Robert Mays: I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this scene — it’s somewhere between five and 15. When it comes to my experiences with TV, the only feeling that approaches the first trip through The Wire is vicariously living through the first time of others. My college roommates love to give me shit about plenty of stuff (mostly my dish-cleaning and rent-paying deficiencies). The one I never minded was their imitation of me as I watched the pilot with them, the eagerness with which I waited for that final exchange:
“If Snot Boogie always stole the money, why’d you let him play?”
“Got to. This America, man.”
Slim Charles Kills Cheese
Andy Greenwald: Picking a single greatest scene out of what is arguably the single greatest TV show is a fool’s errand. Every quip, every shot (of bullets and Jameson), every sheeeeit were just pawns, part of the larger game. Or, as Bodie put it in my second-favorite scene, “like the little bitches on the chess board.” But if we have to choose — and if Jonah Keri really already claimed my initial pick, a classic clip I like to call “One (Dead) Girl, Two Cops” — then I’m going with this jolting moment from the series finale. At this point, Method Man’s Cheese has already sold out his beloved uncle Prop Joe, ignored his illegitimate son Randy, and made a terrible third solo album. When he waves a gun in the portly visage of Fatface Rick and parrots Marlo’s nihilistic brand of anti-nostalgia, fan favorite (and definite Smacketology NIT winner) Slim Charles promptly turns Cheese into Swiss. “This sentimental motherfucker just cost us money,” gripes the older dealer. Maybe but as Slim, Bunk, David Simon, hell, even fringe members of the Wu-Tang Clan (I see you StreetLife!) will tell you, sometimes life is about more than money. You’ve got to have a code.
“On a Sunday Morning”
Katie Baker: Look, I know the rules about spoilers. In this age it’s your own fault if you haven’t seen something by now, and I’m well aware that if I go looking in places I shouldn’t that I’m not gonna like what I find. Still, life was going peacefully for me as someone who was only part of the way through The Wire (I just finished Season 3). It’s been long enough since the show ended that it doesn’t come up much, and the chatter about it has largely died down. UNTIL NOW. Thanks for nothing, colleagues. The entire Internet is now practically off-limits to me. I’m afraid to visit Grantland. A casual stroll through Twitter is now a frantic, weaving sprint as I try to dodge all the people arguing the merits of characters whose names I’m not yet supposed to know. And no one is attempting even the barest of spoiler decorum, because everyone (rightly) assumes that everyone else has already seen the entire series twice. Anyway, in honor of this total AMBUSH upon me in what had been a time and place of relative serenity and peace, here’s the reaction of Slim Charles and Omar to the violation of the long-standing Sunday-Morning Truce. If you need me, I’ll be hiding from all of you and your Smacketology at a cafeteria down at the airport.
McNulty’s Way of Life
Chris Ryan: I think when Oprah Winfrey coined the phrase, “Live Your Best Life,” she was talking about this Cooperstown-worthy act (or acts) of irresponsibility on the part of Jimmy McNulty. Extra credit for ordering the scrapple, by the way.
Amos Barshad: It’s not cool to say that your favorite character is McNulty, and it’s definitely not cool to say that your favorite scene is from Season 5. Whatever. Look, I realize Jimmy’s smirking, roguish Season 1 antics were followed up by subtler, smarter plot arcs, and that most of you eventually reconsidered your allegiance to the drunkard libertine with a wavering accent. (The pinnacle being Season 4, when Dominic West was off shooting God-knows-what and was barely on the show — which just gave space for Dukie, Michael, Namond, and Randy to shine.) And I realize that the concept here — the police crew celebrating McNulty’s ignominious forced retirement as if it were a traditional cop wake — is shaky. (Would everyone really be cool with the dude still being alive for this honor?) But I find the scene, even on the 100th viewing, perfect: Carver makes a joke about McNulty’s prodigious sexual record; Landsman doles out an earnest appraisal of McNulty’s stellar detective work; Bunk insinuates that McNulty, given the right situation, wold have killed them all — and a character is succinctly, fully summed up. Now put the fuckin’ song on!
Bunk Burns His Clothes
Mark Lisanti:A disappointed ladyfriend. A cigar. A pink robe. A tub full of burned clothes. Bunk.
Jonah Keri: There’s a 98 percent chance a Lindsey Naegle look-alike from the parent company is going to show up at Grantland offices within minutes of this post going up and shut us down for picking this scene. Whatever. Here we have an incredible combination of crack detective work, amazing chemistry between McNulty and Bunk, and inspired comedy. Add it up and you have one of the most memorable scenes in TV history.
Clay Davis Takes the Stand
Rafe Bartholomew: Maryland State Senator Clay Davis, the saving grace of Season 5, with his tour de force.
Omar and Brother Mouzone
Rembert Browne: Picking your favorite Wire scene is like picking your favorite drunk uncle. With that said, the standoff between Omar and Brother Mouzone will always have a special place in my heart. Everything’s there — the whistle, the bow tie, the attitude, the sass, the mutual respect, Omar sometimes crafting sentences like Yoda, Mouzone talking about his gun like he’s listing ingredients of a sandwich — it’s all just perfect. And then the line to end all lines, by Omar: “Even if I miss, I can’t miss.” Unbelievable moment.
Avon and Stringer on the Balcony
Dan Silver: If the overall narrative arc of The Wire were represented by a long flat board that is placed onto a stump to create a seesaw, this scene would represent the exact middle — the balancing point. Although both Avon and Stringer inhabited the world of The Wire for some time after this (one longer than the other), this is truly the moment where the show said good-bye to two of its most dynamic and beloved characters, and shifted the entire focus of the show (enter Duckie, Marlo, and Gus). Like many of the great moments from The Wire, the beauty of this scene is in the subtext and can only be fully appreciated after experiencing, pondering, and rewatching all the preceding episodes. This isn’t just a conversation between lifelong friends; this moment represents the philosophical breaking point between two stubborn and hubris-filled men who know that to survive the other must go. The scene is executed beautifully by director Joe Chappelle, who relies on simple close-ups and two shots, and opts against any musical score and chooses to let the natural sound envelope the action. Idris Elba (Stringer) and Wood Harris (Avon) do not add any hyperbolic emotional weight to their dialogue delivery, and instead allow the true meaning of the scene to be communicated through their looks and the silence in their pauses. My personal favorite moment comes when Stringer breaks a sincere moment of levity, which reinforces these two characters’ storied history, when he allows his hubris to take him over and he says, “If I had the money, I could have bought all this waterfront property.” It’s a fitting end to the arcs of these two characters.
Omar Goes Out for Cheerios
Tess Lynch: Look! A copy of Drama City! It’s what the characters in The Wire read because they can’t just watch The Wire! Also: this person got a box of Honey Nut Cheerios signed by Michael K. Williams because she mentioned that she wanted one on Twitter. I might have gone for a pack of Newports, though, because you could make it into a tiny Lamborghini, and then you’d have a tiny Lamborghini signed by Michael K. Williams.
Wallace the Caretaker
Jonathan Abrams: This scene shows Wallace tending to a bunch of young kids in a decrepit apartment. It still gets to me. The children have no names, and it is not even clear how many of them live with Wallace or how he came to be their caretaker. Wallace is a teenager, clearly not fit or ripe for the underworld in which he has put a few toes. He can hardly take care of himself, but you can sense the care and affection in which he looks after these children. The first thing Wallace does is look for the kids when, unbeknownst to him, Bodie is about to kill him. I still have not forgiven Bodie for this.
Bodie and Poot Kill Wallace
Megan Creydt: I’m actually upset I had to see this again in order to make sure I had the right clip. Right up there in the most traumatizing scenes I’ve ever watched, big-screen or small.
“Where the Fuck is Wallace?”
David Cho: WHERE THE FUCK IS WALLACE, STRING? WHERE THE FUCK IS WALLACE?
Michael Weinreb: Season 1, Episode 3: Just when you’ve reached that point when you’re starting to wonder if anything is ever going to happen here, or what the point even is, along comes three minutes of David Simon dialogue that frames this entire microverse he’s concocted. “There was a clarity to what he was doing on the board,” a great chess teacher once told me about Bobby Fischer. “You could see it happening, but you were helpless to stop it.” For the same reasons, this is the most well-executed and not particularly oblique chess-related metaphor to arise from a brilliant mind since Nabokov was chasing butterflies in the south of France.
The Wire meets The Office
Mike Philbrick: Why is The Wire so good? Because it’s so damn real and, therefore, so damn depressing. Getting lost in a YouTube wormhole of clips from the show definitely takes you from a place of “the glass is half-full” to “I’m going to smash the glass and use the shards to kill myself.” That’s why I had to go with this theme song/intro clip mash-up. It was either laugh at this or come to grips with what Commissioner Burrell taught us: “It’s Baltimore, gentlemen. The gods will not save you.”