The Wire Season 3, Episode 11: Middle Ground

"We don't need to dream no more." —Stringer Bell

Directed by: Joe Chappelle
Story by: David Simon & George Pelecanos
Teleplay by: George Pelecanos

Brother Mouzone confronts Omar on a dark West Side street, and after a tense standoff, reveals what's on his mind: How can he get to Stringer Bell?

In the Detail Office, Freamon, McNulty and Officer Caroline Massey begin reaping the fruits of their scheme to sell burners to the Barksdale gang. Soon, however, they're frustrated again when they realize that Stringer Bell is still out of reach. He has his own cell phone, and doesn't use a burner like his soldiers do. McNulty, remembering an FBI device that plucked a phone number off a cell tower during the waterfront investigation, visits his old pal Agent Fitzhugh and asks if he can borrow it. He's stunned to learn that his own department has three such devices, provided by Homeland Security. Sure enough, he finds them unopened, in the department's storage room.

Police Commissioner Burrell debates with Rawls and other ranking officers what to do about Hamsterdam, but the decision ultimately belongs to Mayor Royce. The Mayor is involved in his own internal debate, with political advisors on the one hand urging him to shut it down immediately and public health officials on the other arguing that Hamsterdam has given them rare access to an at-risk population. For his part, the Mayor is intrigued by the drop in violent crime and is inclined to explore ways to extend the experiment without spending political capital. "A 14% decline in felonies citywide and I might be untouchable on this. We need to see if there's some way to keep this thing going without calling it what it is."

Dennis Wise continues to work with the boys at his West Side gym, but it's a makeshift affair and as he teaches them to box, he worries that one of them may be injured because his equipment is second rate. In desperation, he pleads his case to Avon Barksdale, who, to Wise's amazement, gives him $15,000 to fix up the gym, $5000 more than Wise has asked.

Stringer Bell, angry that the $250,000 he gave State Senator Clay Davis has produced none of the promised results, adds a new term to his vocabulary: "rainmade." Maurice Levy, Bell's lawyer, explains: "A guy says if you pay him, he can make it rain. You pay him. If and when it rains, he takes the credit. If and when it doesn't, he comes up with reasons for you to pay more. Clay Davis rainmade you." Observing Bell's angry response, he adds: "It's an old game in this town, and Clay Davis? That goniff was born with his hand in someone's pocket. I just wish you'd have run all this by me earlier."

Burrell, not understanding the Mayor's reluctance to shut Hamsterdam down, fears that he's being set up and goes to Councilman Carcetti with the story, hoping Carcetti will use it against the Mayor. "I spin Royce before he spins me," Burrell tells Carcetti. Soon, Carcetti shares the news with Theresa D'Agostino, who advises him to get in touch with Colvin and hear his side of the story firsthand.

Having worked himself into a full-fledged rage, Bell arrives drunk at Avon's safehouse, demanding to see his partner. While he's waiting, Bell tells Slim Charles that he has a job for him: killing Clay Davis. Slim Charles is taken aback by the request: "Shit, murder ain't no thing, but this here is some assassination shit," he tells Bell. Barksdale arrives at the same moment, amused by Bell's state, and tells him that "Slim gonna have to sit this one out." When Bell protests, Avon reminds him that to take out a state senator will bring a world of cops down on them. Besides, Avon chides, "You a fuckin' businessman. You don't wanna get all gangsta wild and shit."

Once the cellphone tracking device is up and running, Freamon plucks Bell's private cell number out of the ozone in no time, and is puzzled when he observes Bell calling Major Bunny Colvin. Later, unknown to the Detail, Bell meets Colvin in a graveyard at night, and betrays his partner Avon, who is thwarting Bell's ambitions to expand their empire. Not only does Avon insist on prolonging the feud with Marlo but he won't let Bell order a hit on Davis. So Bell tells Colvin the location of the safehouse where Avon hides out, and that the police will find an arsenal of weapons there. Bell expresses hope that Colvin will limit Avon's fall to five years or less in jail. "If you hit the joint, his people are gonna try to take any weight, say all that firepower is theirs. So all you gotta do is hit him with the parole back-up." Colvin responds that Avon will do at least a nickel, and says to Bell, "He musta done something to you." Bell's response: "It's only business."

Avon has the same response — it's all about business — when Brother Mouzone interrupts Avon's haircut in a West Baltimore barber shop. Mouzone recounts his near-death experience the previous year at the hands of Omar, making it clear he knows Omar was set up to kill him, and that it was Stringer Bell who set the plot in motion. Barksdale asks if money will fix the problem, but Mouzone says only one course of action will resolve the matter: "What you got here is your word and your reputation. With that alone, you've still got an open line to New York. Without it, you're done." In other words, Stringer Bell must pay for his sins. Cornered, Barksdale sees no option but to cooperate.

Later, he and Bell reminisce over a bottle of Johnnie Walker at Avon's harborside condo, but their hearts aren't in it. Recalling the days when their worst crime was stealing a badminton set from a toy store — "We ain't even have no yard," Avon laughs — Bell is thinking other thoughts: "If I had the money then I have today, I coulda bought half the property round the waterfront." Avon urges him to forget about all that for awhile. "Dream with me," he says. Stringer's response: "We don't need to dream no more. We got real estate, man, real shit we can touch." When Stringer says he has a meeting at their condo development site the next day, he's struck by Avon's response: "What time you meetin'?" When Bell answers — "round noon" — there's no turning back.

Theresa D'Agostino has called McNulty, and like an obedient puppy, he shows up to meet her at a hotel bar in downtown Baltimore. She says she's missed him, and he's inclined to believe her until she mentions a rumor she's heard: that a police commander named Bunny Colvin has legalized drugs in his district. That's the moment McNulty realizes he's being played, and he departs quickly, leaving D'Agostino to contemplate her misjudgment.

Carcetti, having learned of Hamsterdam from Burrell, confronts Colvin, who takes him on a tour of his neighborhoods, now alive with routine city life. Carcetti also visits the station house, where cops — freed from drug interdiction — are involved in standard police investigations: church burglaries and the like. Colvin also brings Carcetti to a community meeting, where the residents cautiously applaud the fact that they've taken back the streets in their neighborhood. Carcetti is impressed at first, but appalled when Colvin takes him to Hamsterdam to witness the ugly side of Colvin's clean neighborhoods.

In the Detail Room, McNulty, Freamon, Greggs and Pearlman celebrate when they hear Bell incriminate himself over their wiretap. Their relief is premature, however. Omar meets Mouzone outside Bell's development site, and when Bell arrives, they follow him inside. After shooting his bodyguard, they pursue Stringer up the stairs until he's trapped. Omar tells Bell that Avon has given him up. Then he and Mouzone unload their weapons into Bell, who falls dead to the floor of the condominium he hoped to create.

HBOEpisode Guides Courtesy of HBO

George Pelecanos