Everything you were afraid to ask about "The Wire"

Need a primer for quite possibly the best show on television?


Dan Kois
October 1, 2004 9:29PM (UTC)

"It's a novel," David Simon likes to say about the show he created, HBO's "The Wire." Which is a good way of explaining the show's distinctively long plot arcs, dense webs of characters and grand scope -- but an intimidating message to new viewers who, tempted by the show's wild critical acclaim, are trying to tune in now, early into the program's third season. After all, you wouldn't start reading a novel on page 201, would you?

But getting a handle on the third season of "The Wire" doesn't necessarily require watching 25 hours of back story. Though I heartily recommend the Season 1 DVD set (out Oct. 12), I'm happy to present a guide to HBO's acclaimed, and extremely intricate, series.

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I'll answer a few select questions about the show's aims and methods, to give new viewers an idea of what kind of show to expect. I'll briefly synopsize Seasons 1 and 2, and let you know where the series stands at the top of Season 3. And I'll present "The Wire's" rogues' gallery: bios of the major players in David Simon's Baltimore. You can read that straight through for a deeper understanding of the Season 1 and 2 synopses, or simply use it as a reference work, dipping into it when an unfamiliar face appears onscreen.

I don't even like cop shows. Why should I watch "The Wire"?
"The Wire" wears the trappings of a simple police show, but, as Simon notes in his commentary on the Season 1 DVD, the show is "really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how, regardless of what you are committed to, whether you're a cop, a longshoremen, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge, a lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you've committed to."

Big talk for a cop show. But "The Wire" backs Simon up in its choice of subject matter from season to season. Season 1 focused on Baltimore's mostly black West Side housing projects and the drug trade eating them from within. The Baltimore Police Department was shown to be just as compromising to its members as any other institution -- including a high-level drug organization. Season 2 shifted from the ghetto to the waterfront, focusing on corruption and desperation in the mostly white Baltimore's dockworkers' unions. And Season 3 seems to be focusing on the genteel-yet-mean world of Baltimore politics, showing once again how all involved are forced to play "the game."

True, the spine of each season is a Baltimore police investigation, one that leads inevitably to electronic surveillance -- "the wire." But those police -- good and bad police, drunks and womanizers, brutes and thinking men, careerists and self-destructors -- dig up the ways that legal and illegal Baltimore talk to each other every day, and their stories make powerful arguments about the war on drugs and the failure of the American dream.

Look, that's great and all, but is the show actually fun to watch?
Absolutely, and this is where Simon's declaration in his introduction to the book "The Wire: Truth Be Told" -- that character and plot in "The Wire" come second to "picking a fight" -- seems a little suspect. "The Wire" is not compulsively watchable because of its powerful arguments about the war on drugs and the failure of the American dream. It's compulsively watchable despite those arguments, and because it offers rich, deep characters; believable, funny scenes; and complex, innovative plots. Characters like Omar, the stick-up "homothug" who's dead-set on avenging the death of his lover, who's never pointed his gun at a "citizen" but won't hesitate to blow away a drug dealer, while whistling "The Farmer in the Dell." Scenes like the one in this Sunday's episode that captured the awkwardness when co-workers run into each other outside the office -- only in this case, the "co-workers" are two West Side drug dealers and two narcotics cops, all with dates on their arms, coming face-to-face in the lobby of a Baltimore movie theater. And plots like Season 2's, in which Frank Sobotka got his hands dirty in an attempt to save his dying union -- and realized what a small part of the world of crime his operation was, just as his union's place in the world of working Baltimore was shrinking to nothing. The unraveling of this union boss's plans as the cops closed in on one side, and the thugs closed in on the other, was painful to watch, but it also offered viewers the crackerjack thrill of tangled plots coming to full heads of steam at the same time.

Is the show really about wiretapping? The opening credits show a bunch of shots of, like, people sitting around wearing headphones. That seems boring.
The wiretap promised by the show's title and credits didn't even get set up until the seventh episode of the 13-episode first season. So no, the show isn't specifically about wiretaps, any more than it's specifically about drugs or housing projects or dockworkers. But wiretaps do serve as a useful metaphor for what the show hopes to do: As wiretaps provide the cops in "The Wire" a look into a secret world, so does "The Wire" offer us that same look into places most television viewers never see.

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Do you need to know all about Baltimore to understand what's going on in "The Wire"?
Though native Marylanders will enjoy the references to Chesapeake Bay crabs, Natty Bo and obscure Orioles catchers, background knowledge of the history of Baltimore is not necessary to follow the day-to-day events of "The Wire." As Simon notes, the woes the series describes are happening in pretty much every city in America.

Do the mostly white, middle-class writers and producers of "The Wire" have the right to tell these inner-city stories?
That's a touchy question, and one the show's staff faces head-on. In addition to Simon and a few others who have been with the show for a while, "The Wire's" writing staff includes a number of acclaimed crime writers -- Washington's George Pelecanos, New Jersey's Richard Price and Boston's Dennis Lehane. To a person, the writers of "The Wire" have spent their careers researching and writing about the lives of those entrenched in America's cities, black and white, scraping by and falling through the cracks, cops and robbers, citizens and soldiers. Simon gives thanks that his show is not a Hollywood vision of the inner city -- his staff are mostly city guys, tough guys, who know the turf pretty well -- but he recognizes that there's always going to be a disconnect. "We are professional writers and paid as such," he writes, "and it is one thing to echo the voices of longshoremen and addicts, detectives and dealers, quite another to claim those voices as your own."

So the answer? Maybe they don't have that right. But they're doing it anyway, and the stories that result are really, really good.

So what happened so far?
SEASON 1
Season 1 focused on an investigation into Avon Barksdale's drug empire in the housing projects of West Baltimore. It all begins when a homicide detective named Jimmy McNulty mouths off to a Baltimore judge about the inadequacy of the department's efforts against the violence inherent in the West Baltimore drug trade. The judge raises a stink, and soon McNulty, on his boss's bad side, finds himself stuck in a poorly supported investigative unit headed by Lt. Cedric Daniels, looking into the Barksdale ring.

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While at first the unit, buried in the courthouse basement, seems staffed by drunks and also-rans, Daniels manages to weed out the bad cops, install a few good ones, and make real progress. Three narcotics cops, Herc, Carver and Kima, make great progress in identifying the street-level operators in the crew, thanks in large part to information provided by a street informant, Bubbles. And back in the basement, Prez and Freamon, two cops long since given up for useless, expertly decipher an array of payphone wiretaps and pager clones to learn more and more about the nuts and bolts of the Barksdale crew.

Meanwhile, McNulty has reached out to a lone wolf named Omar who makes his money robbing drug dealers, one of the show's great, almost mythic creations. Because his lover has been tortured and killed by Barksdale soldiers in retaliation for an especially bold heist, Omar wants revenge, and he gives McNulty information on the Barksdale inner circle. He also pays the head of the West Side drug cartel, Proposition Joe, for Avon Barksdale's pager number, and nearly succeeds in killing Avon.

Within the Barksdale crew, disbelief reigns that the police are on to the crew's modes of communication -- until a major stash house is hit, at which point Avon's second-in-command, Stringer Bell, declares all pagers and pay phones off-limits. He distributes new cellphones to everyone, including Avon's nephew, D'Angelo, the soft-hearted head of the trade in the low-rise projects. As the net closes in, Avon sends D'Angelo on a run to New York for a new stash, unaware that Daniels' unit has placed a camera in the wall of Avon's office.

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Pressure from above to wrap up the case -- which, in the eyes of Daniels' superior, Ervin Burrell, has grown unwieldy, including probing campaign contributions to Baltimore politicians -- forces the unit to make arrests and file charges. A disgruntled D'Angelo, upset because young Wallace, who wasn't cut out for the life, has been killed on Stringer Bell's order, accepts a deal from McNulty and Asst. State Attorney Rhonda Pearlman, but then backs out under pressure from his family. Without Wallace, a prominent witness, and without D'Angelo, the case accomplishes much less than the unit hoped: D'Angelo gets saddled with most of the resulting jail time, while Avon gets off with a light sentence, and Stringer Bell gets off completely. Only one Barksdale lieutenant gets saddled with any murders -- because he cops to every single one, taking a hit for the organization. The season ends with Omar on a bus to Philly; Avon and D'Angelo, plus several others, in jail; Stringer running the drug business, same as ever; and McNulty busted down to a crap gig on a police boat.

SEASON 2
Season 2 continued many of Season 1's stories while opening up a new front: the stevedores' union at the Baltimore docks, where union boss Frank Sobotka, his nephew Nick, and his son Ziggy have been misdirecting shipping containers to smugglers. When one of the cans turns up with 13 suffocated Eastern European prostitutes inside, the law comes crashing down on Sobotka and his union. Daniels, looking to work his way back up from the evidence room he was exiled to after challenging his higher-ups in the Barksdale case, reassembles his investigative team, including a desperate-for-dry-land McNulty.

Their wiretaps reveal a connection between the union and an international smuggling ring led by a mysterious figure named "The Greek" -- the same ring responsible for bringing in most of the dope distributed to the East Side, Proposition Joe's territory. But this isn't just graft for profit on the part of the dockworkers; Frank Sobotka is using the money he earns from his dirty deeds for campaign contributions and consultants in a last-ditch attempt to revitalize the Baltimore docks. But he overplays his hand with The Greek, and faces a tragic end. And due once again to institutional foolishness, the case ends in frustration for Daniels' unit; they determine that the man responsible for the "dead girls in the can" has been killed by higher-ups, who have then skipped town, tipped off by the FBI that the investigation is closing in.

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Meanwhile, on the West Side, Stringer Bell finds his methods at odds with the wishes of his boss in the slammer, and goes behind Avon's back to have D'Angelo killed -- making it look convincingly like a suicide. Stringer also, unknown to Avon, allows Prop Joe's West Siders to make inroads on Barksdale territory in exchange for much-needed product.

The season ends with the granary pier, so coveted by Sobotka for the ships it could bring to a revitalized port, converted to condominiums; Daniels allowed to make his investigative unit a permanent fixture; Avon upset with his right-hand man; and Proposition Joe's East Side dealers encroaching on Barksdale territory.

SEASON 3
At the opening of Season 3, the project towers come down, shaking up business in Baltimore. Stringer Bell uses his business school training to bring "Robert's Rules of Order" to Barksdale meetings; Omar is still sticking up the Barksdale crew; and Daniels' investigative team is focusing on Prop Joe, hoping to get at him through one of his dealers, Cheese. Meanwhile, a young City Councilman, Tommy Carcetti, is stirring up trouble in the corridors of power, and some legendary muscle, Cutty, has just returned from the joint.

Hey, who the hell are all those people?
Good question. Those synopses should give you enough background to jump into Season 3. But there'll come a time when you want to know more detail about these characters -- especially because "The Wire" isn't big on exposition. Here's a character-by-character breakdown of "The Wire," getting you up to speed on who's who to help you make the connections as you start on Season 3. You can read the list straight through, or use it as a reference when someone new shows up on your TV screen.

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This character list doesn't include some of the characters from Season 2, because it's become clear in interviews with Simon and others involved in the show that the events on the docks were a standalone story, and few of those characters will make return visits. It's a shame to lose those great characters; the Sobotkas, The Greek, and especially Beatrice "Beadie" Russell (Amy Ryan), the soft-spoken port officer who, against all her expectations, learned how to be "real police." But their reappearance anytime soon is unlikely, and so I'm leaving them out.

Likewise, corpses don't make the list. The deaths of Wallace and D'Angelo will likely affect "The Wire" for some time to come, but on a show whose creator has disavowed flashbacks ever since HBO pushed him to include one in the pilot, it's unlikely you're ever going to need to know what they looked like.

The character intros below are helpfully divided into five groups: Police, the West Side, the East Side, the Free Agents, and the Pols.

POLICE
Deputy Commissioner Rawls (John Doman)
Pugnacious and demanding, Rawls oversees Homicide and, at the beginning of the third season, has been elevated to deputy commissioner. Rawls' longest-standing grudge is against Jimmy McNulty, who first raised Rawls' ire by failing to keep his mouth shut about Homicide's inability to go after the big players in West Baltimore's drug trade, and has never lived it down. It was Rawls who sent McNulty to boat duty after the Barksdale case at the end of Season 1, and who did everything he could to keep McNulty off Daniels' team during the investigation of the docks (Season 2). Now Rawls spends his days bawling out cops who can't connect the dots.

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Major Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom)
An extremely minor character in Season 2, Colvin appears to be shaping up as one of the primaries in Season 3. His officers, including Herc and Carver, cover the Western District. As the season opens, Colvin, fed up with the never-ending battle against low-level drug dealers, announces to his police that they're going to go about things a different way.

Major Valchek (Al Brown)
A stubborn crank who instigated Season 2's investigation of the docks in order to gain an advantage over Frank Sobotka in a petty debate over who -- his police union or Sobotka's longshoreman's union -- could finance a bigger church window. That the investigation ruined Sobotka's life seemed to bother Valchek not at all. Valchek also managed to alienate his son-in-law, Prez, to such a degree that Prez hauled off and slugged him in front of the entire team. As Season 3 begins, Valchek sets up a private meeting between Commissioner Burrell and Councilman Tommy Carcetti.

Lt. Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick)
Clean-cut, hard-assed and intelligent, Daniels got placed by Burrell on the Barksdale case with strict instructions: Keep the case small, come in with a few arrests, and you'll be on your way to major. Instead, Daniels oversaw the investigation's growth, incurring the wrath of his superiors and the politicians -- including State Sen. Clay Davis -- whose campaign contributions his staff checked out. His reward for the Barksdale case was a demotion to the evidence room, and it looked like his path was clear: resign, take the bar, and become a big-firm lawyer, the path pushed by his ambitious wife, Marla Daniels, whose own political ambitions may soon conflict with his interoffice politics. But he was drawn into Season 2's dockworker investigation, spearheading that for Valchek in hopes of bringing himself "up from the basement," much to his wife's annoyance. Season 3 sees him leading a new unit specializing in large-scale investigations, but estranged from his wife, leasing a small apartment, and sleeping with Rhonda Pearlman.

Asst. State Attorney Rhonda Pearlman (Deirdre Lovejoy)
Though she's officially a state's attorney, Pearlman is in the police section because she spends her time coordinating the legal side of the various police investigations. It's she who got D'Angelo Barksdale to agree to testify against his uncle (before his mother convinced him otherwise), and who worked out deals with Frank and Nick Sobotka as well. A long-running on-and-off affair with Jimmy McNulty (she was at least one of the reasons his marriage fell apart) seems currently off, as at the beginning of Season 3, she seduced Daniels.

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Herc & Carver (Domeneck Lombardozzi and Seth Gilliam)
Always seen as a pair, Herc and Carver have worked together for years, in Narcotics, on Daniels' special investigative units, and now under Bunny Colvin in the Western District. Working with Daniels taught them that busting heads wasn't the only way to work a case, but both officers got frustrated when they felt they were being used for simple-minded busywork and left Daniels' unit at the end of Season 2. (Carver's relationship with Daniels is especially fraught; Daniels caught him snitching to Burrell during the initial Barksdale investigation.) The two are not above a little healthy corruption; they've been known to pocket wads of cash found in stash houses and fabricate informants to justify unauthorized wiretaps. They are given showpiece girlfriends from time to time, but basically function as a funny, bickering married couple.

Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West)
The heart, soul and oft-impaired nervous system of "The Wire" is McNulty, the fiercely smart, stupidly fierce investigator whose ill-thought-out bitching to Judge Phelan set the events of Season 1 into motion. While he seems to fail at most things in his life, he's a cop who gets his teeth in a case and shakes it until something real falls out. His passion for the Barksdale case pushed the investigative unit to greater heights and pushed Daniels to care about what seemed like a career dead-end. Exiled to the marine unit after the Barksdale case, he found a way back into the building at Homicide by bringing in Omar as a witness on an old case going to trial. From there, he wreaked havoc on his old partners, sticking Rawls with 14 Jane Does by proving that the dead prostitutes belonged in his jurisdiction; then, with Daniels' help, he returned to the investigative team. The scene that perfectly encapsulates Jimmy McNulty occurred late in Season 2: fresh off drunk-dialing ex-wife Elena from a bar, McNulty misjudges a turn in the rain and hits a bridge abutment, smashing off his side-view mirror. He stumbles from the car, maps out the turn he knew he made with his hand, gets back in the car, backs up, and, radio blaring, careens through the turn again, this time ripping up the car's entire right side. It's that stubbornness, that refusal to be wrong, that makes Jimmy McNulty good police. Sure, he cares about the lives ruined by every homicide -- a little. But it's ego that drives the best detectives, as "The Wire" is one of the few shows to make clear.

Bunk (Wendell Pierce)
Based on a real Baltimore detective, Bunk is a cigar-chomping, affable, hardworking homicide cop who rarely serves as a check on McNulty's worse impulses. Though he has his devilish side, Bunk, unlike McNulty, has managed to stay on the brass's good side -- in no small part by steering clear, whenever possible, of Daniels' investigative units. But when Bunk got stuck with the Jane Does in Season 2, he found himself working alongside the wiretap crew, trying to crack the case of the dead girls in the can. He cleared the cases -- the man responsible had himself been killed -- and headed back to Homicide, which is where we find him at the beginning of Season 3. Bunk is married to a wife we've never met, but we have seen him make plays for a number of women in bars; in one memorable moment, McNulty had to coax Bunk out of a woman's bathroom where, clad only in her robe, Bunk was carefully setting fire to his own clothes in a drunken effort to destroy any evidence that he'd been there.

Det. Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn)
"Greggs seemed almost too admirable in the early going," writes acclaimed crime writer Laura Lippman in an essay in "The Wire: Truth Be Told." "It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Super-Lesbian!" (Side note: it's hard to imagine any other series' coffee-table book offering six pages to the creator's girlfriend to smack down the series' treatment of its female characters.) Indeed, Simon has ruefully referred to the women he writes as "men with tits," and in the opening episodes of "The Wire," ballsy Kima was no different. But her character deepened when, unexpectedly, she was forced into a position of weakness: in a blown buy-and-bust, Kima (ironically dressed in frilly civilianwear) got shot twice, prompting a fight for her life and, for a time, the end of her work on the street. Her partner, Cheryl, terrified of losing Kima, insisted on the move to desk work. But through the dockworkers case, with Cheryl pregnant and angry at Kima's return to action, Kima's dissatisfaction with the trappings of domesticity increased; life at home couldn't compare to the excitement and fulfillment of working a case in Daniels' special investigation unit, of which Kima is a critical member. Now, in Season 3, Kima's work life is peaking. But life with a baby isn't for her -- she can't even remember the word "fontanel" -- and ditches Cheryl and the baby late one night for a trip to a local bar and the temptation inside.

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Detective Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters)
"You're real police," a surprised McNulty said to Lester Freamon in the middle of the Barksdale case, after the pawnshop cop revealed that he'd snagged D'Angelo's pager number. Up until then, the soft-spoken Freamon had spent his time sitting at his desk, sanding antique dollhouse miniatures, but it turns out that the man was once a McNulty-like loose cannon -- exiled 13 years ago to the crappiest crap job in the department. But he proved himself on the Barksdale case, finding the only known photo of Avon Barksdale on an old Golden Gloves poster, and coaxing a sweet-natured dancer at Avon's strip club to help the investigation -- and into a relationship as well. Over the course of the unit's first two cases, Freamon also served as Daniels' conscience, letting him know when politics were getting in the way of good police work, and as Prez's mentor, helping the young screw-up realize his strengths as an officer lie in the details.

Detective Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost)
Only because he's Valchek's son-in-law did Prez keep his badge after an unfortunate incident in which he shot up his own car. As punishment, though, he was sent down to the Barksdale investigation, where he promptly drunkenly beat on a project kid so hard the kid went blind in one eye. From there on out, Prez was sentenced to life underground, logging the pager calls, listening to the wiretaps, and keeping the records for the case. But it turned out that this kind of detective work was what Prez did best, and after he cracked the code the Barksdale gang used on their pagers, the rest of the unit began to offer him some grudging respect. Prez soon became the organizational master of the team, and in both the Barksdale case and the dockworkers case, showed a flair for wiretapping, record-keeping, and code-cracking that made him proud to be a police for the first time in a long time. That pride crossed swords with his father-in-law's dismissive attitude toward the end of Season 2, when Valchek pushed the unit to a quick and unhappy bust, and Prez's fist met his father-in-law's nose. As Season 3 begins, Prez's handwritten apology has gotten him back on Daniels' team.

THE WEST SIDE
Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris)
Avon Barksdale is a different kind of TV kingpin: the quiet kind. "It's not a rap video," says Simon on his DVD commentary. "Flash brings police. The guys who are the most serious, moving-weight drug dealers in Baltimore ... they would roll up on a corner and you wouldn't be able to tell them from the other five or six guys standing with them." But Barksdale's cover got blown when his nephew D'Angelo got off a murder rap thanks to a last-second change of heart from a witness. McNulty, pissed to see a slam-dunk case end in acquittal, mouthed off to the judge about Avon, and the next thing Avon knew, his phones were tapped, his lieutenants were getting hauled in, and his second-in-command, Stringer Bell, could barely keep his street business, with Omar robbing his stash all the time. Avon's revenge -- the torture and death of Omar's lover -- came back to bite him when Omar killed one of his men, dimed another for a murder, and came within seconds of killing Avon himself. Wiretaps and hidden cameras eventually caught up with Avon, and though the cops never pinned a murder rap on him, they did lock him up for a few years on drug charges. In Season 2, Avon ran his prison, ate KFC whenever he wanted, and got his sentence lowered for cooperation in the investigation of a crime he himself instigated. Throughout his term, Barksdale reached out to his nephew D'Angelo, and was heartbroken when D'Angelo apparently hanged himself in the prison library. When news came through that Proposition Joe was making a move on Barksdale turf, Avon called down from NYC the scary Brother Mouzone to crack some heads -- unaware Prop Joe's people were in the West Side on Stringer's invitation, since Stringer had all the territory but none of the good dope. As Season 3 begins, Avon is happily counting the days until his release, unaware of the extent to which Stringer has changed the way his organization works.

Russell "Stringer" Bell (Idris Elba)
Charismatic, ruthless, and Six Sigma certified, Stringer Bell runs the Barksdale gang with a combination of murderous rage and MBA theory. Despite being responsible for the deaths of many, Stringer escaped prosecution in the initial Barksdale raids when the witness who could tie him to Omar's lover's death, young Wallace, was killed. In Season 2, Bell made a number of moves without Avon's knowledge: Facing a severe shortage of product, he reached out to Proposition Joe, offering him a few project towers in exchange for access to his high-quality supply. He told Omar that Brother Mouzone was responsible for his lover's murder in an attempt to light Avon's man up. And, most damning of all, when he believed that D'Angelo was drawing away from the family and the organization, Stringer had D'Angelo killed -- and had the death made to look like a suicide.

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Maurice Levy (Michael Kostroff)
"I'll probably have my B'nai B'rith membership revoked," over the character of Levy, Simon jokes in his DVD commentary. But Levy, the venal, complicit attorney for the Barksdale clan, is based on several drug lawyers Simon and his frequent writing partner (and former BPD cop) Ed Burns knew in the 1980s and 1990s. Levy is a masterful defense attorney who feigns ignorance of his clients' dirty deeds while keeping the organization as street-legal as possible.

Bodie (J.D. Williams)
We've watched Bodie grow up through the first two seasons of "The Wire," going from an anonymous foot soldier in the Barksdale army -- the kind of kid who, on his first trip out of town, didn't understand why his favorite Baltimore radio station was fading out and some other station was fading in -- to a trusted corner man. Originally stationed to the low-rises to which D'Angelo got exiled after his initial acquittal, Bodie became a project legend when he slugged a cop during a bust, walked out of juvenile detention, and hitched back to Baltimore. When it became clear that Wallace was a liability to the crew, Stringer Bell gave Bodie the responsibility of rubbing the boy out. But things started going awry for Bodie in Season 2; his crew got into a turf battle with another, and when a bystander was killed, the police cracked down on the corners. Then Bodie failed to adequately dispose of the guns. Now, in Season 3, Bodie, who is much more comfortable busting shit up than making business propositions, is having trouble brokering a relationship with Marlo.

Poot (Tray Chaney)
Poot is Bodie's right hand. He was Wallace's best friend, and the scene in which Bodie and Poot shot Wallace was one of the hardest to watch in the whole series. As Bodie pointed the gun at a crying Wallace, and told him to "be a man," but couldn't pull the trigger, it was Poot's cry of "Do it!" that finally got Bodie to fire. Then Poot silently took the gun and, with tears in his eyes, finished the job.

Marlo (Jamie Hector)
We don't know much about Marlo yet; he's a corner man for another drug crew near Barksdale territory. He rejected Bodie's overtures for a business partnership in no uncertain terms -- his words were cool, but the golf club he likes to swing around drove the point home.

THE EAST SIDE
Proposition Joe (Robert Chew)
We first met Prop Joe during Season 1, at the annual East Side-West Side basketball game, where his squad faced off against Avon Barksdale's West Side team. Prop Joe had better ringers and won a hotly contested (and six-figure wagered) game. For the most part, Prop Joe is happy to coexist with the Barksdale crew, but his relationship with them became more complicated when Stringer Bell's supply went south. Joe agreed to let Stringer in on his good shit -- some of which, incidentally, came from the Sobotka-led connection at the docks -- in exchange for four of the high-rise towers. As Season 3 opens, the towers are gone, and relations are still uneasy between the East Side and the West.

Cheese (Method Man)
Just one level below Prop Joe, Cheese recently became the target of Daniels' unit when a tapped phone call revealed him crying into the phone about having to shoot his "dawg." Unfortunately, it turned out he was talking about a beloved pit bull he put down for acting cur in a dogfight, and his resultant arrest gave the unit no more than a bunch of dead wiretaps.

THE FREE AGENTS
Omar (Michael Williams)
Charismatic, daring, and murderous, Omar first showed up when he and his lover, Brandon, robbed a Barksdale stash. The resultant revenge torture and killing of Brandon drove Omar on a vendetta against all those in the Barksdale crew responsible -- from the triggermen to the generals at the top, Avon and Stringer Bell. While pursuing revenge against the Barksdales the old-fashioned way, Omar also contacted McNulty, offering his help in pinning some old murders on Barksdale soldiers. In Season 2, Omar took the stand in one of those cases, offering up his personal philosophy as justification for testifying: "I ain't never pointed my gun at no citizen." He robs drug dealers, not civilians, and sticks to that code of honor. When Stringer told him that Brother Mouzone was responsible for Brandon's torture, Omar found the previously invincible Mouzone and put a bullet in his stomach. But when Mouzone calmly explained that Omar had been misled, Omar, recognizing the truth in his words, called 911 and left Mouzone alive. As Season 3 begins, Omar is still sticking up Barksdale men, employing a number of disguises and a couple of female accomplices as well.

Bubbles (Andre Royo)
Based on a real Baltimore junkie, scammer and informant for whom David Simon wrote a unique obituary in the late 1980s, Bubbles has made a life providing on-target information for cops -- especially his buddies Kima and McNulty, whom Bubbles calls "McNutty." He was driven to snitch on Barksdale crew members when his HIV-positive partner-in-crime, Johnny, got badly beaten for running a scam. As Season 3 opens, Bubbles and Johnny seem to be close to rock-bottom, with Bubbles especially despairing. Bubbles has flirted with going straight before, but it's never panned out.

Cutty (Chad Coleman)
Just released after a 14-year stretch in prison, Dennis "Cutty" Wise seems to be a major character in Season 3, though all we've seen him do thus far is drift aimlessly from job to job -- some legit, some not. It is as yet unclear whether his allegiances lie with Avon Barksdale, who offered to hook him up, or somewhere else.

THE POLS
Commissioner Burrell (Frankie Faison)
Just ascended to the Commissioner's desk, Burrell functions as one of the heavies of the story, though, he isn't a particularly evil man -- he just looks out for himself, at the expense of, at times, the department he's meant to head. Burrell has a history with Daniels in particular: it was he who gave Daniels the initial mandate to keep the Barksdale investigation small, and he who stuck Daniels in the evidence control room when the probe got unwieldy. Now he's overseeing a police department in crisis, and a recently arranged meeting with Councilman Tommy Carcetti has shown Burrell what a little under-the-table dealing -- behind the mayor's back -- can accomplish for his department.

Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen)
An ambitious young city councilman who realizes that a white politician doesn't have much future in Baltimore politics unless he makes some noise, Carcetti began Season 3 by approaching Commissioner Burrell and offering him some behind-the-scenes help with his department.

Clay Davis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.)
State Sen. Davis first showed up in "The Wire" when one of his aides was picked up by Daniels' unit carrying $20,000 in Barksdale drug money. Burrell made the problem go away, but Davis later had an angry encounter with Daniels in which he demanded to know why the Barksdale investigators were looking into campaign contributions. A steadfast Daniels told Davis that if he wasn't doing anything illegal, he had nothing to worry about. In Season 2, we saw Davis accepting contributions from Frank Sobotka's stevedores' union.

Marla Daniels (Maria Broom)
Cedric Daniels' wife is embarking on her own political career as Season 3 begins, taking on an incumbent for a City Council spot. But her annoyance with what she views as her husband's lack of ambition has driven them apart, and he now shows up at political events for her benefit but sleeps in a bachelor apartment alone.


Dan Kois

Dan Kois is a writer and a fiction editor of At Length magazine.

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