Mayor Royce says that they need to find a "middle ground" as a way to keep Hamsterdam alive while avoiding political suicide. The title also refers to the compromise made between Omar and Brother Mouzone to pursue their common goal, and alludes to the meeting between Stringer Bell and Colvin.
The phrase is said to Avon Barksdale in regard to how much they have accomplished in their endeavors, suggesting that the pair do not have to dream about success anymore because they have all the money and the power they need. However, the phrase can also be interpreted ironically, as 'we haven't got a dream anymore' - significant, as this episode marks the beginning of the collapse of the Barksdale empire.
Although credited, Wendell Pierce, Jim True-Frost, Seth Gilliam, and Domenick Lombardozzi do not appear in this episode.
Richard Burton as Shamrock
Bobby J. Brown as Officer Bobby Brown
Alana Campbelle as Mayor's Assistant
Marty Lodge as Banisky - Baltimore Sun reporter
Gil Deeble as Hucklebuck
Raw Leiba as Stringer's Bodyguard
Michael Noel as FBI Computer Technician
- Glynn Turman as Mayor Clarence Royce
- Peter Gerety as Judge Daniel Phelan
- Chad L. Coleman as Dennis "Cutty" Wise
- Anwan Glover as Slim Charles
- Brandy Burre as Theresa D'Agostino
- Leo Fitzpatrick as Johnny Weeks
- Michael Potts as Brother Mouzone
- Justin Burley as Justin
- Robert F. Chew as Proposition Joe
- Michael Kostroff as Maurice Levy
- Cleo Reginald Pizana as Chief of Staff Coleman Parker
- Kurt L. Schmoke as Health Commissioner
- Frederick Strother as State Delegate Odell Watkins
- William Zielinski as Gene - public health academic
- R. Emery Bright as Community Relations Sergeant
- Tony A. Head as Major Reed
- Kay Lawal as Community Centre Meeting Woman
- Doug Olear as Special Agent Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh
- Michael Willis as Andy Krawczyk
- Derren M. Fuentes as Lieutenant Torret
- Edward Green as Spider
- Joilet F. Harris as Officer Caroline Massey
- Dennis Lehane as Officer Sullivan
- Dameion Leslie as Unknown
Brother Mouzone surprises Omar Little on his way home. The two have a tense standoff and discuss how Mouzone found Omar, also comparing their capabilities and their weapons. Mouzone assures Omar that Dante is still alive and did not give him up easily. Eventually, Mouzone puts down his weapon and tells Omar that he has something to ask him.
At the police department Deputy Commissioner William Rawls suggests that they could sidestep major political fallout from Hamsterdam if they close it down now. Major Reed checks with the SWAT team commander to verify that they are ready and asks what city hall is waiting for, prompting Acting Commissioner Ervin Burrell to phone the Mayor's office.
Mayor Clarence Royce and his Chief of Staff Coleman Parker are in a meeting with their health commissioner (played by former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke), a public health academic and State Delegate Odell Watkins. Burrell is left on hold and when the mayor does speak to him, he tells him that the police are not to do anything as the mayor's office regroups and rethinks the situation. Rawls then asks Ervin to explain the mayor's meaning and Burrell claims Royce's stalling is an attempt to put the police department in the "guillotine". Burrell believes that Royce is planning how to distance himself to have the Hamsterdam blame fall entirely on the police department, so he decides to spin it against the mayor's office. Rawls asks if he is going to the Baltimore Sun newspapers with the information, but Burrell states that he will leave that task to a contact. Burrell then calls councilman Tommy Carcetti. Royce also disgusts Watkins by pursuing the idea against his recommendations.
Parker is adamant that the Hamsterdam scheme must be shut down immediately. Parker knows that Burrell called for authorization to do so. Royce demands that they at least talk about sustaining the project and using a different name. Royce is given support from the health officials who claim that from a public health perspective, Hamsterdam users are improving the city by participating in needle exchanges, on-site HIV testing, with many users even considering drug treatment. They state that authorization from the mayor's office could increase their ongoing works. State's Attorney Steven Demper talks about sustaining the project as a law enforcement strategy to better investigate high-level drug dealers. Delegate Watkins, however, is with Parker in being most opposed to keeping Hamsterdam afloat. Watkins warns Royce that as soon as the media exposes Hamsterdam, Royce will lose support of the ministers and several city hall officials, and then will be subject to action from both the state government and the U.S. Department of Justice. Royce continues listening to ideas, feeling that with a 14% decrease in felonies district-wide, he can spin the Hamsterdam situation to his advantage.
Burrell meets with Carcetti in a diner and tells him all about Hamsterdam. He spins the story so that the blame rests with the mayor's office for the intense pressure they have been putting on the department to reduce crime. Carcetti wonders why Royce has not moved to close down Hamsterdam yet. Burrell explains his fear that Royce will use him as a scapegoat. Burrell asks Carcetti to give the story to Gray as he hopes to endear himself to the new challenger for mayor now that he is burning his bridges with Royce.
Carcetti discusses the story with Theresa D'Agostino. She suggests that the police commander responsible, Major Colvin, may want to give his side of the story if Burrell is painting him a villain. Carcetti manages to get Colvin's cell phone number by calling his office.
Carcetti has little luck contacting Colvin, so eventually visits him at home. Carcetti asks for Colvin's side of the story to counter Burrell's explanation. Colvin gives Carcetti a tour of the Western district, showing him the impact his efforts have made. They visit empty drug corners, the district headquarters and view real police work being done by Bobby Brown in catching a felony church burglar. Colvin then takes Carcetti to a neighborhood council meeting where they hear that local community policing is once more possible in the Western district. Carcetti sees from this that most of the residents are happier and safer from Colvin's experiment. As they leave, Colvin asks why Carcetti is so interested in his district as he is unsure of his motive in coming to the place, and Carcetti refers vaguely to his municipal duties. Colvin then points to a former funeral parlor that was once segregated for whites only before the neighborhood underwent a demographic shift. He then tells Carcetti a story about the owner, Mr. Stryker, who refused to service blacks. Colvin recalls that in his day, kids asked Stryker if he would ever serve blacks at the funeral parlor and Stryker claimed that he would under the condition he could "bury them all at once." Carcetti is sickened by the response, unsure of why Colvin is amused, until Colvin explains that he respected Stryker's honesty, as unlike most people—and by implication Carcetti—Colvin always knew where Mr. Stryker stood.
Finally, Colvin shows Carcetti Hamsterdam itself: after showing him the "good" that had occurred from his experiment, it was time for Carcetti to see the "ugly." Carcetti questions Colvin's motives in embarking on his scheme and Colvin says he wanted to try something different for dealing with the drug problem. Carcetti sees open drug dealing and is told by Colvin that it's best if Carcetti explores the area on his own, assuring him that the area is safe and offering to wait in the car for him to return. As Carcetti walks through the area, we see only his horrified and dismayed face.
Stringer Bell meets with his attorney Maurice Levy to discuss the lack of return he is seeing from his political contributions to Senator Clayton "Clay" Davis. Levy tells Stringer he has been "rainmade" - Davis is taking the money for himself instead of for the bribes he has told Stringer he is using it for. Levy furthermore explains that there are no bribes in the development business; every contractor who is awarded money is done so by virtue of meeting project specifications and that Clay Davis is a "gonif," the Yiddish word for "thief," with a reputation for pocketing bribes that should not have been given from the beginning.
Stringer angrily seeks Avon Barksdale. He is enraged when Slim Charles's new soldiers keep him from his partner. With Avon yet to arrive, Stringer tells Slim Charles he has a task for him: kill Clay Davis. Unbeknownst to Stringer, Avon listens to the conversation as Slim refuses to obey. Avon then enters the room and mocks the fact that Stringer wants to hit a state senator. Avon says that killing a "downtown" man like Davis would incur the wrath of the state police and federal government and would require a "Day of the Jackal"-type assassination in order to successfully pull it off. Avon says that if Stringer has lost money then he should handle it like a businessman rather than like a gangster, and that the financial losses are Stringer's responsibility, not the organization's.
Stringer calls and arranges a meeting with Colvin. He offers Colvin more information about Avon. Stringer claims that Avon is like his brother but he cannot let him continue his war with Marlo Stanfield. Stringer tells Colvin that he came to him because of his reputation as the man who created Hamsterdam. He tells Colvin about Avon's wartime safehouse and gives him the address. Colvin asks about his motives and Stringer insists that his actions are purely business-driven. To little avail, he implores Colvin to guarantee that any police strike against Avon result in charges light enough to ensure that Avon does fewer than 5 years in prison. Meanwhile, Avon is in a barbershop getting a haircut. Brother Mouzone visits him and tells him that he has learned that Stringer set him up. Avon offers to pay for Stringer's actions with money. Brother Mouzone tells Avon that money will not settle the debt and that Avon must give up Stringer in order to maintain his word and reputation and, thus, continue dealing with New York. Avon is forced to give up Stringer to appease Mouzone and maintain his business contact.
Avon and Stringer meet for a late night drink. Stringer apologizes for not dealing with Marlo Stanfield sooner. Avon is nostalgic about the shoplifting days of their youth, retelling a story of Stringer's failed heist of a badminton set. The story is illuminating to their current situation, as Stringer is driven to play what Avon calls "away games" and leave his gangster past behind. Avon asks Stringer to dream with him and Stringer tells him they don't need to dream because they own so much now, including real estate, that is legal. Stringer tells Avon that he can't drink too much since he is visiting the development site the following day. Avon asks what time Stringer plans to meet with the property developer (so that he can tell Mouzone where to find him). Stringer is awkward in response and the two men exchange more conversation before embracing in a way that foreshadows each knows that he has betrayed the other.
In Hamsterdam, Bubbles continues to make his living supplying young dealers with T-shirts from a shopping cart. A young homeless boy questions Bubbles about his income and then suggests that he try selling hoodies now that the season is changing. Meanwhile, Bubbles's protégé Johnny is "schooled" by another fellow user in Hamsterdam not to use so much heroin that he "falls out," meaning to take a fatal dose, and he notices out the window that Bubbles is now working with the homeless boy.
Dennis "Cutty" Wise has built a small following for his community boxing gym, including some drug dealers, Justin and Spider. The children using the facility mock the equipment because it is in a state of disrepair. Seeking funds for the gym, Cutty visits Bodie Broadus and asks him to arrange a meeting with Avon. Cutty explains that he didn't feel right approaching Avon directly because of the way he left things with him.
Avon meets with Cutty at his base of operations. Cutty gives him a sales pitch and talks about Avon's boxing past before Avon eventually tires of his efforts. He asks how much money he needs, to which Cutty hesitantly states $10,000. Avon and Slim Charles erupt in laughter and then give him five thousand extra, much to the surprise of Cutty, before telling him to take care of his young charges. With the new equipment in place, Cutty's boxers are eager to spar, and he offers to organize a match with another gym. At the sparring match Cutty's boxers are bested by much smaller boxers, but Cutty gives them respect for lasting through each round. In particular he congratulates Justin for his attitude and heart.
Lieutenant Cedric Daniels updates the investigative board with a photo of Barksdale lieutenant Shamrock. Jimmy McNulty, Lester Freamon and Caroline Massey man their wiretapped burners. They record a call between Shamrock and Bodie Broadus - Bodie asks for a face to face meeting with "the man", who they assume is Stringer Bell. However, there is no phone call from Shamrock's phone to Stringer to arrange the meeting. Freamon and McNulty later explain to ASA Rhonda Pearlman that Stringer has isolated himself from the rest of the phone network by only talking to Shamrock and providing Shamrock with a separate phone for their communications. Freamon suggests that they can have everyone in the Barksdale organization from Shamrock down on a conspiracy charge with a week of monitoring these wiretaps, but to collect evidence against Bell and Barksdale they need to pluck cellphone numbers out of the air. This comment prompts McNulty to leave.
McNulty arranges a meeting with Fitz to discuss the possibility of doing exactly what Freamon suggested. McNulty asks Fitz about equipment that picks up numbers dialed on cellular phones nearby. Fitz tells McNulty that the equipment he needs is already available to city police because of a Homeland Security grant. McNulty retrieves the machine from the police department basement. McNulty and Freamon set up the machine in a vacant apartment opposite Stringer's photocopying business. They record all cell phone numbers using the nearby tower for signal. They narrow the field back at the detail office by tying specific times that Stringer would be on the phone to their data by monitoring calls to Shamrock.
While the unit is monitoring him, Stringer gets a call requesting a meeting. He changes the SIM card in his cell phone so that he can call back on another number. Shamrock then calls Bodie to tell him a meeting has been arranged. This gives the unit their baseline set of call data. Next Stringer uses his business number to call Colvin on his cell phone and Lester notes the call. He checks with McNulty, who recommends they wait and see what the connection gives them.
Officer Massey gives McNulty a message from D'Agostino. Shortly afterwards Freamon pins down Stringer's cell phone number. Both McNulty and Freamon are worried that the cell phone may not last long and they simultaneously contact Daniels and Pearlman. Daniels calls in a favor from Fitz to get the wiretap organized by the end of the day, cutting through potential delays from the wireless companies. Phelan signs the wiretap affidavit and recognizes Bell's name from the previous investigation. Phelan still faces animosity from McNulty and tells him to let it go for his own sake. Fitz delivers on his promise by falsely telling the bureau that Bell's given name is "Ahmed", a name the bureau associates with its counter-terrorism priorities.
McNulty meets D'Agostino for dinner. She claims she is there to renew their relationship and then quickly begins to probe him for information about Hamsterdam and Colvin. He sees through her feigned interest in him and walks out of the dinner. She might have also been using McNulty for information about the case to give to Carcetti.
The next day the unit records Stringer talking to Shamrock. Shamrock mentions contract killers on the phone, so although Stringer notices his mistake, the unit has the evidence it has worked hard for. The line spoken by Shamrock, "Oh, and that other thing, them two hitters you asked after, they good with it" harks back to Slim Charles' earlier refusal to assassinate Clay Davis, and reveals that Stringer still intended to kill the senator.
When Stringer arrives at the development site, Omar and Brother Mouzone are waiting for him. Omar bursts into his meeting with Andy Krawczyk and kills Stringer's bodyguard. Stringer tries to run, fleeing up the staircase where he finds Mouzone waiting. Krawczyk cowers away from Omar, who leaves him and calmly pursues Bell up the stairs. Bell is trapped between Omar and Mouzone with no escape route. He tells them that he is now clean and tries to convince them that he is worth more to them alive than dead. Omar informs Stringer that Avon gave him up because of his duplicity. Stringer admits there is nothing he can say to stop them from killing him, at which point Omar displays a slight look of hesitation, savoring the moment. Stringer then orders them to get on with it, at which point first Mouzone and then Omar both open fire, shooting him repeatedly in the chest. After a moment of silence, the two calmly withdraw from the room without a word, as Stringer's dead body lies splayed on the floor. Outside the window is a sign for Stringer's B&B Enterprises.
This episode marks the first appearance of Kurt L. Schmoke as Baltimore Health Commissioner. Schmoke is a real-life former mayor of Baltimore and has strong views against the drug war and in favor of drug decriminalization. He acts as an advisor to the fictional mayor after Major Colvin has legalized drugs in a portion of the city and his character's feelings mirror his own politics.Stringer Bell (Murdered by Brother Mouzone and Omar Little)
Stringer Bell's bodyguard (Murdered by Omar Little)
The episode received unanimous praise from television critics and is considered by many to be the best episode in the entire series. The Futon Critic named it the ninth best episode of 2004, commenting that show is not shy about killing off characters, but was still surprised about Stringer Bell's death. George Pelecanos, who co-wrote the episode with David Simon, described "Middle Ground" as "the best thing I'll ever have my name on."
"Middle Ground" received the show's first Emmy nomination, for writers David Simon and George Pelecanos in the category Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. Following the show's nomination, Variety printed an article with an anonymous member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences explaining why they thought the show was not recognized in more categories. They postulated that the show's complex narrative made it impenetrable to first time viewers, that the location meant that the cast and crew were "out of sight, out of mind" to voters, and the majority California based voters have little connection to the drug markets of Baltimore. Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle has cited the lack of Emmy recognition for the show as "an egregious oversight." Salon has written that the show is typical of the crime dramas that the Emmy awards have recognized in the past and called the lack of recognition "a sad case." David Simon suggested the lack of recognition was due to the show's small audience; however, Salon refuted this and postulated that one of the major factors in winning an Emmy is having a recognizable producer who draws blocks of votes from his contacts in the industry - something The Wire lacks.