Picking out favorite episodes from The Wire is like choosing your favorite chapters of a book because that’s how it was meant to be.
All five seasons of this classic show are essentially volumes of a novel with individual chapters rather than episodes, so the way the story and its events flow isn’t quite as defined as in more traditional shows.
However, it’s not impossible to pick out clear highlights from one of the best shows ever to hit our screens.
Here are our Top 10 Episodes Of The Wire:
10. All Prologue (Season 2 Episode 6)
There two things about this mid-season episode that make it a classic. The first is Omar Little courtroom appearance in the Gant trial and his verbal battle with sleazy Maurice Levy, which is as gripping as any of his work with his shotgun.
The clear highlight is his famous quote:
“I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. It’s all in the game though, right?”
Sadly, the game ends for poor D’Angelo Barksdale, whose tragic tale concludes with being murdered in prison.
9. Old Cases (Season 1 Episode 4)
If you were to sum up this episode in a word, it would be ‘fuck’. Not as a reaction to any shock event that happens in it, but in reference to the acclaimed scene where McNulty and Bunk investigate a murder scene communicating only using that word.
It’s one of the first really iconic scenes in the show as well as the one that really brought these two unconventional cops and their relationship to life.
8. Target (Season 1 Episode 1)
An episode that lots of people have probably seen twice.
First to see what the hype about this Wire show was all about, and secondly to give it another chance because people are still going on about it.
It’s not an easy sell as a pilot episode, particularly starting with a mumbled discussion between McNulty and a gang-banger about an already-dead character called Snot Boogie. But that discussion is also the perfect introduction to the tone and themes that were to come.
7. Boys Of Summer (Season 4 Episode 1)
Everyone knows that Season 4 of The Wire is the best season of the show and therefore one of the best seasons of anything ever.
Focusing on a group of school kids gives it so much heart and even more of a tragic air, with school official Marcia Donnelly’s famous quote:
“Lambs to the slaughter here”
This quote acts as this introductory episode’s epigraph.
We’d go on a real journey with these kids over the next run of episodes and it would be something that will stay with us.
6. Bad Dreams (Season 2 Episode 11)
There are lots of tragedies in The Wire but one of the most impressively-assembled ones was the fall of Frank Sobotka in Season 2 and Bad Dreams is when it all comes crashing down upon him as he ends the episode going for a meeting with the Greek that we all know will end badly.
But the events of the season have wrapped him up so tightly that he has no other option really, and once again, the little guy has been screwed over by the system.
5. The Cost (Season 1 Episode 10)
This episode is where Season 1 kicked into top gear ahead of its climax, with the dramatic and catastrophic buy-bust at the end of the episode representing one of the main action sequences of the show’s run.
Tough girl detective Griggs and strip join owner-turned-rat Orlando find themselves suddenly under fire as the bust goes horribly wrong, leaving Orlando dead and Griggs fighting for her life.
4. Mission Accomplished (Season 3 Episode 12)
Season 3 of The Wire was done as a metaphor for George W. Bush’s Iraq War, and so the title of this episode was of course a reference to his infamously premature declaration of “Mission Accomplished” and here it largely refers to the collapse of the Hamsterdam project.
Another key moment comes with the aftermath of Stringer’s murder and Slim Charles’ very pointed quote:
“Fact is, we went to war, and now there ain’t no going back. I mean, shit … If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie.”
3. -30- (Season 5 Episode 10)
Season 5 of The Wire gets a hard press sometimes, which is a bit unfair as there’s still so much that’s great about it. But everyone at least seems to agree that it went out on a high with this episode.
As well as drawing to a close the storylines and themes of the season, it ends with a stunning montage that demonstrates the cyclical nature of life, showing the younger generations filling in the roles of those that have gone before them, for better and (mostly) for worse.
2. Final Grades (Season 4 Episode 13)
The final episode of Season 4 brings those school kids round to the next stage in their journeys, mostly not in a promising direction.
Two of the most symbolic moments are frustrated reactions from cops, firstly Carver smashing up the inside of his car after dropping Randy off at a lousy care-home, and the other is McNulty flinging a report sheet across the room after hearing of Bodie’s murder.
The other is Michael killing for the first time. Bleak and enraging, as it should be.
1. Middle Ground (Season 3 Episode 11)
The epigraph for this incredible episode is Stringer Bell’s quote:
“We ain’t gotta dream no more, man.”
It could quite easily be the slogan for the whole show, but it’s particularly relevant here as it’s Stringer’s last episode, with all of his plans and dreams collapsing around him.
He gives up Avon, who gives him up in turn and they have one last, awkward meeting, before Omar and Brother Mouzone gun him down at his development site.