“I feel old. I been out there since I was 13. I ain’t never fucked up a count, never stole off a package, never did some shit that I wasn’t told to do. I been straight up. But what come back?”—Bodie Broadus
Bodie (JD Williams) fills the silence as he sits with Officer Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) in a plant sanctuary so peaceful he wonders if they’re still in Baltimore. His lament sounds like that of a third-generation factory worker abandoned by the town’s only industry, or any other middle class foot soldier forced to confront the American Dream. Bodie agrees to flip on his boss, drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector), to protest the business policy that it’s better to kill a corner grunt than chance a disruption in the trade. When Marlo’s minions surround Bodie’s post that night, he grabs a gun and starts blasting, shouting, “I’m right here!” as his crew scatters. Bodie knows it’s the end, but he’s going to meet it standing on the corner he built.
McNulty stops by the staging area for the just-discovered corpses of Marlo’s victims and flashes his old self in a rash of procedural nitpicking. “You know, if I was police,” his ex-partner from homicide, Det. Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce), teases, “I don’t think I could lean back on it. You?” Det. Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) piles on: “Not if I was real police.” McNulty is content to work the beat, but when he arrives for his shift the next day and hears of Bodie’s death, he rushes to the scene, where he finds Poot (Tray Chaney) back at work less than 24 hours after witnessing the gruesome murder of his best friend. He puts Poot against the wall and pretends to frisk him while he discreetly asks who dropped Bodie. “Y’all did,” Poot reckons. “They took him out ’cause he was talkin’ to y’all…so cuff me or kick my ass off this corner before you do me the same.” McNulty shuffles off in silence, stricken by the notion that he flipped Bodie in part to stroke his own ego.
The Wire’s landscape is thick with men almost desperate to reach back and snatch some kid from the vortex, attempting personally what they can’t achieve professionally. They mostly fail, but like McNulty—whose misfire with Bodie catalyzes his return to Major Crimes and the pursuit of Marlo—Bunny Colvin (Robert Wisdom) at least wrings promise from loss. Bunny, a former cop turned “sort of” teacher, takes his compulsive truth telling to Wee-Bey (Hassan Johnson), the imprisoned father of Namond (Julito McCullum), one of the corner kids he’s accused of leaving behind with a trial academic program gone bust. The men recognize each other immediately—as opponents at work but kin in spirit—and Bunny never pretends for a moment that they’re not equals, peppering his pitch with “you and me” and “our kind.” Fatalism guides Wee-Bey’s reaction to the suggestion that Namond is headed his direction or worse. “Maybe, maybe not,” he shrugs. “That’s the game.” Bunny wants to bring Namond into his home so presses on. “He ain’t made for them corners, man. I mean, not like we were…I gotta believe that you see it.” As Bunny speaks, Wee-Bey lets go of his tight posture, his body heaving off the only idea of his son he’s ever had.
Cutty (Chad L. Coleman), a former jail mate of Wee-Bey’s, sets up their meeting from his hospital bed, where he’s recovering after getting shot in the leg trying in his own way to pull Michael (Tristan Wilds) off the corner. His nurse (Marvina Vinique) reads his history of violent admissions and presumes the worst. “All you gangsters,” she sounds off without bothering to look his way. “Wash up in our ER like it’s your due. You can stand out there slingin’ drugs till you get shot, or cut, have us put you back together free of charge, so you can do it again.” She rethinks her stance after Bunny tells her who Cutty is now, but he’ll contend with those expectations forever.
Michael bolts Cutty’s stable to take up arms with Chris (Gbenga Akinnagbe), Marlo’s chief enforcer. Chris spares Michael the Bodie assignment and the indignity of making his first kill a former boss. With Bodie gone by another’s hand, Marlo and his muscle pay an early morning call on Michael at the apartment they’ve furnished him, with the charge to form a team to take over Bodie’s shop. “Then we got this other thing,” Marlo hints, pausing. Michael meets his stare with wide-eyed composure.
The following night, Michael skulks toward a corner, head down and hood up. He walks up to a dealer, waits for his attention and shoots him in the face. Michael climbs into the back of Chris’s SUV and pulls off his hood. “You can look him in the eye now,” Chris counsels through the rearview mirror as he drives. “No matter who he is or what he done, you look him right in the eye.” The advice could double as a means of owning what they’ve done as well. Michael closes his eyes and dreams of helping his little brother, Bug (Keenon Brice), with his homework until Chris jars him from the reverie to retrieve the murder weapon. It’s official—one way or the other—once Michael makes his first appearance on Lester’s Big Board, listed as “Unknown” under a snapshot of him with his new family.
Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) rides Michael’s coattails through the tough times. On his way to his makeshift digs at Michael’s, he stops off at the burnt out shell of Randy’s house, the pile of debris reminiscent of his own family’s recent eviction scene. At Michael’s, he hesitates outside then climbs the stairs, where he comes upon Michael with a girl before slumping off to Bug’s room and the bottom bunk. He slows on the approach to Douglas High for his first day after a late-semester social promotion, already inclined to turn back when mocking laughter finds him without the mantle of his Fayette Street foursome and sends him weaving through incoming traffic. Later in the week, he waits in front of Tilghman Middle for Prez (Jim True-Frost), his math teacher and all-around benefactor. Prez asks if he’s on his way to Douglas, but knows he isn’t when Dukie boots the excuse for his missing book bag. Dukie gives Prez a fancy pen set (“For all you did”); the gift comes off like a consolation prize and serves as the goodbye he doesn’t know how to say. Next time Prez sees Dukie, he’s on the corner, working for Michael.
Randy (Maestro Harrell) goes back on the list after arsonists put his foster mom in the burn unit, and Sgt. Carver (Seth Gilliam)—who kick-starts a chain of sloppy police work that leads to the boy’s outing as a snitch—scrambles to salvage the protection Randy’s testimony deserved from the outset. He pleads to keep Randy out of a group home, but his guilt is of no concern to social services; Carver’s ultimate offer to take him in doesn’t tally with the system’s screening process. Randy prepares for whatever comes, tucking his candy savings into the binding of a book.
Carver escorts Randy to the assigned group home; on their way in, Randy confers stone-faced absolution: “You tried. You don’t need to feel bad.” The gesture resembles Dukie’s—a pat on the head for the effort, however inconsequential. Carver follows him in, but when he sees the arrangement, he rushes out, seals himself off in his car, and rains blows on the wheel and dash. Back on the street, Carver chases off a group of pre-teen vandals, pausing to read an oath of eternal unity scrawled on the wall by four boys—Namond, Michael, Dukie, and Randy—losing their grip on that friendship by the day.
Bubbles (Andre Royo), like Cutty, seeks redemption for a misspent life in passing down his own skills. When Sherrod, his wisdom’s young recipient, dies after sneaking a sniff of tainted heroin meant for Bubs’ tormentor, Bubs turns himself in as a murderer. Partway through his confession, he sprays the detectives with vomit—a sick mix of withdrawal and self-loathing—and sends them out to freshen up. They return to find him hanging by his belt from the ceiling. They cut him down in time, and when the paramedics clear out after confirming Bubs’ vitality, Sgt. Jay Landsman (Delaney Williams) drops his derisive bearing and asks, “What is in your head, fella?” Bubs tries to articulate what compelled him to take in the homeless boy, but trails off when he can’t make sense of it. “Like I ain’t even who I am, right?” Bubs chokes at the audacity of a lifelong junkie who hopes to be something more. Landsman says nothing—his bearing now wholly stripped of its usual smart-assed cynicism—and wanders into the office. “Let’s throw this one back,” he tells the primary, Det. Norris (Ed Norris). “Sad ass motherfucker’s carrying more weight than we’ll ever put on him.”
Omar (Michael K. Williams) wonders how to shed the weight after robbing a wholesale drug shipment on its way to Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew). “I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to put that out on the street,” Omar admits to his mentor, the blind bartender Butch (S. Robert Morgan). “I ain’t no drug dealer, Butch, you feel me?” Butch jokes that Omar should offer to sell it back to Joe for 20 cents on the dollar and they share a sweet laugh at the crazy notion. Omar stops laughing and licks his lips. “This some shameless shit,” Joe’s nephew, Cheese (Method Man), denounces when Omar stops by Joe’s electronics shop and proposes the buyback for real. “Ain’t no shame in my game, dog,” Omar states calmly. “I’m here about the business. Ain’t that right, Joe?” Omar pulls out a claim check for the broken clock he left before the robbery. Joe reaches under his desk and hands over the clock, repaired.
Joe doesn’t share the same trust with his co-op associates, who decide in a pre-meeting that Joe should eat the Omar loss alone. “When that good raw shit come straight off the boat, it’s gonna be mine only, seeing as how y’all can’t find the heart to stand with me now,” Joe announces, hurt that the co-op’s core principle (“share and share alike”) can’t withstand the trauma. “You wanna quorum up again, think it over a little?” A bunch of gangsters stare at their shoes and calculate the stand’s long-range costs. Marlo buttonholes Joe after the gathering, expecting a more comprehensive crosscheck. Joe lets him sit with Vondas (Paul Ben-Victor), the boat connect. “I’m only here right now for Joe, who I trust, who I respect, who I work with for many years,” Vondas clarifies. “You, I do not know. And I don’t need to know.” Joe tweaks Marlo for his suspicion, relaying Omar’s offer as 30 on the dollar.
Mayor Tommy Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) envisions the electoral stigma of a solution to the school budget crisis with his top aides. “So, uh, I take the governor’s money, and then two years from now, when I shake the hand of any voter in the D.C. suburbs, they say, ’Oh, right, you’re the guy needed my tax dollars to bail out your school system.’” At home with his wife, he mounts a hollow-eyed defense of his inclination. “I’ll help the schools, help the city a lot more if I’m, uh, governor two years from now. I’m thinking, that way, it wouldn’t just be about me if I don’t take the money.” Carcetti returns from Annapolis after leaving the money on the table and sits at his desk amidst the trappings of the office, looking tiny in his chair.