"Margin of Error" is the sixth episode of the fourth season of The Wire. It is the forty-third episode of the series overall. It premiered on October 15, 2006. The episode was written by Eric Overmyer and directed by Dan Attias.
The title refers to the mayoral primary and the percentages taken in the poll. In statistical analysis, the margin of error expresses the amount of the random variation underlying a survey's results. This can be thought of as a measure of the variation one would see in reported percentages if the same poll were taken multiple times. The larger the margin of error, the less confidence one has that the poll's reported percentages are close to the "true" percentages, that is the percentages in the whole population.
- "Don't try this shit at home."
- ―Norman Wilson
Churchgoers gather for services two days before the mayoral primary election. All three candidates (Incumbent Mayor Clarence Royce, Councilman Anthony Gray and Councilman Tommy Carcetti) are in attendance at separate churches with their families. As Randy Wagstaff arrives at another church with his foster mother, Miss Anna, he is watched by Bodie and his crew of drug dealers including Little Kevin. Inside Reverend Franklin's church, other revelers enjoying the gospel music include Carcetti's deputy campaign manager Norman Wilson, State Delegate Odell Watkins, middle school teacher Grace Sampson and Carcetti staffer Gerry.
Reverend Franklin offers a sermon from Exodus about the careful selection of leaders from the people. He urges the people to look for men of truth, who fear God and hate covetousness, to be their leaders. After his ceremony, Royce greets the churchgoers. On his way out Tommy talks to the preacher with his wife, Jennifer Carcetti. He tells the preacher that Moses is a high standard to hold him to and even blasphemes in front of the preacher. The preacher is jovial and wishes him luck after noticing that Watkins is handing out fliers for him.
Carcetti campaigns in the downtown area with Wilson. He is greeted by a Baltimore county science teacher who agrees with his policies but is not eligible to vote in the election. Watkins comes over to show Carcetti a flier he has found. It claims that Carcetti once defended a notorious “slum lord” named Bobby Harrison from prosecution over his poor treatment of his tenants. Harrison is hated throughout Baltimore and the flier even has a photograph of the two together on the courthouse steps. Wilson recognizes the flier as a last-minute smear attempt. Carcetti realizes that the photo is a fake and becomes pessimistic about his chances of winning in the face of these tactics. Gerry and Wilson immediately formulate plans to respond to the flier.
Carcetti meets with his campaign staff, including campaign manager Theresa D'Agostino, to discuss their response to the flier. D’Agostino has a printer on retainer and plans to produce counter literature. Wilson offers to use his journalistic contacts to prove that the photo is a fake. Carcetti remains agitated and his staff urge him to carry on with his schedule while they deal with the problem.
Later Tommy and Jen watch coverage of the controversial flier. The news reports that Carcetti and Royce are in a dead heat while Gray trails. Jen asks about the smear flier and Tommy tells her about his staff’s positive response. In the morning Wilson arrives to pick Tommy up, but finds he has already left for the office. Wilson finds Tommy second-guessing their strategy and advises him to follow the advice of the staff he has hired and appear on the morning talk shows.
Carcetti returns to the campaign headquarters feeling more positive after his successful radio appearances. He is still concerned about the smear campaign. Wilson has news that State Senator Davis is interested in supporting Carcetti, but as usual he is more interested in how much money he can make out of it. Carcetti is dubious about working with Davis, but Wilson convinces him that it may tip the balance.
Carcetti and Wilson meet Davis in a restaurant and he offers to split his support between them and the mayor for twenty thousand dollars. He writes his fee on a napkin while discussing what he will do. Carcetti and Wilson agree to pay him but leave without eating.
Namond Brice and his mother De’Londa visit Brianna Barksdale at her home. De’Londa urges Namond to be respectful because he is representing his father, Wee-Bey Brice, a feared soldier in the Barksdale organization before he went to prison without turning on them. De’Londa hopes that Brianna may have work for Namond.
Brianna has actually called the meeting to tell De’Londa that she is cutting them off. Brianna feels that she has amply compensated them for Wee-Bey’s support, and with the collapse of the Barksdale organization, there is no longer any income. She no longer wants to protect her imprisoned brother Avon because she believes he had a hand in the death of her own son, D’Angelo, so she has nothing more to fear from Wee-Bey because he cannot tie her to any drug trafficking. Brianna tells Namond that she wanted them both to be there so that De’Londa could not lie to him about what happened.
At home De’Londa tells Namond he is going to start dealing for himself. She still refuses to let him drop out of school. She insists that she will convince Bodie to give him a package. Namond asks about what Brianna meant about them already having enough money and De’Londa tells him that Brianna was lying. De’Londa phones a disinterested Wee-Bey to tell him what has happened, comparing the situation to coming home to find they had been evicted.
Major Crimes Unit
Leander Sydnor continues surveillance work of Marlo Stanfield’s outdoor hang out. His sergeant Thomas "Herc" Hauk arrives with some coffee and urges him to keep at it despite the absence of anyone to watch.
Later, Sydnor watches as Stanfield, Chris Partlow, Snoop and other Stanfield lieutenants talk. Stanfield takes a phone call about picking up a “skinny girl from New York” and then insists on doing it himself.
Herc rewatches the video with Sydnor and a lip reader. She correctly follows the discussion and Herc interprets that Stanfield is picking up cocaine from New York. Sydnor is surprised that Stanfield would go near a package of narcotics himself and Herc remains insistent that Stanfield is a soft target.
Herc follows Stanfield to Penn Station. He has the transport police pick up Stanfield when he meets with a woman and carries her bag. The woman resists Marlo’s attempts to help her and is shocked when the police stop them. Upon searching the bag they find only women’s clothes and are forced to release them – Marlo tricked Herc into stopping him.
Detective Kima Greggs gets good news from her partner Ed Norris - a prisoner has offered information on their case in exchange for a deal. They are still working on the politically significant murder of a state’s witness named Braddock. Norris hopes to move on the information quickly to have an impact on the election. He is not hoping to sway voters but figures it will be fun to act out against the politicians' earlier disruption of his work.
Deputy Commissioner William Rawls arrives at the unit headquarters. His appearance surprises detectives Crutchfield and Holley who claim they "hate it when the bosses sneak below the eighth floor". Rawls visits Sergeant Jay Landsman in his office. He explains the political danger of allowing a break in the Braddock case on the eve of the election. He then tells Landsman to detail two detectives to uniformed duty at the election polls as they are 20 officers short. Landsman correctly guesses Greggs and Norris, detailing them to the polling stations where they will wait to the next day to talk to their informant. Rawls leaves stating "American Democracy in action, let's show those third world fucks how it's done!"
Roland "Prez" Pryzbylewski catches his students Duquan "Dukie" Weems, Randy Wagstaff, Namond Brice and Michael Lee as they arrive in the morning. He asks Dukie to accompany him. Prez shows Dukie a locker in the gym where he plans to leave him fresh clothes. He offers to wash Dukie’s dirty clothes for him if he leaves them in the locker and to let him in early in the morning so that he can shower.
Namond walks down the corridor with Monell and Paul, two boys who recently had a tryst in a boy's bathroom with a classmate named Tiff while Randy stood watch outside. When they pass Tiff in the corridor they ignore and then insult her.
Grace Sampson meets with the teaching staff to tell them of a new program within the school. Funds from the University of Maryland are being used to set up a class for kids with behavioural difficulties. Ten children will be in the first class but more may follow if the program is deemed successful. Mrs Shapiro is pleased while Mrs Scott is disappointed that only three of her worst students will be taken.
Assistant Principal Marcia Donnelly and Grace Sampson arrive in Prez’s math class while he teaches fractions. She removes Namond, Zenobia Dawson and Darnell Tyson from the class. Karim Williams asks if they are being arrested. Donnely pulls students named Markeith, Kwame and Latonya from a second class. Albert Stokes is also among those in the new class. Once the students are assembled they are taken to their new classroom. Namond notices the school security officer talking to a crying Tiff in the office.
Paul, Monell and Randy are also pulled out of class by Donnelly. Donnelly interrogates Randy about his role in what Tiff has characterised as a rape. Donnelly knows that he was a lookout and is forced to suspend him. She rings his foster mother Anna Jeffries but hangs up when Randy tells her that he knows about a murder. Later, Prez appeals to Donnelly to let him hand Randy’s confession on to someone that he trusts within the police department.
Grace, Dr. David Parenti and Howard "Bunny" Colvin introduce the concept of the special class to their new students. Darnell asks if they have to stay now they have been chosen and Sampson informs them that the program is mandatory. Albert realizes that the class means that they will be separated from the other children giving them more space to learn. Sampson tells them that the new program will ready them for a normal classroom as they have proven that they are not ready at the moment. Namond draws an analogy of prison for the new class with their class being solitary confinement and the normal classes being the general population. Colvin jumps on the comment and uses it to intimidate the children.
Lieutenant Dennis Mello briefs his incoming shift. He appeals for more officers to man the polling stations as they do not have enough. He then introduces a fresh murder warrant – Omar Little is wanted for the shooting of a delivery woman in a Western District store. Jimmy McNulty is unsure whether Omar would kill a citizen. Officers Anthony Colicchio and Michael Santangelo are excited at the prospect of bringing in the notorious Omar.
Prez meets with his old commander and Western District Major Cedric Daniels to discuss Randy. He appeals to Daniels to prevent the boy from getting chewed up by the system. To Prez’s surprise Daniels suggests that Sergeant Ellis Carver is the best person to handle Randy with discretion, having reformed his approach to police work. Daniels questions Prez’s interest and Prez tells him he cares about Randy because he is one of his students.
Carver meets with Randy’s foster mother Miss Anna at her home. He explains that Randy has told him that he acted as a go between in the murder of Curtis “Lex” Anderson. Passing a message to Lex from Little Kevin that his girlfriend wanted to meet him in a park. Miss Anna questions how Randy knows Lex is dead when no body has been found and Carver tells her Randy claims that Lex’s death is common knowledge on the street. She then asks about the rape at the school and Carver tells her the school will handle that, while Randy protests his innocence. She worries about Randy’s safety if anyone finds out that he has spoken to the police, and Carver assures her that Randy will be OK if he cleans up his act. She is disappointed in Randy’s bad judgement but Carver tells her he thinks Randy is not a bad kid.
McNulty mans a freshly set up polling station. Elsewhere Dennis "Cutty" Wise prepares for a morning jog. Before he leaves a woman comes downstairs to ask where he is going and when he will be back. She is disappointed when Dennis is non-committal. As Cutty runs, he listens to the song "Move On Up" which serves as the background theme of the election. He passes campaign posters and leaflet delivery men running to the Curtis Mayfield tune. Norris and Greggs bemoan their assignment to a polling station.
Gray is the first of the candidates to vote. Carcetti votes and then moves on to highland town where Wilson thinks they can flush out his base. Carcetti passes out leaflets and flirts with a female supporter. An Italian-American man greets him and tells Carcetti that it is their turn to take over from the African Americans, saying that white politicians will still be corrupt, but less so than the blacks. This man also derogatorily refers to African Americans as Moolies in front of Carcetti and Wilson. Wilson gives an offensive but amused reaction to the statement.
Back at headquarters, Carcetti sees Davis on live television offering his full support to Royce. He is shocked that Davis has brazenly failed to deliver on his promise after taking their money.
Miss Anna and Randy arrive at the polling station, and she is worried that the queue will make her late for work. Randy recognizes Spider from Cutty’s gym giving out leaflets. He asks to stay with him while she votes and she reluctantly allows him. Cutty also recognizes Spider and tries to talk to him as he has not been at the gym. Spider runs away and Randy is left to talk to Cutty who asks him to get Spider to come and see him at the gym. Randy is given a stack of leaflets to pass out by a Carcetti campaign staffer who has noticed Spider’s absence. Later, Randy gets a box of leaflets to put in doors. The staffer pays him up front. Randy recruits Kenard, Donut and Dukie to help him. Michael is not interested. Donut steals a car to make the work faster despite Randy’s protestations. Randy’s team quickly get bored and he tells them he will not pay them if they don’t finish the job. When they realize that he has the money already, they ask him why he is bothering, and he explains that it was the job he agreed to do. Randy finishes the work alone after paying out his friends.
De’Londa finds Namond playing video games and asks him why he is not in school. Namond explains that the election means that school is closed. De’Londa seizes the opportunity to take Namond to see Bodie. Bodie is initially unsure but De’Londa refuses to take no for an answer and uses Wee-Bey’s name to convince Bodie. De’Londa tells Namond to make her proud. After De’Londa leaves Bodie tells Namond that she is a "dragon lady" and tells Namond that talking to her gives him insight into his personality.
Michael goes to Cutty’s gym, where Cutty is already flirting with another woman. Namond arrives and asks Michael for help moving his first package. Cutty talks to Michael about the woman and then asks about Spider. Michael explains that Spider quit because of Cutty getting involved with his mother. Namond returns home at the end of the day and is faced with his mother telling him that she is counting on him.
At home that evening, Jen and Tommy ignore constantly ringing phones. The news reports that there was a massive voter turnout and that Carcetti is in the lead. Similar scenes unfold at Royce and Gray’s homes. Tommy learns that Bond is beating Demper in the State’s Attorney race. This is good news for Tommy, as it shows a lack of support for Royce’s ticket. Jen convinces Tommy to go for a walk with her. They make their way around the harbor and Tommy tells Jen that he hopes to make Baltimore great again. She is positive about his chances. He gets a call from D’Agostino to tell him that Royce has conceded, making him the presumptive mayor-elect -- because Baltimore is such a heavily Democratic city, the winner of the Democratic primary is all but assured a win in the general election against whomever the Republican Party might field. Tommy is unsure whether he is happy about the win but finally breaks into a smile. They make their way to a celebration and Tommy thanks his supporters and his opponents, appealing for their help in the forthcoming general election and in improving Baltimore for his children. Council President Naresse Campbell congratulates Carcetti. Jen tells him that she is going home and to enjoy his night. Davis also attends the party and is unashamed of his actions, telling Carcetti he let him off lightly.
The party continues with Gerry, Wilson, Tommy, and D’Agostino in a downtown hotel. Gerry leaves with Wilson. D’Agostino comes on to Carcetti, telling him that he owes her a, "win bonus." She makes a move on Carcetti and kisses him. He resists her overtures despite wanting to sleep with D'Agostino. D’Agostino tries to convince him that he cannot go against his nature but eventually backs down when he resists a second time.
Officer Walker spots Omar in a convenience store. Omar realizes Walker is waiting outside for him and hides his gun in a chiller cabinet. Walker stops Omar and pockets the ring Omar took from Marlo Stanfield as he waits for backup. When Omar talks back Walker brutally pushes him into the wall and knocks him over. When Omar claims Walker is being unfair as there is no charge for him, Walker claims that he is facing a murder charge. Colicchio and McNulty arrive on the scene where Colicchio mocks Omar for not having his shotgun. McNulty then explains he is being arrested on a robbery/murder warrant. Officer Santangelo arrives with the wagon and Omar begs McNulty for a phone before he is taken in. McNulty gives him his cell phone and dials Butchie for him. Butchie reassures Omar that he will pay his bail and still offers him support even when Omar tells him there will be no bail because the charge is murder. As Omar is put on the van, Santangelo asks McNulty "What are you, a fucking Democrat" amused by McNulty letting Omar get a phone call.
When Omar is brought into the jail he is faced with aggression from most of the other inmates, many of whom he has robbed in the past. Omar prepares for the worst when two men are sent into his cell. One of them carries a knife. After a tense stand off they tell him that Butchie sent them to protect him. Omar learns that one is in on a 2255 while the other “talked back”.
- Rev. Frank Reid (who plays Rev. Reid Franklin in this episode and in season 3) is the senior pastor of Baltimore's Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located on Druid Hill Avenue.
- The prisoner who meets Omar says he is in for a "2255." This refers to a federal convict who is temporarily returned to his state for a re-hearing. David Simon mentioned that this character was played by an actual prisoner who was in jail for just such a hearing and agreed to appear on the show. 
- This is the first episode of The Wire in which more than one scene uses non-diegetic music; that is, music that is not coming from within the scene. The first instance is the church choir singing "Do Not Pass Me By," which is heard as multiple churches in different locations are seen. The second is Cutty listening to "Move On Up," which is heard playing in locations where he is not present. In both cases, the music is partly diegetic, as it originates from a source within a scene before being heard playing as the action moves to other locations, before ultimately returning to the location of the music's source.