Slapstick (The Wire)

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The Wire episode
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 9
Directed by Alex Zakrzewski
Story by David Simon
George Pelecanos
Teleplay by David Simon
Original air date November 21, 2004 (2004-11-21)
Running time 58 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"Moral Midgetry"
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List of The Wire episodes

"Slapstick" is the ninth episode of the third season of the HBO original series, The Wire. The episode was written by David Simon from a story by David Simon & George Pelecanos and was directed by Alex Zakrzewski. It originally aired on November 21, 2004.


McNulty leaves his children home alone at night after getting a call from D'Agostino inviting him to her hotel room. After meeting with her, he asks if they can at least have dinner first next time. The next day, McNulty finds Freamon and Prez preparing to put a camera across the street from Bell's copy shop. McNulty opines that the Major Case Unit contains the department's best investigators, but Freamon warns him that being good at his job will not save him and tells him that he needs a life outside of work. McNulty seems to reflect on this, noting Beadie Russell's photograph on the unit refrigerator.

The following morning, Daniels and Pearlman discuss the legal requirements for the MCU's wiretaps on the Barksdales' disposable phones. McNulty and Greggs are assigned to investigate whether the Barksdale crews use the burner phones for drug dealing. Freamon and Prez are to prepare affidavits for the wiretaps, while Sydnor is to track Bernard while Massey monitors Bell. Greggs and McNulty outfit Bubbles with a wire and give him enough money to force Bodie's crew to phone in for a resupply for drugs. Meanwhile, Daniels and Pearlman pressure an executive from the cell phone company into promising a hastened turnaround for the court order authorizing their wiretap. However, they are unable to get assistance from the FBI, as they do not prioritize drug cases.

While waiting for their take-out Chinese food, Prez and McNulty overhear an emergency request for backup on the police radio and rush to the location. Prez drops McNulty off after hearing shots fired. After hearing more shots, McNulty finds Prez standing over what turns out to be a dead plainclothes police officer named Derrick Waggoner. As Prez and McNulty are both brought in to give statements, Rawls warns Prez's father-in-law, Major Stanislaus Valchek, that there is a racial component to the shooting because Waggoner was an African-American who was shot by a white officer. Daniels talks to a guilt-ridden Prez, who doesn't remember many details about the shooting and insists he is finished as a police officer.

Freamon, Sydnor and Greggs monitor their new DNRs on the new burners that Bernard has purchased, looking for a match to Bodie. While Greggs and McNulty later resume surveillance in the Western, their one-time colleague Michael Santangelo spots them and sympathizes with Prez's situation. McNulty asks him about his return to district policing and is intrigued when Santangelo comments positively about the post's lack of stress. D'Agostino, who McNulty has been trying unsuccessfully to contact, calls him to arrange dinner in Washington. There, McNulty's political disaffection makes for stilted conversation, resulting in D'Agnostino leaving the dinner.

As Cutty cleans out the building he plans to convert into a community boxing gym, The Deacon warns him that he will have to get permits from the city government. Cutty finds himself facing miles of bureaucratic red tape that he cannot navigate. The Deacon puts Cutty in touch with a reverend who explains that Cutty needs an influential sponsor to get permits, and puts him in touch with Watkins and Marla Daniels. The Deacon also meets with Colvin, who assures him that he is retiring and is willing to let others decide whether to sustain Hamsterdam. The Deacon tells Bunny that he has created a truce in the drug war and they have a unique opportunity to reach the people involved.

After a body is found inside Hamsterdam, Carver persuades the uniforms to move the body and keep Homicide from learning about Colvin's initiative; Herc refuses and tips off The Baltimore Sun about what's going on. Detective Michael Crutchfield examines the "crime scene" and quickly realizes he was staged. Colvin – realizing that Carver acted out of loyalty to him – tells Carver to say that Colvin moved the body if asked. After Crutchfield gives Colvin an ultimatum, he meets with the crew chiefs and threatens to close Hamsterdam if they do not turn in the shooter. After discussing the threat of closure with Bell, the crew chiefs turn in the shooter.

Carcetti meets with Gray and learns that he is planning to run for mayor on an education platform. Gray talks about soliciting help from Watkins, but Carcetti warns that a subtle and patient approach will be needed to split Watkins from Mayor Royce. Gray – unaware that Carcetti is also planning a mayoral run – offers him a place on his ticket as council president. Carcetti and Gray meet with Watkins to discuss their proposed witness protection scheme. Carcetti convinces Watkins to offer funds in order to persuade Royce to start the initiative. Watkins is open in discussing his disillusionment with Royce.

As Omar arrives at his grandmother's house to take her to church, Barksdale soldiers Gerard and Sapper are staking out the house. Gerard, wary of breaking the longstanding Sunday morning truce, phones Slim Charles but gets no response. At a meeting of the New Day Co-Op, Fat-Face Rick, Proposition Joe, Kintel Williamson and Phil Boy present a united front against Bell and Shamrock, criticizing the turf war with Marlo. During the meeting, Shamrock gets Gerard's phone call; Stringer gives the go-ahead. Sapper and Gerard open fire on Omar and his grandmother, but both survive the attack and flee in a taxicab. Slim Charles chastises his men for breaking the truce, trying to kill Omar in front of his grandmother, and destroying the old lady's church hat.

Bernard and Squeak rent a car to buy more disposable phones, unwittingly being followed by Sydnor. Bernard delivers the phones to Shamrock, who is not put out when Bernard claims to have lost some of the receipts on the road. Avon hires a new pair of soldiers from the East Side who are working on retainer, and expresses his displeasure in Bell's role in the breach of the Sunday truce. Bell asks about their cessation of business and suggests they move more people into Hamsterdam. Meanwhile, Joe meets with Vinson to organize a meeting to pursue a truce, offering Marlo a chance to join the Co-Op and keep all of his territory. Vinson explains that Marlo believes Avon is weak and wants to take over the West Side.

Bell meets with Davis, angry that he is still facing bureaucratic obstructions despite bribing the senator. Davis urges Bell to show patience and leave the street mentality behind, but Bell will not be mollified. Meanwhile, Avon meets with Brianna, who tells him about McNulty's suspicions that D'Angelo was murdered. Avon tries to convince her that McNulty was lying, while Bell – who ordered D'Angelo's death – sits calmly throughout the meeting. Brianna begs Avon for assurance that he knew that he could trust D'Angelo; Avon bristles at Brianna's implication. Elsewhere, Omar, outraged at the attack on his grandmother, tells Dante and Kimmy that he is taking on the Barksdales alone.


Title reference[edit]

The title is an ironic reference to the slapstick manner in which many of the very serious events (all of which could have been avoided) in the episode play out: Prez's tragic misfire; the breaking of the Sunday morning truce by Barksdale soldiers culminating almost comically in the shooting off of Omar's grandmother's church 'crown' before an awkward escape; Carver's decision to move the body out of the free zone, which is easily picked up on by homicide; Herc's and other Western District detectives' growing disenchantment with Colvin's initiative.


...while you're waiting for moments that never come.

— Freamon

Spoken while Freamon tries to persuade McNulty to see that there is more to life than casework. The line comes from the famous lyrics by John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."


Producer George Pelecanos has previously published a novel, Right as Rain, dealing with the fallout after a white police officer shoots an undercover black police officer. Much of Prez's situation is drawn from that novel, including several direct lines of dialogue.

Non-fiction elements[edit]

McNulty makes reference to several real-life Baltimore police officers when saying the few people who have as good of a position as the detail, including co-creator Ed Burns.


Starring cast[edit]

Although credited, Frankie R. Faison and Wendell Pierce do not appear in this episode.

Guest stars[edit]

  1. Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as Clay Davis
  2. Chad L. Coleman as Dennis "Cutty" Wise
  3. Michael Hyatt as Brianna Barksdale
  4. Maria Broom as Marla Daniels
  5. Brandy Burre as Theresa D'Agostino
  6. Delaney Williams as Sergeant Jay Landsman
  7. Robert F. Chew as Proposition Joe
  8. Doug Olear as Special Agent Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh
  9. Melvin Williams as The Deacon
  10. Christopher Mann as Councilman Anthony Gray
  11. Ryan Sands as Officer Lloyd "Truck" Garrick
  12. Brandan T. Tate as Sapper
  13. Brian Anthony Wilson as Detective Vernon Holley
  14. Mayo Best as Gerard
  15. Kim Bogues as Unknown
  16. Richard Burton as Sean "Shamrock" McGinty
  17. Anwan Glover as Slim Charles
  18. Kelli R. Brown as Kimmy
  19. Mia Arnice Chambers as Squeak
  20. Melvin Jackson, Jr. as Bernard
  21. Felix Stevenson as Reverend Frank Reid
  22. Ernest Waddell as Dante
  23. Al Brown as Major Stan Valchek
  24. Norris Davis as Vinson
  25. Richard DeAngelis as Colonel Raymond Foerster
  26. Frederick Strother as State Delegate Odell Watkins
  27. Gregory L. Williams as Detective Michael Crutchfield
  28. Benay Berger as FBI Supervisor Amanda Reese
  29. Tony Cordova as Michael McNulty
  30. Eric Ryan as Sean McNulty
  31. Michael Salconi as Officer Michael Santangelo
  32. Troj. Marquis Strickland as Fat-Face Rick

Uncredited appearances[edit]


External links[edit]