Much of the greatness of The Wire — and the chief justification for its patient, methodical world-building — came from its understanding of police work and politics as an institution where tragedy has a trickle-down effect. One poor decision at the top of the food chain may not seem that consequential at the time, but as it ripples through the rank-and-file and onto the streets, we witness cruel injustices and lives destroyed. The Wire may literally refer to a phone-tapping operation, but it’s always been a powerful metaphor for the interconnectedness of the system, like a heart that pumps corruption to every organ in the body. To the extent that good police work is possible — and the show always believed some were trying — it would almost inevitably be undermined.
Toward the end of this week’s episode of We Own This City, Tom Allers, a supervisor in the GTTF, takes his turn getting questioned by the FBI. He’s been more defensive than his colleagues in the previous two episodes, at first refusing to cooperate altogether until his lawyer patiently explains to him that he’s up on federal charges, which means a stiffer sentence. The Feds have caught him stealing $10,000 from a man named Devon Robinson, and so the case against him is strong. When Tom finally starts talking, it isn’t long before he starts in with the moral equivocation: Yes, he may have taken some money here and there, but he also did the dangerous work of taking drugs and guns off the street. And if the city isn’t paying him enough to put his life at risk, the logic goes, what’s the harm in skimming a little ill-gotten cash?
The harm is that Devon Robinson owed that money to his suppliers, and they shot him for it, leaving his wife a widow with small children. Even an unrepentant gasbag like Tom is knocked back by this revelation, to the point where his lawyer asks to pause to confer with his client. Had Tom not been swept up in the federal investigation into the GTTF, he would have gone the rest of his life not knowing that his thievery led directly to a man getting killed on his front lawn. And as we learn earlier in the episode, this result is on Tom and Tom alone: GTTF would steal from suspects as a matter of course, but they’re supposed to split the money evenly. Not only did Tom quietly jam these bundles of cash into his uniform, but he even had the gall to ask to demand his buddies pay for their fast food in the drive-thru afterward. So much for solidarity. There’s no honor among thieves.
There is a place for them, however, in a plainclothes operation where no one is paying attention, the supervisor least of all. We Own That City gets a little on-the-nose with that point in a brief conversation between Det. Suiter and a station “housecat” who says he left just such a unit because little progress was getting made and there was no accountability. In fact, the astonishing twist of Hersl’s addition to GTTF is that its lack of accountability would shield him from the avalanche of public complaints about his abuses as a beat cop. It’s the nightmarish police version of failing your way to the top. Who’s going to say no to anything he does?
The heart of “Part Three,” however, is the juxtaposition between Wayne and Suiter’s stories and how they once intersected. Once again, the show turns back the clock to Wayne’s formative years on the force in the mid-aughts, when certain bad habits were developed and reinforced. In one particularly shocking incident, his hair-trigger temper flares up when he asks a pair of Black men to clear their stoop, circles back around when the men fail to comply, and beats one of them savagely for “not listening and having a big mouth.” The discussion turns sober when his betters bring him in for it: He’s told he fucked up big time. That he left witnesses and put a man in the hospital. “You could lose your job over shit like this.”
They can’t keep a straight face for long. It’s like a hazing ritual to make the new guy think beating someone senseless over nothing would ever get them in trouble. The only real message they have for Wayne isn’t to curb his behavior but to improve his paperwork. “Always start with the attack,” his sergeant says. “The threat to your safety can never be mentioned enough.” We’ve seen guys like Hersl in the field faking an attack in order to add “assaulting a police officer” to a list of made-up charges, and here’s the bureaucratic version of it. The cops will always be believed in both circumstances.
Moving back to the end of the timeline, the show spends time with Suiter as he works a murder case alongside a uniformed officer who shows a refreshing interest in following protocol. The details of the investigation are frustratingly murky, which is a problem for a subplot about a detective’s deliberate methodology. The narrow point here is Not All Cops Are Bastards, and at times the good ones are even rewarded with a clean collar and a meaningful glance from a witness who didn’t want to cooperate. But Jamie Hector, as Suiter, has an air about him that’s similar to Marlo Stanfield, the drug dealer he played in The Wire: He’s excellent at projecting an active intelligence in scenes without saying much. He persuades without ever feeling like he’s imposing himself on people.
The compare-and-contrast between Wayne and Suiter sets up a sequence from their past when they worked the same unit. A raid on a dock house is, for Wayne and his team, another opportunity to make some arrests and skim from whatever trove of guns and cash they happen to find. Part of Wayne’s purpose in this operation is to test the waters for the team: Is Suiter one of them or not? Will he look past some unconventional policing, like smashing up a guy’s place with a tire iron? And, more importantly, will he take his cut of the loot? Wayne is wowed by Suiter’s perceptiveness, his ability to recognize a table as a treasure chest. But Suiter’s deep discomfort in the moment, followed by a scene later where he politely declines a stack of bills, tells Wayne all he needs to know. He’s not up for the job.
• Kevin Davis, the police commissioner, is a fascinatingly slippery character, not least because the man who plays him, Delaney Williams, was such a persistent thorn in everyone’s side as Jay Landsman in The Wire. Davis engages Nicole in a tone that’s alternately honest, defensive, and peppered with double-speak. He knows Hersl’s a problem but explains why he can’t be kicked off the force just yet. He doesn’t hate the idea of a consent decree, but he’s facing pushback from a police union that’s resisting reform after Freddie Gray. He’s also going to be gone in a year, which limits his authority. When he tells her he wants to turn the department around, he’s also telling her that he probably can’t do it.
• Interesting exchange between a poet who writes about police brutality and Nicole over the possibility of reform. “You cannot clean the floor with a bucket of dirty water,” he tells her. “Dirty water can still put out a fire,” she responds. He’s skeptical.
• “Stupid motherfucker.” “Your girl got a point.”
• Typically engaging response from the hypothetical Nicole poses to the head of the police union about whether he could ever believe an officer should be fired. After a long pause, he replies, “We are a labor union. We are here to support our members.”
• Nicole on how BPD measures up against other city departments: “I’d like to say I’ve seen worse, but I can’t remember where. Half the department quit working to protest the Freddie Gray indictments, and the other half can’t stop beating on people. And both halves tell me the job can’t be done legally.”