Each Sunday throughout the HBO drama's 13-week season, TV critic David Zurawik will highlight a must-see character or story element appearing in the current episode.
As "Silent Night" plays on the sound system and a Christmas tree glitters in the background, Baltimore Mayor Thomas Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) and his chief of staff, Norman Wilson (Reg E. Cathey), stew on a bench in the State House rotunda.
They are in Annapolis to see the Republican governor in tonight's penultimate season four episode - to ask him for help with a $54 million deficit in the Baltimore school system.
"Long conference call," Carcetti says, shifting uncomfortably on the bench.
"About an hour so far by my watch," Wilson says with irritation.
But the Democratic mayor and his chief of staff are forced to wait even longer. Finally, after innumerable Christmas carols, some only-on-cable profanity from Carcetti, and several visits from a smiling gubernatorial aide promising, "It shouldn't be much longer," the mayor and Wilson throw on their coats and begin to leave.
"I'm the mayor of a major American city," says Carcetti. "For [expletive] sake, how much [expletive] do I have to eat from this guy?"
Just as they reach the door, a state trooper hails them: "Mayor Carcetti, the governor's office says he's ready to see you now."
The trooper is played by Maryland's real Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., in a wry cameo role that cleverly flirts with political reality as it was known in 2004 when Baltimore's real Democratic mayor, Martin O'Malley, was looking for a way to bail out Baltimore schools.
"We were going to give O'Malley an equally playful moment opposite the Carcetti character, one that showed him to be of equally good humor about the fictional political world in the show," said David Simon, creator and executive producer of the Peabody Award-winning series.
"The mayor politely declined, which is certainly as much of an appropriate response as any other." (The mayor's office declined to comment on the series. )
"The governor has been a longtime fan of the show. He had a great time filming and is thrilled to appear in a program of such great caliber," said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell.
By design, the scene is airing after the general election - an election in which O'Malley defeated Ehrlich for governor last month.
"We do not take sides in political campaigns of the moment," said Simon.
THE WIRE / / Airs at 10 tonight on HBO