Directed by: Ernest Dickerson
Story by: David Simon & Ed Burns
Teleplay by: David Simon
"...we fight on the lie." - Slim Charles
Bunk investigates the murder of Stringer Bell, determining that two shooters were involved. But when he asks the only eye witness—Bell's contractor Andy Krawczyk — what he saw, Krawczyk responds: "I told you I saw only the one. I know he was black. Big, I thought. With a large weapon." "BNBG," responds Bunk, dredging up an old detective adage: Big Negro, Big Gun.
McNulty is distraught over Bell's demise, "like Stringer was kin" is the way Greggs puts it. Pursuing the drug dealer has been his obsession for two years, and the timing — soon after he'd overheard Bell incriminate himself on a wiretap — is especially hard to stomach. Had Stringer lived, McNulty would have taken far greater pleasure in arresting Bell in the near future.
Carcetti and his campaign advisor Theresa D'Agotino disagree over Hamsterdam. In spite of his designs on the Mayor's office, Carcetti is reluctant to exploit Hamsterdam for political gain, having seen the impact of legalized drugs on the city's crime rate. D'Agostino, who views the scandal as the opening her client has been waiting for, can't fathom Carcetti's hesitation: "C'mon, Tommy. They dealt you a winning hand and you're acting like you forgot how to play."
In spite of his role in Stringer's death, Avon genuinely grieves the loss of his lifelong friend and partner. Slim Charles, seeking to reassure, tells Avon the crew is ready to bounce back on Marlo, but is stunned when Avon tells him that Marlo didn't kill Bell, that other business did Bell in. "But I couldn't fix it," Avon says, finally realizing that Stringer was right all along about turf wars. "Fuck Marlo," he says. "And fuck this fucking war. All this beefin' over a couple of fuckin' corners." In response, Slim Charles articulates the gangster's dead-end moral imperative: "It don't matter who did what to whom. Fact is, we went to war an' now there ain't no goin' back... If it's a lie, then we fight on the lie. But we gotta fight."
At the Mayor's office, the administration continues to fret over how to spin Hamsterdam now that it will soon be exposed. The State's Attorney tells Mayor Royce that if it's labeled "legalization," his office won't stand for it. The term "harm reduction" is discussed. "What if we were able to suggest that by limiting our street-level enforcement, we're concentrating our resources on high-level trafficking?" the Mayor wonders.
In the Detail Room, the wiretaps are buzzing with speculation about who offed Stringer, and Marlo is the prime suspect. Colvin gives McNulty a key bit of information gleaned from Stringer Bell before he was shot: the address of the safe house where Avon is holed up. "That right there might be the last bit of police work in a long and storied career," observes Colvin.
Omar meets Brother Mouzone at a motel and discovers Dante: incarcerated, bruised and beaten, ashamed that he's revealed Omar's whereabouts to the murderous Mouzone. Omar is glad simply to see Dante alive. On the way out, Mouzone, heading back to New York, gives Omar his gun for disposal: "It being your town, I trust you to do it proper."
Dennis "Cutty" Wise carries the torch for Grace still, and while she's kind to him when he waits outside her school — even offering "I'm proud of you. Dennis" — she's very clear with Cutty that their moment has passed.
Gregg's cell phone rings and, noting that it's Cheryl calling, she doesn't take the call. She's in bed with another woman. Cheryl calls McNulty next to find out Greggs' whereabouts, but McNulty, a seasoned philanderer himself, quickly realizes what's up and covers for Greggs.
Prez and Freamon discuss the charges Prez may face for having shot a fellow cop. Prez is distraught to learn that the State's Attorney is referring the matter to a grand jury, but Freamon hastens to reassure him: "It's an administrative charge. You can fight it and win, if you want." Prez says he isn't sure he was meant to be a police officer, and when Freamon asks what exactly he was supposed to be, Prez has no answer.
Daniels, learning via McNulty's tip that his Detail can very possibly nail Barksdale, orders them to sit on the safehouse till Avon shows up.
At the Mayor's office, Burrell is told that he must take the rap for Hamsterdam. Ready with his own plan, however, he fights back: "Not necessarily," he says. "Not if I talk about how we were under pressure to keep the crime down, to juke the stats district-by-district, about how Colvin, under pressure, lost his way, about how I came to you weeks ago to tell you what he'd done and to assure you that we were on top of the situation, that Colvin would be relieved and his plan aborted, but you heard about the drop in Colvin's felony rate and you sent me packing. Brought your liberal-ass do-gooders in here to seriously consider this horseshit while Colvin's mistake grew and grew. My hands were tied, Mr. Mayor."
It's up to the Mayor, Burrell makes clear, if Burrell will say that on the record. The other option, he says, is that "I put what I can on crazy-ass Bunny Colvin and I take the hit. And if Carcetti or Gray holds hearings, I'm a wall between them and you. In which case, I'm your commissioner for a full five-year term."
At last the cops descend on Hamsterdam, and everyone scatters: dopers, dealers, debutantes in the family sedan, with the police in hot pursuit. In the aftermath, Johnny's body turns up, alone and abandoned except for the rats.
Colvin learns that Burrell has personally intervened with the provost at Johns Hopkins to trash Colvin's name. The university security job that Colvin expected to retire to suddenly evaporates, and worse is yet to come.
Carcetti and D'Agostino watch TV transfixed as the bust goes down in Hamsterdam, plotting their next move. As Carcetti types notes in his computer, D'Agotino advises him how to position Gray so he's most effective at splitting the vote in the coming Mayor's race: "Save the best questions for Tony Gray," is her cynical assessment. "He needs to shine even more than you."
Slim Charles and another Barksdale soldier alert Avon that Marlo is a sitting duck at the rim shop. As Avon arrives at the safe house to suit up for battle, he's observed by Daniels' crew, who have been waiting for this moment. Shortly, the cops make their presence known to Barksdale and his soldiers, who first seek an exit route and, finding all of them blocked, wait with resignation for their fate. Surveying the arsenal they've gathered, Barksdale feeds the soldiers their next line as the cops arrive: "Y'all ask me, you ugly-ass gangsters shouldn't be messin' with all these guns y'all brought up in here."
Once the cops are inside, the solider Perry indeed claims the guns are his, but McNulty isn't buying: "You fall on the parole violation," he tells Avon. "No matter what else happens, you do every day of what's left of your seven without ever seeing a jury." The weapons, McNulty adds, "we take federal. See if we can't get you some more years." Avon pulls out the old jailbird saw in response: "Shit, you only do two days no how. Day you go in..." The soldier Sapper finishes the sentence: "...and the day you come out." Handing Avon the search-and-seizure warrant, McNulty tells Avon to read it slowly, and as he does, Avon is stunned to see the source of the information that led the cops to him: Stringer Bell. "In between them two days, something for you to think on," McNulty adds.
Colvin, called on the carpet by Rawls and Burrell, learns that his little experiment in social engineering has dire consequences. Not only has he lost his post-retirement job, but he's being busted to lieutenant and will not retire with a Major's pension. And, Rawls, adds, "You bend over for us, or I swear to God, I will spend what's left of my career shitting on every last supervisor in your district, from the shift commanders down to the sector sergeants. Not a one of them will have a career if we hear so much as a bark out of you."
With Avon back in jail and Hamsterdam razed by bulldozers, Marlo sends his soldiers back to the street to sling drugs. The consequences for Dennis Wise are swift. His kids, just starting to learn discipline and respect, are suddenly back in the drug business, and as the streets fill up with dealers, his boxing gym remains deserted.
In the aftermath, the Mayor refuses to fire Burrell, but he does cut loose Eunetta Perkins, his loyalist councilwoman, who is Marla Daniels' biggest rival. That clears the way for Lieutenant Daniels' long-awaited promotion to Major.
It further clears the way for Pearlman and Daniels to go public with their relationship. Pearlman professes her confusion upon dining with Daniels in a restaurant: "But your wife... You and me, in public." "She wins without me," Daniels explains. "On the mayor's ticket, she wins."
McNulty, lonely and disconnected, visits Beadie Russell, his friend from the longshoreman's case, who's surprised to see him. "I was at my old district tonight, where I think I used to feel pretty good. I wasn't so angry, anyway, when I was there. And someone said something, I guess..." McNulty realizes that the way he's been living his life has only worked for closing a case. Looking at Beadie, he tries to forge a new way.
At City Hall, Carcetti and Gray do hold hearings, but Burrell and Rawls stonewall them when they dig into the details of Hamsterdam. "What we have here, I'm afraid, is nothing more complicated than a solitary police commander who, under great pressure, proved himself amoral, incompetent and unfit for command," Rawls says. Carcetti has heard enough and interrupts the Commissioner: "We can forgive Major Colvin, who in his frustration and despair, found himself condoning something which can't possibly be condoned. But, gentlemen, what we can't forgive — what I can't forgive, ever — is how, we — you, me, this administration, all of us, have turned away from those streets in West Baltimore. The poor, the sick, the swollen underclass of our city, trapped in the wreckage of neighborhoods that were once so prized, communities that we failed to defend, that we surrendered to the horrors of the drug trade."
Daniels offers McNulty another chance with his detail but McNulty turns it down, opting instead to return to the life of a patrolman in the Western division. The dealers are back on the streets, the cops after them once again; Gray begins his campaign for Mayor and so does Carcetti; Hamsterdam is a pile of brick and rubble; Stringer Bell's girlfriend Donette weeps in her apartment, having lost a second man; Omar tosses the shotgun that killed Bell into the Baltimore harbor; Daniels, Greggs, Freamon and Sydnor dismantle the detail office; and Barksdale goes to court to face the music. In the back of the room, his sister Brianna sits stone-faced, refusing to look at him, but Marlo is there, to take in Avon's fall, and he nods a warrior's respect to Barksdale.