The Wire

The Target

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"The Target" is the first episode of the first season. It is the series pilot, the first episode of the series overall. The episode was written by David Simon from a story by David Simon & Ed Burns and was directed by Clark Johnson. It originally aired on June 2, 2002.

Homicide detective Jimmy McNulty observes the murder trial of a mid-level drug dealer, D'Angelo Barksdale, and sees the prosecution's star witness recant her testimony. McNulty recognises drug king-pin Stringer Bell in the court room and believes he has manipulated the proceedings. McNulty circumvents the chain of command by talking to the judge, who then places pressure on the police department over the case. D'Angelo is acquitted and returns to work for the Barksdale drug-dealing organization—moving to the low rise projects known as "the pit." A homeless drug addict named Bubbles acts as mentor to another addict in an ill-conceived scam with severe consequences.


Detective Jimmy McNulty observes the trial of D'Angelo Barksdale. Barksdale is a young drug dealer charged with murder. McNulty recognizes others present at the trial including Stringer Bell. Central to the case is witness William Gant who identifies Barksdale as the killer and a security guard, Nakeisha Lyles, who has changed her story and now refuses to finger Barksdale. McNulty visits his colleague, detective Frank Barlow, who goes to court with him just in time to see the jury return a not guilty verdict. The judge, Daniel Phelan, knows McNulty and later calls him into his chambers to find out why he is so interested in the trial when he was not the primary investigator. McNulty reveals that he has noticed that D'Angelo's uncle Avon Barksdale and Stringer have been tied to many murders and tells Phelan that he believes they control West Baltimore's drug trade; McNulty complains that nobody is investigating their organization.

Major Rawls is incensed that McNulty spoke to Phelan - he sees it as a deliberate move to go around him. Rawls's anger stems from being called upon to talk to Deputy Burrell about some "project nigger" who beat his unit out of ten murders that he knew nothing about. Rawls continuously berates McNulty's Irish ancestry in addition to him going to see a judge to get his goal of a dedicated investigation of the Barksdale Organization accomplished. McNulty is about to finish a shift and Rawls prevents him from leaving. As the deputy wants a report, Rawls passes the problem back to McNulty by ordering him to prepare his briefing on the Barksdale Organization overnight. He reminds him to bullet every murder as "the deputy loves dots" and then tells Sergeant Jay Landsman to arrive early to read his report. Sergeant Landsman arrives in the morning warning McNulty that his behavior could end up in reassignment. McNulty reveals that his worst nightmare would be working "the boat" - the marine unit.

Meanwhile D'Angelo Barksdale visits Orlando's strip club with Wee-Bey Brice, after D'Angelo makes the mistake of discussing the trial in Wee-Bey's car - Wee-Bey pulls over and curtly reminds him that their rules are not to talk business in the car, on the phone, or anywhere they aren't sure of. At the club D'Angelo meets his uncle, Avon, who also has advice for him - he's not happy that D'Angelo murdered someone publicly. Changing the security guard's story cost the crew time, effort and money. His ire doesn't last and he reminds D'Angelo that he is family. However, when D'Angelo shows up to the towers the next day, Stringer tells him he's been reassigned to the low-rise projects.

At these projects a junky named Bubbles and his protege Johnny try to buy drugs with counterfeit money. D'Angelo identifies the money as fake when it is passed on, after young dealer Bodie suggests he count the money. The next day Johnny is caught and beaten by D'Angelo's crew including Wallace and Bodie. Later D'Angelo goes back to Orlando's for a few drinks, where he briefly flirts with a stripper.

Narcotics detectives Shakima "Kima" Greggs, Thomas "Herc" Hauk, and Ellis Carver make a bust using information from a scorned ex-girlfriend of a drug dealer. Kima is the only one paying attention to her informant however and searches the car, finding a gun that Herc and Carver missed. Herc and Carver were both more interested in using brute force than making a quality conviction.

Their commanding officer, narcotics lieutenant Cedric Daniels, is charged with organizing a detail to investigate the Barksdale operation by Burrell. Burrell asks Daniels to organize a quick investigation and to keep him briefed at all times. Daniels brings Greggs, Herc and Carver with him. Rawls sends McNulty to join them, in addition to Detective Santangelo from homicide as well. Rawls is glad to get rid of them as McNulty has been deemed as unloyal and insubordinate and Santangelo is one of his unit's more inept detectives. McNulty objects to Daniels's plan of action - buy and busts - and suggests a wiretap is the way to get a conviction. Daniels doesn't budge, insisting that a fast and simple investigation is the way to go and also suggests looking at old murders to try to find a connection to Barksdale.

McNulty visits another contact to look for help with investigating the Barksdales - FBI Special Agent Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh. Fitz shows McNulty the FBI's far superior surveillance equipment but reveals that their drug investigations are coming to an end because resources are being shifted to the war on terror. McNulty then goes drinking with his homicide partner Bunk Moreland and complains about his ex-wife, who prevents him from seeing his two kids enough.

Greggs has a rather different evening - returning home to her partner Cheryl. Greggs goes to the hospital the next day and finds Bubbles (who she knows as a CI) distraught over Johnny's beating. Bubbles offers her information on Barksdale as revenge.

D'Angelo has a distressing start to his second day working "the pit". He passes the body of William Gant - the witness in his murder trial - lying in the street and seems upset about his fate.[1][2][3]


First appearancesEdit

The following named, recurring characters are introduced in this episode:

  1. Jimmy McNulty - a homicide detective.


  • William Gant: Witness in the D'Angelo Barksdale murder trial.
  • Snot Boogie: A habitual thief at dice games who was finally shot for his recidivism.
  • Unknown: Bunk catches the case of a decomposing body in a vacant house upsetting both McNulty and Landsman.



Actor/actress Character Role
Dominic West Jimmy McNulty Homicide detective - Barksdale detail
John Doman William Rawls Major and homicide unit commander
Idris Elba Stringer Bell Barksdale organization underboss
Frankie R. Faison Ervin Burrell Deptuty commissioner of operations
Larry Gilliard, Jr. D'Angelo Barksdale Barksdale organization crew chief
Wood Harris Avon Barksdale Drug kingpin
Deirdre Lovejoy Rhonda Pearlman Assistant State's Attorney
Wendell Pierce Bunk Moreland Homicide detective
Lance Reddick Cedric Daniels Narcotics unit shift lieutenant
Andre Royo Bubbles Drug addict and confidential informant
Sonja Sohn Kima Greggs Narcotics unit detective

Guest starsEdit

  1. with Peter Gerety as Judge Daniel Phelan
  2. Seth Gilliam as Detective Ellis Carver
  3. Domenick Lombardozzi as Detective Thomas "Herc" Hauk
  4. Leo Fitzpatrick as Johnny
  5. J.D. Williams as Preston "Bodie" Broadus
  6. Hassan Johnson as Roland "Wee-Bey" Brice
  7. Michael B. Jordan as Wallace
  8. Clayton LeBouef as Wendell "Orlando" Blocker
  9. Melanie Nicholls-King as Cheryl
  10. Doug Olear as FBI Special Agent Terrance "Fitz" Fitzhugh
  11. Delaney Williams as Sergeant Jay Landsman
  12. Richard DeAngelis as Major Raymond Foerster
  13. Wendy Grantham as Shardene Innes
  14. Michael Kostroff as Maurice Levy
  15. Michael Salconi as Detective Michael Santangelo
  16. Ingrid Cornell as Nakeisha Lyles
  17. Larry Hull as William Gant
  18. Lucy Newman-Williams as Assistant State's Attorney Taryn Hansen
  19. Michael Stone Forrest as Detective Frank Barlow

The episode introduces many characters who are important over the course of the series, despite only being credited as guest stars. Domenick Lombardozzi plays Herc. Leo Fitzpatrick plays homeless, hapless drug addict Johnny Weeks. Hassan Johnson plays criminal enforcer Wee-Bey Brice. Michael B. Jordan plays naive sixteen-year-old drug dealer Wallace. Melanie Nicholls-King plays Detective Greggs' domestic partner Cheryl. Doug Olear plays FBI Special Agent Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh. Richard DeAngelis plays Major Raymond Foerster. Wendy Grantham plays stripper Shardene Innes. Michael Kostroff plays defense lawyer Maurice Levy. Michael Salconi plays Detective Michael Santangelo.

Reviewers have noted that several actors appearing in the series have previously appeared in Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz.[4] In addition to Reddick and Harris, Oz alumni include Seth Gilliam (Ellis Carver) and J.D. Williams (Bodie Broadus). Peter Gerety (Judge Phelan) and Clayton LeBouef (Orlando) were both major characters on Homicide, on which Delaney Williams (Sgt. Jay Landsman) had also appeared.[4][5] This episode was the first of several directed by Clark Johnson, also an alumnus of Homicide. The Corner star Larry Hull appears as maintenance man and witness William Gant.

Uncredited appearancesEdit

Brandon Price and Chris Clanton appeared as Barksdale crew soldiers Anton "Stinkum" Artis and Savino Bratton in the courtroom scene but had no lines and were not credited. Tray Chaney appeared as Poot Carr in the pit, notably being told by Bodie Broadus to chase down Johnny Weeks, but he has few lines and no credit. This begins a trend of minor roles and appearances remaining uncredited on the show. Producer Robert F. Colesberry makes an uncredited cameo appearance as homicide detective Ray Cole, whom he plays over the course of the first two seasons.


Opening credits

  1. Alexa L. Fogel C.S.A. - Casting
  2. Vince Peranio - Production Designer
  3. Geraldine Peroni - Editor
  4. Uta Briesewitz - Director of Photography
  5. Karen L. Thorson - Co-Producer
  6. Nina Kostroff Noble - Producer
  7. David Simon - Creator
  8. David Simon - Teleplay
  9. David Simon &
  10. Ed Burns - Story
  11. Clark Johnson - Director

Closing credits

  1. Robert F. Colesberry - Executive Producer
  2. David Simon - Executive Producer
  3. Nina Kostroff Noble - Unit Production Manager
  4. H.H. Cooper - First Assistant Director (AD)
  5. Tracey Hinds - Second AD
  6. Francine Jamison-Tanchuk - Costume Designer
  7. Pat Moran C.S.A. - Baltimore Casting


"...when it's not your turn. - McNulty"
- {{{2}}} This line is spoken in a conversation with Bunk where McNulty is criticising him for taking on a homicide case he could have avoided because he was not up in the rotation to receive one thus breaking the rules of their institution. Bunk took the case because he was told the corpse was in a house and knew that his chances of solving the case were statistically higher with the body indoors. The conversation is ironic because McNulty has broken the rules in a much larger way by circumventing the chain of command and is about to get into trouble over his actions.[6]

Title ReferenceEdit

The title refers to Detective Jimmy McNulty setting his sights on Stringer Bell (see picture) and Avon Barksdale's drug dealing organization as the target of an investigation.

Non-fiction elementsEdit

Both the Snot Boogie murder story and Bunk's tale of shooting a mouse in his kitchen are true stories from Simon's time researching Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.[6] A real police officer named Jay Landsman is also a character in the non-fiction book.

Reviewers have noted the pilot's grounding in the non-fiction political climate. The San Francisco Chronicle commented that the show had forecast a reduction of the FBI's attention to the war on drugs because of the competing war on terror.[7] David Simon confirms that the pilot was shot only a few weeks after 9/11, but that the writers correctly predicted what the FBI's response would be.[6]


The opening scene (the snot-boogie crime scene) is filmed at the corner of Faltington and Lexington in West Baltimore. The scenes at the Orlando's gentleman's club (beginning in this episode, and continuing throughout the season) were actually filmed at the Ritz in Fells Point.[6]


The episode featured a commentary track recorded by creator and writer/producer David Simon as a special feature on the DVD release. Robert F. Colesberry was also intended to participate, but died shortly before the recording. He is quick to discuss the seasons novelistic structure and the theme of the corrupting influence of the institutions that the characters have committed to. He mentions many real life inspirations for events and characters on the show.

He discusses the technique of using surveillance methods within shots (TV monitors, security cameras etc.) to give the sense of always being watched and a need to process the vast amount of information available to the shows detective characters. He also talks about trying to ground the show in realism by using only diegetic music (music with a source in the scene).

Throughout the commentary Simon tries to distinguish The Wire from other television crime dramas. He makes the point that the detectives are motivated not by a desire to protect and serve but through the intellectual vanity of believing they are smarter than the criminal they are chasing.[6]


Critical responseEdit

The Guardian Unlimited review noted the pilot episode established the series' themes of institutional dysfunction, the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs and novelistic structure. The review compared the series to Richard Price's novel Clockers and wondered if the pace could be sustained for an entire season. The review picked out the characters of Jimmy McNulty and Avon Barksdale as particularly significant.[8] An Entertainment Weekly reviewer praised Clark Johnson's direction of the episode and credited him with drawing subtle performances out of actors Peter Gerety and Lance Reddick.[4] Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle characterized the show as another success for the HBO network and a well-produced and complex subversion of the cops and robbers genre. He credited David Simon's reporter's eye for detail for the series' verisimilitude. He also noted the series themes of institutional dysfunction, the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs and novelistic structure.[7] A separate Chronicle article highlighted the theme of institutional dysfunction through the comparable experience of characters on opposite sides of the law using McNulty and D'Angelo Barksdale as examples.[9] The review also made favourable comparisons between the show and Simon's previous work on Homicide: Life on the Street, attributing the differences to the switch to cable television for The Wire from the NBC network who produced Homicide.[9]

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette was more critical of the show. They stated that the producers' expectations that the audience would have the patience for a complex, morally ambiguous, and slowly unfolding story might prove unfounded. They noted the cast members from Homicide and Oz and described The Wire as less accessible than either of these shows and also compared the pacing to Farscape. They praised the performances of some of the cast and said that the show had moments that drew the viewer in but ultimately required too much of its audience.[5] The New York Times also felt that the show "went out of its way to be choppy and confusing" and eschewed conventions of signposting the introduction of characters and obvious exposition but commented that while some viewers may be alienated others would find this refreshing.[10] They noted the theme of institutional dysfunction and the use of parallel storylines for characters in different organizations to highlight this, citing the pariah status of Jimmy McNulty and D'Angelo Barksdale.[10] The review also criticised the show's attempts at realistic dialogue, saying that it often seemed self-conscious, and the examination of the detectives' personal lives, saying that it had been done before.[10] The review stated that the show's success would hinge not on its apparent high quality but on the tolerance of the viewer for the complexity of the continuing narrative, which they characterized as considerably more downbeat than high-octane shows like 24.[10]

The opening scene at the Snot Boogie crime scene has been praised as being a "perfectly crafted set-up" for the series' themes of institutional dysfunction, devaluing human life and as epitomizing the bleak humor of the show.[11]


  1. Episode guide - episode 01 The Target. HBO (2004). Retrieved on 2006-07-24.
  2. "The Target". David Simon, Ed Burns. The Wire. HBO. 2002-06-02. No. 1, season 1.
  3. Alvarez, Rafael (2004). The Wire: Truth Be Told. New York: Pocket Books. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Wire Power", Entertainment Weekly, 2002-06-28. Retrieved on 2007-10-03. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Rob Owen. "TV Reviews: Networks aren't taking it easy this summer", Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 2002-06-01. Retrieved on 2007-10-04. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 David Simon. (2005). 'The Wire "The Target" commentary track [DVD]. HBO.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Tim Goodman. "HBO fleshes out all sides of drug war in "The Wire'", San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved on 2007-10-04. 
  8. Marshall, Ben. "Call the cops", The Guardian Unlimited, 2005-02-05. Retrieved on 2007-10-03. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Peter Hartlaub. "Fighting crime, and bureaucrats. Creator of HBO's 'Wire' takes police drama in new direction", San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved on 2007-10-04. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Neil Genzlinger. "TV WEEKEND; A Gritty Drug World, From All Sides", The New York Times, 2002-05-31. Retrieved on 2007-10-11. 
  11. Margaret Talbot (2007). Stealing Life. The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2012-09-04. Retrieved on 2007-10-14. "It was a perfectly crafted setup for Simon’s themes: how inner-city life could be replete with both casual cruelty and unexpected comedy; how the police and the policed could, at moments, share the same jaundiced view of the world; how some dollar-store, off-brand version of American capitalism could trickle down, with melancholy effect, into the most forsaken corners of American society. But, as it happened, the Snot Boogie story was real — Simon had heard it, down to the line about America, from a police detective, and it appears in “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.” Simon’s gift is in recognizing an anecdote like that for the found parable that it is — “stealing life,” as he once described it to me—and knowing which parts to steal."

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