The Pager

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"The Pager"
The Wire episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 5
Directed by Clark Johnson
Teleplay by Ed Burns
Story by David Simon
Ed Burns
Original air date June 30, 2002 (2002-06-30)
Running time 60 minutes
Guest actors
Season 1 episodes
June 2, 2002 – September 8, 2002
  1. "The Target"
  2. "The Detail"
  3. "The Buys"
  4. "Old Cases"
  5. "The Pager"
  6. "The Wire"
  7. "One Arrest"
  8. "Lessons"
  9. "Game Day"
  10. "The Cost"
  11. "The Hunt"
  12. "Cleaning Up"
  13. "Sentencing"
List of The Wire episodes

"The Pager" is the fifth episode of the first season of the HBO original series, The Wire. The episode was written by Ed Burns from a story by David Simon & Ed Burns and was directed by Clark Johnson. It originally aired on June 30, 2002.

Plot summary[edit]

The police[edit]

Judge Phelan signs the wiretap affidavit for a clone of D'Angelo's pager. Lester Freamon finds that each pager message consists of a seven-digit phone number and a two-digit identifying tag. The phone numbers used do not work, so Freamon postulates that they are using a code to mask the numbers. The code is ultimately cracked by Detective Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski, much to McNulty's delight. Freamon visits Daniels' office and tells him that they need audio surveillance (a wire) on the payphones surrounding the projects to make the case. He knows that Daniels is concerned about his career, but insists that they put the cases first.

Bubbles tells Detective Kima Greggs where to find Omar Little's van, and she and McNulty sit on the van, waiting for Omar to show up, hoping to catch Omar with a gun and convince him to become an informant. McNulty calls his estranged wife Elena and asks for his sons to come over. He insists he has everything ready, but she does not believe him and refuses to allow the visit. (After the fact, he is seen drinking and attempting to assemble the flat pack bunk beds for them.) He later goes to pick up his sons at Elena's house but no one is there.

Detectives Ellis Carver and Thomas "Herc" Hauk track Bodie down to the low-rises and violently arrest him for absconding from the juvenile detention center. Bodie refuses to consider making a deal and Herc and Carver respond to his insults with a savage beating. While waiting to hand Bodie over to juvenile intake, however, they end up shooting pool with him.

Bunk Moreland receives important news from a ballistics technician: the casing from the Kresson scene confirms the link to the Barksdale association, just as Sergeant Landsman predicted; the gun used in this murder was previously used in two others. When McNulty visits the homicide department, Landsman tells of Major William Rawls' offer, and McNulty finds out that John Bailey, from Omar's crew, was killed. (Though this happens off camera, Wee-Bey takes responsibility for the murder when informing Avon.) Bunk tracks down a witness in the Kresson case, Tywanda, and she tells them that Kresson told her that D’Angelo was there that night. They learn that Deirdre was a slighted girlfriend of Avon and that she threatened to expose him. They also learn that Orlando’s Club is a Barksdale front.

Later, McNulty and Greggs follow Omar's van into a cemetery, where they parley. McNulty tries to convince Omar that they have an enemy in common, but Omar thinks that working with the police is wrong. McNulty reveals that Bailey has been killed; though Omar pretends to be unfazed, he reveals two things: that Bird was the one who killed William Gant, and that he knows that Bubbles is their CI (confidential informant).

The street[edit]

Avon Barksdale wakes up at a girlfriend named Chantal's house. The phone rings, but the line goes dead when she answers. Avon tells Wee-Bey Brice to remove the phone lines. Wee-Bey tells Avon he is worried they are being paranoid. Avon refuses to use the first payphone they come to since he used it the day before.

Omar Little, Bailey and Brandon discuss their next 'rip' on an East Side corner. Omar draws out a plan to trap the dealers in the alley they use. Omar approaches from the front carrying a shotgun while nonchalantly whistling "The Farmer in the Dell" which scares the dealers, who then run into the alley where Brandon and Bailey, also armed, are waiting.

In the low-rises, young dealers Bodie Broadus and Poot Carr discuss AIDS (which they call "the bug") and its transmission during sexual acts. D'Angelo notices Wallace a distance away playing with a child's figurine, and seems moved by this remaining innocence. Bodie notices D'Angelo's interest, and smashes a bottle above Wallace's head to snap him out of his childish daydream. An incensed D'Angelo advances on Bodie, and the pair face off before Dee's pager beeps and he leaves to answer it. Stringer Bell visits D'Angelo and warns him that they think he might have a snitch in his crew. He tells D'Angelo to withhold his dealers' pay and see who does not need an advance to get by, thus identifying anyone with a hidden source of income. Finally, Stringer chastises D'Angelo for letting Poot have a cell phone.

D'Angelo takes his girlfriend Donette out to an expensive restaurant. He worries that he seems out of place, but she tells him that as long as he can pay, he has every right to be there. D’Angelo worries that his upbringing will always stay with him.

Stringer and Avon discuss taking over the Edmondson Avenue corners, as they are wide open. Avon tells Stringer that Stinkum should run the territory. At the club, Orlando discusses business with D'Angelo, complaining that he doesn't get a share of the pie. Dee confirms that neither does he. (Both are "on salary".) Orlando then tells a surprised Dee about Stinkum's promotion. Dee makes a date with dancer Shardene Innes.

Bubbles visits his friend Johnny in a clinic and learns to his dismay that he is HIV positive. Bubbles tells Johnny that he is on a mission to bring down the Barksdale hoppers that beat Johnny, however Johnny cannot understand why Bubbles is voluntarily working with the police as he feels his misfortune is all part of the game.

Stinkum, Avon, and D'Angelo visit Avon’s comatose brother in a county care facility—a result of a gunshot wound to the head. Avon sees his brother as an example of the dire consequences of acting carelessly in their way of life. Avon tells D’Angelo that one mistake could see either of them like his brother and that the fear motivates Avon to work harder. Avon says that he cannot put his brother in a better facility because a) his brother has no health insurance and b) they cannot afford at this time to show that kind of money being spent.

Later, Poot and Wallace spot Brandon in an arcade and page D'Angelo to let him know. D'Angelo pages the news in from the project phones. Stringer meets with Wallace and Poot, along with Bird, Wee-Bey and Stinkum. Stringer compliments Wallace and Poot for jobs well done. He then calls D'Angelo to let him know the work is done. Although all the pages are logged at the detail office, the calls themselves are not recorded, so, without a wire, the details are useless.[1][2][3]


Title reference[edit]

The title refers to the pagers used by the Barksdale organization and cloned by the police detail.


Avon uses this phrase in a speech he makes to D'Angelo about the random nature of their business and the constant danger involved. It also relates to the detail; as Freamon points out, they should have had the wire up in time to catch the discussion of Bailey's murder on the phones (and, if not that, certainly the kidnapping of Brandon).

Non-fiction elements[edit]

The conversation Bodie and Poot have about HIV/AIDS transmission is taken almost verbatim from the non-fiction book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood.[4]


Starring cast[edit]

Although credited, John Doman and Frankie Faison do not appear in this episode.


  • Bailey: Off screen murder, killed by Wee-Bey Brice and two other unnamed attackers; implied to be Bird and Stinkum.

First appearances[edit]

  • Marquis "Bird" Hilton: A foul-mouthed Barksdale organization enforcer. Though apparently responsible for the murder of Gant in the first episode, this is the first time Bird appears onscreen. Bird is played by rapper Fredro Starr, from the group Onyx, who becomes the second of eight musicians to play minor recurring roles on The Wire (others include Method Man and Steve Earle).


An Entertainment Weekly review picked this episode as "amazing" because it begins to deliver pay-offs on the show's slowly developing plot lines. The review also praised the show's naturalistic dialogue (making an extensive comparison to funk music) and praised several of the actors for their performance. The episode's most rewarding plot lines were those that involved D'Angelo's struggles with his conscience and McNulty's battles with the bureaucracy of the police department.[5]


  1. ^ "Episode guide - episode 05 The Pager". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-07-26. 
  2. ^ David Simon, Ed Burns (2002-06-30). "The Pager". The Wire. Season 1. Episode 5. HBO. 
  3. ^ Alvarez, Rafael (2004). The Wire: Truth Be Told. New York: Pocket Books. 
  4. ^ The Corner p.228
  5. ^ "Wire Power". Entertainment Weekly. 2002-06-28. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 

External links[edit]