For a scene to be called the best scene in the best show of all time, "The Wire," it has to be something special.
For context, Dennis "Cutty" Wise is an ex-convict former "soldier," an enforcer for a drug organization essentially responsible for killing people that his superiors wanted dead. He developed a such a strong respected reputation during his time that he was immediately sought out by Avon Barksdale while both were in prison. As rumor had it, he was arrested when he called the police from the scene of a murder he committed.
Upon being released, however, Cutty wants to do something else. However, for an ex-convict that didn't graduate high school, options for employment are limited. Although he tries to do landscaping work, the local Deacon, a religious community figure, suggests he get his GED. Not interested and with options limited, he starts working as an enforcer again for the Barksdale Organization.
Cutty immediately shows his competence with each and every operation he performs for the organization. However, in one instance where Cutty and another enforcer, Slim Charles, are hired to kill a rival dealer, Fruit, Cutty clearly has the kid in his sights, but cannot pull the trigger, giving the kid the opportunity to run away.
From this incident, it's clear that Cutty's conscience will not allow him to be an enforcer anymore. In a meeting with Avon where Slim Charles and Cutty, they discuss why Fruit survived the operation. Cutty admits his shortcoming:
Cutty: "I couldn't squeeze the trigger. Couldn't do it, man."
Avon: "Why not?"
Cutty: "Wasn't in me, I guess."
Avon then offers Cutty another role within the organization, standing on a corner and dealing drugs. But Cutty refuses.
Cutty: "No, man, I ain't making myself clear. The game ain't in me no more. None of it."
Avon: "But you don't got shit else, you know what I'm saying? So what you gonna do?"
Cutty: "I don't know, but it can't be this."
This, to me, is the most pivotal scene in not only Cutty's character development but also one of the most important in the show. The entire character arc of one of the most memorable characters in the show, Stringer Bell, is his attempt to leave "the Game" of drug dealing. Clearly, the Game is all-consuming in the lives of the people in it.
Several die when they try to leave. Several die when it's even suspected or rumored that they snitched and talked to the police, and it says something that it takes someone of Cutty's level of respect and stature within the Game to pull something like this off.
For Cutty, this decision meant potentially losing everything. Although the Game wasn't in him anymore as an enforcer, and although it was toxic for his new moral code, leaving the Game meant incredible financial and economic uncertainty. Cutty lived with his grandmother for most of the series. Leaving the Game meant embracing incredible anxiety.
But Cutty becomes one of the few positive beacons of light and hope in "The Wire." He reforms himself by running a gym for community kids and getting them off the corners and away from the Game, with the help of the Deacon. At one point, he takes a bullet for a kid trying to get him off the streets, and in a memorable scene in Season 5, Cutty tells a kid having trouble holding it together on the streets, Dukie, that "the world is bigger than this," giving him hope.
And Cutty's decision to leave the game, despite how hard it is, is inspirational not only for people in situations like his, but for everyone. It takes a lot of courage, strength, and resilience to accept that something you've been doing your whole life, something you know very well and are good at, isn't for you anymore. To embrace change and start completely over at square one is the last thing most people want to do, yet Cutty saw it as the only option.
It's sad that it takes Cutty's level of spiritual and moral reckoning to enact this change in life, but his story shows that we're all capable of reform. It's just hard and uncertain. For an ex-convict without a high school diploma, what was he supposed to do? Where could he go next?
"I don't know, but it can't be this," has stayed as one of my favorite lines from the show. It is a rejection of the current state of affairs, and no, Cutty's life from there wasn't perfect, and he experienced various failures and sufferings in running his gym, but this decision in this scene put him on a path to change his life. That is something that everyone has to admire.
After Cutty leaves, Slim and Avon discuss Cutty's situation and his decision to leave the Game, and at this point, it speaks volumes that even Avon, the head of a drug organization, respects Cutty's decision profoundly.
Slim: "He was a man in his time, you know?"
Avon: "He a man today."