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All The Times The Wire Went Too Far

Years after it went off the air, the legacy of "The Wire" continues to endure, as what purports to be a crime drama is actually a much more intricately designed and nuanced show. Creator of "The Wire" David Simon once compared the show to a modern Greek tragedy while speaking to Variety, which may just be the aptest description of the series there is. However, "The Wire" hardly has Greek gods in starring roles. Instead, societal institutions play the role of gods, dictating the lives of everyone around them. 

Each of the show's seasons digs into these institutions, picks the most obvious holes in their mechanisms, and watches them fall apart. Over the course of five seasons, the show aims at crime syndicates, unions, political bureaucracy, the school system, and the media. Most of the myriad characters from "The Wire" are at the mercy of these institutions and, like many Greek tragedies, their own hubris.

Now, this premise doesn't exactly make for lighter fare. Simon has himself declared, "We are not selling hope, or audience gratification, or cheap victories with this show." Instead, it focuses on a realistic depiction of dysfunctional institutions. In keeping with this theme of hyper-realism, the show features more than a few moments that left viewers shocked, horrified, and appalled. "The Wire" is famously not an easy watch, but these disturbing scenes — which showcase bare-handed beatings, animal cruelty, police brutality, and more —particularly challenged viewers and their commitment to the show.

Wallace dies a brutal death

Wallace's (Michael B. Jordan) death has always been divisive. Today noted that it is the singular moment that defined the kind of show "The Wire" would be, but even members of the crew called it a "bad scene," according to a Vice interview with David Simon. Several Reddit users concurred that lowly drug peddler Wallace's death was among the most gruesome moments of the show, with u/carlydelphia aptly summing up audience sentiments, "Just because it was inevitable doesn't mean it wasn't hardest to watch."

Not only is the act of killing a mere child itself so horrific, but David Simon also doesn't remotely attempt to soften the blow. In fact, he does the opposite. He prefaces the murder with a back-and-forth between Wallace and his assailants, who happen to be his life-long buddies, Bodie Broadus (J. D. Williams) and Malik "Poot" Carr (Tray Chaney), acting at the behest of Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), second-in-command at the Barksdale drug syndicate. Wallace first wets his pants in fear, then invokes his friendship with Bodie and Poot in a last bid to save himself. No singular part of this scene is easy to watch — just the way Simon intended it to be.

Laetitia attacks Chiquan with a box cutter

Season 4 of "The Wire" tackles the school-to-streets pipeline and the impoverished students that tragically flood it. The very fact that Season 4 makes adolescents and teenagers the subject of its story means that the show's savagery becomes that much more tragic and devastating. The frenzy hits a crescendo with a brawl between students Laetitia (Charmaine McPhee) and Chiquan (Tiffani Holland), who have no love lost between them.

Cop-turned-teacher Roland Pryzbylewski (Jim True-Frost) — or Prezbo, as he's known to the kids — finds himself unable to maintain law and order in his classroom. Seizing on his inexperience, Chiquan bullies Laetitia. The latter retaliates by taking a box cutter to her classmate's face. Once again, Simon cuts us no slack, and in gory, graphic detail, we see Laetitia bleeding on the floor. A fellow teacher's attempt to console Prezbo and find a silver lining within the situation is in itself horrendous. "[At least] Chiquan wasn't HIV positive," she tells a shocked Prez. The very fact that the situation could have turned more tragic is a harsh reality check for the new teacher — and for us, the viewers.

Omar's partner Brandon is mutilated and murdered

Several fans on Reddit declared the murder of Brandon Wright (Michael Kevin Darnall) — infamous stickup man Omar Little's (Michael K. Williams) partner — the most brutal death of any character on "The Wire," despite his actual slaying taking place off-screen. However, the subsequent wide-angled shot of Brandon's mutilated dead body is in itself so graphic it tells as much as any murder scene ever could. The shot attacks you right at the very beginning of the episode and stays with you right until the end.

Brandon is a casualty of the clash between Omar and the Barksdale crew they rob blind. But Brandon's death wasn't the end of a storyline. On the contrary, it spawned several new ones. In fact, in a way, his murder might have been the lynchpin in the collapse of the Barksdale empire. After Brandon's body is tossed near Wallace's house, the young dealer begins to see the drug trade for what it is, which sets off a ripple effect leading to the death of D'Angelo Barksdale (Larry Gilliard Jr.), nephew of king-pin Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris). It also causes an altercation between Omar and Brother Mouzone (Michael Potts), both of whom eventually team up to take down Stringer Bell.

Chris tortures Butchie for information on Omar

Poor Omar. After Brandon's shocking torture and death at the hands of one drug kingpin, his friend and informant Butchie (S. Robert Morgan) is targeted by another head honcho. Is it any wonder that he detests the drug trade and everyone associated with it? This time around, Marlo Stanfield (Jamie Hector) has it in for Omar, and Butchie ends up getting the brunt of his thirst for revenge. 

Marlo's muscle Chris Partlow (Gbenga Akinnagbe) and Snoop (Felicia Pearson) storm Butchie's bar and torture him senseless to get information on Omar's whereabouts. However, Omar's friend is as principled as he is, and all Chris and Snoop extract from him is a resolute glare. In retaliation for his silence, Snoop blasts Butchie's kneecaps off before putting an end to his misery with a single kill shot. Marlo may not have gotten information from Butchie, but their plan succeeds in coaxing Omar out of retirement. This torture sequence ended up being torturous for viewers themselves, with some fans like u/bobby22291 claiming that they can't bring themselves to sit through it.

Wee-bey rapes a barely conscious dancer

One of the most sickening moments in "The Wire" occurs when the Barksdale crew's enforcer Wee-Bey Brice (Hassan Johnson) throws a raging party that leads to the rape and death of a dancer. Several members of the audience reacted to this scene with shock and bewilderment. Some fans of the show on Reddit admitted to resolutely hating this scene, while others found Wee-Bey's nonchalance about the whole ordeal to be particularly disturbing. The scene is so unsettling that some viewers also detested the redemption arc that the show's writers gave Wee-Bey's character in the following seasons.

In this scene, Wee-Bey leads an intoxicated, barely conscious dancer named Keesha into a bedroom. The show spares us the macabre details of what happens next, although it strongly insinuates that he proceeds to rape her and turn a blind eye to her as she overdoses. The show does, however, give us a haunting glimpse at Keesha's lifeless body — before Wee-Bey disposes of it in a dumpster. Like Brandon's murder, Keesha's death will have ramifications that serve to deepen the hole the Barksdale crew have dug for themselves — and lead to their eventual downfall.

Ziggy's accidentally poisons his duck to death

Ziggy Sobotka (James Ransone) was unappealing enough without the blood of a defenseless duck on his hands. It's hardly surprising that one of the most divisive characters from "The Wire" ends up on this list. Ziggy, the reckless, impulsive son of union boss Frank Sobotka (Chris Bauer), was considered by some viewers on Reddit to be a one-dimensional, poorly written character. Others may have given the writing a pass but still found Ziggy to be an insufferable character.

The youngster, however, soon crosses the line from demonstrating juvenile to sociopathic behavior when he attempts to feed his new pet duck alcohol, all in an attempt to provide some comic relief to his fellow longshoremen. Of course, he's not the only culprit in this wrongful act — each of the workers who gleefully egged him on is an equal accomplice. Their combined efforts result in the death of one very unfortunate duck.

Gerard and Sapper viciously beat up a thief

"The Wire" asks immense courage of its viewers to squarely face the reality checks it keeps giving us. Such reserves of courage would prove helpful when viewing this particular scene: Two of Barksdale's soldiers, Gerard (Mayo Best) and Sapper (Brandan T. Tate), are charged with identifying and bringing to justice a dealer who seems to be stealing from within the organization. Dennis "Cutty" Wise (Chad Coleman) assists the pair in their investigations. When they nab the culprit, though, Cutty realizes that the duo's definition of justice is vastly different from his own.

While thrashing the dealer, Gerard and Sapper don't spare an inch of his body. What makes this sequence particularly barbaric is that the duo is inflicting violence purely for violence's sake. Cutty attempts to reason with the pair, but to no avail. Understandably, viewers count this among the show's most disturbing moments. Fans on Reddit, such as u/PM_Me_Your_Fab_Four, found the moment to be so chilling that it gave them the shivers.

Chris beats Bugs' stepfather to death with his bare hands

Of the two savage beatings that make this list, this one takes the cake. It likely takes a lot to stupefy the stoic, stone-cold killer that Snoop is. However, the sight of Chris beating Bugs' father Devar Manigault (Cyrus Farmer) to within an inch of his life — and then obliterating that little inch too — is enough to leave even her easily horrified.

Yet, if ever one could call any of these deaths justified, only Devar's would even come close. Perhaps the brutal nature of the killing is not so easily justified as the motivation for it. Chris realizes that Devar has sexually abused his stepson and fellow Stanfield crew member, Michael Lee (Tristan Wilds). Although this is never explicitly mentioned, it becomes fairly obvious that Chris was once in Michael's position. 

Akinnagbe once referred to his character as a sociopath who thinks of "enforcing" as his full-time job (via The Washington Post). True to that image, we've seen Chris pull off some pretty gruesome murders, all while easily maintaining his cool. In none of them is he as emotionally charged and aggravated as he is in Devar's. It can be hard to think of the Standfield organization's vicious, stonyhearted head muscle as the victim of a truly horrific crime, but a victim he is.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

D'Angelo is horrifically strangled to death

Few could have predicted the early death of one of the main characters in "The Wire," D'Angelo Barksdale, much less the unforgiving manner in which it would take place. Fans of the show on Reddit describe his death as "soul-crushing," with u/courts0 even commenting on Reddit, "The fact that it happened so quickly and came almost out of nowhere made it that more brutal."

D'Angelo's death occurring so early on in the show was cleverly foretold by the man himself. In one of the show's most lauded scenes, he explains the rules of chess to Bodie and Wallace by using the drug trade as a fitting analogy. He demonstrates to his crew, "Pawns in the game, they get capped quick." D'Angelo similarly ends up being little more than a pawn in the game — his only function is to serve Avon. When he's no longer useful to the king, Stringer Bell decides D'Angelo's existence implies more of a threat than he would like and has him brutally strangled to death in the library. 

As you see the light in his eyes extinguished, you can't help but think about how D'Angelo and others like Wallace died as they lived — like pawns.

Prez pistol-whips a kid

If being too realistic is a fault, "The Wire” would certainly be guilty as charged. The show tackles police brutality from the get-go, beginning with Prezbo's assault on a 14-year-old kid. In the scene, Thomas "Herc" Hauk (Domenick Lombardozzi) and Ellis Carver (Seth Gilliam) are not exactly innocent bystanders either, as they hound and strip search a young boy. When another youngster dares to defy his orders, Prezbo takes a pistol to his face, inciting a riot from the rest of the building. In protest of his actions, objects of all kinds rain down on the officers.

To understand the true extent of Prezbo's unscrupulous behavior, here's an analogy: Prezbo was essentially the Ziggy Sobotka of the first season of "The Wire." Season 5's Prezbo would have given Season 1's Pryzbylewski a thorough talking to on the virtue of restraint, which is to say that it's near impossible to reconcile the caring, compassionate public school teacher Prezbo becomes with the angsty, erratic police officer he once was.

Kenard pours lighter fluid on a cat, then kills Omar

One would think that five seasons' worth of gritty realism would numb viewers to the brutalism and death in "The Wire." Turns out, the characters in the show — the kids especially — get far more easily desensitized to violence than the viewers do. Kenard (Thuliso Dingwall), a child soldier from Marlo Stanfield's army of dealers, is perhaps the best example of this. The boy is only 10 yet is so immune to violence that he himself performs it without the slightest hesitation. 

Case in point — Kenard shoots at the king Omar Little and he doesn't miss. Kenard and his gang are dousing a cat in lighter fluid when Omar limps past. The rest of the children scatter while Kenard stays put. He follows Omar to a convenience store and delivers the shot that finally kills him.

Not only does this scene show Kenard's transformation into an outright murderer, but it also puts an end to the long story arc of Omar the legend. "The Wire" often challenged our conception of what separates the good from the bad, and no one character exemplified this better than Omar Little. A Robin Hood-esque vigilante, he eschewed both the law of the streets and the law of the land to follow his own moral order. By killing off a figure that Esquire called the greatest character ever from "The Wire" in such a cold, unfeeling fashion, this scene delivered a sucker punch to the gut.

Dukie shoots up with the junkman

Some scenes don't need blood, gore, or violence to set someone's teeth on edge. The ending montage of "The Wire" contains plenty such moments, but little else is as jarring as watching Duquan "Dukie" Weems (Jermaine Crawford) resign himself to a life of drug addiction. In Season 3, Dukie's world is simultaneously full of innocence and completely devoid of it. The shy, meek youngster is smack dab in the middle of ruthless crime and corruption. Over the course of the next few seasons, things get marginally better for him before they get a lot worse — leading to his descent into drugs.

Dukie's support system is not lacking, per se. Michael does everything short of adopting Dukie, but circumstances force their relationship to end in what Slate calls the "saddest scene 'The Wire' has ever given us." Friends Namond (Julito McCullum) and Randy (Maestro Harrell) give his bullies a run for their money. Prezbo cautiously bets on Dukie and his academic rigor with a couple hundred bucks but loses spectacularly watching Dukie spend it all on drugs. All of this goes to show that big and small acts of kindness alike are no match for the systemic failure of educational, political, and law enforcement bodies.

Even as Dukie hurtles towards his fate, we desperately hope for the opposite to happen. Still, this fleeting scene in the show's final montage confirms our worst fears. Dukie, having accepted his fate, shoots up with the arabber. Some viewers on Reddit even claim to stave off rewatching the show because of this particular scene.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).