‘The Wire’ Finale's Montage: A Shot-by-Shot Commentary

Photo: Courtesy of HBO

Every season of The Wire ends the same way: While a resonant song plays on the soundtrack, we're treated to a montage that lays out the fates of the characters we've grown to love and hate over the past few months. Season five's final montage was scored with the Blind Boys of Alabama's version of "Way Down in the Hole" from season one and was densely packed with images, scenes, jokes, heartbreaks, and surprises. Since the montage serves as David Simon and Ed Burns's final statement on their characters and themes, we thought it deserved a closer look. A much closer look.

See something we missed? Let us know in the comments!

All images courtesy of the screener HBO sent us. Let's hope they like this post.

By the hands on the left are the familiar names of Bodie and Lex. Poor Bodie died too long ago even to be mentioned in season five, but we imagine he’s up in heaven, spitting through his front teeth. As for Lex, Randy probably spits on his name every time he walks by that mural.

Looks like Lester ponied up for some Lasik surgery for Shardene, who doesn’t have to be a stripper in ugly glasses no more.

Here’s big dumb Herc at the bar, alternately saving and screwing his pals from the BPD. Of course he’s still good buddies with that bully Colicchio Dozerman. Perhaps after this round they’ll hit the streets “the Western way.”

Designed especially to piss off journalists, this shot of Scott Templeton winning the Pulitzer made us laugh out loud. That he's accepting the award rather than Klebanow and Whiting suggests that, in the end, the paper entered his stories in Local Reporting rather than Public Service. Thank God for small favors.

The coffee at that place must be amazing. Somewhere in the world right now, the Greek is taking an ominous phone call.

Now that Carcetti’s in Annapolis, he can forget about Baltimore like everyone else. His wife will turn into a resentful Laura Bush clone, and he will have an affair with the Chelsea Clinton–esque woman on the left.

Gus is put out to pasture to contemplate the proper usage of “evacuate,” and Mike Fletcher gets a bump thanks to his profile of Bubbles. Gus will become the crustiest, crankiest editor to ever occupy the copy-editor slot.

Mayor Nerese Campbell should be admired for her ability to appoint do-nothings to lead the city of Baltimore with her. Find that van yet, Commissioner Valchek? We can still hear you cackling.

Oh, Dukie. We’re really, really sorry.

Perhaps the happiest ending of all comes for flawed but classy Ronnie Pearlman, who gets a judgeship! "My first case up, and I have to recuse myself," she says to newly-minted public defender Cedric Daniels.

Here, Wee-Bey and Chris discuss the prison’s upcoming production of South Pacific.

Nice hat, Rawls! Your new job as head of the Maryland State Police gives you every reason in the world to troll truck-stop bathrooms.

This truly heartwarming moment, in which Bubs finally gets let upstairs to eat with his sister, is intercut with…

…Baltimore's littlest killer, Kenard, getting arrested by Crutchfield for Omar's murder. The saddest part is when the cop pushes his head down as he gets in the squad car, even though Kenard's way too short to ever hit his head on anything. We bet he never got that reward money.

A reenactment of a favorite shot from all five seasons' opening credits — but one that, as far as we know, never actually appeared in an episode proper, until now. (Update: Thanks commenters! It's in season one.) Unlike in the credits, we get a moment from the kids' point of view, too. That kid's got an arm on him; maybe the O's should sign him up.

The damp office where Daniels's detail was based in season one. This is how it looked just before Prez turned out the lights.

The public-housing low-rise apartments where much of season one was set. Looks like they finally got a new couch, though.

Baltimore's waterfront, complete with a Port Police car tooling through just as Beadie's did at the opening of season two.

What will McNulty do in his forced retirement? We don't see him buying a boat, unlike some ex-cops; after all, as he ruefully admitted in the series' first episode, diesel fumes make him seasick.

A suited man grabs a paper while a homeless guy digs through the trash. This is the kind of easy juxtaposition The Wire sometimes indulged in, to its detriment. Also, such is the show's devotion to a bygone era of journalism that, if you look more closely, you'll see the guy in the suit is actually grabbing a free real-estate weekly. In what world would that guy not just go to Craigslist?

Chess players: a reminder of D'Angelo Barksdale's chess lesson delivered to poor, ill-fated Wallace and Bodie way back in season one.

A foursome of images represent the show's devotion, over five long seasons, to cops sitting in cars or on rooftops staring at people for hours on end. Last week's scene of a tick-bitten cop stripping off his shirts in frustration was the peak moment of this particular theme.

The montage ends with a series of Baltimore citizens going about their day: parents with kids, junkies buying drugs, young men on bikes, city employees, whites, blacks, smiles, frowns. If you needed one last reminder that the true star of this show was not McNulty, or Omar, or even David Simon, but the city of Baltimore, then here you go. —Aileen Gallagher and Dan Kois

Vulture's complete coverage of the Wire finale:
‘The Wire’: One Last Long, Boozy Irish Wake for David Simon’s Accidental Masterpiece
Ten Questions Left Unanswered by the ‘Wire’ Finale
Actor Ptolemy Slocum on the Emotional Last Night of Shooting ‘The Wire’
Sternbergh on ‘The Wire’ Finale: The Anti-‘Sopranos’
Debating the Legacy of ‘The Wire’