We Own This City Ending Explained (In Detail)

By | June 4, 2022

HBO’s We Own This City ends with court cases, attempted reform and a deeply disturbing message about corruption. Here’s what it all means.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for We Own This City.

HBO’s The Wire follow-up, We Own This City, ended with what would conventionally be called a happy ending: the villains are jailed, justice is seemingly served, and the city of Baltimore’s corruption is laid out for all to see. But We Own This City is not a conventional story, it is a harrowingly true one, based on real events that meant Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal) and his racketeering Gun Trace Task Force being thrown into prison was far from a happily ever after.

We Own This City is deeply important, more contemplative than The Wire, and less spectacular in its character moments. It introduced Baltimore residents as notable as the notorious Omar Little and Stringer Bell but had them waving badges or bail bondsman licenses rather than running the streets as criminal empires. Where The Wire traded in moral ambiguity, We Own This City ended up being a relentless horror story of exploitation, classist violence, crime, and corruption where all flickers of hope died pathetically. At times, The Wire was about corruption that got things done; We Own This City was the final grotesque extreme of where that mentality would end.

Related: We Own This City True Story: What Happened & What It Got Right

This was always the world The Wire promised, but David Simon’s most famous TV show sought to be something of a final warning. That Baltimore (and other places, because the haunting reality here is that Baltimore is not unique) could go so much further than the ending of The Wire is horrifying. It’s important that shows like this hold a mirror up to the worst parts of us, and that we look back unflinchingly and furious. Here’s what We Own This City’s ending really means.

What We Own This City’s Final Classroom Shot Means & Why It Changed

The final moments of We Own This City’s ending mirror the first scene of episode one, with Jon Bernthal’s Wayne Jenkins leading a class of recruits at the Baltimore academy. This time, the random recruits have been replaced by members of the GTTF, as well as BPD Commissioner Kevin Davis, his second in command, and Sean Suiter. As Jenkins lies about avoiding brutality in his policing methods, and talks up his methods, the collected audience cheer, showering him with hero worship, including those who turned on him. It’s clearly a fantasy sequence, with Jenkins’ audience reflecting the entire institution that enabled and encouraged him, while turning a blind eye to his crimes in the name of inflated stats. He is their hero and a monster of their making, and everyone is culpable for the platform he was given.

Why Nicole Steele Says “It’s Your Turn, Motherf*cker” When She Quits

Another bright spot in We Own This City’s excellent cast, Wunmi Mosaku’s Nicole Steele is one of the very few flawless characters in the Baltimore system – though she refers to her own misguided past at one point – but she is chewed up by the system, even as she tried to find a way to fix it. Her position in the Civil Rights department was designed to be the change Baltimore needed, and even with Consent Decree in the new mayor’s hands, Steele lost all confidence and quit. As a parting shot, she offered her mentee Ahmed Jackson (Ian Duff) the sage wisdom that she wasn’t giving up, but that “it’s your turn, motherf*cker”. There is a haunting defeat to her final statement and indeed to the end of her story, not just in her tacit resignation to Baltimore never changing, but also to the idea that the fight will be as perpetual as it is pointless. Someone has to fight, despite the fact that the end will possibly destroy them.

Why Sean Suiter’s Death Is Contested At The End Of We Own This City

One of the most shocking moments in We Own This City’s finale is when Jamie Hector’s Sean Suiter is killed in a back alley apparently pursuing a gun-wielding suspect his partner did not see. The show is quite clear in its portrayal of the death as a suicide, adding a clarification that an independent investigation ruled that Suiter had taken his own life, but then confirmed that the report was contested. Suiter’s death is also the subject of an HBO documentary – The Slow Hustle – which details more of the fallout of the investigation, revealing that both the medical examiner and Baltimore’s city attorney rejected the suggested cause of death, as well as Suiter’s family. We Own This City leans into the same narrative as the report, drawing a line between his involvement in previous GTTF activity, his guilt, and ultimately his death, but while the record states similarly, Suiter’s death has not been accepted as suicide by the city of Baltimore or his loved ones.

Related: HBO’s The Wire Follow-Up Makes Stringer Bell’s Dream A Nightmare

Why Wayne Jenkins Claimed He Wasn’t A Dirty Cop

In the first episode, Jon Bernthal’s Wayne Jenkins stalks the streets of Baltimore in We Own This City’s version of The Wire’s “Omar Comin'” scene. He announced himself as above the law, breaking the fourth wall at one point to reinforce that, and referring to himself as Superman. And it’s fair to say We Own This City presents the mythology of Jenkins as intoxicating: he “put up numbers” by taking guns off the street and making legitimate arrests as part of the GTTF, alongside his racketeering, extortion, and various other criminal activities. But Jenkins was bred in a world that discounted the latter in service of the former: his chilling affirmation that he and “his boys” owned the city came not from misplaced ego but from conditioning. He genuinely believed he wasn’t breaking the law, because he was doing what the institution asked of him.

Why We Own This City Is The Wire’s Coda & Not A Sequel

It’s impossible not to consider We Own This City as a sequel to The Wire, at least of sorts: it deals with the same institutions, the same ideas of corruption, and the same city. It’s also informed by the real history of Baltimore law enforcement, and fundamentally, its people, even without the legacy characters who could have appeared. Creator David Simon called We Own This City a coda to The Wire, and his definition is particularly fitting: it is a conclusion of sorts to the ideas set up in The Wire, but not in any positive way. The Wire presented moral ambiguity, suggesting its characters lived on a grayscale of morality within institutions, which themselves were broken, but it also offered the faintest glimmer of hope.

We Own This City suggests both people and institutions are broken for the most part, and destroys the idea of a hopeful future. Even the most wholesome seeming police officers – including Sean Suiter – have criminal activity to answer for, and are products of a corrupt and corrupting system. The Wire’s ending offered an ideal future where the “War on Drugs” would end, even with cynical individuals doubting it, but We Own This City proves the war was lost and another war entirely replaced it.

What The Ending Of We Own This City Really Means

There is no happy ending for We Own This City. Despite the incarceration of the entire Baltimore GTTF for a variety of lengthy sentences, the message at the end of the series
is one of resignation and defeat. The institution sheds its skin, with the GTTF jailed, a new mayor in charge, and a new police commissioner, but as soon as it’s established, it crumbles. The new commissioner brings back the plainclothes policing approach that led to the rise of the GTTF and wider, institutional racketeering on a smaller scale, before he and the mayor lose their jobs for criminal activity. With crime on the rise – particularly murder – a complete lack of confidence in the police, and the institution refusing change, We Own This City is a tragic hymn to an unending cycle. A famous line in The Wire said it was foolish to refer to the war on drugs as a war, because wars end, and ultimately HBO’s follow-up confirmed it with horrible aplomb.

Next: Every The Wire Actor Who Returned For We Own This City

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