Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Slapstick (The Wire)

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Episode no.  Season 3 Episode 9
Teleplay by  David Simon
Directed by  Alex Zakrzewski
Running time  58 minutes
Slapstick (The Wire)
Story by  David Simon George Pelecanos
Original air date  November 21, 2004 (2004-11-21)

"Slapstick" is the ninth episode of the third season of the HBO original series, The Wire. The episode was written by David Simon from a story by David Simon & George Pelecanos and was directed by Alex Zakrzewski. It originally aired on November 21, 2004.


Title reference

The title is an ironic reference to the slapstick manner in which many of the very serious events (all of which could have been avoided) in the episode play out: Prez's tragic misfire; the breaking of the Sunday morning truce by Barksdale soldiers culminating almost comically in the shooting off of Omar's grandmother's church 'crown' before an awkward escape; Carver's decision to move the body out of the free zone, which is easily picked up on by homicide; Herc's and other Western District detectives' growing disenchantment with Colvin's initiative.


Spoken while Freamon tries to persuade McNulty to see that there is more to life than casework. The line comes from the famous lyrics by John Lennon, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."


Producer George Pelecanos has previously published a novel, Right as Rain, dealing with the fallout after a white police officer shoots an undercover black police officer. Much of Prez's situation is drawn from that novel, including several direct lines of dialogue.

Non-fiction elements

McNulty makes reference to several real-life Baltimore police officers when saying the few people who have as good of a position as the detail, including co-creator Ed Burns.

Starring cast

Although credited, Frankie R. Faison and Wendell Pierce do not appear in this episode.

Guest stars

  1. Isiah Whitlock, Jr. as Clay Davis
  2. Chad L. Coleman as Dennis "Cutty" Wise
  3. Michael Hyatt as Brianna Barksdale
  4. Maria Broom as Marla Daniels
  5. Brandy Burre as Theresa D'Agostino
  6. Delaney Williams as Sergeant Jay Landsman
  7. Robert F. Chew as Proposition Joe
  8. Doug Olear as Special Agent Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh
  9. Melvin Williams as The Deacon
  10. Christopher Mann as Councilman Anthony Gray
  11. Ryan Sands as Officer Lloyd "Truck" Garrick
  12. Brandan T. Tate as Sapper
  13. Brian Anthony Wilson as Detective Vernon Holley
  14. Mayo Best as Gerard
  15. Kim Bogues as Unknown
  16. Richard Burton as Sean "Shamrock" McGinty
  17. Anwan Glover as Slim Charles
  18. Kelli R. Brown as Kimmy
  19. Mia Arnice Chambers as Squeak
  20. Melvin Jackson, Jr. as Bernard
  21. Felix Stevenson as Reverend Frank Reid
  22. Ernest Waddell as Dante
  23. Al Brown as Major Stan Valchek
  24. Norris Davis as Vinson
  25. Richard DeAngelis as Colonel Raymond Foerster
  26. Frederick Strother as State Delegate Odell Watkins
  27. Gregory L. Williams as Detective Michael Crutchfield
  28. Benay Berger as FBI Supervisor Amanda Reese
  29. Tony Cordova as Michael McNulty
  30. Eric Ryan as Sean McNulty
  31. Michael Salconi as Officer Michael Santangelo
  32. Troj. Marquis Strickland as Fat-Face Rick

Uncredited appearances

  • Mike D. Anderson as Ghost
  • Akim Black as Officer Tope
  • Sho Brown as Phil Boy
  • Benjamin Busch as Officer Anthony Colicchio
  • Keith Johnson as Western District Desk Sergeant
  • Jim Klock as Officer Gillan
  • Unknown as Kintell Williamson
  • Unknown as Barksdale crew chief
  • Unknown as Hamsterdam murderer
  • Major case unit

    Jimmy McNulty is awoken in the middle of the night by a call from Theresa D'Agostino who invites him to her hotel room. He tells his son Sean that he is leaving and gives him his cell phone number in case of emergency. McNulty leaves quickly after meeting with D'Agostino, telling her that he has to return home (neglecting to mention to her his two boys, whom he left at home alone). He asks her if they can at least have dinner first next time. When he returns home, he tries to watch the same political show that she was watching, but soon grows bored and changes to a war documentary.

    McNulty goes into work on Sunday, as he has nothing better to do after returning his children to his ex-wife. He finds Lester Freamon and Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski preparing for undercover work. They plan to put a camera on Stringer Bell's copy shop, Copy Cat. Freamon refuses McNulty's offer of help because McNulty is by now a known face. McNulty espouses his opinion that the major case unit contains the best investigators in the entire department. He lists other detectives he respects, including Don Worden, Ed Burns, Gary Childs, Jon O'Neil and Steve Cleary. Freamon asks McNulty how he thinks their work is going to end and warns him that being good at his job will not save him. McNulty clings to the belief that a good case is enough, but Freamon tells him that he needs a life outside of work. McNulty seems to reflect on this, noting a photograph of - among others - Beadie Russell on the unit refrigerator.

    Cedric Daniels meets with the detail on Monday morning. Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Pearlman is there to discuss the legal requirements of setting up wiretaps on the Barksdale organization's disposable phones. Kima Greggs and Leander Sydnor also join the Sunday detectives. McNulty and Greggs are assigned the task of showing that the Barksdale crews are using the burner phones for drug dealing business, by using undercover detectives or confidential informants. Freamon and Prez are asked to start typing up the wiretap affidavits in preparation. Sydnor is assigned the task of tracking Bernard so they can know when new phones are coming in. Officer Massey is on vacation, but Daniels plans for her to monitor the camera that Freamon and Prez set up and note Stringer's movements. Pearlman tells the detail that she is going to argue with the cell phone companies to try to get the wiretaps set up more quickly. Daniels reminds his unit that the wiretaps will be short-lived even when they do get them up and running and that time is of the essence. After the meeting, McNulty tries to call D'Agostino, but is unable to get past her assistant.

    Greggs and McNulty pay Bubbles to act as a confidential informant. They outfit him with a wire and give him money to buy enough narcotics to force the Vincent Street Barksdale crew to phone in for a resupply. Bubbles asks if he can keep the drugs, but Greggs tells him he cannot. Bubbles approaches Bodie Broadus’s crew and buys thirty vials as ordered. When Bodie gets suspicious, Bubbles claims that he got the money from his business selling white T-shirts. Bubbles even negotiates a discount with Bodie for the bulk purchase. As McNulty and Greggs listen in from their car, they are impressed with Bubbles’s business acumen. McNulty again tries to reach D’Agostino, but is again rebuffed by her office staff. Greggs asks him about the relationship and he responds positively despite his difficulty getting in touch.

    Daniels and Pearlman meet with an executive from the cell phone company who insists it would take thirty days to respond to a court order for a wiretap. Pearlman is outraged with the audacity of the company in selling a phone that can be used anonymously and is well suited to drug traffickers and then holding up court ordered wiretaps. She threatens the company with a public statement that they are deliberately protecting drug dealers from investigation. The executive quickly caves in and promises a four- to five-day turnaround.

    Next they meet with FBI Supervisor Amanda Reese and Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh to ask for assistance. Fitz and Reese are unable to offer help because counter-terrorism and political corruption remain their priority over drug dealers, and they have had little success with wireless companies in the past.

    After tracking Bernard buying mobile phones, Sydnor reports into Freamon at the unit headquarters. He tells Freamon and Prez that Bernard has bought twenty-four cell phones from five locations, buying more at each stop away from Baltimore. Freamon plans to set up DNRs on all of the phones. McNulty and Prez leave to get Chinese food for the rest of the unit.

    Prez and McNulty wait for their food outside the restaurant and listen to the police radio. An emergency request for backup is called, and realizing they are close, the detectives rush to the location. They hear shots fired and Prez drops McNulty off. McNulty hears more shots and rushes in their direction. He finds Prez standing over a dead body. Uniforms arrive at the scene and McNulty finds a badge on the body. Prez tells McNulty that he saw a gun and fired. As other detectives arrive at the scene, McNulty identifies that the dead man is a plainclothes officer by revealing his badge that was hanging around his neck and then the other detectives angrily identify him as Derrick Waggoner. McNulty phones Greggs who breaks the news to the rest of the unit.

    The homicide unit handles the shooting. Prez and McNulty are both brought in to give statements. Deputy Commissioner William Rawls, Major Stanislaus Valchek and Raymond Foerster discuss the incident. Valchek defends his son-in-law (Prez) and Rawls assures him they are not looking to burn anyone's career over the incident. Rawls warns Valchek that there is a racial component to the shooting because Waggoner was African American and in the way he died, it is questionable if Prez would have opened fire had Waggoner been white. Daniels interrupts to ask if Prez has seen a lawyer.

    Sergeant Jay Landsman tries to prevent Daniels from seeing Prez because of the legal implications. Daniels insists that he be able to talk to Prez as he is his commanding officer. Landsman relents and lets Daniels into the interview room.

    Daniels urges Prez to seek out a union lawyer because of the racial element. Prez insists that the shooting was not motivated by racism, fear or anger because it happened so fast. Daniels focuses on the facts and tries to convince Prez that he must have shouted "Police!". Prez does not remember identifying himself as a police officer. Prez asks if Waggoner had a family. Daniels does not know and again urges him to get a lawyer, but Prez refuses and instead insists he is finished as a police officer. He asks Daniels to tell Freamon that he is sorry. Outside the interview room, Daniels informs Landsman that Prez requested a lawyer. Daniels asks Rawls to assign an officer to stay with Prez over night as he is a suicide risk. Valchek asks Daniels if he will back Prez over the racial issue as Daniels is both African American and Prez's unit commander, but Daniels only stares at Valchek. He checks on McNulty and asks if he is OK.

    As McNulty sits at his old desk Detective Vernon Holley and Landsman discuss the shooting. Landsman tells Holley that the victim, Waggoner, was a six-year decorated veteran who was 16th on the current sergeant's list. He then mentions Prez's failures as an officer who has remained in the department only because of Valchek’s support. Landsman deems the situation a "cluster-fuck", as a decorated officer was killed due to the incompetence of a more inept officer.

    At the unit office Freamon, Sydnor and Greggs monitor their new DNRs looking for a match to Bodie. Greggs and McNulty later resume surveillance in the Western District but are distracted by Prez’s misfortune. Their one-time colleague Officer Michael Santangelo spots them and sympathizes with Prez. McNulty asks him about his return to district policing and is intrigued when Santangelo is positive about the post’s lack of stress. McNulty finally receives a call back from D’Agostino to arrange a meeting.

    McNulty travels to Washington to have dinner with D’Agostino. They talk about their upbringings and then their jobs. McNulty discusses his passion for his work and then asks about D’Agostino’s work. McNulty’s political disaffection makes for stilted conversation. McNulty is left alone in Washington. Prez sits similarly isolated in the unit’s wire room.


    Dennis "Cutty" Wise oversees some of the landscapers he works with as they clean out a disused building so that he can convert it into a community boxing gym. The Deacon visits Cutty on his way to church and is impressed with his progress. He warns Cutty that the next step is to get the permits he needs from the city government; Cutty had not even considered this requirement. Cutty spends Monday trying to get the permits he needs, but faces miles of bureaucratic red tape that he cannot navigate.

    Cutty returns to the deacon for help, and he puts him in touch with Reverend Frank Reid. Reid explains that he needs an influential name as backing to get permits and phones State Delegate Odell Watkins to help Cutty. Watkins meets with Cutty and hands him off to Marla Daniels. Watkins is supportive of Cutty’s efforts, as the gym will be based in the district where Marla will be running against Eunetta Perkins and because it will endear him to the politically influential Reverend Reid.

    Western district

    The deacon's next stop is at the Western district headquarters to talk to Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin. They discuss Colvin's creation of drug tolerant zones in his district. Colvin assures the deacon that he is retiring and is willing to let others decide whether to sustain his initiative. The deacon tells Bunny that he has created a truce in the drug war and they have a unique opportunity to reach the people involved.

    Ellis Carver and Thomas "Herc" Hauk discover a body inside Hamsterdam. Carver tries to persuade Herc and the uniforms to move the body to prevent homicide learning about Colvin’s plans. Herc refuses to participate but Carver persuades the uniforms, Toke and Gillen, to help him. Detective Michael Crutchfield later checks Carver’s staged scene as he calls for Colvin. Nearby DEU Officers Anthony Colicchio and Lloyd "Truck" Garrick question Herc about Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski. Truck comments that Prez must be scared of African-Americans due to the racial element described in the Baltimore Sun story. Herc is distracted and decides to phone the Sun newspaper to report Colvin’s actions.

    Colvin meets with Carver and learns that Crutchfield has realized that the body has been moved. Colvin realizes that Carver acted out of loyalty to him and tells Carver to say that it was Colvin who moved the body if asked. Colvin is given two choices by Crutchfield –- turn the case into a "dunker" by delivering a suspect in handcuffs by the next morning, or else a report will be written for the Deputy about the moved body and surrounding drug activity. Seeing the threat of Hamsterdam being shut down, Colvin meets with the crew chiefs and threatens them with the closure of the free zones if the murderer does not turn himself in. After discussing the threat of closure with Stringer Bell, the crew chiefs get hold of the shooter and escort him to the Western Headquarters where he turns himself in for murder.


    Councilman Tommy Carcetti meets with his colleague Councilman Anthony Gray and learns that he is planning to run for Mayor. Carcetti asks what Gray’s campaign will hinge on and Gray reveals that he hopes to run on education issues. Gray talks about soliciting help from Watkins and Carcetti warns that a subtle and patient approach will be needed to split Watkins from the Mayor. Gray offers Carcetti a place on his ticket as council president.

    Carcetti and Gray meet with Watkins to discuss their proposed witness protection scheme. Carcetti convinces Watkins to offer funds in order to persuade Mayor Clarence Royce to start the initiative. Watkins is open in discussing his disillusionment with the Mayor.

    Barksdale organization

    Omar Little arrives at his grandmother's house to take her to church. Barksdale soldiers Gerard and Sapper are staking out the house. Gerard is wary of breaking the longstanding Sunday morning truce, so he phones Slim Charles before making a move. He is unable to get hold of him.

    Stringer Bell hosts a meeting of the Co-Op. Sean "Shamrock" McGinty accompanies him. Fat-Face Rick, Proposition Joe, Kintell Williamson and Philboy present a united front in criticizing Barksdale's turf war with Marlo Stanfield. They remind Stringer that one of the aims of the Co-Op is to reduce violence in order to reduce police attention. Joe is quick to place the blame at Avon Barksdale's feet. During the meeting, Shamrock gets a call from Gerard. Shamrock questions Stringer who gives the go-ahead. Omar is already leaving the house and has a taxi waiting. Sapper and Gerard open fire, but Omar manages to bundle his grandmother into the cab and escape, though her church hat is lost in the melee.

    Later Slim Charles chastises them for breaking the truce, particularly when Omar was with his grandmother and especially for failing to kill Omar and damaging the Barksdale reputation. Slim berates them further for destroying Omar's grandmother's "crown" hat claiming that their mothers raised them poorly, as they would not have pulled an act like that in front of an old lady had they been raised correctly.

    Bernard and Squeak rent a car to buy more disposable cell phones for the organization. Unbeknownst to them, they are being followed by detective Sydnor.

    Bernard delivers the phones to Shamrock at the funeral home. Shamrock asks for the receipts but is not put out when Bernard claims to have lost some of them on the road. Shamrock notices an agitated Gerard and Sapper waiting in the service room and remarks on their poor judgment in breaking the Sunday truce. Avon comes downstairs to talk to another pair of soldiers but coldly ignores Gerard and Sapper.

    After the meeting, Stringer arrives and Avon explains that the new soldiers are from the East side and are working on retainer. Stringer reports the Co-Op's dissatisfaction, but Avon is not interested. Stringer tells him that Proposition Joe has offered to mediate, but Avon is skeptical of his chances. Avon is more interested in Stringer’s role in the breach of the Sunday truce. Stringer tells him that he had no idea that Omar was with his grandmother or on his way to church. Avon is disappointed in Stringer’s disregard for the truce and the rumors that have started about the incident. Stringer asks about their cessation of business and suggests they move more people into Colvin’s free zones.

    Joe meets with Marlo’s advisor Vinson to organize a meeting to pursue a truce. Vinson is suspicious that Avon might have sent Joe. Joe offers Marlo a chance to join the Co-Op and keep all of his territory. Vinson explains that Marlo believes Avon is weak and wants to take over the West side.

    Stringer meets with his political connection Senator Clayton "Clay" Davis. Stringer is angry that although he bribed Davis to assist his property development business, he is still facing bureaucratic obstructions. Davis asks Stringer for more time, and Stringer pressures him for results. Davis urges Stringer to show patience and leave the street mentality behind but Stringer will not be mollified.

    Avon meets with his sister Brianna at the funeral home. She tells him about the possibility raised by McNulty that her son D’Angelo was murdered rather than killing himself. Avon tries to convince her that McNulty was lying. Stringer, who ordered D’Angelo’s death, sits calmly throughout the meeting. Brianna begs Avon for assurance that he knew that he could trust D’Angelo. Avon is outraged at Brianna’s implication that he might know something about the cause of D'Angelo's death and says he had nothing to do with it. Brianna remarks upon Avon's assumption that there was something to be involved with.


    Omar talks to Dante and Kimmy about his narrow escape. He is outraged that the Barksdales would attack his grandmother on a Sunday. He explains that his grandmother believes he works in an airport cafeteria. He tells them that he is going after the Barksdales once again. Kimmy decides to leave if Omar insists on going after the Barksdales because there is easier money out there. Dante stands by Omar, but Omar rebuffs his offer of help, telling him that he is going after the Barksdales alone.


    Derrick Waggoner, plainclothes police officer, shot by Prez


    Slapstick (The Wire) Wikipedia