In the next-to-last episode of season 4 of ''The Wire,'' Bubs accidentally kills Sherrod, Marlo's gang burns Randy's foster mother, and Namond wants out

By Michael Endelman
Updated December 04, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Julito McCullum: Paul Schiraldi/HBO
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”The Wire”: Life and death decisions

You knew they were coming. Instead of saving the shocking twists, big reveals, or surprise deaths for the finale, The Wire traditionally places them in the second-to-last episode. (For instance, season 3’s penultimate hour featured that oh-no-they-didn’t murder of Stringer Bell.) This year was no different. In fact, this episode was the most heart-wrenching, knuckle-biting 60 minutes of this entire year. There’s no way to avoid the grisly events, so let’s get right into it.

Spurned by Kima and Herc, Bubs decided to deal with his tormenter in his own way. As he filled the glass vials with sodium cyanide, I had a sinking feeling that this was going to end badly. It did. Weaned off his thuggish ways, Sherrod returned to help Bubs with his rolling mini-mart. It turned out Sherrod wasn’t completely cleaned up — when he found the vials in Bubs’ jacket, the dense kid unsuspectingly ingested enough poison to kill an entire stable of horses. Bubs found him cold and lifeless in the morning. It was a cruel plot twist straight out of the Shakespearean tragedy handbook.

Namond’s disenchantment with the thug life finally blew up, which was actually a big relief. The path to his emotional explosion began when pint-size but filthy-mouthed Kenard told Namond that their package was stolen by the police. It was obvious BS, but Namond didn’t have the skeptical temperament to question him. Michael, however, persuaded Namond to confront Kenard about the missing stash. Kenard denied it, but Michael went to work on his face anyway. It was the perfect opportunity for Namond to back up his tough talk, to prove he’s in ”the game” for real, to make Wee-Bey proud, but he doesn’t have the stomach for violence, and he scuttled off embarrassed, saying, ”I don’t want it. I don’t want it.” Later, when Namond came home to De’Londa — the stage mom of drug dealers — she chastised him for not beating up the kid, and he finally stormed out.

Namond still had unresolved feelings about his life: There’s a canyon of difference between the way he’s supposed to act (tough, unremorseful, cold, violent) and the way he really is (decent, intelligent, tentative). Poor Dukie got the brunt of Namond’s frustration. (I admit the put-down ”gump” is a new one for me.) Michael defended weak, defenseless Dukie (now homeless, too), giving Namond a good whipping, for which Michael got kicked out of the gym. Admittedly, Namond deserved a slap or two — he’s verbally abused Dukie way too much — but how could you not feel sorry for him as he sobbed to Carver and Cutty: ”She expects me to be my father, but I ain’t him….It just ain’t in me.”

This twisted chain of events led to the evening’s most shocking act: When solid, honest, and dependable Cutty tried to apologize to Michael and get him to come back to the gym, the boxing coach was sucked right back into the amoral world he tried to escape from in season 3. Life is unfair: Cutty reached out with an apology; in return, he got a bullet in the knee from one of Marlo’s pawns. The sour-faced thug felt no remorse and would’ve finished the job if Michael hadn’t stopped him.

The cruelty of Marlo’s crew obviously shouldn’t be underestimated. Their campaign to harass and humiliate Randy kept the ”snitch” locked up in his foster home, with a police car on 24-hour watch. Criminals can be crafty, though: After a fake 911 call to the police, a couple of Marlo’s minions threw Molotov cocktails into Miss Anna’s row house. The episode’s final scene was devastating — with his foster mother covered in second- and third-degree burns, Randy screamed sarcastically at his supposed protector Carver: ”You gonna help? You gonna look out for me? You got my back, huh?” The Wire is tugging you in two directions here. How could anyone not feel for Randy Wagstaff? He’s been let down and lied to by a succession of cops — this kid will hate the men in blue for the rest of his life. But is Carver at fault? He came into a messed-up situation and tried to make it right but was outwitted by Marlo’s gang. Placing the blame is an murky, difficult task. The only certainty is the body count: One sweet but dense kid was killed, one honest man was maimed, and a selfless woman was nearly burned to death.

Some questions to discuss: Should Prez adopt Dukie, or is he getting too attached to his students? Likewise, how could Bunny Colvin help out Namond? Should Carcetti give in to the governor’s demands? And how is Omar going to get to Marlo?

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