"They're dead where it doesn't count." - Fletcher
Det. William "Bunk" Moreland shows up early for his shift and finds Det. James "Jimmy" McNulty still drinking, having spent the night searching through unsolved murder files for a companion case to his fabricated homicide. Bunk warns him they'll both end up in jail and argues that Marlo's not worth it. McNulty insists Marlo's murder cases can't just go away because the mayor and the Police department can't find money to pay for the investigation - he came back to work this case because they promised it would be worked. Bunk threatens to go to Landsman, but when McNulty calls his bluff, Bunk backs down, telling McNulty to keep his name out of the case file.
Alma Gutierrez wakes up at 5 a.m. to buy a copy of the final edition of the Sun, eager to see her first front page story (the triple homicide). Unable to find the paper at an all-night drug store, she drives to the printing plant, only to discover her story's been cut down to 12 inches in the Metro section - below the fold.
Meanwhile, McNulty spots a victim with a red ribbon tied around his wrist along with a report of another unsolved homeless murder that was investigated by the deceased Det. Ray Cole. He heads to the all-night drug store for a spool of red ribbon. Back at the office, he snips some pieces and replicates the knots, dirties it up with his shoe and places it in an evidence envelope for Det. Cole's unsolved case file. Bunk watches an energized McNulty finish typing up his report and when he catches a glimpse of the finished product, orders McNulty into his "office" and chastises him again.
McNulty proudly explains his plan: he found an open homicide with a red ribbon, wrote a red ribbon into Cole's open case and decided to add a ribbon to the original victim to create an instant serial killer. Bunk wants nothing to do with it.
Deputy Commissioner for Administration Stanislaus Valcheck gives Mayor Carcetti advance notice about the latest quarterly crime stats. Pointing to the 4-percent increase in crime for two quarters in a row, Valcheck suggests the mayor fire Police Commissioner Burrell and Deputy Ops Rawls and make Valcheck acting police commissioner until he retires.
In the meantime, Cedric Daniels can be groomed for the commissioner's job. Carcetti promises to think about it and later shares a laugh with Norman Wilson about how City Council President Nerese Campbell and the ministers would deal with "Commissioner Valchek." Still, the increase in crime poses a problem. Carcetti accepts that with the budget cut to the bone, he can't complain when the rate goes up. So as long as Burrell "owns the numbers," the mayor will hold off on a leadership change.
At the Sun, Gutierrez is disappointed with City Editor Augustus "Gus" Haynes' explanation of why her story was gutted. Fellow reporter Michael Fletcher explains it: The victims lived in the wrong zip code.
At the medical examiner's, McNulty sneaks the ribbon onto the wrist of his victim. When the body gets to Assistant ME Diane Lerner, the detective receives the finding he was looking for: Cause of death is homicide by strangulation.
There's a commotion in the newsroom as Managing Editor Thomas Klebanow and Executive Editor James C. Whiting III round up the staff. Amidst speculation that they've been bought again, or perhaps earned a Pulitzer, the real news is announced: another round of cutbacks has been ordered by the owners in Chicago. Foreign bureaus in Beijing, Moscow, Jerusalem, Johannesburg and London will close, and there will be a fresh round of buyouts in the newsroom. Whiting gives the staff their marching orders: Do more with less.
When Police Commissioner Ervin H. Burrell and Deputy Commissioner for Operations William A. Rawls meet with the mayor, they present a different set of crime stats than those Valcheck reported. Their numbers show no drop in crime - but no significant increase either. Carcetti challenges Burrell, insisting he wants clean numbers, and Rawls watches silently as Burrell stands by the stats.
When they leave, Carcetti and Wilson discuss how to replace Burrell, given that he faked the numbers. Knowing the ministers and Nerese Campbell won't accept the white Rawls as Police Commissioner, they decide Wilson should leak the news that the mayor is considering Daniels for the job, to feel out the reaction.
Marlo and Snoop arrive at Little Johnny's Diner on the waterfront with a briefcase full of cash. Explaining that "the Russian" sent him, Marlo hands the briefcase over to counterman Andreas and asks that his gift be passed along to Spiros "Vondas" Vondopoulos.
A.S.A. Rhonda Pearlman presents the case against Senator Clay Davis to the grand jury. Outside, Det. Leander Sydnor and the prosecutor get an earful from impatient witnesses (mostly bankers) waiting to testify, but remain unimpressed.
At the Homicide unit, McNulty talks loudly about the red ribbon he found on his victim, hoping Det. Frank Barlow will make the connection to his own open case. Barlow is oblivious - much to McNulty's frustration and Bunk's satisfaction.
Unable to keep up with their increased cash flow, Marlo and Chris Partlow visit Proposition Joe Stewart to learn how to launder money.
Klebanow and Whiting call in Sun staff members one by one to discuss buyouts. Veteran police reporter Roger Twigg gets a choice - either the copy desk or the buyout - and decides he might as well get to work on the Great American Novel. When the managers call Gus in, they assure him that they need him there to transition the reconfigured team.
Sensing something is bothering his friend, Duquan "Dukie" Weems asks Michael Lee if he wants to talk. Michael confides that the last job he had to do with Chris Partlow (an attack on a family, during which Michael let a little boy escape) got to him. Dukie tries to talk Michael into spending a day at Six Flags with his little brother, Bug. Michael begs off at first - he has his corner to run - but he's tempted.
Partlow and Slim Charles wait impatiently while Marlo and Prop Joe meet with the Pastor inside an East Baltimore church. Inside, the Pastor and Prop Joe explain to Marlo how they clean money with good works projects - financing hospitals and schoolhouses on the Islands that never actually get built.
A drunken McNulty picks up a woman at a downtown bar. Meanwhile, at another bar in another part of Baltimore, Wilson meets Haynes for a drink, leaking the information from a "City Hall source" that Carcetti is planning to fire Burrell and is looking at Daniels as a replacement. Haynes agrees to write a story that will test the reaction to Daniels.
Michael hires a driver to take Dukie, Bug and himself to Six Flags for a day of rides, games and flirting with girls.
Haynes assigns the Daniels story to reporter Scott Templeton, but when he asks what Templeton knows about Daniels, the reporter can't answer, while Roger Twigg reels off an in-depth bio. Knowing he's lost the opportunity, Templeton hands over the Daniels photo as Twigg takes over what may be his final story for the Sun. Haynes leaves Templeton with the task of feeding Twigg some react quotes.
Marlo meets with Vondas, who doesn't want dirty money - meaning bills that are literally unclean - from the street. He prefers the clean way Prop Joe delivers his money and sends Marlo away.
McNulty tries again to talk up his red ribbon case, and this time Barlow reacts, remembering he had a vagrant with a red ribbon, as Bunk watches with disgust.
When Marlo and Snoop ask Prop Joe to clean their money, Joe offers to do it free of charge because they're in the Co-op. Marlo tells Prop Joe and his nephew Cheese that he'd like it if they'd float the word that he's offering a $50k reward for information on Omar's whereabouts. Joe wants to let sleeping dogs lie, but Cheese is intrigued by how badly Marlo wants Omar.
McNulty and Barlow present the red ribbon cases to Landsman who doesn't care about a serial killer of vagrants. McNulty, determined to get some attention, calls Gutierrez at the Sun to tip her off to the story. They meet at a diner and he feeds her the details - suggesting there's a signature that indicates a serial killer.
Templeton hands in an incendiary react quote for Twigg's new Police Commissioner story, suggesting that Daniels has been badmouthing Burrell since the election. When Haynes asks who it is, Templeton demurs, preferring not to name his "high ranking City Hall" source. Haynes pushes, and Templeton finally says the source is Nerese Campbell but insists it is not-for-attribution.
At the Grand Jury room, Pearlman questions Senator Davis's driver, Day-Day, pressing him about how he was able to draw three salaries working three jobs at the same time.
Cheese comes to Chris Partlow with information about Butchie, suggesting he might know Omar's location. Cheese asks that Prop Joe not be told he was the one who provided the information, as he pockets his $50k from Chris.
When Michael returns from Six Flags to check on his corner, Monk gives him a hard time for leaving his post all day without telling anyone and warns him that Chris has already heard about his absence.
When Prop Joe presents an untrusting Marlo with the documentation for his new off-shore account, Marlo worries that he can't actually see his laundered money. Prop Joe urges Marlo to get a passport so he can take a trip and visit his money in person.
At the end of Twigg's shift, Twigg and Haynes drink and reminisce about what drew them to the newspaper business.
The story about Carcetti considering Daniels as Police Commissioner is front page news, and Rawls' phone goes unanswered as Burrell tries to reach him. Meanwhile Pearlman congratulates Daniels, who's upset by the unattributed quote implying he was gunning for the job.
When McNulty searches for the story about the killer of homeless men and finds it buried in the Metro section, he tosses the paper in disgust. Later, Landsman ridicules the placement that McNulty's "Ripper" story rated and tells him he can work his serial killer case for another day or two; then he's back in rotation.
Daniels meets with his ex-wife Marla, now a City Councilwoman, and she urges him to go to Burrell and tell him he's not behind the job shake-up. She warns that Burrell will come forward with the file he's got on them from the old days. Daniels wonders if he would, given he's sat it on for so long already, and suggests that an old assets investigation and "loose talk" couldn't do much damage anyway.
But Marla warns that if it's about his own survival, Burrell will use the file and ruin everything they've both worked for. Taking Cedric's hand Marla reminds her ex-husband that they've already lost enough.
Snoop and Chris bust into Butchie's place, tie him up and torture him, trying to get him to talk about Omar. When Butchie won't give up any information, they kill him. Chris slaps Butchie's wounded worker, Big Guy, and tells him to make sure Omar hears everything that happened. Snoop wonders why they're doing this when it will just make Omar come after them, but Chris counters: "Marlo wants Omar, what else you need to know?"
Clay Davis comes to Carcetti for help with the Grand Jury case, offering to help the mayor get the ministers' support for Daniels as quid pro quo. But Carcetti and Chief of Staff Michael Steintorf point out that the story about Daniels as an ultimate replacement for Burrell has been out all day, and no one's called to complain. Carcetti sends Davis away to fend for himself.
Marlo arrives at a bank in St. Martin's to see his money.
McNulty explains his serial killer plan to Det. Lester Freamon, as Bunk paces. When Freamon tells him he "f**ked up," Bunk is relieved that someone may finally talk some sense into McNulty. But Freamon means Jimmy didn't go far enough with his plan: It needs to be more sensational. He has to give the killer some twisted fantasies. Bunk leaves in disbelief as the two conspire about next steps - including killing again.
Enjoying his life of anonymity in an idyllic spot, Omar is interrupted from another pleasant day with news of Butchie's murder. His vacation is over.