Michael B. Jordan's Mother Had To Be Taken Off The Wire Set During This Scene

Long before Michael B. Jordan got to play Killmonger in "Black Panther" or Vince Howard in "Friday Night Lights," he got his first major role as Wallace in season 1 of "The Wire." Described by showrunner David Simon as the "emotional center" of the first season, Wallace is one of the youngest and most innocent members of Avon Barksdale's crew. Although he takes part in the drug trade, he's averse to violence and still has a lot of childlike interests that get him into trouble with the other gang members. After their crew is robbed while Wallace was supposed to be on lookout, fellow drug dealer Bodie (J.D. Williams) finds Wallace obliviously playing around with a toy, and he responds by throwing a beer bottle at Wallace's head. 

The moment where the show really zeroes in on why Wallace is a special character comes at the beginning of the season's sixth episode, where he's seen taking care of a bunch of younger orphans living in his apartment building. Soon afterward he finds out about how Omar's lover, Brandon, who Wallace helped identify to the Barksdale higher-ups, was tortured and killed. The guilt follows him throughout the season, culminating in him turning to the police and telling them about the murder. To keep him safe, the police send Wallace to live with his grandmother in the country. 

But much like how the mob guys on "The Sopranos" can never seem to stay out of New Jersey for an extended period of time, Wallace soon decides to return to his home in Baltimore, not fully understanding how much danger he's putting himself in. He's suspected to be a snitch, and Stringer Bell ends up ordering his death. In one of the show's saddest, most disturbing scenes, Wallace is shot to death by his two friends Bodie (J. D. Williams) and Poot (Tray Chaney).

Wallace's death scene

David Simon was sad to kill off Wallace, partly because he was such a sympathetic character and partly because it would mean the end of working with Michael B. Jordan. When Simon knocked on the actor's door to break the news, he told him, "Look, Mike, we love you, everybody loves you, but that's exactly why we have to kill you."

Because Jordan was a minor at the time, his mom was often there on set during his scenes. Even if you know it's fake, watching your son get shot to death can't be a fun time, and it's made worse by how the scene was drawn out and gut-wrenching, even by the standards of "The Wire." Wallace doesn't just get shot; he's given enough time to realize what's happening, and he begs and cries for his friends to spare his life. Wallace's youth is emphasized strongly here, as is that of both Bodie and Poot, who don't want to go through with the murder but feel compelled to do so. Understandably, the performance of the scene was interrupted a few times by Jordan's mother crying. As the actor put it:

"I remember my mom being on set, she's in Video Village and you could just hear her sobbing and crying and stuff like that. It was pretty distracting. I'm like, 'Ma ... Somebody, please just take her off set.' But it was a good time, looking back at it."

The Wire's tragic youth

As unpleasant as it was, Wallace's death was necessary for the story "The Wire" was trying to tell. Starting off as a much more complex telling of the standard cops versus criminals narrative, each season expanded its scope until the show became about the city of Baltimore as a whole. Or if you want to go even more big picture, it was about how American institutions resist attempts at reform and fail to protect the most powerless people in society. David Simon's recently returned to HBO with another show, "We Own This City," seeking to make a similar point. 

You can't get any more powerless than the most of the kids we meet on "The Wire." Born into poverty and surrounded by drugs and violence, season 4 in particular makes the argument that most never had a chance of having a successful, peaceful life. Whereas adult drug dealers like D'Angelo Barksdale (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) are old enough to be held entirely responsible for their actions, a kid Wallace's age can only really end up where he did if he was failed massively by the world around him. 

By the time the show ended, "The Wire" had a long list of young characters who could've had a good, long life if they'd been born into different circumstances. Instead they got killed or corrupted not just by the drug trade, but by the police, educational, and political situations that failed to protect them in any meaningful way. Wallace was the show's first of them, and 20 years later his death still stings.