The importance of casting Treat Williams for a one-off role as Academy Instructor on tonight’s episode of We own this city will not escape anyone who has seen Sidney Lumets prince of the city, a brilliant 1981 crime drama about police corruption. Based on the true story of NYPD drug detective Robert Leuci, the film is about a rogue investigative unit not dissimilar to the GTTF, full of dirty cops who rob criminals, plant evidence, and get involved in the drug deals designed to stop them. Williams plays a man driven by his conscience to cooperate with a federal investigation with the caveat that he will not turn against his partners, but circumstances force him to betray them anyway, and several tragedies occur as a result . He ends up avoiding prosecution and ends up with a job as – you guessed it – a police academy instructor.
William’s appearance here is an afterword for his character in prince of the city, although the show doesn’t imply he was a dirty cop during his decades with the force. He tells Nicole that he joined Homicide in 1972 and has served his longest time in Homicide, although he’s been around long enough to know how the department works and how it’s changed. There’s not much he tells Nicole that she doesn’t already know – or us, having watched four and a half episodes of the show – but he reinforces the themes at play here about citizens’ complete loss of trust in the police, which is inevitable if “you hit them or have their hand in their pocket”. And he delivers an eloquent monologue (script by George Pelecanos) on the destructive nature of the War On Drugs: “With a war comes the militarization of the police. SWAT teams, tactical squads, stop and frisk, strip searches. A complete gutting of the 4th Amendment. It’s like fighting terrorists on foreign soil.”
The dark message from We own this city is that not only is it nearly impossible to restore such confidence through police reform, but such reform is a political non-starter. As Nicole and Ahmed finalize their federal consent decree for approval, they must feed it through the eye of a needle: Once the Trump administration takes power, the Justice Department under Jeff Sessions will halt all civil rights division activities. So for the decree to pass, it must be approved by a commissioner with no job security and a new mayor reluctant to invest the resources and political capital needed to improve the department. Commissioner Davis, who was one of the show’s most nuanced and intriguing characters, seems genuinely intent on taking Nicole’s account seriously, but asking him to cut the current budget to pay for reforms is a roundabout way of killing her. It would be hard enough to implement changes in a hostile department without also cutting jobs and resources.
And so the best that can be done is to deal with the bad apples, even if the orchard itself remains poisoned to the root. “Part Five” mainly deals with the conflicting testimonies of Gondo and Jemell turning against each other under interrogation as the GTTF members turn against each other in the field. And just as Hersl was being promoted to the unit for being too troublesome to keep up the pace, Jemell joined GTTF after serving a two-year paid suspension while under investigation for a shooting incident – one of three, according to Gondo . Calling it “failing upwards” doesn’t quite cover it because it’s not like Hersl or Jemell retreating into unity. It’s more like they auditioned successfully and proved in the field that they have the moral flexibility to pocket ill-gotten gains.
The darkly funny part of the GTTF scandal – and the big difference between its members and what Williams’ character is trying to do prince of the city – is that there is no honor among thieves. These guys can’t get on each other fast enough. The FBI has Gondo and Jemell on the phone, laughing at the overtime Jenkins approved for them, and Gondo marvels at an $8,000 check from the city. But once interrogated, they rush to implicate each other. That mindset also comes straight out of the field, where they agreed to share whatever money and drugs they find, but Jenkins always takes the biggest cut and they skim off each other when no one’s looking.
Two incidents stand out this week, both involving Hersl and both about black professionals being slapped for money with no evidence that they committed a crime. The first recalls last week’s story about a father who was shot by a dealer after police stole cash to pay off a debt. Here the ramifications are less severe, but Nicole speaks to a man who lost $600 in cash, two days in jail, and an HVAC repair job to Hersl for driving pizza home to his family. The second involves a stabbing of a wealthy car salesman who had $416,000 in his bedroom when the GTTF invaded, but county police only found $350,000. The scheme included Jenkins appearing as the least convincing prosecutor in history, but it’s not like he had to be Daniel Day-Lewis to pull it off. Jenkins and his crew are not artists like Robert De Niro heat. They’re smash-and-grab types—common crooks.
In the end, the timeline circles back to March 1, 2017, the day the FBI made the arrest of seven GTTF officers. And despite their arrogance, despite their sense of being above the law, they can’t be surprised when it happens. In the first line of that episode, Gondo says that Jenkins “just didn’t care if he saw another sunrise.” And in a much later scene between Gondo and Jemell, still stealing as part of an active federal investigation, Gondo says, “When this shit ends, it ends.” They had all set their lives on an irreversible course, a path from which they couldn’t withdraw even if they tried. Their only game now is stabbing each other in lower sets.
• A most interesting and subtle contrast created in this episode between Suiter and a devoted Jenkins recruit nicknamed K-Stop. The show used Suiter as an example of a good cop, someone who was part of Jenkins’ unit but slipped into Homicide when it was clear he was on the alert. But Suiter took the path of least resistance, which isn’t the same as a clean break. It was easier for him to play along uncomfortably with Jenkins as he searched for the exit. On the other hand, when Jenkins and Hersl give K-Stop a “hypothetical,” he’s adamant that he doesn’t want to be a dirty cop. It’s not a one-to-one comparison — Suiter is being thrust into a situation, not a hypothetical one — but Suiter’s guilt over his silence comes through here in the final moments.
• “In the minds of Wonder Bread’s Americans, these people aren’t really victims. You deserve it.” For Nicole’s colleague to speak out about the racial prejudice many white Americans hold about victims of police violence. It must be their fault somethingotherwise they would not have attracted the attention of the police at all.
• After watching The cable, in which drug dealers suspect police attention and talk to each other in scrambled language over payphones and burners, it’s hilarious to hear how distressing the recorded conversations between Gondo and Jamell are. A brief conversation brings the two and Jenkins about robbery, wire fraud and tax evasion.
• David Simon absolutely loathes former mayor (and failed Democratic presidential nominee) Martin O’Malley. The politically ambitious character of Tommy Carcetti (Aiden Gillen) continues The cable was read as a dig at O’Malley, and Williams’ character is talking about a year when 100,000 were arrested when O’Malley was mayor. This is a funny clip of O’Malley confronting remarks made by Simon in an interview.
• This is Justin Fenton, the reporter who wrote We own this cityask a question at the press conference where the arrests will be announced.
• “I don’t know if what we’re doing is going to change anything, but shit…” Nicole expresses what many well-meaning Simon characters are feeling. Justice is elusive, but an effort must be made.
https://www.vulture.com/article/we-own-this-city-miniseries-episode-5-recap-part-five.html We Own This City Miniseries Episode 5 Recap: “Part 5”