Sentencing (The Wire)

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The Wire episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 13
Directed by Tim Van Patten
Written by David Simon
Ed Burns
Featured music "Step by Step" by Jesse Winchester
Original air date September 8, 2002 (2002-09-08)
Running time 65 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Cleaning Up"
Next →
"Ebb Tide"
List of The Wire episodes

"Sentencing" is the 13th episode and finale of the first season of the HBO original series, The Wire. The episode was written by David Simon and Ed Burns and was directed by Tim Van Patten. It originally aired on September 8, 2002.

Plot summary[edit]

Kima Greggs awakens in her hospital bed to find detectives Bunk Moreland and Ray Cole waiting to ask for her help identifying her shooters. Bunk shows her photo arrays and she is able to pick out Little Man but not Wee-Bey Brice.

Detective Thomas "Herc" Hauk phones in to say that he has found all of the Barksdale dealers whom he had warrants for apart from Wee-Bey. Lieutenant Cedric Daniels worries that their case is about to be shut down unless they can provide new leads. Detective Jimmy McNulty suggests going behind their superiors' backs to take the case federal. D'Angelo Barksdale being represented by a public defender alerts the detail to the rift between D'Angelo and his family and they move to interview him.

Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell meet their lawyer, Maurice Levy, in a parking garage. They conclude from the high number of arrests that there must have been a wiretap or other surveillance, probably also at the office at the club. Stringer suggests bailing out many of their people to avoid making enemies, while Levy is in favor of a structured plea where they give up their own people to avoid sentencing.

Stringer and Avon relocate to their funeral home business, where Stringer convinces Avon to take a step back while Brianna handles the money and Stringer handles the product. Avon agrees but insists their supplier Roberto up the quality of the product, and that Brianna talks D'Angelo around by passing on the message that he will make it all up to him.

McNulty and Pearlman meet with D'Angelo and his lawyer to discuss a deal. McNulty shows D'Angelo photographs of the bodies of Nakeesha Lyles and Wallace. D'Angelo admits his and Wallace's involvement in identifying Brandon Wright and the link to Stringer, as well as giving Wee-Bey's hiding place up in Philadelphia. When confronted with the murder of Deirdre Kresson, contrary to the tale which he told to his subordinates, D'Angelo tells a similar tale that puts himself in the clear and paints Wee-Bey as the shooter. As both versions of the story are equally plausible, the viewer is left to wonder which story is the truth. D'Angelo laments about how suffocating the "game" can be and that he felt more liberated in jail than he ever was on the street. He then says "I want what Wallace wanted. I want to start over," saying that if the court can forcibly relocate him somewhere where the "game" can't touch him, he'll give them everything on Avon's operation.

Daniels discusses their progress on the phone with Pearlman and excitedly tells his wife, Marla, the news. She hopes that this will square things with Deputy Commissioner Ervin Burrell. Daniels tells her of his plans to reach out to the FBI. He wants to avoid Burrell because he knows about an old FBI investigation into the Daniels' excess funds. He believes that Burrell does not want to use the information because of the bad publicity that it would generate.

Detective Lester Freamon and Bunk try to track Wee-Bey down in Philadelphia by tracing numbers that have called Levy's office from the city, using Roy Brown, a retired colleague of Freamon's from the pawnshop unit.

Stringer receives the delivery of a new package of narcotics, and instructs one of his few remaining lieutenants on how to prepare the drugs and spread the word that their business is open once again.

Later, McNulty convinces Special Agent Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh to discuss bringing the FBI in. Fitz's supervisor, Amanda Reese, while impressed with the case, needs a terrorism, organised crime, or corruption angle to get the bureau involved, prompting Daniels to take the case to the US attorney's office because of the aspects of political corruption involved.

Meanwhile, turf clashes break out in the pit, with Bodie holding the ground for the Barksdale organisation.

McNulty finally visits Greggs' bedside, who eases his guilt about her injury and asks him to take care of Bubbles. Cheryl storms out of the room when Mcnulty and Greggs talk about the case as she doesn't believe any of it is worth Kima's life or safety.

McNulty delivers money to Bubbles from Greggs to help in his fresh start, but finds that Bubbles is using again. Bubbles tries to return some but cannot resist taking it all. He asks McNulty not to tell Greggs that he is using.

Later at the detail, Herc receives notification that he is no longer in line for the sergeant promotion (he surmises because of his past brutality complaints) and that Carver has been moved up the list.

Brown from the phone company calls the detail with the number for Freamon.

Freamon, Daniels, and McNulty meet with the FBI and the First Deputy US Attorney. Freamon explains the Barksdales' property scam: they have been buying property based on the advice of the politicians whom they have bribed in areas set for redevelopment and then selling it on at higher prices. The FBI hopes to use the drug dealers as cooperative witnesses to target the politicians. McNulty is enraged that they would consider letting Bell and Barksdale reduce their sentences. Daniels ends the meeting, saying they are moving in different directions. McNulty cannot restrain himself, accusing the FBI agents of ignoring the death of West Baltimore.

Brianna visits D'Angelo in prison, appealing to his sense of family.

Daniels confronts Carver, who is revealed as being Burrell's insider in the unit. Afterwards, he returns Prez to street duty and they proceed to Philadelphia, arresting Wee-Bey.

Major William Rawls congratulates McNulty and reveals that the First Deputy US Attorney phoned Burrell to complain about McNulty's behavior in their meeting, tipping Burrell to the fact that the detail had tried to take the case federal. Rawls tells McNulty that he wants to see him land okay and asks where he does not want to go — the very question that Freamon had previously warned McNulty about.

Pearlman has a celebratory lunch with her colleague Ilene Nathan. Her mood is broken when she finds out that Levy is now representing D'Angelo. She later meets with Levy to discuss the case. He tells them that the dealers will largely plead guilty for fixed sentences. Avon will likely see a short sentence for attempted possession. Levy offers Wee-Bey to admit to several murders to avoid the death penalty, but insists that he acted alone. In terms of asset forfeiture, he offers only the assets linked to the detail's case, leaving out most of the property and the funeral parlor.

At the court hearing, Pearlman presents Avon's guilty plea in exchange for a sentence of seven years. D'Angelo is also present as a defendant. Stringer and Brianna are in the court as spectators, as is McNulty, who cannot bring himself to stay. Pearlman next makes the case against Ronald "Ronnie Mo" Watkins, asking for a fifteen year minimum sentence for conspiracy to distribute narcotics.

Stringer congratulates McNulty on his way out of the courtroom, repeating the phrase that McNulty had muttered to Stringer after D'Angelo's exoneration in the first episode: "Nicely done". Phelan also congratulates McNulty, who is despondent and refuses to acknowledge him. Finally, Pearlman brings the case against D'Angelo and McNulty returns to the court. D'Angelo's sentence is the maximum allowable: twenty years.

Daniels bumps into Cantrell, now a major, having received the promotion that Daniels had been in line for. Back at the narcotics division, Herc is holding an induction for two new detectives. Daniels is amused that his attitude has changed and that he now hopes to make big cases using intelligent investigative techniques. Rawls introduces Freamon to his homicide unit.

Bodie organizes trade in the towers through his new subordinate "Puddin", while Poot oversees the trade in the pit. Poot repeats the speech that D'Angelo once gave Wallace about keeping the cash and drug transactions separate to a new dealer named Dink.

Meanwhile, Bunk, Ed Norris, and ASA Nathan interview Wee-Bey. Bunk states that they have linked the same weapon to the murders of Deirdre Kresson, Taureen Boyd, and Roland Leggett. Brandon Wright and John Bailey have also been linked to Wee-Bey. Wee-Bey refuses to give any information up on Avon and Stringer. His lawyer recommends that he give up all of his crimes to avoid being prosecuted for them later. He admits to killing Little Man and tells Bunk where to find the body. He also admits to killing Nakeesha Lyles and claims to have killed William Gant in an effort to protect Bird. Bunk reports Wee-Bey's confessions to McNulty and the two discuss his false confession about William Gant, which does not match the facts of the case. As the convicted Barksdale dealers file out of the court room, McNulty once more asks, "What the fuck did I do?", again in reference to Bridge on the River Kwai from his conversation with Bunk in the first episode.

The season ends with a montage showing: Bubbles and Johnny back on the hustle and Santangelo on patrol in the Western; Burrell promoting Carver; Prez clearing the detail's string board; Greggs gazing wistfully at a car chase from her hospital window; Freamon and Bunk delivering a bottle of whiskey to McNulty at his new post with the marine unit; Stringer overseeing the counting of his profits at the funeral parlor; prolific drug trade throughout the whole of Baltimore. Finally, Omar is seen in the South Bronx, NY, holding another dealer up and telling him that it is "all in the game".[1][2][3]


Title reference[edit]

The title refers to the sentencing of the Barksdale crew members arrested as well as to the fates of the officers from the detail.


This is a comment made by Omar while holding up a drug dealer.


The song that plays in the background in the scene where Poot talks to a dealer at the Pit is "Always on Time" by Ja Rule.


Guest stars[edit]


This is the only episode of The Wire to use the "written by" credit, all other episodes use the teleplay and story credits.


When previewing the episode the St. Petersburg Times called it the conclusion to one of the "freshest, most innovative, most entertaining series" of the summer. They predicted low ratings based on the show's defiance of what experts thought viewers were looking for – the episode relies heavily on viewers having seen the rest of the series due to the heavily serialized nature of the show. The article states that the show's deliberate pace leads to a satisfying pay-off. The article praised the starring cast including Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty), Sonja Sohn (Kima Greggs), Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale) and Larry Gilliard Jr (D'Angelo Barksdale).[4]

The Futon Critic named it the best episode of 2002, saying the "season finale was one of those episodes where afterward you shut the television off and sit there for a few minutes stunned by what you just watched" and that it is "By far and away the best new series of 2002, David Simon's drama literally reinvented how a cop series could be done in the same way Stephen Bocho [sic] did a decade ago with NYPD Blue ... About as good as television can possibly get."[5]

Reviewers have commented that the show's novelistic structure and non-cliffhanger conclusion of the storyline would make it difficult for a second season to satisfy the audience. Creators David Simon and Ed Burns commented as early as the airing of the premiere of the pilot episode that they felt the show could continue by investigating a different set of criminals or a different kind of crime and retain some, but not all, of the starring cast.[6]


  1. ^ "Episode guide - episode 13 Sentencing". HBO. 2004. Retrieved 2006-08-04. 
  2. ^ David Simon, Ed Burns (2002-09-08). "Sentencing". The Wire. Season 1. Episode 13. HBO. 
  3. ^ Alvarez, Rafael (2004). The Wire: Truth Be Told. New York: Pocket Books. 
  4. ^ Eric Deggans (September 7, 2002). "Seeing is believing". St. Petersburg Times. 
  5. ^ Brian Ford Sullivan (January 4, 2001). "The 50 Best Episodes of 2002 - #10-1". The Futon Critic. Retrieved June 25, 2011. 
  6. ^ Peter Hartlaub (June 5, 2002). "Fighting crime, and bureaucrats. Creator of HBO's 'Wire' takes police drama in new direction". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 

External links[edit]