In the very first episode of the “The Shield,” the audience is introduced to Vic Mackey (played by Michael Chiklis), a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. In the pilot episode, he does the unthinkable. He kills another cop. Soon enough, it is made clear that Vic is dirty. Killing this fellow detective serves the purpose of protecting him and his friends because the other detective was a rat.
Jimmy McNulty is a homicide detective for the Baltimore Police Department. In the very first episode of “The Wire,” Jimmy (played by Dominic West) attends a murder trial even though he wasn’t the detective on the case. He sees a young man beat a murder charge because a witness has been paid to change her testimony. After the trial, the presiding judge asks to see Jimmy. After some probing from the judge, Jimmy explains how this young man is part of a drug crew which has killed at least half a dozen people, and no one has done anything about it. Jimmy knows that the judge will take action even though this action will anger his superiors, but he doesn’t care because he sees it as the right thing to do.
While these introductions are wildly different, they tell us so much about the characters. First, they both will do what it takes to do what is right even if their actions lead to negative consequences for others, and their ends will always justify the means. The similarities don’t end here, though.
Vic Mackey and Jimmy McNulty both have a family. However, Vic’s family comes first even though he doesn’t spend much time with them. He believes that his illegal actions benefit his family even as it falls apart. While Jimmy cares about his family, but his work comes first. At one point, he uses his sons to obtain information about a suspect.
Likewise, both of these characters have an ambiguous moral code which is expressed differently. For example, Jimmy and Vic are womanizers, but McNulty suffers from a drinking problem as well. Mackey is much more likely to use violent force to achieve his means including beatings, murder, and general intimidation. While Vic tends to disregard the rules to achieve his means, Jimmy, at first, just bends them. However, by the end of the “The Wire,” Jimmy ultimately breaks laws to help the department solve cases.
Also, each character is smart and knows it. Both men play a chess game of sorts with criminals and other police officers. Each struggles to stay one step ahead of their opponents, but, with Vic Mackey, this is very much about survival because he is playing with his livelihood and even the lives of others. For Jimmy McNulty, this is about intellectual superiority, even in regard to his commanding officers. He wants to beat smart criminals to prove his intelligence which eventually leads him to play a shell game with BPD to achieve his goals. Yet, ultimately, they both lose the chess game, and both lose what they love most. This fate proves that their biggest flaw, in the end, was their pride.
“Jimmy McNulty” Wikipedia
“Vic Mackey” Wikipedia
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