Directed by: Ernest Dickerson
Story by: David Simon & George Pelecanos
Teleplay by: George Pelecanos
"Why you got to go and fuck with the program?" - Fruit
Cops and City Council members meet with angry residents of Baltimore's West Side to reassure them that the police are on top of the drug war in their neighborhoods. The cops also encourage the residents to report drug activity, but the West Siders are having none of it. "My cousin Billy Gant cooperated," one resident reports. "Went downtown and testified. He deader than Tupac today." Jumping into the fray, Major Colvin takes over the podium and tells the gathering there are no easy answers to the drug problem. "Truth is, I can't promise you it's gonna get better," he says. "We can't lock up the thousands that are out on those corners. There's no place to put them if we could... This here is the world we've got, and it's time that all of us had the good sense to at least admit that much." When asked what the answer is, Colvin responds: "I'm not sure. But whatever it is, it can't be a lie." As Colvin leaves, the room erupts into angry chaos.
Greggs and McNulty press Bubbles back into duty to gather street intelligence on the Barksdale gang, which has lost its prime territory, the Towers. Bubbles discovers that some of the city's best turf — downtown near the lunchtime crowd looking to score — is now controlled by "a young boy name Marlo." He also offers up the tag number of the Marlo's SUV. Looking into Marlo's background, Greggs discovers that he was a murder suspect until a witness who'd agreed to testify against him was found dead — two bullets in the chest and one in the mouth — and Marlo went free.
Cutty goes to work with a crew of Hispanic laborers but soon finds that even in doing menial yard work, he's in over his head. Confronted with a temperamental lawn mower, Cutty is unable to get it started until the foreman teaches him how to prime an engine. Realizing that his foreman is an ex-con himself, Cutty hears counsel that is not heartening: "Yeah it's hot. Every day. And you gonna be riding in the back of that hard truck, bouncin' around, every day. And your back gonna be yellin' at you, every day... I'm just sayin': You wanna stay on the straight, ain't gonna be no big reward to it. This is it right here."
Face to face with the hard reality of the straight life, Cutty seeks out the Barksdale gang, contacting Slim Charles and asking for work. Cutty's reputation has preceded him, and Slim Charles tells Cutty the first thing they need to do is get him a gun. Cutty is amazed to find himself the new owner of a 14-round .45 automatic pistol. "Game done changed," he tells Slim Charles. "Game's the same," Slim replies. "Just got more fierce."
Bunk — under pressure to find Dozerman's gun — rousts a group of West Side dealers and offers them a "get-out-of-jail" card if they can lead him to it. Herc and Carver are skeptical of his approach, but Bunk is unapologetic: "Well, shit, I gotta do something," he says.
At the Detail Room, Freamon and McNulty clash bitterly over McNulty's continued defiance of Daniels' authority. Freamon again points out that the Lieutenant has directed the Detail to nail Kintel Williamson, suspected of drug dealing and murder, but McNulty's continued pursuit of Stringer Bell rankles Freamon. Daniels, Freamon says, has "earned some loyalty." McNulty's response: "Fuck loyalty. And fuck you, Lester. I never thought I'd hear that chain-of-command horseshit outta your mouth."
Colvin lunches with Johns Hopkins officials to discuss his transition out of the police force and into a university job as No. 2 security man, for $80,000 a year.
Daniels and Pearlman learn that Avon Barksdale, having cut a prison deal, is due for a parole hearing soon. Daniels is worried he'll be released, but Pearlman reads a letter she's written to the parole board, pointing out that Barksdale is a major, violent offender. "Parole Commission's not gonna walk him on his first trip to the plate. Not after a letter like that," she reassures Daniels.
McNulty sees ex-wife Elena at his son Michael's science fair and she reminds him that he's behind on his alimony. McNulty tells her that after the $2,000 in child support every month he doesn't have anything left for alimony. "You signed a separation agreement that gives me another thousand in alimony," Elena reminds him. "I signed the fucking thing 'cause I thought we'd be together," McNulty responds. "You look at how much I make, and I'm not close to being able to pay that much every month."
Colvin's cops spread the word among the street dealers that they must move to the Free Zone in order to avoid harassment by the cops. The dealers are incredulous — uncomprehending — at the new world order. Carver explains it again: "This corner's indicted. We're coming back tomorrow and when we do, everybody wears bracelets — unless you people move your shit down to Vincent Street, down where the houses are all vacant. You do that and we don't give a shit." "Vincent Street is like Switzerland. Or Amsterdam," explains another cop. "The fuck is that?" asks one of the dealers. Marlo's man Fruit still doesn't get it. "Look: We grind, and y'all try to stop it. That's how we do. Why you got to go and fuck with the program?"
On a hunch, McNulty visits the registrar at Baltimore Community College and learns that Stringer Bell is in fact a student there. He gets Bell's cell phone number and wanders the halls until he sees Bell in his economics class. Waiting outside the school, McNulty watches Bell emerge and can't resist calling his cell to make sure he's really scored what he thinks he has. Bell answers but McNulty is silent. Later, McNulty trails Bell to a meeting with an architect, a real estate developer and State Senator Clayton Davis. The subject is the Barksdale organization's vast property holdings in West Baltimore. Binoculars trained, McNulty wonders if Bell has really gone straight.
When McNulty returns to the Detail Room, gloating over having scored Bell's cell number, Freamon is quick to take the wind out of his sails. He informs McNulty that he already knows Bell's cell phone number. "I had Prez pull the B-and-B property assessments and the land transfers from circuit court," Freamon says. "Some of the paperwork asked for a contact number." A step ahead of McNulty, Freamon knows Bell is using the line exclusively for legit business. "From the looks of things," Freamon adds, "Stringer Bell's worse than a drug dealer." "He's a developer," chimes in Prez.
In a bar in Little Italy, Carcetti drinks with a group of old friends, informing them of his intention to run for Mayor of Baltimore. About that time, he sees an old friend arrive — the beautiful Theresa D'Agostino. Carcetti bets his friends that he can convince her to let him buy her a drink. And so he does, while he flatters her with pleas to manage his campaign. D'Agostino is skeptical, telling Carcetti that a white man could never get elected Mayor of Baltimore. Finally, one of Carcetti's buddies recognizes D'Agostino and sees that they've been gamed. He tells the others: "She's down in D.C. now with the National Party. A campaign fixer."
Frustrated over the slow progress his clean-streets program is making, Colvin orders his troops to round up the dealers and bring them to a city high school so the police can again pound home the message. Bodie, Poot and other Barksdale soldiers are there, as well as Fruit, Jamal and Boo from Marlo's crew. It's a rowdy bunch, and Colvin finds it impossible to get their attention, much less respect, until the arrival of the Vice Principal, a tough, tiny Black woman who knows the boys and provokes respect if not fear among them. She brings quiet to the room for the moment, but the chaos returns the second she leaves.
Saying he's sorry, Stringer Bell shows up at Donette's house, whose calls he's been ignoring for weeks. "Sorry don't warm my bed at night," she tells him. She also lets him know McNulty has been poking around looking for information on who might have killed D'Angelo. Bell reassures her that no one would kill D'Angelo, since that would invite the wrath of D'Angelo's uncle Avon. Kissing her, he promises that he's going to be a bigger presence in her life from now on.
McNulty and Bunk knock back a few, and later, dead drunk, McNulty shows up at Pearlman's house, hoping for a roll in the hay. He leaves when she won't answer the door, but is not so drunk that he doesn't recognize Daniels' car parked outside her apartment.
Across town, Cutty attends a house party with the Barksdale gang, where drugs, music, and booze — not to mention a variety of available women — are in plentiful supply. Bodie has two young women in particular in mind for Cutty, and, taking it all in, Cutty realizes that he's back in the game for real.