The Death of Stringer Bell, 10 years later
A look back at “Middle Ground,” the greatest episode of (probably) the greatest show in television history
by Jack M Silverstein (@readjack)
“…nothing I can do to change y’all minds…”
My parents had Kennedy.
I had Stringer Bell.
Granted, John Kennedy was an international figure, and real, and my parents experienced his death when it happened. And Stringer was local, and fake, and I didn’t watch Season 3 until three years after it aired.
Didn’t matter. Stringer’s death, silly as it sounds, was a “Where were you when?” for me.
I was at my parents’ with them and my brother, the four of us locked into the fates of nearly 40 characters over 10 hours of storytelling. And really, by the time Stringer was facing Omar’s shotgun to the east and Mouzone’s pistol to the west, we’d had almost 36 hours of this story.
That elongated buildup and knowledge of history is what makes Season 3 my favorite of the five. And that makes “Middle Ground” — that season’s penultimate, and finest, episode — the greatest 60 minutes in the show’s history.
I first saw it in 2007. But the night TV fans went to bed stunned by the death of this fictional drug dealer was Dec. 12, 2004 — 10 years ago today.
There’s a lot to like about “Middle Ground.” Let’s start at the beginning. The previous episode, “Reformation,” opens with the return of Brother Mouzone and closes with Mouzone and his assistant Lamar kidnapping Omar’s boyfriend Dante. I won’t even chop into that backstory, only to say that its strength and depth allows Omar to be one of the stars of “Middle Ground” despite having only two scenes, the first and the last.
That first scene is one of several that anchor the episode, the season and the series. By my count, there are nine.