The Wire Season 4 Episode 13 “Final Grades”: A Deep Dive into the Fourth Season’s Climactic Finale

From the classroom to the streets and back to political boardrooms, it has been a whirlwind season of The Wire.  It is only right that the season finale would be written by the legendary  David Simon and Ed Burns. Capping off a season of twists and turns with a season finale titled “Final Grades” is legendary even by the extremely high standards of The Wire and we are privileged to get just that.

Imagine standing at the epicenter of a whirlwind where the fates of characters like Marlo Stanfield, Omar Little, Jimmy McNulty, and Bodie Broadus are about to collide. “Final Grades” is where the gritty reality of the streets meets the high-stakes game of power and survival. It’s a chessboard, and the kings, pawns, and knights are making their final moves.

Marlo Stanfield, the cold and calculating player in the drug game, continues his ascent to power, leaving a trail of chaos in his wake. His storyline is a compelling look at the ruthlessness needed to climb to the top of Baltimore’s criminal underworld. Then there’s Omar, the lone wolf, the street’s vigilante, whose crusade against drug lords like Marlo adds layers of complexity to the narrative tapestry.

In the world of law enforcement, McNulty, the flawed yet brilliant detective, maneuvers through the challenges and moral dilemmas of police work. His journey is an intricate dance between duty and personal demons. And Bodie, oh Bodie! Caught in the crossfire of the streets’ brutal realities, his tale is one of resilience, loyalty, and the harsh costs of the drug trade.

This episode is not just a finale; it’s a powerful statement on the cycle of crime, the challenges of policing, and the impact of institutional failure on individuals. The team at The Wire Stripped podcast is glad to have been there through each episode providing insight and making sure you the audience are on top of every element of the season. We have done the same for each of the previous three seasons and if you missed those, you need to check them out. Now let us cap off what is considered the best season not only in the history of The Wire but television as a whole.

Resolutions and Revelations

As “The Wire” Season 4 reaches its powerful climax in “Final Grades,” we’re drawn into a web of critical plot developments and character evolutions that are as gripping as they are insightful.

Bodie’s Confrontation with Marlo’s Crew

Bodie Broadus, once a loyal soldier of the Barksdale organization, finds himself in the crosshairs of Marlo’s relentless ambition. His confrontation with Marlo’s crew is more than a mere street skirmish; it’s a poignant symbol of the changing tides in Baltimore’s drug trade. Bodie, standing his ground, represents the old guard, clinging to a code that’s rapidly becoming obsolete in Marlo’s ruthless new world order. This moment is a turning point, not just for Bodie but for the streets of Baltimore, marking the end of an era and the rise of a more cold-blooded regime under Marlo Stanfield.

Omar’s Struggle Against the Stanfield Organization

Meanwhile, Omar Little, the renegade of Baltimore’s streets, continues his solitary war against the Stanfield organization. His journey through the season is a thrilling blend of cunning, bravery, and principle, as he seeks to dismantle Marlo’s growing empire piece by piece. Omar’s relentless pursuit, marked by personal vendettas and a unique moral compass, adds a layer of complexity to the drug war narrative, illustrating the blurred lines between right and wrong in the world of The Wire.

Navigating Challenges: Carcetti, Colvin, Daniels, and Carver

The season’s finale also throws a spotlight on the diverse challenges faced by characters like Mayor Tommy Carcetti, Bunny Colvin, Cedric Daniels, and Ellis Carver. Carcetti grapples with the realities of governing a city rife with problems, trying to balance political aspirations with effective leadership. Colvin’s efforts in education reform, particularly with the pilot program for at-risk youth, offer a glimmer of hope in a system often resistant to change.

Cedric Daniels, navigating the complex politics of the police department, finds himself at a crossroads between ambition and integrity. His leadership style and decisions are pivotal in shaping the department’s approach to crime and justice. Ellis Carver, evolving from a street-level enforcer to a more thoughtful and community-oriented officer, represents the potential for positive change within the police force.

McNulty’s Role in the Homicide Unit

In the halls of law enforcement, Jimmy McNulty’s role in the homicide unit is one of quiet introspection and dedicated detective work. Shifting away from the limelight, McNulty’s character in this episode reflects a man seeking redemption and a sense of purpose within the constraints of the system. His involvement in solving cases and his interactions with colleagues like Lester Freamon and Bunk Moreland provide a nuanced look into the challenges of police work in a city plagued by crime and institutional failures.

Summary of Major Themes in “The Wire” Season 4 Episode 13 “Final Grades”

Systemic Failings and Youth in Baltimore

One of the most poignant themes in this episode is the systemic failings of various institutions, particularly as seen through the eyes of the youth in Baltimore. The stories of Randy, Dukie, and Namond poignantly illustrate how the education system, social services, and even the community fail to adequately support and protect its most vulnerable members.

  • Randy’s storyline tragically shows how a lack of support and understanding from the social system leads to devastating consequences for a well-meaning, entrepreneurial young boy.
  • Dukie’s experiences bring to light the harsh realities of extreme poverty and neglect, underscoring the absence of safety nets for children in similar situations.
  • Namond’s arc, contrastingly, offers a glimmer of hope. His journey demonstrates the potential for positive outcomes when individuals receive the support they need, as seen through Colvin’s mentoring.

The Drug Trade’s Impact 

The impact of the drug trade is another central theme, particularly highlighted by characters like Proposition Joe and Bodie.

  • Proposition Joe’s character embodies the complexities of the drug trade — the need for strategic alliances, the constant threat of betrayal, and the unending power struggles.
  • Bodie’s character arc poignantly illustrates the perilous nature of life on the streets and the often fatal consequences of being involved in the drug trade, even for someone as street-smart and resilient as him.

The Criminal Justice System and Street-Level Policing

The portrayal of the criminal justice system and street-level policing is explored through characters like Bunk, Lester Freamon, Herc, and the Major Crimes Unit. Their efforts to unravel complex cases amid bureaucratic, ethical, and logistical challenges shed light on both the successes and shortcomings of law enforcement in Baltimore.

  • Bunk and Freamon exemplify the persistence and skill required to pursue justice in a system riddled with obstacles, from red tape to internal politics.
  • Herc’s storyline exposes the flaws and challenges within the police force, including issues of misconduct, the impact of personal biases, and the difficulty of making meaningful change within a rigid system.
  • The Major Crimes Unit reflects the broader challenges law enforcement faces in dealing with the intricate web of crime in Baltimore, highlighting both their investigative triumphs and the moral ambiguities they encounter.

Character Developments In The Wire As Season 4 Closes

As Season 4 of “The Wire” concludes, several character arcs reach pivotal points, reflecting the show’s deep engagement with themes of institutional failure, personal struggle, and societal dynamics in Baltimore. Here’s a conclusive summary of how various characters’ stories evolve by the end of the season:

Namond Brice: Namond’s arc sees a significant transformation. From a street-tough kid trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, he becomes a beneficiary of Colvin’s intervention. His story ends on a hopeful note as he escapes the cycle of street life, getting a chance at a better future.

Duquan ‘Dukie’ Weems: Dukie’s story is one of the season’s most heart-wrenching. Despite showing promise and intelligence, his circumstances — poverty and neglect — continue to pull him down. The season ends with Dukie’s future looking uncertain and precarious.

Randy Wagstaff: Randy’s arc is tragic. His involvement as a snitch leads to dire consequences, including his foster home being firebombed and his being sent to a group home. His story illustrates the failures of the system to protect vulnerable youth.

Michael Lee: Michael’s journey takes a darker turn. He becomes increasingly involved in Marlo’s drug operation, reflecting how the streets can consume and change a person. By the end of the season, he takes on a more prominent role in the drug trade, indicating a loss of innocence and a step into a world of violence and power.

Roland ‘Prez’ Pryzbylewski: Prez’s transition from police officer to teacher is a major arc of the season. He faces the challenges of teaching in a tough school but makes significant strides in connecting with his students, showcasing his growth and dedication.

Howard ‘Bunny’ Colvin: Colvin continues his effort to positively impact the youth, working on an experimental school program. His arc reflects his commitment to finding alternative solutions to social problems.

Marlo Stanfield: Marlo’s rise to power in Baltimore’s drug scene becomes more pronounced. His ruthless tactics and strategic moves position him as a formidable and feared figure in the drug trade.

Omar Little: Omar remains a wildcard, sticking to his code while continuing his crusade against the drug lords. His arc maintains his status as an anti-hero figure in the Baltimore streets.

Bodie Broadus: Bodie’s arc ends tragically. His refusal to bend to Marlo’s authority and his nostalgic attachment to Barksdale’s way of doing business ultimately lead to his death, marking the end of an era on the streets.

Thomas ‘Herc’ Hauk: Herc faces the consequences of his unethical actions, including the fallout from the misuse of a surveillance camera, showcasing the challenges and moral complexities of police work.

Cedric Daniels and Lester Freamon: They continue their diligent work in the Major Crimes Unit, striving to bring down Marlo despite bureaucratic hurdles.

Season 4 of “The Wire” powerfully concludes with these character arcs, providing a stark, nuanced, and often heartbreaking view of the cyclical nature of poverty, crime, and institutional dysfunction in Baltimore.

FAQ: Insights into “Final Grades” of The Wire Season Four

Q: What are the most poignant moments in the ‘final montage’ of the episode?

The ‘final montage’ of “Final Grades” encapsulates the season’s themes and character journeys. It shows the continuing cycle of drug trade with scenes of corners being manned, reflecting the unending nature of this issue in Baltimore. The montage poignantly displays the different paths taken by the four boys – with Namond in a new, safer environment, Dukie succumbing to street life, Michael becoming a soldier in Marlo’s crew, and Randy’s situation deteriorating in the group home. It’s a vivid representation of the varied impacts of systemic failures on youth.

Q: Can you discuss Michael’s rise within Marlo’s crew?

Michael’s ascension within Marlo’s crew is both dramatic and tragic. His transformation from a cautious, protective older brother to a hardened member of Marlo’s operation illustrates the corrupting influence of power and the absence of positive role models. Michael’s rise is marked by his increasing involvement in violent activities, showing how the harsh realities of street life can alter a young person’s trajectory.

Q: What are the repercussions of Bodie’s death?

Bodie’s death marks the end of an era and symbolizes the fall of the old guard of the Baltimore drug trade. His death has far-reaching implications, particularly for characters like McNulty, who saw in Bodie a potential to break the cycle of crime. Bodie’s demise also highlights the ruthless efficiency of Marlo’s regime and the perilous nature of life on the streets.

Conclusion: Reflecting on “Final Grades” – A Masterful Culmination of “The Wire” Season 4

“Final Grades,” the thirteenth episode of Season 4 of “The Wire,” stands as a testament to the series’ profound storytelling capabilities. This episode is often hailed as one of the best in the series for its ability to weave together complex narratives and deliver a powerful, emotionally charged conclusion to a season deeply focused on the systemic issues within urban America. The most important part is the character conclusions from the entire season. Here are some key examples:

  1. Andre: Andre is a corner store owner who becomes entangled with Marlo Stanfield’s crew. His involvement with Marlo’s operation and the subsequent consequences showcase the reach and ruthlessness of Marlo’s drug empire.
  2. Professor David Parenti: Parenti is a university researcher who collaborates with Bunny Colvin on a project to study behavior in the school system. His role is central to the season’s exploration of educational reform and the challenges faced by inner-city youth.
  3. Proposition Joe (Prop Joe): Prop Joe continues his role as a savvy and relatively cautious drug lord in Baltimore. His involvement in the co-op, a collective of drug dealers, and his interactions with other characters like Marlo and Omar, are crucial to the drug trade storyline.
  4. Officer Beatrice “Beadie” Russell (Beadie): Beadie, now in a relationship with McNulty, provides a more grounded and stable influence in his life. Her character represents a contrast to the turmoil and complexity of police work and McNulty’s past.
  5. Kima Greggs (Greggs): Detective Greggs continues her work in the major crimes unit, showcasing her strong investigative skills and dedication to policing, contributing significantly to the season’s major case.
  6. Jay Landsman: Sergeant Landsman, as the supervisor in the Homicide Unit, continues to manage his detectives and their cases. His pragmatic approach to police work and his interactions with his team highlight the bureaucratic and practical challenges within the department.
  7. Deputy Commissioner William Rawls: Rawls remains a key figure in the police department’s upper management. His focus on stats and departmental image often puts him at odds with the need for effective police work.
  8. Commissioner Ervin Burrell: Burrell continues to navigate the political aspects of leading the police department. His actions are often influenced by political pressures and the demand for reduced crime rates.
  9. Poot (Malik Carr): Poot’s role diminishes in this season as he attempts to distance himself from the drug trade, reflecting the possibility of change and a different life path for individuals involved in the drug game.
  10. Vondas (Spiros Vondopoulos): Vondas remains a key player in the Greek’s criminal organization. His careful and strategic approach to the operation’s logistics is vital to the smuggling storyline.
  11. Wee-Bey Brice: Wee-Bey, serving a prison sentence, appears in scenes related to his son, Namond. His role offers a glimpse into the impact of parental influence and the legacy of the drug trade on the younger generation.
  12. Dennis “Cutty” Wise: Cutty continues to develop his community boxing gym, serving as a mentor to local kids. His character arc is a narrative of redemption and positive influence in a community often marked by violence and crime.
  13. Bubbles (Bubs): Bubbles faces ongoing struggles with addiction while trying to mentor Sherrod. His storyline provides a poignant and realistic portrayal of life on the streets and the personal toll of drug addiction.

A Pinnacle of Storytelling

The brilliance of “Final Grades” lies in its meticulous attention to detail and unwavering commitment to realism. This episode masterfully ties up the intricate storylines of Season 4, from the challenges faced by the Baltimore school system to the gritty realities of street life and the machinations of city politics. It’s a narrative accomplishment that not only provides closure to the season’s arcs but also reinforces the overarching themes of institutional failure and personal struggle that are central to “The Wire.”

Impact on Character Development

The episode leaves an indelible mark on the development of key characters. Michael’s descent into the darker aspects of street life and his ascent within Marlo’s crew illustrate the transformation of a once-cautious boy into a product of his environment – a theme resonant throughout “The Wire.” Randy’s storyline, culminating in his placement in a group home, is a tragic reflection of the failure of the system meant to protect him, underscoring the show’s critique of social services. Meanwhile, characters like Carcetti and Colvin grapple with their roles in a city riddled with challenges, showcasing the complexities of leadership and reform.

Setting the Stage for the Future

As much as “Final Grades” provides a conclusion, it also sets the stage for the subsequent season. It leaves viewers pondering the future of characters like Dukie, who faces an uncertain path, and Carver, who shows signs of growth in his understanding of policing. The episode’s ending, particularly the final montage, is both a closure and a haunting reminder of the cyclical nature of the issues depicted throughout the season.

It has been a wonderful fourth season of The Wire. We got introduced to new iconic characters and the stories of characters we have grown to love over the years kept on evolving. Having an insight into how the school and education system works and how it has been intertwined with the drug trade was also quite an experience. What was your favorite part about the fourth season of The Wire? We got to share our favorite moments from the episode in this installment of The Wire Stripped. Listen here: