"The Target"
The Wire episode
Directed by Clark Johnson
Written by David Simon
Original Air Date June, 2nd 2002
Episode Guide
"The Detail"
"...when it's not your turn..."
Jimmy McNulty[src]

"The Target" is the pilot episode of the HBO original series, The Wire. The episode was written by David Simon from a story by David Simon & Ed Burns and was directed by Clark Johnson. It originally aired on June 2, 2002. The title refers to Detective Jimmy McNulty setting his sights on Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale's drug dealing organization as the target of an investigation.

Episode biographyEdit

Jimmy McNulty, a Baltimore homicide detective, observes the trial of D'Angelo Barksdale, a young drug dealer charged with murder of "Pooh" Blanchard, a low ranking gang member. The first witness, William Gant, identifies Barksdale, but the corroborating witness, a security guard named Nakeesha Lyles, changes her story and refuses to identify Barksdale. The jury therefore returns a not guilty verdict. Judge Phelan calls McNulty into his chambers, where McNulty reveals that he has noticed that D'Angelo's uncle Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell have been tied to many murders and tells Phelan that he believes they are major players in West Baltimore's drug trade. McNulty makes the point that nobody is investigating their organization, and Phelan calls Deputy Commissioner Burrell. Major Rawls is incensed, and forces McNulty to write the report which Burrell requests about the Barksdale murders. Sergeant Landsman arrives in the morning warning McNulty that his behavior could end up in reassignment. McNulty reveals that his nightmare posting would be working "the boat" – the Baltimore Police Department's harbor patrol unit.

Wee-Bey Brice drives D'Angelo to Orlando's strip club, a front for the Barksdale Organization. When D'Angelo discusses the trial in Wee-Bey's car, Wee-Bey pulls over and curtly reminds him of the rules: business is not to be discussed in the car, on the phone, or anywhere they are unsure of being recorded. At the club, Avon chides D'Angelo for committing an unnecessary and public murder, costing the organization time, effort, and money. D'Angelo also meets a stripper named Shardene Innes working in the club. When D'Angelo arrives at the high-rise towers, Stringer tells him he's been demoted to heading a crew in the low-rise projects, including Bodie Broadus, Poot Carr, and young Wallace.

Narcotics lieutenant Cedric Daniels is charged by Deputy Commissioner Burrell with organizing a detail to investigate the Barksdale operation. Burrell wants to keep the investigation quick and simple, appeasing Judge Phelan without becoming drawn onto a protracted and complex case. Daniels brings Narcotics detectives "Kima" Greggs, Herc Hauk, and Ellis Carver with him. Rawls sends McNulty to join them, in addition to Homicide Detective Santangelo, one of his unit's more inept detectives. McNulty visits another contact to look for help with investigating the Barksdales – FBI Special Agent Terrence "Fitz" Fitzhugh. Fitz shows McNulty the FBI's far superior surveillance equipment but reveals that the Bureau's drug investigations are coming to an end because resources are being diverted to the War on Terror. McNulty objects to Daniels's plan of buy busts and suggests using this latest technology of wiretapping to get a conviction. Daniels however follows the orders he has been given, and insists that a fast and simple investigation is the way to go, also suggesting that the detail looks at old murders to try to find a connection to Barksdale.

McNulty goes drinking with his homicide partner Bunk Moreland and complains about his ex-wife, who makes it difficult for him to see his two sons. Greggs returns home to her partner Cheryl. A junkie named Bubbles and his protege Johnny buy drugs with counterfeit money, but when they try to repeat the scam, Bodie leads the crew in beating Johnny. Bubbles is also a confidential informant (CI) for Greggs, and agrees to give her information on the Barksdale organization as revenge for the beating. At the start of his second day working the pit, D'Angelo is shocked to find the murdered body of William Gant lying in the street.




The episode featured a commentary track recorded by creator and writer/producer David Simon as a special feature on the DVD release. Simon discusses the season's novelistic structure and the theme of the corrupting influence of the institutions that the characters have committed to. He mentions many real life inspirations for events and characters on the show.

He discusses the technique of using surveillance methods within shots (TV monitors, security cameras etc.) to give the sense of always being watched and a need to process the vast amount of information available to the show's detective characters. He also talks about trying to ground the show in realism by using only diegetic music.

Throughout the commentary Simon tries to distinguish The Wire from other television crime dramas. He makes the point that the detectives are motivated not by a desire to protect and serve but through the intellectual vanity of believing they are smarter than the criminal they are chasing.

At the end of the episode, when the body of Gant is found, there is a brief flashback to the trial, re-identifying the character for the audience. David Simon cites it as one of the few things HBO urged them to do, to make sure audiences recognized the character. Although Simon concedes that 'maybe they were right', he says that they were reluctant to put it in as it broke from the style of the show. The show's storytelling has been entirely linear ever since.

Non-fiction elementsEdit

Both the Snot Boogie murder story and Bunk's tale of shooting a mouse in his kitchen are true stories from Simon's time researching Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets. A real police officer named Jay Landsman is also a character in the non-fiction book.

Reviewers have noted the pilot's grounding in the non-fiction political climate. The San Francisco Chronicle commented that the show had forecast a reduction of the FBI's attention to the war on drugs because of the competing war on terror. David Simon confirms that the pilot was shot only a few weeks after 9/11, but that the writers correctly predicted what the FBI's response would be.


The opening scene (the Snot Boogie crime scene) was filmed at the corner of Fulton and Lexington in West Baltimore. The scenes at Orlando's gentleman's club (beginning in this episode, and continuing throughout the season) were actually filmed at the Ritz in Fells Point.



Guests StarringEdit


Critial responseEdit

The Guardian Unlimited review noted the pilot episode established the series' themes of institutional dysfunction, the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs and novelistic structure. The review compared the series to Richard Price's novel Clockers and wondered if the pace could be sustained for an entire season. The review picked out the characters of Jimmy McNulty and Avon Barksdale as particularly significant. An Entertainment Weekly reviewer praised Clark Johnson's direction of the episode and credited him with drawing subtle performances out of actors Peter Gerety and Lance Reddick. Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle characterized the show as another success for the HBO network and a well-produced and complex subversion of the cops and robbers genre. He credited David Simon's reporter's eye for detail for the series' verisimilitude. He also noted the series themes of institutional dysfunction, the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs and novelistic structure. A separate Chronicle article highlighted the theme of institutional dysfunction through the comparable experience of characters on opposite sides of the law using McNulty and D'Angelo Barksdale as examples. The review also made favourable comparisons between the show and Simon's previous work on Homicide: Life on the Street, attributing the differences to the switch to cable television for The Wire from the NBC network who produced Homicide.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette was more critical of the show. They stated that the producers' expectations that the audience would have the patience for a complex, morally ambiguous, and slowly unfolding story might prove unfounded. They noted the cast members from Homicide and Oz and described The Wire as less accessible than either of these shows and also compared the pacing to Farscape. They praised the performances of some of the cast and said that the show had moments that drew the viewer in but ultimately required too much of its audience. The New York Times also felt that the show "went out of its way to be choppy and confusing" and eschewed conventions of signposting the introduction of characters and obvious exposition but commented that while some viewers may be alienated others would find this refreshing. They noted the theme of institutional dysfunction and the use of parallel storylines for characters in different organizations to highlight this, citing the pariah status of Jimmy McNulty and D'Angelo Barksdale. The review also criticised the show's attempts at realistic dialogue, saying that it often seemed self-conscious, and the examination of the detectives' personal lives, saying that it had been done before. The review stated that the show's success would hinge not on its apparent high quality but on the tolerance of the viewer for the complexity of the continuing narrative, which they characterized as considerably more downbeat than high-octane shows like 24.

The opening scene at the Snot Boogie crime scene has been praised as being a "perfectly crafted set-up" for the series' themes of institutional dysfunction, devaluing human life and as epitomizing the bleak humor of the show.

Season One episodes

The Target - The Detail - The Buys - Old Cases - The Pager - The Wire - One Arrest - Lessons - Game Day - The Cost - The Hunt - Cleaning Up - Sentancing