When Emma and I first started dating, the first show that she said we needed to watch was Avatar: The Last Airbender. I enjoyed that, so when she said The Wire, I put my trust and faith into the HBO staple. Boy-oh-boy, was I not let down. This television show was excellent, and even its lower moments are sitting lightyears about many other’s “average” episodes. The Wire is considered by some to be the best television show ever made, and I can honestly say that it ranks among the elite class of my limited viewing experiences.

As Emma and I continue to talk about the show, we try and rank all of seasons. To quote Emma, “It is just so hard because they are all so good.”

With that in mind, here are my rankings of the five season of The Wire.

No. 5
Season Five

I knew that season five was the most divisive of the series heading into it. I also knew that it centered a lot around journalism and media ethics, which I am a fan of (thanks to professor Breslin for that). I wanted to like season five more than most, but sometimes the populous is right.

Season five is not the worst because of that asshole Scott Templeton (Tom McCarthy) and his horrendous professional decisions. It was not worst because the editors and Newspaper runners are complete assholes and obsessed with the numbers…if you know the show then you know how clever this bit of writing is.

Season five is the lowest in the batting order because of the cops. I really, really, REALLY did not like the fake serial killer plot. When McNulty (Dominic West) started doing the whole charade, I was audibly saying “what the fuck”. I totally understand that you need to make your heroes have faults, but this was a step too far. This was past the realm of suspension of disbelief for me. The Wire does a phenomenal job of showing how everyone in Baltimore plays the political game to get what they need, but did it need to be a fake serial killer?

McNulty convinced Lester Freamon (Clarke Peters) that this was the best way to go about getting Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector). How dare McNulty drag Freamon down with this anchor of moral ambiguity!

Season five, while it was my least favorite of the bunch, still had a ton of great moments. When Rhonda Pearlman (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) first find out that the wiretap McNulty and Freamon setup is fraudulent…yea that was fucking hilarious. Bunk (Wendell Pierce) talking down to McNulty the entire time made me enjoy him even more. The story arc of Michael (Tristan Mack Wilds) turning to the dark side was also wonderfully tragic.

You want a fun fact? Tom McCarthy, who played the sleezy, shortcut hunting reporter Scott Templeton…well he went on to write and direct one of the best journalism movies of all time in Spotlight (2015). Crazy world.

No. 4
Season Three

Hamsterdam. That was season three. We are introduced to Howard ‘Bunny’ Colvin (Robert Wisdom) and his radical (and statistically proven plausible) way to improve policing and neighborhood safety. The streets of Baltimore are falling apart after The Towers have been torn down, and this leads to chaos in the back alleys as crime lords are grasping as straws to claim new territory and respect. Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) is trying become legitimate but the political system is chewing him up from the inside. Marlo learns he hates this bit of the business come the end of season five…Stringer learned a bit too late.

Yea, Stringer dies this season and it is one of the most shocking scenes of the entire series. I did not expect it to go down that way, but when you start backstabbing some of the best gun wielders on the Northeast coast, then you are going to find yourself some trouble. I fucking love Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts), and him teaming up with Omar Little (Michael K. Williams) to kill the shows greatest bad guy is a fever dream for lovers of The Wire.

Season three also introduced us to Thomas Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) who plays a huge part in seasons four and five. This was the start of the political plot lines, and those had me dancing like puppet strings when I was watching the show. We can’t forget about Cutty (Chad L. Coleman) and his stature as the redemption character. Cutty was in the game, got out, then got back in, but then opted to leave on his own and start up something new that would hopefully have an impact. He is what the kids could look up to as someone who rose above the mess.

The reason season three ranks fourth in my brain is because it has the least to do with the original cast of characters. It is a middle point for the series, adding depth for the final two seasons. It was a necessary dive into the deep end, but sometimes I wanted to come up to breath and talk to the characters I fell in love with in seasons one and two.

No. 3
Season 1

The one that started at all.

I fucking loved how slow season one of The Wire progresses. It is an A1 example of how you do not need action in every episode to make it compelling. The behind-the-scenes, back-channeling and surveillance work done by the Daniels and his team reminds me of the best from other prestige shows that stamped their style and stuck to it (for the most part).

I guess there is a bit of sentimental value to season one because you saw where everyone started out at. Daniels was low on the food chain, but knowing where he started to where he ended makes you look at him in season one with a giant grin of happiness and expectation. McNulty started off as the biggest troublemaker in the world…and that didn’t change a single bit. Kima (Sonja Sohn) a hard go-getter who sacrifices family time and suffers those consequences…until she changes a bit and accepts her fate in the later seasons. The bromance between Carver (Seth Gilliam) and Herc (Domenick Lombardi) and how they began the same but diverged onto different paths…it is rather heartbreaking for me.

The reality of the matter is that season one gets elevated because it not only introduced the show to us the viewers, but also the characters we grew to love, and also the ones we loved to hate. Remember how much you hated Major Rawls (John Doman) when the show started? Remember how slimy Clay Davis (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) was when you first met him? What about when Omar first walked down the streets? Or when D’Angelo Barksdale (Lawrence Gillard Jr.) was having second guesses about his loyalty?

Season one is a great season of television, and its love of the characters introduced that helped carry a season of television that admittedly didn’t have a ton going on.

No. 2
Season 2

I fucking love season two. Don’t listen to all the haters. Season two of The Wire is very good, and everyone should grow to appreciate it.

Season two did a fantastic job of expanding the universe while still having an individual story that captivated the entire season. McNulty starting off alone, growing to be himself, and then reconnecting with the squad made my heart warm. The Greeks were badass as cool, most notably Vondas (Paul Ben-Victor), who remains the second best quiet but deadly character in the show only underneath Omar (who will never be unseeded). The Greeks introduce us to the pipeline of drugs; they are the ones who keep Baltimore on the nasty shit. Among this expansion to the different parts of Baltimore, the audience gets introduced to Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew), who would become of my favorite characters for the remainder of the show. Oh, let’s not forget about Beadie (Amy Ryan)!

I fucking love season two because it expands Baltimore past the streets and explores the ports. We also get a bit about the unions, the bribing to get things done, and the back staging antics that would grow in magnitude as the politics became more and more prevalent. Sobotka (Chris Bauer) is not only an awesome name, but he is also a fantastic character. The Greek (bill Raymond) is an awesome old man himself.

Season two dug in many roots that briefly peaked out toward the later seasons. The showrunners laid in waiting ready to pounce with this familiar characters when the series was coming to an end.

Fuck the haters. I loved season two.

No. 1
Season Four

For the kids. It is all for the kids. Detective Roland ‘Prez’ Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost) is not longer a man of the blue. Prez is a teacher, and this is harder task than he could have ever imagined. In a new job he has to tackle with the same problems; young men who do not want to listen to authority. He has help in his endeavor with Bunny linking up with a college research professor who proves that through some patience, these kids can work through their problems (to a degree at least).

Maybe it is the political science minor in me, but the campaigning in season four had me just on edge as Marlo Stanfield dominating the corners and taking more of an offensive approach. Mayor Clarence V. Royce (Glynn Turman) played wonderful bad guy, always antagonizing people at the best moments and getting blowjobs from his personal assistant at the worst possible moments for Herc.

The real hurt in this season comes from the kids Randy (Maestro Harrell), Namond Brince (Julito McCullum) and Dukie (Jermaine Crawford). These kids all went through it. They had to fend for themselves because their adult supervisors, whether they be parents or friends, had no idea how to handle their situations. Randy is permanently fucked because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Namond got out okay only because Bunny is a fantastic human, and Dukie has the most tragic ending come the end of season five. Just sadness all around. Season four, focusing on the kids, highlights the facts that the systemic problems of the city (whether it was drugs or education) affects those of all ages, and affects them all differently.

Then we have Lester Freamon. Lester is my favorite character on the show, and season four was his championship MVP performance. The killings in the vacant buildings and how he discovered them had me hooting and hollering at the television. Freamon is the best policeman, pure policeman, among anyone who ever set foot in the special units, narcotics, major crimes team. He may not have been best at playing the political game or keeping relationships, but damn if he wasn’t fucking good police.

Season four as the best of the great.

For reference in our household, these are Emma’s rankings from worst to best.

  • Season 5
  • Season 3
  • Season 2
  • Season 1
  • Season 4

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