In its second episode, We Own This City further emphasizes the depth and obviousness of Baltimore PD’s corruption.
This recap of We Own This City season 1, episode 2, “Part Two”, contains spoilers.
At the end of We Own This City’s premiere, Jon Bernthal’s Wayne Jenkins was arrested. In this episode, co-written by William F. Zorzi and Ed Burns and directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, he mostly languishes in a cell, his imminent interrogation becoming a kind of dramatic ticking-clock device. Jenkins’s GTTF team being interrogated by the FBI – in “Part Two” it’s Jemell Rayam in the hot seat – as a frame for each episode, and the nonlinear narrative carefully depicting Jenkins as a hot-headed officer who has become drunker and drunker on his own power, are all building towards his comeuppance. Bernthal, one of the more underrated actors working today, plays him with an itchy, barely restrained menace, like a pot’s lid rattling around right before the contents boil over.
We Own This City season 1, episode 2 recap
If “Part One” depicted Jenkins as a cartoonish villain, this episode goes some way towards humanizing him a little, or at least rationalizing his moral decline. He was probably not that nice, to begin with, but learning the ropes under Ed Barber (David Hammond), he begins to understand how the system is set up to reward unpleasantness. It’s a numbers racket. Baltimore’s government needs the murder rate down to secure their positions, and the brute-force way of reducing the murder rate is simply getting as many people as possible off the streets. In practice, that means rounding up whole groups who have done little to nothing wrong, roughing them up, arresting them, and getting them tangled in the knotty weeds of the system. The arresting officers are incentivized by pay bonuses. It’s in their best interests to abuse their position.
We’re to understand that Jenkins is the symptom, not the cause. He’s a generally not-nice guy who has managed to elevate himself to a basically untouchable position simply because not-nice guys stand to benefit from law enforcement’s systemic corruption. He’s one of many, not the first and certainly not the last. The entire Baltimore PD seems to be an unending daisy chain of men just like him.
This is what makes it oddly discordant to see this episode try to engender sympathy for him at a cookout when the crabs he could barely afford are laughingly dismissed by his colleagues. He seems close to his wife. In that moment, he appears almost vulnerable, the kid in the playground who just wants to fit in. This doesn’t necessarily mesh with what we’ve seen of him elsewhere, and I’m not sure I buy the angle. It just seems like an odd inclusion.
None of his team gets similar treatment. In fact, during his interrogation, Rayam is totally straight-up about the unit’s habitual corruption, illegal search and seizures, and all kinds of other things. Likewise, McDougall and Kilpatrick spend all episode investigating a really painfully obvious connection between another of Jenkins’s men, “G-Money” Gondo, and drug dealer Antonio Shropshire. It’s almost funny how seriously the county cops take the surveillance when G-Money isn’t even subtle about the relationship – or at least it would be funny if it wasn’t true.
The point is none of what’s happening is really a secret. Hersl, the cop that Nicole Steele is investigating through the Civil Rights office, is so well-known for his brutality that a local rapper named Young Moose has made a song that is explicitly about him. And still, nobody seems to care. The theme that keeps emerging, again and again, is that the cops feel like they’re entitled to whatever they want for simply performing a necessary and dangerous function. If the State can’t pay them adequately – though one assumes what they consider “adequate” is open to some degree of interpretation – then they should, at least by their logic, be able to line their pockets with drug and blood money. G-Money even gets on Detective Suiter’s back about working homicide, which isn’t as highly paid or resourced. Suiter, who is working the case of a working-class man who was shot dead for (apparently) building a fence to stop drug dealers passing through his yard, has an idealism that positions him as uniquely alone within the department. It’s the same with Nicole, and the implication is clear. If you want to do right by the innocent citizens of Baltimore, you’ll have to do it alone.