HBO’s The Wire was full of complex characters on both sides of the law. Not every criminal was a bad guy, nor every cop a hero in this Baltimore show.
Though it was never as big of a hit as some of HBO’s other series, The Wire has since earned a reputation as one of the greatest television shows of all time. The series explored the drug war on the streets of Baltimore and how it affected all aspects of the city.
Though it followed characters on both sides of the law, it was never so easy to figure out who to root for. Some of the so-called criminals had good qualities while some of the cops were less than honorable. It made the show all the more complex and gave viewers plenty of memorable characters, from the detestable to the likable.
10 Marlo Stanfield
Although he was only introduced in season 3, Marlo Stanfield quickly becomes one of the most fearsome and formidable crime figures in the show. After the city’s drug dealers decided to pool their resources into a “co-op,” Marlo swept in and took over everything.
Aside from that, Marlo is also a ruthless killer. He is willing to execute anyone who crosses him in even the slightest way. He even puts a hit out on an innocent store security guard who simply stood up to him.
9 Stringer Bell
Avon Barksdale was the head of the Barksdale crime organization, but Stringer Bell is the brains of the team. He is a gangster who knows how to intimidate others, but he also sees himself as a businessman who takes classes to better himself on the side of his criminal activities.
But his educational pursuits are about the only likable qualities in Stringer. Though he doesn’t get his hands dirty himself, he has other people killed, including D’Angelo Barksdale and even young Wallace.
Marlo and Stringer may be violent criminals, but it says a lot about Deputy Commissioner William Rawls that he is not much better than them. Instead of seeking out justice and encouraging good police work, Rawls is only concerned with the numbers that make him look good.
On top of being a terrible leader and allowing crime to fester, Rawls is also a racist, and though he frequently spews homophobic slurs, it is later revealed that he is actually gay.
The Wire is certainly an ensemble show, but Detective Jimmy McNulty could be considered the lead character. He is an extremely determined homicide cop who is obsessed with solving the case. He is also willing to go against his narrow-minded superiors, like Rawls, to get the job done.
But McNulty is the perfect example of how the show doesn’t play with typical heroes and villains. Aside from being a good cop, McNulty is a mess. He is a severe alcoholic who cheats on every woman he is with.
One of the most entertaining duos in the series is McNulty and Bunk. The two are partners in the homicide department who are like a dream team. Seeing them walk through a crime scene together is great fun.
Bunk and McNulty might be a little too similar as Bunk is also known to drink too much and have affairs. But while he is not as passionate about being a good cop as McNulty, he is much less of a train wreck.
Kima is another police officer whose life outside of the job can be a little immoral at times. But she is also a good example of how someone can grow and better themselves. She is introduced as a hardworking cop working to get her law degree.
When she is pulled into the Barksdale investigations, her personal life takes a hit and she begins drinking and having affairs just like her colleagues. Even worse, when she and her partner adopt a child, Kima becomes an absent parent, even resenting the child. However, she eventually faces her mistakes and tries to make amends.
Rawls gives a bad name to the senior-level cops, but Daniels shows that there are some good ones still out there. Though he has some shady details in his past, Daniels now seems to be dedicated to doing his best to make Baltimore a better place.
He is a little reluctant to take chances with their investigations as he wants to rise through the ranks, but he also wants to do good police work. In the end, he decides the best he could do is inside a courtroom and becomes a lawyer.
It’s fascinating that one of the most likable characters on the show is also one of the most dangerous. Omar Little is a notorious hustler who makes his living robbing drug dealers. He is more than willing to kill in his job, but Omar has a code to never kill anyone who is an innocent civilian.
In many ways, Omar is like a modern-day Robin Hood. He steals from the crooked and takes care of those close to him. The fact that he is openly and proudly gay in this environment only makes him a more likable character who is very easy to root for.
When we meet Lester Freamon in the first season of The Wire, he appears to be another useless detective assigned to the Barksdale case. However, Lester’s quiet and reserved demeanor hides the fact that he is secretly one of the best police officers in the business.
Lester is incredibly intelligent and solves the mysteries that none of his colleagues are able to see. He is dedicated to the job without having the same faults as McNulty and the others.
While the show mostly deals with the cops and criminals on either side of the drug war, Bubbles represents all of the helpless people caught in the middle. He is an addict living on the streets whose life has been ruined by drugs.
In spite of his circumstances, Bubbles is a friendly guy to everyone he meets and he is always working hard to make the best of his situation. It is heartbreaking to see him battling his addiction as it takes him down many dark paths, but it is also so rewarding to see him pull himself back up.
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