“She wasn’t no cop, man. She looked like one of Orlando’s hoes.”
That quote right there — that was the first ever “Wee-Bey reaction GIF.” You know the one even if you don’t know its source. A man with his hand on his chin, mouth staring, eyes agape, turns his head over his right shoulder as if shielding himself from impossible news.
The man is Wee-Bey (né Roland Brice), lead muscle for the Barksdale organization in Season 1 of The Wire. You’ve seen this GIF a million times. People use it to describe discoveries about pop culture…
…or about American history…
…or as meta-commentaries about the Wee-Bey GIF…
…or even having their mind blown about The Wire itself:
While the GIF is probably eight years old (more on that in a moment) the video from which it is taken is 15 years old, today.
Happy birthday Wee-Bey GIF video!
So, what was Wee-Bey reacting to?
While the GIF is perfect for people looking for the perfect reaction to punctuate a tweet, IG, or other social media post, it is also one of the greatest moments in Wire history. That’s because it is the moment where all of the threads of the show’s first season come together, and a cast of 20 to 30 characters are all thinking about the same event.
The scene in question comes in the 11th episode of season 1, called “The Hunt,” which aired August 18, 2002. By the end of episode 10, if there are any viewers not yet hooked by the Wire’s story, the shooting of Kima does it. There is no way to watch that sequence and not feel completely subsumed into this world and the desires, fears, and needs of these characters.
That episode is called “The Cost” — a typical double-meaning for The Wire. Kima’s shooting is both “the cost” of a police officer putting herself in harm’s way, and “the cost” of doing business for the Barksdale organization.
Episode 11, “The Hunt,” shows all of these various groups we’ve been following in Season 1 dealing with the shooting’s aftermath. Among these groups are a pair of duos: Lester and Prez on the police side, and Stringer and Wee-Bey on the Barksdale side.
Lester and Prez are trying to determine the identity of the shooters, one of whom is Wee-Bey. They’ve spent the whole season trying to crack the Barksdale organization’s page code. Prez finally puts the pieces together:
The code “0-7” is Wee-Bey.
The filmmakers confirm the police work of Prez and Lester by cutting straight from this scene to Wee-Bey entering Stringer’s print shop, as Wee-Bey reports back to String about the shooting the night before. The Barksdales fooled the police (or as they thought, fooled Orlando), but the police fooled the Barksdales — they never for a moment doubted Kima’s undercover performance.
It plays out like this:
Wee-Bey: “Like I said, shit went good, except there was this bitch curled up in the back seat. Surprised the shit out of us. Didn’t even see it until the shit popped off. I mean, if it was up to me, I’d let the girl walk. She ain’t look like the talking type. But Little Man seen that, bugged out, and let a couple go.”
Stringer: “Savino and them didn’t tip you off to that bitch?”
Wee-Bey: “Wasn’t no time for that. He get up out the car, we see him go up the block like we said, right? After that, he out of sight, and we bring it home like we planned, baby.”
Stringer: “Well shorty was a cop.”
Wee-Bey: *FACE SET TO WEE-BEY GIF MODE*
Stringer: “She ain’t dead.”
Shorty was a cop. That’s what’s running through Wee-Bey’s mind. That’s the news he can’t believe. That’s why he basically protests to Stringer and to himself that “she looked like one of Orlando’s hoes.”
He’s giving himself one final moment of innocence before accepting the moves he sees playing out on the chess board in front of him, the moves Stringer spells out to the shell-shocked Wee-Bey:
- take out Orlando
- hope Kima doesn’t wake up
- prepare to get out of town if she does
Bey knows what he has to do. He just can’t believe he has to do it.
The story of the GIF
The shot, by director Steve Shill and cinematographer Uta Briesewitz, is a dolly move left to right and a camera pan right to left. That creates the spinning effect, which intensifies the look on Bey’s face and makes this the perfect “mind blown” reaction GIF.
Once the GIF took flight, it caught on quickly.
According to Know Your Meme, the Wee-Bey Reaction GIF debuted on Nike Talk Forums in a thread about The Wire on August 17, 2009, nearly seven years to the day after the episode aired. It spread from there, mostly on Reddit, and in Sept. 2013 had enough profile for Complex to include it in an article called “Explaining the Origins of Your Favorite Movie and TV GIFs.”
It’s become so popular that actor Hassan Johnson recreated it at a Nets game in March of this year.
I haven’t seen Hassan tweet the GIF itself, which would be the ultimate in Wee-Bey mind-blowndedness.
But for now, I’ll settle for the number of new Wire fans who get sucked into the season, only to realize at that pivotal moment what they’ve been missing all along.
Jack M Silverstein is a sports historian, pop culture critic, author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls,” and a Wire chronicler. Check out his Wire archives, his piece on the death of Stringer Bell, and his Season 4 super-thread: