“What he gonna do, fire you?” State Senator Clay Davis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) laughs when police commissioner Ervin Burrell (Frankie R. Faison) hesitates to reassert control over the department after his refusal to resign leads Mayor-elect Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) to strip Burrell’s de facto authority. “He just showed you he don’t have balls enough.” Carcetti fashions himself a reformer, but his weak play to get Burrell to leave on his own admits that his debt to Burrell’s backers—the city councilors who control the purse strings and the black ministers who control the vote—trumps his power to change the course. Davis ends the meeting by advising Burrell to burnish his credentials with a new initiative (“some kind of police shit”), assuring, “Just take care of your end and let your friends handle theirs.”
“Change the course” often means more of the same, only more of it, as when Burrell sends down word to double arrests with a crackdown on “quality of life” violations. “Open container used to be sacrosanct in this town,” Officer Santangelo (Michael Salconi) grouses over the injustice. “Man’s beverage was his business.” Lt. Mello (Jay Landsman) gamely tries to respect both the chain of command and the hit to morale among the rank-and-file. “I mean, the election is fucking over, right?” he ponders to his boss. “Who are we doing this for?” Officer Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) reconciles his well-worn agony over his helpless role in the political gamesmanship in a speech to a young cop writing a ticket to please the bosses: “Let me tell you a little secret. A patrolling officer on his beat is the one true dictatorship in America. We can lock a guy up on a humble, we can lock him up for real, or we can say, ’Fuck it,’ pull under the expressway and drink ourselves to death, and our side partners will cover it. So no one—and I mean no one—tells us how to waste our shift.”
If McNulty comes to his doctrine the long way, Bodie Broadus (JD Williams) is steeped in his from the start. The young captain of a corner drug crew, Bodie feels out the recent absence of his lieutenant, Little Kevin (Tyrell Baker), who explains that he was brought in and questioned about a suspected murder by their boss, Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector), but kept silent. “Yeah, well, I ain’t the one you need to convince,” Bodie warns, advising Kevin to go to Marlo with what happened to prove he has nothing to hide. Later, Bodie hears that Kevin is killed after telling Marlo, and a wide shot of Bodie, alone on the corner, captures his first doubt about the game’s obligations. Bodie commiserates with Poot (Tray Chaney), who reminds him that they once had to kill their best friend, Wallace (Michael B. Jordan), under similar circumstances. Bodie concedes the logic of the Wallace hit but can’t accept the fate of Kevin, a guy Bodie knows didn’t flip. “Cold motherfucker,” Bodie declares of Marlo. Poot brings him back to their reality: “It’s a cold world, Bodie.”
Little Kevin dooms his future by farming out his role (tell Marlo’s intended victim to be somewhere at a certain time) to eighth-grader Randy and then overacting his denial that he let Randy in on the consequence. Randy (Maestro Harrell) knows too little to warrant like punishment but gets his due for highlighting the affair when Marlo tars him with the last brand anyone in this neighborhood would want: snitch. Marlo isn’t the first to tag Randy as such, only the most authoritative; Randy’s buddies have long suspected him. Namond (Julito McCullum) once lobbed a threat within earshot to beat whoever told on a friend for tagging walls, and Michael (Tristan Wilds) pried Randy on another occasion as to how he managed a reduced school suspension. A T-shirt worn by a small boy in a previous episode declared the non-negotiable pariah status of the snitch, its message in the design of a parking sign: “No Snitching Anytime.”
Bubbles (Andre Royo) is a snitch, of course. He once rationalized his actions as a confidential police informant to his disgusted running buddy, Johnny (Leo Fitzpatrick), as simply services rendered for a wage, like any other job; now, he swaps his street knowledge as a last resort to stop a predator. Even the cops disrespect the jeopardy the task carries. In the previous episode, Det. “Herc” Hauk (Domenick Lombardozzi) used Bubs to ID a suspect but failed to post for his end of the deal, hanging Bubs on the line with Randy. This time, Herc shows up at Bubs’ shed-like abode with chicken wings and a feeble excuse, then asks him to spread word of a bounty on a stolen surveillance camera to Bubs’ growing suspicion. “So, it’s $500 for the camera and a chicken box for Bubs, huh?” When Herc again misses the call to nab Bubs’ nemesis, Bubs delivers some payback, fingering an impolite reverend as a drug courier in the act.
Herc stops and searches the pastor (Franklin Ojeda Smith) in his usual rabid fashion, one of several instances in this episode that showcase the outrage of Baltimore’s citizens over the war mentality of the police department. When the innocent man avows, “I’m gonna damn sure get your name and badge number,” he echoes the reaction of a woman whose car gets smashed by Officer Walker (Jonnie Louis Brown) in an ill-advised pursuit through crowded streets of an adolescent car thief. A riot breaks out when a squad of police attempts to arrest a group of men drinking and socializing on the sidewalk, and a voice rises from the melee: “I live here, man!”
Sgt. Ellis Carver (Seth Gilliam) gives more than due consideration to Namond, who he catches slinging again after extending a free pass. When Namond can’t raise his vacationing mother (“My moms don’t answer when she go to A.C.”), Carver senses his fear of juvenile detention and allows him to sleep on a bench at the station house until other arrangements can be made for him to be released to the care of a guardian. Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom), Namond’s teacher and a former police major (Carver still calls him “boss”), steps forward and hosts Namond until his mother’s return. When Bunny escorts Namond home, his mother, De’Londa (Sandi McCree), waits angrily on the porch. “You afraid to go to baby booking? The fuck is wrong with you, boy?” she scolds. “Get in the damn house.”
Widespread bad parenting forces some hard choices on the boys. Michael raises his brother Bug in a home with a crack-addict mother and her just returned ex-con boyfriend (Cyrus Farmer), who Michael fears will sexually abuse Bug the way he did him. Michael trades in Marlo’s offer to join the team if they agree to eliminate the man, accompanying Chris (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Snoop (Felicia Pearson) on a stealth mission to identify their prey. “The fuck he do to you?” Snoop inquires, and when Michael can’t bring himself to explain, a long close-up of Chris unearths a personal understanding. Chris and Snoop catch up with the man later and begin to walk him to the vacant row house where they plan to board him up when Chris turns mid-conversation and administers a beating so ferocious that Snoop can only stand dumbstruck. Chris usually works with a stoic dignity—a near soothing presence in his pending victims’ final moments—but here unleashes the internalized rage of the little boy, defacing the man and leaving him dead in the alley with Snoop holding the tools.