10. “The Target” — Season 1, Episode 1
The one that started it all, the show’s pilot introduced us to the drug-dealing low rises and all the characters we would grow to love, as McNulty observes the murder trial of D’Angelo, then sets his sights on Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell. The visual style — for example, that rack focus from McNulty on the stoop to the dead man in the street — also set the tone for the series. (Courtesy HBO)
9. “Clarifications” — Season 5, Episode 8
It seems all the more tragic in hindsight, now knowing that actor Michael K. Williams died in 2021, but the death of Omar in the series’ third to last episode was a truly shocking moment. It happened when we were least expecting it as Omar bought a pack of cigarettes at the corner store. Like the Brazilian masterpiece “City of God” (2002), it came at the hands of a young boy, Kenard, who first appeared in Season 3 emulating his hero Omar, showing the series’ masterful ability for setups and payoffs in a full-circle moment. The look of shock on Kenard’s face after killing his idol is burnt into our brains.
8. “Boys of Summer” — Season 4, Episode 1
The Season 4 premiere showed just how far “The Wire” could go in analyzing the city’s systemic problems. By taking us into the halls of education, we saw the root cause of many of the show’s drug dealers, as “Boys of Summer” introduced a crop of students (Michael, Namond, Duquan and Randy) and left us to wonder who would make it and who would not. The tragedy is reflected in the assistant principal’s comment to teacher Prezbo: “Lambs to the slaughter here.” The icing on the cake — the episode opens with Snoop buying her nail gun to board up some more “vacants.” (Courtesy HBO)
7. “Bad Dreams” — Season 2, Episode 11
Everyone remembers the Season 2 finale “Port in the Storm,” which opens with Frank Sobotka washing up dead. But the next-to-last episode is most haunting, as we see Sobotka’s final moments alive, soul-searching his life of corruption as the clock of his life ticks down with The Greek. “We used to make sh*t in this country. Build sh*t. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.” It’s also in this episode that Stringer Bell manipulates Omar into shooting Brother Mouzone, a pair who ultimately come back to spell Stringer’s demise in Season 3. (Courtesy HBO)
5. “Mission Accomplished” — Season 3, Episode 12
The final episode of the strongest season deserves a spot on our countdown, bringing the culmination of Colvin’s “Hamsterdam” experiment. The idea was that citywide crime rates would drop if all drugs were made legal in one specific neighborhood. In “Mission Accomplished,” the experiment came to an end as the cops stormed Hamsterdam, blaring Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” like in “Apocalypse Now” (1979). Airing on Dec. 19, 2004, the title harkens back to President Bush’s 2003 “Mission Accomplished” statement on the War in Iraq. (Courtesy HBO)
4. “All Prologue” — Season 2, Episode 6
Omar is no doubt many fans’ favorite character, and his shining moment came against the character we all loved to hate — the sleazy, bloodsucking lawyer Levy. In “All Prologue,” Levy grills Omar on the witness stand, saying, “You are a parasite who leeches off the culture of drugs,” but Omar’s retort brought the courtroom to a standstill with blinding honesty: “Just like you, man. I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though, right?” Omar’s necktie tug also alludes to the prison murder of D’Angelo, staged by Barksdale’s crew to look like a hanging, a loss made all the more tragic by D’Angelo’s realization of fate, quoting “The Great Gatsby” about being slaves to the sins of our past. (Courtesy HBO)
3. “Final Grades” — Season 4, Episode 13
The season four finale “Final Grades” revealed the fates of all the students introduced in “Boys of Summer.” But even more memorably, the episode featured the tragic death of Bodie Broadus, who was killed after being spotted with Detective McNulty and suspected of snitching. Their final discussion on a park bench was one of the most powerful moments of the series. “This game is rigged man. We’re like the little b*tches on the chess board,” Bodie laments. “Pawns,” McNulty says, before concluding, “You’re a soldier, Bodie.” (Courtesy HBO)
2. “-30-” — Season 5, Episode 10
The series finale had a journalist’s dream title — “-30-” — which reporters used to type at the bottom of their stories to the end. This was fitting not only for a Season Five all about the media, but also for the final chapter in the entire series. This series finale left no “Sopranos”-style questions, but wrapped up everything in a satisfying, yet bittersweet way, showing the full circle nature of generations of crime, with Dukie becoming the new Bubbles and Michael becoming the new Omar. As McNulty stared out over Baltimore, we felt like we had been through the entire journey with him, personally changed in our perspective of a world where the more things change, the more they stay the same. (Courtesy HBO)
1. “Middle Ground” — Season 3, Episode 11
Hands down the strongest scene in the entire series, “Middle Ground” features a beautifully tragic scene between brothers-in-crime Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale. The two look out over the Baltimore skyline, reminiscing on their younger days, each knowing they’re about to attempt to set up their best friend. Moments later, McNulty gets the false hope of finally catching Stringer on the wiretaps, but before he can enjoy the glory of nabbing him, Stringer is taken out by Omar and Brother Mouzone in a hit organized by Barksdale. From the rooftop reminiscing to Stringer’s warehouse demise, “Middle Ground” is “The Wire” at its absolute best. (Courtesy HBO)
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