We Own This City

Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Greene
Distributed by: HBO Max

Written by Alexander Reams


When Wayne Jenkins (performed impeccably by Jon Bernthal) says the titular phrase ‘We own this city” it is one of the most frightening moments of the show, not only is he making his fellow officers believe it, but he has convinced himself of it. Who is really in charge of the city? For the most part, we can never tell, from one bullshit story from a single dirty cop to multiple testimonies of high-ranking law enforcement, to the stories from the beats these officers walk. By the end of the introduction to our “lead”, Jenkins, we can see that he has a hunger, for power, and for fear. He satiates it any way he can, by breaking someone’s bottle of liquor, or their head. 

There are 4 main storylines laid out in “We Own This City”

  1. The story of Sgt. Wayne Jenkins (Bernthal), and his rise through the Baltimore Police Department, learning his demented ways through his training officer. Eventually assigned the head of the BPD Gun Trace Task Force
  2. The story of Civil Rights DOJ Attorney Nicole Steele (Wunmi Mosaku), who was investigating the GTTF, and her assistant Ahmed Jackson (Ian Duff). 
  3. The investigation by Erika Jensen (Dagmara Domińczyk) and John Sieracki (Don Harvey), and their interviews with members of the GTTF including Jemell Rayam (Darrell Britt-Gibson), Momodu Gondo (McKinley Belcher III), and Daniel Hersl (Josh Charles)
  4. Detective Sean Suiter’s (Jamie Hector) first solo murder investigation, which involves the GTTF, and shows his involvement with the GTTF.

The biggest issue that plagues “We Own This City” is the multiple storylines, not in concept, but in execution, the only time we know the year/date is the Wayne Jenkins storyline and the Freddie Gray riots. Otherwise, the series jumps around from storyline to storyline without informing us of the date, or location, it puts a lot on the viewer, which means the show treats its audience with respect, but to the point where if you miss one scene, you can be lost for the whole episode. This ultimately deters from my overall enjoyment of the show and subsequently left me disappointed. However, its characters save the show from being completely incomprehensible. They’re exceptionally fleshed out, including the most random of details, like Erika Jensen having flute practice, and later playing it in the office she and BPD Officer John Sieracki operate out of. 

Of all four storylines, the clear standout is Wayne Jenkins, his rise and quick fall play out like a Shakespearean tragedy. You understand his motivation, but he executes his wants in the most misguided and evil way. Add on the cover-ups that the BPD performed because he “made arrests” and “cleared the corners”. This was commonplace at the time of Jenkin’s rise through the BPD, especially during his plainclothes time. If you made arrests and cleared corners, you were protected by the higher-ups from disciplinary action. Jon Bernthal has played villains before, but he shines in this role, showing his range as a performer throughout. In a limited series that is designed to be an ensemble, he quickly emerges as the obvious lead, despite his little screen time in the early episodes. “We Own This City” is a smartly written, directed, and shot show, but it needs serious help in the editing department, and it is never unbiased, sometimes to its own detriment, but it walks the line well.

“We Own This City” Trailer

“We Own This City” is streaming on HBO Max.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

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