Season 4 starts Sunday, but don't even think about starting there. Go back and rent the first three seasons, if you haven't been lucky enough...

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Season 4 starts Sunday, but don’t even think about starting there. Go back and rent the first three seasons, if you haven’t been lucky enough to catch the show before now; weekend-long binges might be the best way to fall into its narrative clutches. Use the subtitles (yes, in English) to acclimate to the accents and slang.

Season 1

The Baltimore Police Department creates a special detail to investigate Avon Barksdale’s drug operation.

Gay thug Omar Little robs from the rich and then resells the drugs. Parallel hierarchies are more alike than you’d think: police commanders and beat officers, drug kingpins and street-level hoppers.

Information from a wiretap goes places the higher-ups don’t like, and their pressure causes a sting to close early.

Avon takes a light rap, and officers McNulty and Daniels are reassigned in punishment for their work.

Season 2

Corruption on the docks — who knew? Life is hard for under-employed longshoremen; their smuggling funds political graft. Fourteen prostitutes are found dead in a shipping container.

More wiretaps lead to a shadowy figure known as “the Greek.”

Avon Barksdale’s second-in-command, Stringer Bell, assumes power, but struggles with issues of supply.

Set up by Bell, Omar confronts a Harper’s-reading, Fruit-of-Islam-attired hit man named Brother Mouzone.

The investigation arrests union figures and mid-level smugglers, but the Greek and his lieutenant slip away. Failure.

Season 3

Barksdale’s crew battles with up-and-comer Marlo Stanfield over territory.

Avon is released early from prison.

With one foot in the business world and one foot on the streets, Stringer Bell strives to make the drug trade more legit.

Councilman Tommy Carcetti prepares to run for mayor, and City Hall spins rising murder rates.

Trying to contain collateral damage, Major Bunny Colvin effectively legalizes drugs; hoppers nickname the drug-dealing free zones “Hamsterdam.”

Omar and Brother Mouzone take revenge on Stringer Bell. Avon and his minions are arrested on weapons charges, and as his story draws to a close, Marlo moves in.

Season 4

From the streets, the docks and City Hall, Simon et al move on to the schools, the last barrier between four boys and a life in the drug trade.

Carcetti’s campaign accelerates.

The remnants of Barksdale’s operation look for newcorners to ply the same trade.

— Mary Park, special to The Seattle Times