"... the life of kings." - H.L. Mencken
At his city hall office, Mayor Thomas "Tommy" Carcetti and his staff learn about the fabrication behind Baltimore's serial killer from Deputy Commissioner for Operations Cedric Daniels, Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Pearlman and Acting Commissioner William A. Rawls. Momentarily speechless, Carcetti pieces together the lie's effects: Essentially negating every political victory he's scored during the election. The mayor warns Rawls and State's Attorney Rupert Bond that they'll have to take the hit if the fiasco goes public. Chief of Staff Michael Steintorf underscores the importance of keeping the situation secret until they can decide the best way to handle it; going public the wrong way could destroy careers, he says, looking pointedly at Pearlman.
Det. Lester Freamon pays a visit to a Grand Jury Prosecutor Gary DiPasquale at the courthouse - he's found the leak who's selling sealed indictments. Holding evidence that the prosecutor dumped three times his salary in Atlantic City over the past two years, Freamon advises him to come clean and trust in the mercy of a courthouse full of friends. When the prosecutor agrees to cooperate, Freamon pulls a tape recorder from his bag and tells his new informant to make a call.
Outside City hall, Daniels fumes over Carcetti's desire to cover up the scandal, telling Pearlman he's tempted to call Annapolis and blow the whistle. She blanches, saying that it would destroy her career and undo years of working her way up in the courthouse.
Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Fletcher stands at a downtown intersection, selling copies of the paper for Bubbles while the recovered addict reads the unpublished story Fletcher has written about him. Questioning whether the details about his sister and Sherrod are necessary - and not sure why anyone would want to read it - Bubbles can't decide whether he wants Fletcher to run the piece.
Carcetti and Steintorf meet with Bond and Rawls at City Hall, trying to figure out a way to deal with Freamon and McNulty through back channels. Bond sees the merits of the approach, but when Rawls remains tepid, Steintorf walks the acting commissioner into the hall for a chat.
Losing the façade, Steintorf admits that Rawls has some political leverage with the mayor - Carcetti can't publicly blame Rawls without tarnishing Daniels, who the mayor has repeatedly endorsed - so Rawls figures he might barter for an extension to his 'acting' term. Steintorf sees the play coming, and suggests that Rawls come to Annapolis with Carcetti to work as the state police superintendent, a position more suited to his complexion. Rawls returns to the conference room, agreeing that they should keep the problem quiet.
Freamon catches Pearlman in the hall at the courthouse, and the detective explains that DiPasquale has been leaking records to high-powered defense attorneys. He hands her a cassette tape holding the corrupt prosecutor's call to Maurice Levy. Pearlman is glad to have the evidence, but she also eyeballs Freamon, dropping a pointed allusion that she knows the truth about his investigation.
Duquan "Dukie" Weems, looking ragged in dirty clothes, returns to his old middle school looking for Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski. Assistant Principal Marcia Donnelly barely recognizes the young man, but she agrees to let him wait outside for Prez. When the teacher emerges, Dukie asks for a few hundred dollars, selling a suspicious story that he's trying to find a place to live and get his GED. Prez can tell the boy is lying, but promises to meet him in the parking lot to find a bank machine.
At the homicide unit, Sgt. Jay Landsman lays into Det. James "Jimmy" McNulty for letting the serial killer case go cold. McNulty, trying to unload the department resources he's been wasting, tells Landsman there just haven't been any new leads.
As the conversation ends, Freamon arrives and pulls McNulty into an interview room. Nervous, Freamon tells his accomplice that Pearlman and Daniels have figured them out. But the two detectives wonder: Why haven't they been arrested yet?
City Editor Gus Haynes settles into his desk at the Baltimore Sun, and Regional Affairs Editor Rebecca Corbett points out one of Scott Templeton's stories about the Sun's homeless coverage causing a policy reversal. But she and Haynes recognize it as self-congratulatory hype for the public service Pulitzer. Fletcher comes over to get Haynes' take on his story about Bubbles, and after keeping the young reporter in suspense for a moment, Haynes dishes out compliments. But Fletcher still wants to wait for the go-ahead from his source.
Sitting at the bar, McNulty and Freamon nail down the mayor's motivation for keeping their manufactured killer under wraps. With the election and the highly publicized case against Marlo Stanfield complicating the situation, the two rogue detectives realize they have plenty to hold over their bosses' heads.
As Haynes edits copy, London Bureau Chief Robert Ruby walks up to deliver the research he's done on Scott Templeton's work. Exaggerations, fabricated quotes and sources - if someone re-reports the stories, they'll find all the holes. Haynes takes Ruby's file and places it in a drawer, unsure how to proceed.
Levy meets with Marlo Stanfield at the Baltimore City Jail to tell his client that the judge won't allow bail. More importantly, Levy says, they need to determine how the police cracked the clock code Marlo and his crew used. Knowing the police couldn't have deciphered the puzzle so quickly, Levy smells a wire tap - but it still doesn't add up. As Marlo leaves the meeting, he crosses paths with Cheese and tells him to hunt down Michael Lee once he gets out on bail.
McNulty, at home with Beatrice "Beadie" Russell and her kids, catches a call from Landsman about a man in a gray van who tried to abduct a homeless man. He arrives on the scene to find Templeton, who claims to have seen it happen outside the Sun offices. When Templeton leaves to check in with his desk, another homeless man wants to speak to McNulty. It turns out the man is an undercover detective, and he tells McNulty that Templeton's story is bogus - no man, no gray van. McNulty thanks him and goes home.
Bubbles, trying to decide whether he'll let Fletcher run his story, talks it over with Walon, who brings his friend some crabs from work. Walon suggests that Bubs may be afraid that people will find out he's a good person. Still conflicted, Bubs heads home to his sister's and gives her the crabs.
At the Sun, Haynes demands that Managing Editor Thomas Klebanow pull Templeton's story about the gray van. Templeton loses his temper and yells at Haynes, and Klebanow accuses the editor of letting his personal feelings cloud his judgment. As Haynes stalks out, telling Klebanow that he may win a Pulitzer with Templeton and then have to give it back, the accused reporter shouts at Haynes from across the office, swearing that all the facts are in his notes.
At the courthouse, Levy waits for Pearlman to discuss the Stanfield case. He suspects the police of running an illegal wiretap, and he promises Pearlman that he sees the weakness in her case and won't hesitate to exploit it in court. Leaving, he suggests they meet and talk.
In South Baltimore, Det. Shakima "Kima" Greggs and Det. William "Bunk" Moreland get a call for the serial killer - except this is a real murder. A copycat has picked up in the place of McNulty's lie. When McNulty arrives on the scene, Bunk guesses that the bosses will put him on the case, but McNulty surprises both of them when he says that Daniels and Pearlman know he invented the serial killer.
Bunk, aghast that McNulty isn't in jail yet, lays the blame for this murder at his friend's feet. Across town in his office, Carcetti watches the news coverage of the murder, furious.
McNulty returns to the homicide unit, where Rawls and Daniels corner him in an interview room. McNulty admits to his conspiracy but swears he had nothing to do with the latest body. Rawls tells him that the mayor knows the whole story and advises him to solve this murder quickly and make the whole story go away - the longer it takes, the worse the payback will be.
In the squad room, McNulty finds Bunk and Kima poring over the victim's possessions. When McNulty notices a handful of business cards, he rushes out, thinking he's solved the case. Tracking down a deranged homeless man he remembered seeing with a box full of business cards, McNulty also finds a spool of ribbon that matches the latest victim. Surrounded by police and reporters, McNulty has solved his own manufactured case.
At the Sun, Metro Editor Steven Luxenburg looks over Haynes' evidence against Templeton and warns the editor that making more noise could cost him his job. When Haynes steps back into the newsroom, Alma Gutierrez pulls him aside and hands him Templeton's notebook, which is completely empty. Haynes, taking a deep breath, accepts the notebook, grabs the research on Templeton's stories from his desk and walks into Executive Editor James C. Whiting III's office. As Whiting's reaction fades from collegiality to guardedness, Klebanow joins the discussion.
Pearlman meets Levy in his office, cutting to the chase by playing the damning tape of his conversation with the grand jury prosecutor.
Both violating the law, they horse-trade their way to an agreement that Pearlman will shelve the case against him in exchange for guilty pleas from Chris Partlow and both Marlo's lieutenants. Marlo will get to walk, but if he shows up on the street again after the elections, Pearlman promises to reopen the case against him. Levy never finds out exactly why she can't bring her evidence to open court, but the deal proves Pearlman has something major to hide.
Bunk and McNulty interview their homeless suspect, who rambles on, confessing to killing every victim. When McNulty leaves the room, Landsman tells the detective that Templeton is waiting for him in the sergeant's office. McNulty walks in and closes the door behind him before losing his temper and telling Templeton that he knows about the lies because he started the whole charade himself. With that, he sends Templeton - shocked and confused - back to the Sun, knowing the reporter can't breathe a word of it to anyone.
He returns to the interview room to work the homeless man, and when Daniels and Rawls show up to check on the progress, McNulty refuses to manipulate the mentally ill man into admitting to all six murders. Rawls is furious, but Bunk finally nods in approval.
Levy, after meeting with Marlo to explain the conditions of his release, tells Thomas R. "Herc" Hauk that the former detective has become a goldmine. Squeezing Herc on the cheek, Levy invites him to dinner at his house.
Carcetti calls a press conference to announce the homeless killer's arrest, and Rawls explains that he's been charged with the last two murders, though he's suspected of the rest. Because the suspect is mentally incapacitated and bound for a psychiatric facility, the redundant charges wouldn't matter. As the conference ends, Carcetti credits Daniels for the arrest as well as the Stanfield case and announces that he's promoting Daniels to commissioner.
At the homicide unit, Pearlman delivers the verdict to Freamon and McNulty: The bosses can't fire them without drawing unwanted attention, but she won't allow either of them near any police work that would end up in a courtroom. The detectives lament that Marlo and Levy both escaped prosecution, but they have no one to blame but themselves.
Steintorf visits Daniels in his office to congratulate him on his handling of the homeless debacle, but he also tells the soon-to-be commissioner that city hall needs to see a 10-percent drop in the crime stats. Daniels replies that the stats are clean and will stay clean - before and after the election. Steintorf leaves but makes his next stop at Council President Nerese Campbell's office. Explaining that Daniels won't play ball, Steintorf tells Campbell to find a solution if she wants Carcetti's office.
At the Baltimore City Jail, the remaining members of the Co-op - Fatface Rick, Slim Charles and Clinton "Shorty" Buise - discuss business with Marlo, who's auctioning off his drug connection. When Buise asks what Marlo will do next, he replies: "Businessman."
At the Sun, Gutierrez walks out with Haynes after his meeting with the top editors. His speaking out has earned him a demotion to the copy desk, while Alma finds herself booted to a bureau office in Carroll County. Haynes assures her she'll write herself out of the setback in no time, but wonders why they demoted her when he never told Klebanow about the notebook, she replies that she brought it up herself, trying to back Haynes up.
A crowd of police gathers at Kavanaugh's bar for McNulty and Freamon's going-away party. With Landsman offering one of his inspired eulogies, McNulty lays on the pool table, smirking and listening. Freamon arrives, telling the crowd he's officially retired, and Landsman continues his speech, calling out McNulty's record for stirring up trouble, ignoring orders and generally bringing misery to the homicide unit.
But he ends with a high compliment: "If I was laying there dead on some Baltimore street corner, I'd want it to be you standing over me, catching the case. Because, brother, when you were good, you were the best we had."
Daniels' ex-wife, Marla, shows up at his office holding the file on his service - and apparent corruption - in the Eastern District, which Campbell delivered to her as a power play to buy Steintorf's cooked crime stats. Daniels says that caving to the pressure now means working under Campbell's thumb for the rest of his career. Marla asks him to resign for personal reasons, rather than taking both their careers down with him if the file emerges during his confirmation hearings.
McNulty and Freamon stand outside Kavanaugh's, and Greggs approaches, not sure if she's welcome at the party. Both detectives assure her they're not angry that she blew the whistle, and Freamon invites her inside for a drink. As they step inside, Freamon asks whether McNulty is coming, but he declines, telling them that he's going home.
In East Baltimore, Fatface Rick, Buise, Cheese, Slim Charles and a few others meet to talk over the finances of buying Marlo's connection. They're just a few hundred-thousand short of Marlo's $10 million asking price, and Cheese jumps in to add his money to the venture. Fatface Rick chastises Cheese for putting them in this position to begin with by moving on his uncle Prop Joe, and when Cheese protests, Slim Charles pulls out a 9mm. "You've done enough," Slim tells Cheese before shooting him in the head. "For Joe."
Bubbles, sitting on a curb, reads a clipped copy of Fletcher's published story from the Baltimore Sun. When he finishes, he carefully folds it and puts it in his pocket.
As his final official act as police commissioner, Daniels promotes a handful of officers - including Sgt. Ellis Carver to lieutenant. Carver tells his mentor that he heard about the resignation on the radio and tells Daniels he wishes he could serve under him. Stepping down into the crowd, Carver finds Herc waiting to congratulate him.
McNulty drives down to the Richmond shelter where he left the serial killer's "disappeared" victim, Mr. Bobbles. The man has left the shelter, but McNulty asks the social worker where the homeless congregate.
At a downtown office party, Levy introduces Marlo to the real-estate elite of Baltimore, and developer Andrew Krawczyk, among others, pitches the upstart "businessman" with a bevy of investment opportunities. Pulling Marlo away, Levy explains the developers' power but warns the young man against dealing with them alone. "Guys like that will bleed you," Levy tells him.
Later, on his way home through West Baltimore, a group of hoppers try to jump Marlo, but he fights them off easily, grinning when he catches a slash on the arm... At Vinson's rim shop, a handful of drug dealers handle their cash. Michael steps out of the darkness holding a shotgun and, blasting Vinson in the leg, grabs a bag full of cash and leaves...
Det. Leandor Sydnor visits Judge Daniel Phelan in his chambers to apply back-channel pressure to an investigation, asking the judge to look into things but keep his name out of it... Freamon works at home on his miniatures... Herc buys rounds for a bar full of police... Templeton wins a Pulitzer... Dukie shoots up in a back alley with the Arabber... Carcetti wins the gubernatorial race... Fletcher takes over the Sun's city desk... Stanislaus Valchek takes over as commissioner... Daniels puts his law degree to use... Chris meets Wee-Bey in a prison yard... Rawls heads the state police... Fatface Rick and Slim Charles meet with the Greeks... Bubbles sits down to dinner with his sister...
McNulty drives up I-95 from Richmond with Mr. Bobbles in tow, looking to the Baltimore skyline. "Let's go home," says the ex-police.