Jimtruefrost_thewire_240 It’s hard to know quite where to start in talking about The Wire, so great is the temptation to gush about the toweringly great series. So let me first point out that HBO has a really good website for the show, where you can get caught up with what happened last season, and get a rundown of the sprawling cast of characters with these org charts.

One of the recurring themes in the show is that seemingly small decisions don’t just ripple, but cascade, out into the community, usually with grim results. So it is with Sunday’s episode, when Bodie’s boy Lex shoots a member of Marlo’s crew, Fruit, over a girl. It seems like just a tragic overreaction to being jilted, but having seen what’s to come (thanks, HBO), there’s much, much more to it than that.

Otherwise, the episode introduces us to this season’s overriding concern — education — and the players new and old who will figure in the story. Most importantly, we meet Namond, Randy, Michael and Dukie, the four West Baltimore kids whose eighth-grade year will drive much of the show. It’s a bold move by Wire creator David Simon (who also wrote Sunday’s episode) to hang his show on four teenagers, but the shift feels entirely natural. For three years we’ve been focused on the top and middle of the food chain in Baltimore’s drug culture; these kids could be the next players in that system, but by virtue of their age, it’s not yet a foregone conclusion.

Simon also does a nice job of letting us see where the cops and dope slingers from seasons past are now — McNulty happily doing patrol work that’s beneath him, Carver trying to build a rapport with Bodie on a dead corner, Lester and Kima about to bring a political hailstorm down with subpoenas from Stringer Bell’s money trail, and Prez readying to become a teacher.

Jim True-Frost has a great reaction shot in one of the episode’s strongest scenes, which cuts back and forth between PowerPoint presentations for Prez and his fellow teachers and McNulty and the Western District cops, each one tragicomically irrelevant to the actual work they do. The adults in these scenes call bull on the half-assed attempts at education brought down by the bureaucracy, and it’s something we’ll see echoed later on from kids who are probably smarter than the system gives them credit for being.

We’ll save the mayoral race and Marlo and Lester and Bunk’s wondering where Marlo’s bodies are for another time, but I’ll just say this: That opening scene with the nail gun wasn’t just a nice thematic touch.