Margin of Error
The Wire | Season 4 | Episode 6

Margin of Error

TV-MA | 58 MIN

Directed by Dan Attias
Written by Eric Overmyer
Story by Ed Burns & Eric Overmyer

"Don't try this shit at home." - Norman Wilson

On the Sunday before the primary, the mayoral candidates attend their church of choice with their families and entourages. Mayor Clarence Royce heads to a black Baptist Church in East Baltimore, Councilman Tony Gray to St. Bernadine's Catholic Church in Edmondson Village, while Councilman Thomas "Tommy" Carcetti use the opportunity to travel to the church of a politically influential minister in West Baltimore, where an A.W.E. gospel choir is tearing it up. Randy Wagstaff and his foster mother, Miss Anna, head into a storefront Pentecostal church, while Bodie's boys, including Kevin, sling on the corner across the way. The Reverend Reid Franklin holds forth with an election day homily, preaching to his flock and Carcetti in particular about Moses as law-giver, and "men of truth who fear God and hate covetousness." He asks the congregation to keep those standards in mind when they choose their city's leaders.

After services, Carcetti tells Reverend Franklin he hopes state Delegate Odell Watkins - now firmly in the Carcetti camp -- won't be the only one to break with the incumbent mayor. "You're holding me to a high standard," he chides. "Moses? I mean, Jesus, Reverend..." Jennifer Carcetti winces at the small blasphemy. Unperturbed, the Reverend promises to keep an open mind - a sign that Carcetti is indeed making inroads among black voters - and shoots back: "Moses will do for now. We'll save Jesus for your second term."

Across town in a surveillance van, Sgt. Thomas "Herc" Hauk watches for Marlo Stanfield and his lieutenants, spying through the camera hidden by the Major Crimes Unit in Marlo's outdoor lair. No signs of life. Hauk tells Detective Leandor Sydnor to call him when someone shows up, and departs.

Carcetti and aide-de-camp Norman Wilson work the crowd outside Baltimore's new African-American History Museum when Watkins, pressing the flesh for Carcetti, arrives with an attack flyer he has just been handed by a voter. The flyer screams: "Carcetti Defended Notorious Slumlord." A last-minute smear campaign depicts the candidate getting a loathed local landlord off the hook during his days as a private sector lawyer. Tommy claims he never met the guy, much less represented him. "They photo-shopped me." He isn't appeased by Bennett and Wilson's assurances that they have time to knock the false allegation down.

At their lair, Marlo and Chris arrive and stage a phone call for the hidden cameras, of which they are well aware. Monk takes a call and hands it to Marlo, who asks what time he can pick up "the skinny girl from New York," insisting he's gonna take care of it himself. As Herc and Sydnor watch from the van, a lip reader translates. Herc decodes: The skinny girl is cocaine. Sydnor can't believe Marlo would go near a package himself, but Herc feels vindicated in his view of Marlo as a mope.

Back in the Carcetti war room, the team reviews the fake flyer and how to debunk it. Tommy is beside himself, convinced this will destroy his chances. His campaign staff assure him they'll take care of it.

Namond and De'Londa, dressed in their Sunday best, meet with Brianna Barksdale, who breaks the news there will be no more money coming their way on Wee-Bey's behalf. Outraged, De'Londa threatens Brianna, noting that Bey could get to speaking about her brother Avon - exposing Avon to even more prison time. "I don't give a shit what happens to Avon," Brianna fires back, before telling Namond that she invited him to the meet for a specific purpose - to make it clear that his mother's been paid enough that he should have enough money going forward. Namond doesn't know what to believe.

Working the weekend shift two days before the primary election, Norris fills Greggs in on a message from a jailhouse snitch who wants to make a deal for the information they need to make the dead witness case. Norris wants to push it through before the election to shake things up - not knowing or caring whether it hurts the Mayor or Carcetti. "I don't even vote. But it'll be fun to f**k with all them downtown suits." Not to mention the fact that an arrest in the controversial case could land Greggs on the 11 o'clock news, payback for what the politicians put her through.

At home, the Carcettis watch the late night news, exhausted by the campaign and wishing it was over. Even though they found the original photo in the local newspaper's morgue files and were able to prove that it was doctored, some damage has been done. And officially, the Royce campaign claims to know nothing about claiming the smear tactic or the origin of the slanderous fliers. Tommy Carcetti confides to his wife that he'd have been okay losing by fifteen points, but now that he has a shot, he can't take the idea of losing by two.

Back at home, De'Londa Brice tells Namond Brice he's now going to have to step up. He can't quit school, but he has to go ask Bodie for his own package. Namond asks his mother what Brianna meant about her being paid enough money. "She's a lying bitch," De'Londa claims, as she calls Wee-Bey to break the news. Wee-Bey seems decidedly non-commital as De'Londa rails her outrage, indicating he has no plans to snitch on the Barksdales.

At roll call in the Western District, Lt. Dennis Mello announces the new arrests warrant for murder and a weapons charge for Omar Little. The cops know him well; they're glad someone finally got paper on him. But Off. Jimmy McNulty finds something strange. "You ever know Omar to do a citizen?" he asks Officer Tony Colicchio.

Early that same morning, Wilson finds Carcetti at campaign headquarters, where he's been poring over data trying to figure where he should go door-to-door in the waning hours of the campaign to pick up more votes. Wilson drags him off to do his radio shows, insisting he leave the campaign planning to the experts.

As the Tilghman Middle School students arrive for the day, Roland "Prez" Pryzkylewski intercepts Duquan "Dukie" Weems and takes him to the gym locker room, where he presents him with a locker, clean clothes, soap and a laundry bag. If Duquan gets to school early, he can shower and change and Prez will take the dirty clothes and wash them.

Deputy Commissioner for Operations William A. Rawls pays a visit to Homicide, surprising Sgt. Jay Landsman. He's heard about Norris making a move on the Braddock case to writ out a jail witness for an interview, and he's not happy with the "let the chips fall where they may" approach, given that a determination over whether the murder resulted from Braddock's witness status could risk either Royce or Carcetti holding a grudge if they win. And it turns out that city polling places still need to be covered by more uniformed officers. He tells Landsman to order Greggs and Norris to report for poll duty. "They can pick up their writ and talk to their snitch on Wednesday," Rawls says.

As Grace Sampson hands out the list of the ten students being pulled for the University of Maryland study, the teachers are genuinely relieved to lose a few of their knuckleheads. Prez is trying to explain fractions to his math class when he's interrupted by Assistant Principal Marcia Donnelly, who pulls Namond, Darnell and Zenobia from class with no explanation, leading to lots of speculation about what kind of trouble they're in. Donnelly and Sampson round up the remaining students from other classes. As they are walked to their new classroom, Tiffany - now subjected to teasing over her bathroom trysts with the boys - is talking animatedly in the front office.

With Carcetti still wound up about the flyer, Wilson reports that state Senator Clay Davis wants to meet, likely to throw in with Carcetti. But of course, Davis won't come cheap. Tommy is dubious about Davis squeezing him and not coming through, but Wilson and Theresa 'DAgostino convince him the money is worth the gamble.

Settling into seats at a nice restaurant, Davis explains to Wilson and Carcetti that he can't offer a public endorsement so late in the game, but he can see to a push in a few of his organization's key precincts, and split some of his tickets and walk-around money between the Royce and Carcetti camps. He slips Carcetti a piece of paper with a figure on it and Tommy nods. Carcetti and Wilson beg off the sit down lunch - they're due on the campaign trail -- and Davis jokes they should just leave enough for his tab.

When RandyWagstaff is called to Donnelly's office, he at first denies he knows anything about Tiffany being in the bathroom with two boys, Monnel and Paul. But when he hears she claimed they raped her, he quickly and truthfully insists he was just a lookout -- and she went willingly. Donnelly warns him there will be an investigation and likely suspension, if not explusion. Maybe even criminal charges. As she dials Randy's foster mother, Randy begs her, offering all of the valuable information he has about other activities at Tilghman Middle - tagging, thieving, slashed tires. As nothing stops her, he makes a last ditch effort. "I know about a murder," he says softly, recluctantly, finally getting her attention.

Grace Sampson and Howard "Bunny" Colvin explain the mandatory program to the ten chosen students, who are none too pleased to hear about it - Namond, well versed in the terminology of incarceration by his father, immediately declares the new class to be solitary. They've been removed from gen-pop and sent to the hole. Colvin agrees with the assessment. From Donnelly, Prez learns about Randy's situation, and pleads with the assistant principal to let him call someone he trusts at the police department. "I don't want to see him get chewed up by the system." He pays a visit to Major Cedric Daniels, who suggests passing it to Sgt. Ellis Carver. Prez is dubious, but Daniels assures him Carver's come a long way.

At the Amtrak station, Herc stakes out the arriving New York train. When he spots Marlo approach a woman arriving on a southbound Metroliner - who Marlo clearly does not know and who is clearly confused - Herc sends the Amtrak police supervisor to make the collar so he can surprise him at the interview. He grabs both her and Marlo, confiscating her bag in the process. Marlo smiles to himself as he's dragged away. Herc looks on, proud. But minutes later, when the supervisor reports they'e both clean, Herc has no choice but to cut Marlo and the woman loose.

Brought into the school case, Carver pays a visit to Randy'shome to talk to Miss Anna, and as Randy listens from the other room, he explains to the foster mom that the boy was just an unwitting go-between on the possible homicide case. If he keeps his mouth shut and cooperates, they can keep him out of it. Miss Anna is distraught at the danger he could be in, not to mention his bad judgment in that matter, as well as the incident at school. Carver agrees, but assures her that "rom what I can tell, he's not a bad kid."

When Election Day finally arrives, Dennis "Cutty" Wise gets up early and heads out for a jog, evading his latest conquest's questions about when he's coming back. As he runs through the poster-festooned streets, campaign workers herd people to the polls, and candidates cast their votes for the cameras. At Tilghman Middle, now a polling precinct, Miss Anna heads in to vote while Randy waits outside. Spider, handing out Carcetti ballots for pay, quickly bolts when he sees Cutty - who has been searching for him for weeks. The Precinct Captain then hires Randy to take Spider's place, giving him a crate of flyers and $50 to put one in every doorway in a Westside neighborhood. Miss Anna okays it, but orders him to come straight home after. So Randy sets out with the flyers, rounding up Dukie, Donut and Kenard to help, while Michael begs off to head to the gym.

Meanwhile, Greggs gives Norris hell for getting her stuck on polling detail, thanks to his plan to jerk around the politicians and get them both on the 11 o'clock news. Carcetti is meeting and greeting his public in his home district when he's accosted by an older supporter who says he knew his father, then starts in on what's happened to the city starting in on what's happened to the city since "the moolies" took over city government. In the wake of the racial epithet, Norman Wilson offers Carcetti a bitter smile. Carcetti is speechless as the man walks off.

De'Londa drags Namond to see Bodie Broadus, humiliating her son as she demands he be given his own package. Bodie can't say no. Meanwhile, Namond's friends are not far away, growing tired of their own new gig papering row houses with campaign literature, but Randy threatens not to pay them if they quit. When they realize he's already been paid and is holding their money, they demand instant gratification. Randy pays out the cash, but continues to finish the job on his own.

At the gym, Michael Lee works a bag as Cutty works yet another lady, showing her some moves. Namond comes in looking for the gang. He tells Michael he's got his own package from Bodie, and asks if Michael wants to go in on it. Michael refuses. He goes back to shadow boxing, as Cutty tries to engage him in conversation, asking why Spider hasn't been around. "Why don't you ask his moms," he says, nodding towards the lady Cutty's been putting moves on. Clearly, Cutty also made time with Spider's mother. "Ahh, I ain't no angel," Cutty says, smiling at his latest. "No you ain't that," Michael responds, his distrust of Cutty on full display.

At Carcetti headquarters, they watch the TV as Clay Davis stands at a podium with Royce, fully endorsing the incumbent. They surmise that he probably shook the Mayor down for even more than the $20,000 they paid him. Wilson insists it was worth a shot, but Carcetti - wondering if Davis knows who the winner is likely to be and has backed Royce accordingly - shows that nerves are getting the better of him.

In a grocery, Omar Little spots a radio car outside. Cautious, he goes back to the beer refrigerator and slips his gun behind the forties. As soon as he exits, Officer Walker orders him against the wall and spotting his ring, pockets it. When Omar accuses him of not playing by the rules, Walker throws him to the pavement, just as McNulty, Colicchio and other cars pull up. The charge is robbery murder, McNulty tells him. Omar shows his surprise then tells McNulty he needs to make a quick call. McNulty looks to Walker - who has the collar - and Walker shrugs indifferently. McNulty dials the number that Omar offers then holds the phone for Omar to tell the voice on the other end that he's been arrested and is on the way to Central Booking. "I'm on it," Butchie responds. Omar nods a quick thanks as he's tossed in the wagon. Something doesn't add up for McNulty.

As the early returns come in, the candidates watch from their respective hotel suites. Namond heads home with Bodie's package, telling his mother it's a piece of cake. In the privacy of his bedroom, he stares at the vialed coke package as if it's a bomb.

Omar's brought into the bullpen at Central Booking on Eager Street downtown, to the jeers of inmates - many having been robbed by him. For the first time in a long while, he looks genuinely fearful.

Tense with anticipation, Tommy and Jennifer Carcetti take a break and walk along the harbor boardwalk. He speaks about what could happen if Baltimore found the strength to turn itself around, to solve its problems. When his cell phone rings, Jennifer urges him to answer. He hangs up before giving her the news: "Royce is conceding...we won." "Are we happy about that," she asks wryly. Carcetti allows that he thinks so.

An hour later, still incredulous, Carcetti takes the podium at his campaign's hotel ballroom, thanking his team as he points out they still have a general election to win. "Is there a Republican candidate for mayor in Baltimore?" he asks to laughter, Baltimore being almost exclusively Democratic in voter registration. As Jennifer begs off the celebration to go home, Wilson approaches with an unrepentant, shameless Davis. "Shouldn't you be dead to me?" Carcetti asks Davis. "You got off cheap," the senator laughs.

In his holding cell, Omar readies for a fight as the guard lets in two hulking new inmates. One of them pulls out a shank, as if ready to fight, before muttering, with a half-smile, "Butchie sent us." Omar sighs relief, taking the weapon.

As the celebration winds down at the Carcetti suite, Theresa 'DAgostino and the victorious candidate are the last ones left. Pouring one more for the road, 'DAgostino - an old flame from their law school days -- goes in for her "win bonus," kissing Carcetti deeply. He starts to respond, then pulls back. "You suddenly feeling mayoral?" she needles him. She's not convinced he's changed, she says, telling Carcetti that Wilson routinely saw him ogling women on the campaign trail. She tries again and he gives in, momentarily, then he stops them. "Maybe you have learned something," 'DAgostino says on her way out. "Write me a check." The episode closes on Carcetti, with his future suddenly unwritten.