The Target (The Wire)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
"The Target"
The Wire episode
Promotional screenshot
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 1
Directed by Clark Johnson
Story by David Simon
Ed Burns
Teleplay by David Simon
Original air date June 2, 2002 (2002-06-02)
Running time 62 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Season 1 episodes
List of The Wire episodes

"The Target" is the pilot episode of the HBO original series The Wire. The episode was written by David Simon from a story by Simon and Ed Burns and was directed by Clark Johnson. It originally aired on June 2, 2002. The title refers to Detective Jimmy McNulty setting his sights on Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale's drug-dealing organization as the target of an investigation.

Plot summary[edit]

Jimmy McNulty, a Baltimore homicide detective, observes the trial of D'Angelo Barksdale, a young drug dealer charged with murder of "Pooh" Blanchard, a low-ranking gang member. The first witness, William Gant, identifies Barksdale, but the corroborating witness, a security guard named Nakeesha Lyles, changes her story and refuses to identify him. The jury therefore returns a not guilty verdict. Judge Phelan calls McNulty into his chambers, where McNulty reveals that he has noticed that D'Angelo's uncle Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell have been tied to many murders and tells Phelan that he believes they are major players in West Baltimore's drug trade. McNulty makes the point that nobody is investigating their organization, and Phelan calls Deputy Commissioner Burrell. Major Rawls is incensed by McNulty's evasion of the chain of command, and forces him to write the report which Burrell requests about the Barksdale murders. Sergeant Landsman arrives in the morning warning McNulty that his behavior could end up in reassignment. McNulty reveals that his nightmare posting would be working "the boat" – the Baltimore Police Department's harbor patrol unit.

Wee-Bey Brice drives D'Angelo to Orlando's strip club, a front for the Barksdale Organization. When D'Angelo discusses the trial in Wee-Bey's car, Wee-Bey pulls over and curtly reminds him of the rules: business is not to be discussed in the car, on the phone, or anywhere they are unsure of being recorded. At the club, Avon chides D'Angelo for committing an unnecessary and public murder, costing the organization time, effort, and money. D'Angelo also meets a stripper named Shardene Innes working in the club. When D'Angelo arrives at the high-rise towers, Stringer tells him he has been demoted to heading a crew in the low-rise projects, including Bodie Broadus, Poot Carr, and young Wallace.

Narcotics lieutenant Cedric Daniels is charged by Deputy Commissioner Burrell with organizing a detail to investigate the Barksdale operation. Burrell wants to keep the investigation quick and simple, appeasing Judge Phelan without becoming drawn into a protracted and complex case. Daniels brings Narcotics detectives "Kima" Greggs, Herc Hauk, and Ellis Carver with him. Rawls sends McNulty to join them, in addition to Homicide Detective Santangelo, one of his unit's more inept detectives. 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 the Bureau's drug investigations are coming to an end because resources are being diverted to the War on Terror. McNulty objects to Daniels's plan of buy busts and suggests using a wiretap to get a conviction. Daniels however follows the orders he has been given, and insists that a fast and simple investigation is the way to go, also suggesting that the detail look at old murders to make a connection to Barksdale.

McNulty goes drinking with his homicide partner Bunk Moreland and complains about his ex-wife, who makes it difficult for him to see his two sons. Greggs returns home to her partner Cheryl. A junkie named Bubbles and his protege Johnny buy drugs with counterfeit money, but when they try to repeat the scam, Bodie leads the crew in beating Johnny. Bubbles is also a confidential informant (CI) for Greggs, and agrees to give her information on the Barksdale organization as revenge for the beating. At the start of his second day working the pit, D'Angelo is shocked to find the murdered body of William Gant lying in the street.[1][2][3]



This line is taken from a conversation in which McNulty criticizes his colleague Bunk Moreland for taking on a homicide case that he could have avoided – it not being his turn in the rotation to take the next case. Bunk took the case because he knew the corpse was found in a house, which statistically gave him a much better chance of solving the case than if the victim had been found outdoors. The conversation is ironic since McNulty has broken the rules in a much more serious fashion by circumventing the chain of command.[4]


The DVD release featured a commentary track recorded by creator and writer/producer David Simon. Simon discusses the season's 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 show's detective characters. He also talks about trying to ground the show in realism by using only diegetic music.

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 by the intellectual vanity of believing they are smarter than the criminals they are chasing.

At the end of the episode, when the body of Gant is found, there is a brief flashback to the trial, re-identifying the character for the audience. David Simon cites it as one of the few things HBO urged them to do, to make sure audiences recognized the character. Although Simon concedes that 'maybe they were right', he says that they were reluctant to put it in as it broke from the style of the show. The show's storytelling has been entirely linear ever since.[4]

Non-fictional elements[edit]

Both the Snot Boogie murder story and Bunk's tale of shooting a mouse in his kitchen are anecdotes from Simon's time researching his non-fiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (1991).[4] A real police officer named Jay Landsman is also a character in the 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.[5] 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.[4]


The opening scene (the Snot Boogie crime scene) was filmed at the corner of Fulton and Lexington in West Baltimore. The scenes set at Orlando's gentleman's club were filmed at the Ritz Hotel in Fells Point.[4]


Starring cast[edit]

The credited starring cast consists of Dominic West (Jimmy McNulty), John Doman (William Rawls), Idris Elba (Stringer Bell), Frankie Faison (Ervin Burrell), Larry Gilliard, Jr. (D'Angelo Barksdale), Wood Harris (Avon Barksdale), Deirdre Lovejoy (Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Pearlman), Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland), Lance Reddick (Cedric Daniels), Andre Royo (Bubbles), and Sonja Sohn (Kima Greggs).[6]

Guest stars[edit]

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.[6] 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.[6][7] 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 appearances[edit]

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.


Critical response[edit]

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 1992 novel Clockers and wondered if the pace could be sustained for an entire season. The review picked out the characters of Jimmy and Avon as particularly significant.[8] An Entertainment Weekly reviewer praised Johnson's direction of the episode and credited him with drawing subtle performances out of Gerety and Reddick.[6] 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 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.[5] A separate Chronicle article highlighted the theme of institutional dysfunction through the comparable experience of characters on opposite sides of the law using Jimmy and D'Angelo 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 improvement 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.[7] 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 and D'Angelo.[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 2006-07-24. 
  2. ^ David Simon, Ed Burns (2002-06-02). "The Target". The Wire. Season 1. Episode 1. HBO. 
  3. ^ Alvarez, Rafael (2004). The Wire: Truth Be Told. New York: Pocket Books. 
  4. ^ a b c d e David Simon (2005). The Wire "The Target" commentary track (DVD). HBO. 
  5. ^ a b Tim Goodman (2002-05-31). "HBO fleshes out all sides of drug war in "The Wire'". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Wire Power". Entertainment Weekly. 2002-06-28. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 
  7. ^ a b Rob Owen (2002-06-01). "TV Reviews: Networks aren't taking it easy this summer". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  8. ^ Marshall, Ben (2005-02-04). "Call the cops". The Guardian. London. 
  9. ^ a b Peter Hartlaub (2002-06-05). "Fighting crime, and bureaucrats. Creator of HBO's 'Wire' takes police drama in new direction". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  10. ^ a b c d Neil Genzlinger (2002-05-31). "TV WEEKEND; A Gritty Drug World, From All Sides". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  11. ^ Margaret Talbot (2007). "Stealing Life". The New Yorker. Retrieved 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."

External links[edit]