Smacketology: Day 5 – Bunk vs. McNulty and the Inevitable Final Four

David T. Cole/Grantland illustration Smacketology: Day 5

One of the more prescient observations made by Chuck Klosterman, the brash Herc to my more forgiving Carver, in our Wire­-centric podcast this week was that we were unlikely to see many upsets in the Smacketology tournament. The reason being The Wire was much more than a mere entertainment to those who watched it; immersing oneself in the ebbs and flows of the heroin trade in West Baltimore became something of a social obligation, a sign to the world that you were a person comfortable with moral gray areas like the war against drugs and the insane way people in Maryland say “pony.” So even though this bracket was cooked up by a bunch of overworked soup-slurpers in Los Angeles, a city where people think Old Bay means a double feature of The Rock and Pearl Harbor, The Wire’s loyal marching band of social scientists, Go-Go fans and Dickens-riders took the voting nearly as seriously as David Simon takes himself. Sure, sentimental favorites like Bubbles and Cutty were able to score a surprise TKO or two in the early rounds, but Smacketology, like Marlo’s corners, is no place for upstarts. Even an Emmy voter could have predicted this Final Four. Omar, McNulty, Stringer, and Avon? In the words of an immortal State Senator … well, you know. If you come at these kings, you’d best not miss. And if you’re an unmemorable Ukrainian enforcer that even George Pelecanos probably had to Google when the bracket went live, well, you’d probably best not come at all.

But before we preview the semifinals, let’s pause and pour a little Jameson out — OK, a lot of Jameson out — for my personal no. 1 seed. Onscreen, the Bunk may have won his fifth-season tussle with his former partner and wingman, keeping his job and his dignity with nary a fake serial killer to his name, but in our tournament he was no match for the stinking, scrapple-loving charisma of James McNulty. If the battle didn’t go my way, at least it tipped me into a YouTube snakehole of incredible clips from Charm City’s most avuncular police. There’s avenging angel Bunk, homophobic Bunk, and everyone’s favorite, Drunk As a Skunk Bunk. (The waning hours of yesterday’s matchup also brought us a new sight: Crusading Bunk.) Bunk’s valiant effort was a necessary reminder that The Wire wasn’t always about Teaching Us a Lesson or Showing Us How It Really Is. It was also deeply, truly, frighteningly funny, and never more so than when Detective Moreland started stacking up the empties or giving Lester grammar lessons. Bunk may have fallen to his drinking buddy with the suspect accent, but he’ll always remain a curmudgeonly, occasionally cuddly reminder that The Wire was a wonderful television show first, a public service announcement second. (Which is to say, it wasn’t Treme.)

The other matches were blowouts, but not without their angles. In a replay of their early aughties turf battles, Avon finally beat his craftier counterpart, Prop Joe, without having to debase himself or his street cred with anything as wifty as a co-op. In the Eastern regional final, Stringer did wrong by a long-suffering and loyal soldier, dispatching Bodie with the same killer coldness Bodie once showed to Wallace. And over in the West, Omar continued his inexorable march to the championship, barely breaking a sweat with Michael, his shotgun-flashing heir, before leaping out of his region like it were a fifth-floor balcony window.

One of the great traditions of The Wire was the way it always saved its biggest fireworks for the penultimate episode of the season — and our smack-stained bracket is no different. The Final Four features two titanic pairings that play deeply with the DNA of the show. On the top, we’ve got America’s favorite stick-up boy finally getting his shot at the head of the Barksdale organization. No more robbing stash-houses and first-floor apartments for Omar: He’s up in the penthouse now. As for Avon, his people never should have ordered the hit on Grandma Little’s best church hat. You don’t need to be blinded by love like Brandon to know that a trip to the finals is as easy for Omar as a cereal run to the corner bodega. He won’t even have to take off his silk robe. (It might have been a different story if his opponent were Kenard. Breitbart-fueled rumors continue to swirl that the pistol-popping pee-wee’s absence from the tournament was the result of heavy lobbying from the Oval Office.)

As for the other matchup, well, Jimmy spent a lot of years hunting for Stringer and now that he has his face-to-face, the results aren’t likely to be pretty. Despite a surprising groundswell of Facebook commenters attempting to discredit the future Luther for snitching, the smart money — which is to say the dirty money, at least before Levy launders it — is on Stringer. Our advice? Don’t sweat the small stuff, String! Just crank up the Swizz and keep looking at the world through your rose-colored bookish glasses. Sorry, Jimmy. Your well-worn collection of bootleg Pogues cassettes are no match for Robert’s Rules of Order. All told, it’s hard not to foresee a Smacketology finals that mirrors a certain Season 3 confrontation in an abandoned high-rise. With, sadly, much the same result. “Get on it with it, motherfucker!” indeed.

Part of what made The Wire great is that things didn’t end up the way we wanted them to. They ended the way they ended. Smacketology is no different. Even if we had fielded a 64-character tourney, with special attention paid to the Oldfaces, Fatfaces, and Horsefaces, we’d still have wound up here, with this quartet. As Wire NIT champion Slim Charles once put it, “The game’s the same. Just got more fierce.”

Game on.
Grantland Bracket (Day Five)

*West Baltimore Region*

#1 Omar Little (13,598) defeats #2 Michael Lee (1,117)

*Ports Region*

#1 Avon Barksdale (10,760) defeats #2 Prop Joe (4,297)

*Hamsterdam Region*

#3 Jimmy McNulty (8.076) defeats #1 Bunk Moreland (7,381) **UPSET!**

*East Baltimore Region

#1 Stringer Bell (9,936) defeats #3 Bodie Broadus (5,262)

Filed Under: HBO, Michael K. Williams, Smacketology, The Wire

Andy Greenwald is a staff writer for Grantland.

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