Based on real events, We Own This City and its character operate under a loose moral code that betrays the ideology of The Wire’s Omar Little.
The characters in We Own This City betray TheWire‘s overarching themes of morality in crime. More than 14 years after the ending of the popular HBO crime series, creator and former police reporter David Simon has returned to the platform with another Baltimore-based story of institutional rot. Although the setting and tone of both series are largely the same, the antagonists of We Own This City differ greatly from TheWire‘s, operating under a looser set of morals despite their elevated social status.
We Own This City is based on the 2021 nonfiction book We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption by Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton. much like TheWire, We Own This City explores the impact that one person’s choices can have on their surroundings, this time scrutinizing the real-life actions of the Baltimore Police and its now-defunct Gun Trace Task Force. The story was adapted for HBO by David Simon and frequent collaborator George Pelecanos and stars The Punisher‘s Jon Bernthal as the notorious Wayne Jenkins.
We Own This City is more of a spiritual successor to TheWire than a direct sequel, sharing similar themes and tone with its predecessor while telling a true story with a cast of characters based on real people. However, We Own This City flips the script, turning legitimate businesspeople into criminals due to wanton greed and a lust for power. While the show is a timely contemplation of the potential for corruption in law enforcement, the moral degradation of a legitimate business such as the Baltimore Police feels like a perverse twist on the desires of TheWire‘s Stringer Bell and Omar Little, whose criminal dealings served a transcendent purpose.
Omar Little was a ruthless vigilante, but he insisted upon living in accordance with his strict moral code, and while Stringer Bell operated under a slightly looser set of ethics, his endeavors were all focused on achieving something greater than himself. The actions of Wayne Jenkins and the GTTF caused tangible harm to their community for little reason more than unfettered narcissism and greed, turning the characters against one another in a dramatic reversal of TheWire‘s themes of loyalty and necessity. Omar robbed drug dealers and thugs to make his living from him, but he did so (in his mind from him, at least) as a service to his community from him, whereas the characters in We Own This City acted only to benefit themselves despite their pledge to serve others.
We Own This City is a worthy successor to TheWire, with David Simon’s deep understanding of police work and the Baltimore area again on full display. The story’s detailed account of the crimes of the GTFF and the broader impact of their actions is as compelling as it is infuriating, with the characters made all the more detestable by their total disregard for their surroundings. In an ironic twist of fate, morality played a bigger role in a show about drug dealers and street criminals than in the one about police.
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