‘The Wire’ Season Plot Summaries
The first season introduces two major groups of characters: the Baltimore police department and a drug dealing organization run by the Barksdale family. The season follows the police investigation of the latter over its 13 episodes.for murder after a key witness changes her story. McNulty tells Phelan that the witness has probably been intimidated by members of a drug trafficking empire run by D'Angelo's uncle, Avon Barksdale, having recognized several faces at the trial, most notably Avon's second-in-command, Stringer Bell. He also tells Phelan that nobody is investigating Barksdale's criminal activity, which includes a significant portion of the city's drug trade and several unsolved homicides.
Phelan takes issue with McNulty's report and complains to senior Police Department figures, embarrassing them into creating a detail dedicated to investigating Barksdale. However, owing to the department's dysfunction, the investigation is intended as a façade to appease the judge. An intradepartmental struggle between the more motivated officers on the detail and their superiors spans the whole season, with interference by the higher-ups often threatening to ruin the investigation. The detail's commander, Cedric Daniels, acts as mediator between the two opposing groups of police.
Meanwhile, the organized and cautious Barksdale gang is explored through characters at various levels within it. The organization is continually antagonized by a stick-up crew led by Omar Little, and the feud leads to several deaths. Throughout, D'Angelo struggles with his conscience over his life of crime and the people it affects.
The police have little success with street-level arrests or with securing informants beyond Bubbles, a well known West Side drug addict. Eventually the investigation takes the direction of electronic surveillance, with wiretaps and pager clones to infiltrate the security measures taken by the Barksdale organization. This leads the investigation to areas the commanding officers had hoped to avoid, including political contributions. When an associate of Avon Barksdale's is arrested by State Police and offers to cooperate, the commanding officers order the detail to undertake a sting operation to wrap up the case. Detective Kima Greggsis seriously hurt in the operation, triggering an overzealous response from the rest of the department. This causes the detail's targets to suspect that they are under investigation.
Wallace is murdered by his childhood friends Bodie and Poot, on orders from Stringer Bell, after leaving his "secure" placement with relatives and returning to Baltimore. D'Angelo Barksdale is eventually arrested transporting a kilo of uncut heroin, and learning of Wallace's murder, is ready to turn in his uncle and Stringer. However, D'Angelo's mother convinces him to rescind the deal and take the charges for his family. The detail manages to arrest Avon on a minor charge and gets one of his soldiers, Wee-Bey, to confess to most of the murders, some of which he did not commit. Stringer escapes prosecution and is left running the Barksdale empire. For the officers, the consequences of antagonizing their superiors are severe, with Daniels passed over for promotion and McNulty assigned out of homicide and into the marine unit.
The second season, along with its ongoing examination of the drug problem and its effect on the urban poor, examines the plight of the blue-collar urban working class as exemplified by stevedores in the city port, as some of them get caught up in smuggling drugs and other contraband inside the shipping containers that pass through their port.In a season-long subplot, the Barksdale organization continues its drug trafficking despite Avon's imprisonment, with Stringer Bell assuming greater power.
McNulty harbors a grudge against his former commanders for reassigning him to the marine unit. When thirteen unidentified young women are found dead in a container at the docks, McNulty successfully makes a spiteful effort to place the murders within the jurisdiction of his former commander. Meanwhile, police Major Stan Valchek gets into a feud with Frank Sobotka, a leader of the International Brotherhood of Stevedores, a fictional dockers' union, over competing donations to their old neighborhood church. Valchek demands a detail to investigate Sobotka. Cedric Daniels is interviewed, having been praised by Prez, Major Valchek's son-in-law, and also because of his work on the Barksdale case. He is eventually selected to lead the detail assigned just to investigate Sobotka; when the investigation is concluded Daniels is assured he will move up to head a special case unit with personnel of his choosing.
Life for the blue-collar men of the port is increasingly hard and work is scarce. As union leader, Sobotka has taken it on himself to reinvigorate the port by lobbying politicians to support much-needed infrastructure improvement initiatives. Lacking the funds needed for this kind of influence, Sobotka has become involved with a smuggling ring. Around him, his son and nephew also turn to crime, as they have few other opportunities to earn money. It becomes clear to the Sobotka detail that the dead girls are related to their investigation, as they were in a container that was supposed to be smuggled through the port. They again use wiretaps to infiltrate the crime ring and slowly work their way up the chain towards The Greek, the mysterious man in charge. But Valchek, upset that their focus has moved beyond Sobotka, gets the FBI involved. The Greek has contacts inside the FBI and starts severing his ties to Baltimore when he learns about the investigation.
After a dispute over stolen goods turns violent, Sobotka's son Ziggy is charged with the murder of one of the Greek's underlings. Sobotka himself is arrested for smuggling; he agrees to work with the detail to help his son, finally seeing his actions as a mistake. However, the Greek learns about this through a mole in the FBI and has Sobotka killed. The investigation ends with the fourteen homicides solved but the perpetrator already dead. Several drug dealers and mid-level smuggling figures tied to the Greek are arrested, but he and his second-in-command escape uncharged and unidentified. The Major is pleased that Sobotka was arrested; the case is seen as a success by the commanding officers, but is viewed as a failure by the detail.
Across town, the Barksdale organization continues its business under Stringer while Avon and D'Angelo Barksdale serve prison time. D'Angelo decides to cut ties to his family after his uncle organizes the deaths of several inmates and blames it on a corrupt guard to shave time from his sentence. Eventually Stringer covertly orders D'Angelo killed, with the murder staged to look like a suicide. Avon is unaware of Stringer's duplicity and mourns the loss of his nephew.
Stringer also struggles, having been cut off by Avon's drug suppliers and left with increasingly poor-quality product. He again goes behind Avon's back, giving up half of Avon's most prized territory to a rival named Proposition Joe in exchange for a share of his supply. Avon, unaware of the arrangement, assumes that Joe and other dealers are moving into his territory simply because the Barksdale organization has too few enforcers. He contracts a feared assassin named Brother Mouzone. Stringer deals with this by tricking his old adversary Omar into believing that Mouzone was responsible for the vicious killing of his partner in their feud in season one. Seeking revenge, Omar shoots Mouzone but, realizing Stringer has lied to him, calls 9-1-1. Mouzone recovers and leaves Baltimore, and Stringer (now with Avon's consent) is able to continue his arrangement with Proposition Joe.
In the third season, the focus returns to the street and the Barksdale organization. The scope, however, is expanded to include the city's political scene. A new subplot is introduced to explore the potential positive effects of de facto "legalizing" the illegal drug trade, and incidentally prostitution, within the limited boundaries of a few uninhabited city blocks — referred to as Hamsterdam. The posited benefits, as in Amsterdam and other European cities, are reduced street crime city-wide and increased outreach of health and social services to at-risk populations. These are continuations of storylines hinted at earlier.
The demolition of the residential towers that had served as the Barksdale organization's prime territory pushes their dealers back out onto the streets of Baltimore. Stringer Bellcontinues his reform of the organization by cooperating with other drug lords, sharing with one another territory, product, and profits. Stringer's proposal is met with a curt refusal from Marlo Stanfield, leader of a new, growing crew. Against Stringer's advice, Avon decides to take Marlo's territory by force, and the two gangs become embroiled in a bitter turf war with multiple deaths. Omar Little continues to rob the Barksdale organization wherever possible. Working with his new boyfriend, Dante, and two women, he is once more a serious problem. The violence related to the drug trade makes it an obvious choice of investigation for Cedric Daniels' now-permanent Major Crimes Unit.
Councilman Tommy Carcetti begins to prepare himself for a mayoral race. He manipulates a colleague into running against the mayor to split the black vote, secures a capable campaign manager and starts making headlines for himself.
As he approaches the end of his career, Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin of Baltimore's Western District wants to effect some real change in the troubled neighborhoods for which he has long been responsible. Without the knowledge of central command, Colvin sets up areas where police would monitor, but not punish, the drug trade. The police crack down severely on violence in these areas, and also on drug trafficking elsewhere in the city. For many weeks, Colvin's experiment works, and crime is reduced in his district. However, Colvin' superiors, the media, and city politicians eventually find out about the arrangement, and the "Hamsterdam" experiment ends. With top brass outraged, Colvin is forced to cease his actions, accept a demotion, and retire from the police department on a lower-grade pension. Tommy Carcetti uses the scandal to make a grandstanding speech at a weekly Baltimore city council meeting.
Dennis "Cutty" Wise, once a drug dealer's enforcer, is released from prison alongside Avon. His struggles to adapt to life as a free man show an attempt at personal reform. Cutty tries to work as a manual laborer and then flirts with his former life, going to work for Avon. Finding he no longer has the heart for murder, he eventually uses funding from Avon to purchase new equipment for his nascent boxing gym.
The Major Crimes Unit learns that Stringer has been buying real estate and developing it to fulfill his dream of being a successful legitimate businessman. Believing that the bloody turf war with Marlo is poised to destroy everything the Barksdale crew had worked for, Stringer gives Major Colvin information on Avon's weapons stash. But Stringer is himself being betrayed by Avon: Brother Mouzone had returned to Baltimore and tracked down Omar to join forces. Mouzone tells Avon that his shooting must be avenged. Avon, remembering how Stringer disregarded his order which resulted in Stringer attempting to have Brother Mouzone killed, possibly still furious over D'Angelo's murder (Stringer having finally confessed the truth), and fearing Mouzone's ability to harm his reputation outside of Baltimore, informs Mouzone of Stringer's upcoming visit to his construction site. There, Mouzone and Omar corner him and shoot him to death.
Colvin tells McNulty about Avon's hideout, and armed with the information gleaned from selling the Barksdale crew pre-wiretapped disposable cell phones, the detail stages a raid, arresting Avon and most of his underlings. Barksdale's criminal empire lies in ruins, and Marlo's young crew simply moves into their territory. The drug trade in West Baltimore continues with little change.
The fourth season expanded its scope again to include an examination of the school system. Other major plots include the mayoral race that continues the political storyline begun in season three, and a closer look at Marlo Stanfield's drug gang, which has grown to control most of western Baltimore's trafficking.
The show introduces Dukie, Randy, Michael, and Namond, four boys from West Baltimore, as they enter the eighth grade. At the same school, Prez has begun a new career as a math teacher. Despite mentorship from the more seasoned faculty, Namond, and later Michael, work as drug runners for Bodie, who has had middling success selling Proposition Joe's product independently.
The cold-blooded Marlo has come to dominate the streets of the west side, using murder and intimidation to make up for his weak-quality drugs and lack of business acumen. His enforcers Chris Partlow and Snoop conceal their numerous victims in abandoned and boarded-up row houses where the bodies will not be readily discovered. The disappearances of so many known criminals come to mystify both the major crimes unit investigating Marlo and the homicide unit assigned to solve the presumed murders. Marlo coerces Bodie into working under him.
McNulty has found peace working as a patrolman and living with Beadie Russell, and refuses promotions from Daniels, now a major commanding the Western District. Detectives Kima Greggs and Lester Freamon, as part of the major crimes unit, investigate Avon Barksdale's political donations and serve several key figures with subpoenas. Their work is shut down by Commissioner Ervin Burrell at Mayor Clarence Royce's request, and after being placed under stricter supervision within their unit, both Greggs and Freamon request and receive transfer to the homicide division.
Meanwhile, the city's mayoral primary race enters its closing weeks. Royce initially has a seemingly insurmountable lead over challengers Tommy Carcetti and Tony Gray, with a big war chest and major endorsements. Royce's lead begins to fray, however, as his own political machinations turn against him and Carcetti starts to highlight the city's crime problem. Carcetti is propelled to victory in the primary election.
Howard "Bunny" Colvin joins a research group attempting to study potential future criminals in the middle school population. Dennis "Cutty" Wise continues to work with boys in his boxing gym, and accepts a job at the school rounding up truants. Bubbles takes a homeless teenager named Sherrod under his wing. He encourages the boy to attend class, which he fails to do.
Prez has a few successes with his students, but some of them start to slip away. Disruptive Namond is removed from class and placed in the research group, where he gradually develops affection and respect for Colvin. Randy, in a moment of desperation, reveals knowledge of a murder to the assistant principal, leading to his being interrogated by police.
Proposition Joe engineers a conflict between Omar Little and Marlo to convince Marlo to join the New Day Co-Op. After Omar robs Marlo, Marlo frames Omar for a murder and attempts to have him murdered in jail, but Omar manages to beat the charge with the help of Bunk. Omar learns Marlo set him up, and gets revenge on him and Proposition Joe by robbing the entire shipment of the Co-Op. Meanwhile, the co-op members, including Marlo, are furious at Joe for allowing the shipment to be stolen. Marlo demands satisfaction, and as a result, Joe sets up a meeting between him and Spiros Vondas, who assuages Marlo's concerns. Having gotten a lead on Joe's connection to the Greeks, Marlo begins investigating them to learn more about their role in bringing narcotics into Baltimore.
Freamon discovers the bodies Chris and Snoop had hidden. Bodie offers McNulty testimony against Marlo and his crew, but is shot dead on his corner by O-Dog, a member of Marlo's crew. Sherrod dies after snorting a poisoned vial of heroin that, unbeknownst to him, Bubbles had prepared for their tormentor. Bubbles turns himself in to the police and tries to hang himself, but he survives and is taken to a detox facility. Michael has now joined the ranks of Marlo's killers and runs one of his corners, with Dukie leaving high school to work there. Randy's house is firebombed by school bullies for his cooperation with the police, leaving his caring foster mother hospitalized and sending him back to a group home. Namond is taken in by Colvin, who recognized the good in him. The major crimes unit from earlier seasons is largely reunited, and they resume their investigation of Marlo Stanfield.
The fifth season focuses on the media and media consumption. The show features a fictional depiction of the newspaper The Baltimore Sun, and in fact elements of the plot are ripped-from-the-headlines events (such as the Jayson Blair New York Times scandal) and people at the Sun. The season, according to David Simon, deals with "what stories get told and what don't and why it is that things stay the same." Issues such as the quest for profit, the decrease in the number of reporters, and the end of aspiration for news quality would all be addressed, alongside the theme of homelessness.
Fifteen months after the fourth season concludes, Mayor Carcetti's cuts in the police budget to redress the education deficit force the Marlo Stanfield investigation to shut down.Cedric Daniels secures a detail to focus on the prosecution of Senator Davis for corruption. Detective McNulty returns to the Homicide unit and decides to divert resources back to the police department by faking evidence to make it appear that a serial killer is murdering homeless men.
The Baltimore Sun also faces budget cuts and the newsroom struggles to adequately cover the city, omitting many important stories. Commissioner Burrell continues to falsify crime statistics and is fired by Carcetti, who positions Daniels to replace him.
Marlo Stanfield lures his enemy Omar Little out of retirement by having Omar's mentor Butchie murdered. Proposition Joe teaches Stanfield how to launder money and evade investigation. Once Joe is no longer useful to him, Stanfield has Joe killed with the help of Joe's nephew Cheese Wagstaff and usurps his position with the Greeks and the New Day Co-Op. Michael Lee continues working as a Stanfield enforcer, providing a home for his friend Dukie and younger brother Bug.
Omar returns to Baltimore seeking revenge, targeting Stanfield's organization, stealing and destroying money and drugs and killing Stanfield enforcers in an attempt to force Stanfield into the open. However, he is eventually shot and killed by Kenard, a young Stanfield dealer.
Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Templeton claims to have been contacted by McNulty's fake serial killer. City Editor Gus Haynes becomes suspicious, but his superiors are enamored of Templeton. The story gains momentum and Carcetti spins the resulting attention on homelessness into a key issue in his imminent campaign for Governor and restores funding to the police department.
Bunk is disgusted with McNulty's serial killer scheme and tries to have Lester Freamon reason with McNulty. Instead, Freamon helps McNulty perpetuate the lie and uses resources earmarked for the case to fund an illegal wiretap on Stanfield. Bunk resumes working the vacant house murders, leading to a murder warrant against Partlow for killing Michael's stepfather.
Freamon and Leander Sydnor gather enough evidence to arrest Stanfield and most of his top lieutenants, seizing a large quantity of drugs. Stanfield suspects that Michael is an informant, and orders him killed. Michael realizes he is being set up and kills Snoop instead. A wanted man, he leaves Bug with an aunt and begins a career as a stick-up man. With his support system gone, Dukie lives with drug addicts.
McNulty tells Kima Greggs about his fabrications to prevent her wasting time on the case. Greggs tells Daniels, who, along with Rhonda Pearlman, takes this news to Carcetti, who orders a cover-up because of the issue's importance to his campaign.
Davis is acquitted, but Freamon uses the threat of federal prosecution to blackmail him for information. Davis reveals Levy has a mole in the courthouse from whom he illegally purchases copies of sealed indictments. Herc tells Levy that the Stanfield case was probably based on an illegal wiretap, something which would jeopardize the entire case. After Levy reveals this to Pearlman, she uses Levy's espionage to blackmail him into agreeing to a plea bargain for his defendants. Levy ensures Stanfield's release on the condition that he permanently retires, while his subordinates will have to accept long sentences. Stanfield sells the connection to The Greeks back to the Co-Op and plans to become a businessman, although he appears unable or unwilling to stay off the corner.
As the cover-up begins, a copy-cat killing occurs, but McNulty quickly identifies and arrests the culprit. Pearlman tells McNulty and Freamon that they can no longer be allowed to do investigative work and warns of criminal charges if the scandal becomes public. They opt to retire. Haynes attempts to expose Templeton but the managing editors ignore the fabrications and demote anyone critical of their star reporter. Carcetti pressures Daniels to falsify crime statistics to aid his campaign. Daniels refuses and then quietly resigns rather than have his FBI file leaked.
In a final montage, McNulty gazes over the city; Freamon enjoys retirement; Templeton wins a Pulitzer; Carcetti becomes Governor; Haynes is sidelined to the copy desk and replaced by Fletcher; Campbell appoints Valchek as commissioner; Carcetti appoints Rawls as Superintendent of the Maryland State Police; Dukie continues to use heroin; Michael becomes a stickup boy; Pearlman becomes a judge and Daniels a defense attorney; Bubbles is allowed upstairs where he enjoys a family dinner; Chris serves his life sentence alongside Wee-Bey; the drug trade continues; and the people of Baltimore go on with their lives.