“You’re telling me how I can’t do it, not how I can,” freshly minted Mayor Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) snaps at a city accountant who lists the impediments to giving the police a raise. Carcetti ambushes the offices of Baltimore’s various public works departments (one lounging around to the sounds of Men At Work) and orders respective remedies for an abandoned car, a playground hazard, and a leaky hydrant without disclosing specific locations, sending panicked city employees scurrying in search of a problem. He shows up at a police roll call to personally announce a pay hike and the termination of meaningless monthly quotas for arrests and citations (unlike the other city workers, the beat cops remain undeterred by the mayor’s eminence, pelting each other with verbal spitballs and sassing the new initiative’s staying power). Col. Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick), tapped by Carcetti to make over the homicide division, joins his girlfriend, Assistant State’s Attorney Rhonda Pearlman (Deirdre Lovejoy), in addressing the detectives with the promise of “certain enhancements” and an ear for new ideas. “A new day,” Sgt. Jay Landsman (Delaney Williams) muses with a twinkle of skepticism as his colleagues swarm the new bosses with congratulations. “They make a nice couple anyway.”
Carcetti’s momentum hits an early snag after a bad stop and search of a connected reverend by Sgt. “Herc” Hauk (Domenick Lombardozzi). Two factions of matching stature make the penance a lose-lose calculation: go soft and rankle the black church scene or fire Herc and lose the rank-and-file cop. “It’s a balancing act,” Carcetti’s chief of staff, Norman Wilson (Reg E. Cathey), interprets for Deputy Commissioner Rawls (John Doman), who shovels the chore to Daniels with an artful rendering of his own. “City Hall just wants someone to do the right thing, whatever that is.” Daniels clicks his pen and digests the burden that grows with his rank.
Rawls does Carcetti’s bidding on the mistaken notion that he’s in line to succeed Commissioner Ervin Burrell (Frankie R. Faison). When Col. Stan Valchek (Al Brown) refers to Daniels, however, as “The anointed,” Rawls’ bewildered look sends Valchek into a fit of derisive laughter. Valchek may be the only one in the department who can read the tea leaves better than Rawls, who suffers a blind spot when it comes to his own liability. “It’s Baltimore,” Valchek reminds him. “You ain’t one of the natives, are you?” Daniels’ verdict on Herc (sensitivity training and extra duty), on the other hand, won’t generate much political suction with the ministers, an opening Burrell exploits in his play to hang on. He drops the police rulebook on Carcetti’s desk and with it his own greatest strength: digging for dirt. Burrell suggests firing Herc for something other than the car stop to appease both parties and save Carcetti the fallout. “The man has worked narcotics for six years,” he lays out, “and in narcotics, there are no virgins.”
The quartet of eighth-grade boys at the center of The Wire have their own way of dealing with bad police. When Officer Walker (Jonnie Louis Brown) shoos the boys from the sidewalk where they’re enjoying some Chinese food, the cumulative ill will from Walker’s outlaw brand of justice inspires some like-minded retribution. Michael (Tristan Wilds) concocts a scheme to turn Walker’s lust for the chase against him, and the boys gather to perpetrate it in a scene that charts the full range of the group dynamic. Randy (Maestro Harrell) stalls in his house, then encourages a silent Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) to bail on the plan to save himself the dishonor; Namond (Julito McCullum) taunts Randy’s delay, cloaking his own fear in bluster; Dukie looks at the ground as they walk, speaking up only to defend Michael’s judgment when Namond questions it. When the trio arrives at Michael’s house, Namond casts a sideways look to see if one of the others will back out. Michael challenges Namond with a choice of masks and Namond grudgingly takes one as he did in school earlier in the day—a blind backward plunge standing in as an act of courage.
At the plan’s climax, while Namond has Walker facedown in an alley at gunpoint and prepares to dump a bucket of paint on him, Michael improvises a further indignity, pulling the bandana from his face as he steals Walker’s ring. Michael is the fifth person to come into possession of the ring this season, its forcible transfer less a function of its monetary value than as a declaration of the upper hand. For Michael, the theft—like the exposure of his face in the act—speaks to his growing sense of power to affect events in his favor in the aftermath of his abuser’s violent death.
Michael rides the unbeatable vibe when he throws down with a group of boys tormenting Randy for snitching. As the fight erupts, Dukie races back into school to alert Prez (Jim True-Frost), their math teacher and the only authority he trusts. When Prez, a former cop, breaks up the fight, his disturbed look is for more than the blood on Randy; Prez knows he’s the one who put Randy in this mess by getting him to tell the police what he knew of a murder. Randy is so defensive about the snitching charges that he thinks he needs to justify his actions even to Prez, who—beginning to sense the perilous atmosphere he helped create—tells Randy not to say another word. “Will that make it better?” Randy asks hopefully. Det. Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce), the lead on the murder investigation, comes to Prez when he discovers the root of Randy’s silence and accuses Prez of siding with the criminals. “No,” Prez shoots back, “I’m siding with my kids.” Only the avuncular presence of Det. Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) coaxes the necessary details out of Prez.
Lester once mentored Prez in the Major Crimes unit, which is now being reconstituted under the supervision of Daniels, who lures a bitter Lester back into the fold with the promise of carte blanche control. “Motherfucker, as far as I’m concerned, you are the Major Crimes unit,” Daniels clarifies. Lester pays a late night visit to the empty building which houses the unit’s current incarnation and studies the pictorial hierarchy of the drug organization of Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector), the photo array and the investigation abandoned in place. In a back office he finds a box of returned subpoenas issued to prominent real estate developers for a case he spent months building. Lester puts his feet up on the lieutenant’s desk and reads the names, an image intercut with shots of the same developers pitching and grinning with the mayor at a benefit. Lester grabs the box and leaves, shutting off the lights. He pauses for a moment, then flips the lights back on as a sly announcement of his return.
Meanwhile, Lester is helping Bunk pick through the mess of his case left by Herc, who debriefed Randy and discarded his testimony as useless before letting his identity slip out to the street. “The thing right now is for you to remember everything you did on this case,” Lester prompts Herc. “From the beginning.” Herc dreads the prospect—not just the idea of having to regurgitate all his blunders, but to Lester. Herc details a car stop of the suspects that yielded no weapon other than a nail gun, a triviality to Herc. Lester accompanies Bunk to the playground Prez mentioned from Randy’s account, where he surveys the vacant buildings on all sides, their windows and doors boarded up with rusted fasteners. One door is sealed off with fresh spikes, sending Lester to fetch a crowbar with which to pry open the victim’s tomb.
Lester isn’t the only threat heading Marlo’s way. Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) and his boyfriend Renaldo (Ramon A. Rodriguez), who specialize in robbing drug dealers, trail Slim Charles (Anwan Glover), trying to gauge his connection with Marlo after seeing the former adversaries together. They track Slim to the electronics shop of yet another big-name player in the drug trade, Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew), stirring Omar’s concept of the pending caper’s potential. Renaldo begs to abort the stakeout so he can use the bathroom, running afoul of Omar’s disciplined methodology. Omar produces a roll of toilet paper and some philosophical advice: “Whether you squattin’ down or sittin’ on the porcelain throne, don’t really change the moment now, do it?” Later, they follow Joe and Slim to the Holiday Inn conference room and a gathering of the “New Day Co-op,” a coalition of Baltimore’s major drug dealers. “Oh, do tell,” Omar savors at the sight of Marlo coming up the sidewalk as well. “The world done came full circle.” The target is still Marlo (a consequence of his framing Omar for a murder and then putting a jailhouse bounty on his head), so Omar and Renaldo sneak up on Joe at his shop with guns drawn and demand that Joe serve up his new partner. Joe’s cooperation is cinched when Omar threatens to reveal that Joe once tipped him off to Marlo’s lightly guarded poker game. Omar insists on a simple plot to better distill the network’s exasperating complexity, so Joe proposes to apprise Omar of the time and place of a major delivery to Marlo, with his nephew, Cheese (Method Man), as go-between.
Halfway through the episode is a beautiful one-off scene in a fast food joint, a hymn to an old-school ethic. Officer Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) spots young street hustler Bodie Broadus (JD Williams) in a back booth at an off-brand eatery and veers over with his takeout for a seat. Bodie shrugs assent and admits to laying low from the heightened police presence. “Not a good day to be cross-eyed in West Baltimore,” McNulty concurs. “Y’all behind in your quotas or some shit? What the fuck?” Bodie pries. McNulty explains a cop got jumped the night before. Bodie already knows about Walker. They share a stifled laugh. Like Bunk and Omar, McNulty and Bodie form an unlikely kinship; a chance encounter on a street corner early in the season ended with McNulty practically patting Bodie on the back for escaping the wrath of Hamsterdam with a plea of entrapment. McNulty gets a burglary call on the radio. “Don’t go making any furtive moves,” he alerts. “No doubt,” Bodie nods through a mouthful of fries. “Don’t break a pencil point.” They part, a pair of refugees from another day.