’s lover to death. Omar shoots Mouzone but realizes the man is innocent and calls an ambulance for him. While in the hospital Mouzone is able to deduce that Stringer was responsible but keeps this information to himself. Returning in season 3, he tracks Omar down, asking him for help killing Stringer. He then blackmails Avon into giving up Stringers location. Together, he and Omar ambush Stinger and kill him at his condo developments. Affably Evil and Wicked Cultured, Mouzone showed why he was so feared as a hitman.
  • Memetic Badass: Omar and Brother Mouzone, in-universe.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • "Where's (insert name of thing here) at?"
    • "Omar coming!"
    • "It's all in the game."
    • "Sheeeeeeeeeeeit." There have been posters made parodying the famous Obama Hope poster, with Davis replacing Obama and the word SHIT replacing HOPE.
    • Basically, any and all of the Catch Phrases listed above.
    • "Got that WMD!"
  • Misaimed Fandom: As in most gangster stories, it struggles with Do Not Do This Cool Thing and Rooting for the Empire.
    David Simon I think there’s a great deal of forgiveness for the streetwise badass in this world. I mean, there’s a peculiar way in which the gangster chic tends to overwhelm some viewers’ sense of morality. I was always amazed when we would present the idea of some 15-year-old kid who, because he bore witness and talked to the police, would have people online saying, "Oh, Randy got to be got because he was snitching." I’d be thinking, No, Randy needs to be 15 in America. He needs to have a childhood, you asshole.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • For Stringer: arranging D'Angelo's death. Dee was one of the only completely likeable members of the Barksdale gang and was on the way up education-wise at The Cut. Then Stringer has him killed and makes it look like a suicide just because he's afraid of Dee ratting to lower his sentence, and he does so without Manipulative Bastard Avon's consent. Not to mention the fact that before and after the hit he spends a lot of the time fucking D'Angelo's girlfriend, and even has the balls to pick up and hold D'Angelo's infant son while he's plotting to have his dad murdered. Holy shit.
    • Carcetti goes from being a decent candidate with ambition not only for high office but also to make a difference, to leading an administration perhaps more morally bankrupt than the one that preceded him. His corruption is complete when he refuses to ask for money from the Republican governor to save the city's education system as this will hurt him politically when he runs against the governor, abandoning the city he promised to save.
      • AND THEN, after justifying the above decision by saying he can help the schools from a better position, when he begins his race for governor, he promises half of any new school funds created in the state to be sent to Prince George's County just to avoid a primary challenge.
    • Marlo was never very far from it to begin with, but all of his early killing were at least related to The Game. Then, in season 4, he deliberately shoplifts a $.25 lollipop while making eye contact with the security guard just to tweak him. When the man confronts him outside the store and basically asks to be treated like a human being, Marlo blows him off. And then has him murdered.
      Marlo: You want it to be one way, but it's the other way.
  • Offending the Creator's Own: David Simon, who is Jewish himself, caught a lot of flak for creating such a stereotypically villainous Jewish character as Maurice Levy.
  • One-Scene Wonder: The 1968 mayor, "white Tony", who, in the parable of the bowls of shit, graphically describes governing as eating shit from one community or another, time and again.
  • Retroactive Recognition:
    • Michael B. Jordan has become easily the most successful of the show's younger actors, making it pretty fun to see him so young here.
    • This was Idris Elba's first major role. Near the end of his stint, David Simon had to reassure a struggling Idris that he would find good acting jobs again.
    • After the huge success of Game of Thrones, Tommy Carcetti is probably better known to people as Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish.
    • Likewise, Lance Reddick may be better known to people not as Cedric Daniels, but as Philip Broyles.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Practically mandatory, as you can appreciate just how well put together the show is far more when you're not spending the first couple episodes of every single season drowning in new characters. This is a major factor in the show's above-mentioned Award Snub.
  • The Scrappy:
    • Kenard for being a horrible, sociopathic little brat. Oh yeah, there's also the fact that he killed Omar.
    • Ziggy seemed to exist for no reason other than to constantly make things worse for himself and those around him through sheer stupidity, and fans disliked him as much as the characters themselves.
    • Templeton. In a series where almost no one gets a happy ending no matter what side of the law they're on or how sympathetic they are, the fact that a slimy, dishonest reporter like him wins a Pulitzer and faces seemingly no punishment really rubbed fans the wrong way.
    • Pretty much nobody likes Cheese Wagstaff, as like Ziggy, he's both an unpleasant jerk and a complete moron who manages only to ruin the plans of more likable and sympathetic characters. No wonder people rejoiced when he ended up as the unceremonious last death in the series.
    • Even as Carver comes to understand that being a police officer demands restraint and responsibility on his part, his friend Herc never stops acting like an obnoxious, belligerent idiot. His corruption, arrogance, racism, and lack of professionalism become difficult to overlook as the show progresses and his incompetence has increasingly severe repercussions. The worst of this comes in season 4 when he casually makes a serious breach of witness confidentiality by disclosing that Randy has talked to the police, something that ends up ruining the poor kid's life as well as possibly getting his foster mother killed. It's clear by the final season that Herc hasn't changed one iota and is completely indifferent to how his actions have affected other people, meaning that beneath his meathead charm he's just another violent, amoral scumbag like officer Colicchio.
  • Seasonal Rot: While not considered bad by any means, there are those who think that Season 5 is weaker and unrealistic compared to the other seasons. The sideplots of the previous seasons were fascinating and expanded the strong ensemble cast, to the point that they could practically carry the show by themselves when the main cast were absent from an episode. In Season 5, though, the newspaper sideplot feels extremely superfluous. Seen as a severe Writer on Board moment on the part of David Simon, it didn't introduce any memorable or compelling new characters, and the whole "serial killer" plot line came across as implausible, getting away from the "true to life" feel of the show. It may also have been sinking under the weight of the sheer number of characters and plot lines of the first four seasons (in fact, the fifth season is saturated with cameos by characters from past seasons, and they don't serve much purpose). Reducing the episode count to 10 (as opposed to the normal 12-13 per season) did not help matters either.
  • Slow-Paced Beginning: Newcomers will be likely overwhelmed by the staggering number of characters and the molasses slow exposition that unfolds during the first season. The exact point when new viewers' opinion of the show crosses over from "above-average cop drama" to "GREATEST SHOW EVAH!!!" varies - from a few episodes to the entire first season.
  • Special Effects Failure: You can clearly see light glinting off Bubbles's "missing" tooth in a number of close ups.
  • Strawman Has a Point: Baltimore Sun Managing Editor Thomas Klebanow tells Gus Haynes he doesn't like his profanity. We're supposed to see Klebanow as the bad guy because of the cuts to personnel that have been occurring (and he was based on a real person that David Simon reportedly hated), but he's correct that professional settings call for a certain decorum, and as the boss he is perfectly within his rights to request that and expect his instructions to be obeyed.
  • Too Cool to Live: This trope might as well be renamed The Omar.
  • Viewer Gender Confusion: Snoop has a gender-nonconforming style and a husky voice and some viewers do not realize that Snoop is a woman at first glance.
  • What an Idiot!:
    • Stupid, stupid Ziggy.
    • Prez as a teacher falls for every trick in the book when he first starts out (although anybody who's had a new teacher in school knows that this is Truth in Television).
    • McNulty's Jamison's fuelled season five gambit, which he realizes is unbelievably stupid when he finally explains it out loud.
    • Lex effectively signs his own death warrant when he shoots Fruit. This is actually Lampshaded with Bodie telling Lex that since Fruit is Stanfield's man, he should really let his beef with Fruit go.
  • The Woobie: Poor, poor Bubbles.
    • Wallace, a sweet kid who wasn't cut out for the gang lifestyle. If only he had stayed in the countryside...
    • The Sobotka family and the rest of the stevedores in season 2. Their way of life is disappearing due to mechanization and they're powerless to do anything to stop it. Although they're working with the Greeks, they're only doing so out of desperation and are otherwise swell guys. Frank Sobotka is especially tragic; all the sacrifices he made for the docks and his men end up being for naught and get him killed.

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