The Mental State of Jimmy McNulty in Season Five of “The Wire”

First off, I want to apologize for my prolonged absence from writing. Life as a CSULB student has been eventful and has definitely kept my hands full. Anyways, I’m on summer break, so I’m able to return to my passion; writing stories that I enjoy.

I’ve been a dedicated user of HBO Max since I subscribed and have discovered deeper love for their shows. Recently, the show that has consumed my time was The Wire. As far as rankings go, I have it ranked third all-time, with The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Breaking Bad, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia being the other shows that are apart of my all-time shows list.

I rated Dominic’s West portrayal of the character Jimmy McNulty because he presented you constant moral dilemmas, entertainment, and amazing character development.

As a college student who has taken four psychology classes, I was able to notice that McNulty was in a mental spiral towards the end of the show.


In this piece, I want to explain the mental statement of Jimmy McNulty throughout his season five character arc.

Summary: In the final season of The Wire, all aspects from previous seasons seem to collide with each other, either indirectly or directly. McNulty and the other detectives are beyond desperate to wrap up the case on Marlo Stanfield, who has become the major player in the West Baltimore drug trade, but due to the $54 million gap in the education department under former Mayor Clarence Royce, led newly-elected Mayor Carcetti to make city-wide budget cuts in places, such as the Baltimore Police Department to help fill that gap. The budget cuts would shut down the Major Crime department at the Baltimore Police Department, where the likes of McNulty, Kima Greggs, Lester Freamon, Cedric Daniels, etc. belonged and were on the hunt for Marlo Stanfield. McNulty pleaded to department officials for any possible way to keep the Major Crimes unit together, as they were on the brink of a major breakthrough in the case, but was met with absolutely no generosity. As a result of the refusal to meet his requests, he was portrayed as a madman. McNulty decided to take matters into his own hands and create a fictional serial killer, in order to trick the department into funding the investigation of the supposed killer, but would be directly funding the Stanfield case. In this season, McNulty showed that he’s the same guy from season one, who got divorced because he couldn’t solve his substance abuse issues and became too invested in his job. Through this arc, we see a character who reached his lowest of lows and exuded all of signs of his narcissist personality.

Contextual Synopsis: McNulty had been a narcissist all throughout the show. Given he was the main character, the show was primarily built upon his mental state. The show was presented in an “if, then” manner; if something happened, whether good or bad, then it was because of McNulty. The focus of this story may be based around the season five version of the main character. I felt that it was important to add context on his mental state and how it was presented in the earlier seasons. In the first season, McNulty despised a plan where Greggs would go undercover with Orlando, who was the owner of the strip club which was a common spot for the Barksdale crew, to understand more about the drug trade. While undercover, one of Avon’s street dealers, figured out the schemes and calls Wee-Bey and attempts to murder both, but only succeeded in killing Orlando. After he heard the recordings of Detective Greggs when she got shot, we, as viewers, witnessed the main character go through the feeling of guilt because he felt the that he was entirely responsible for one of his friends being on the brink of death. It took Major Bill Rawls to get it through his head that, though everything is usually his fault, this one was not on him.

The emotional instability of a character like McNulty was one of the main reasons the audience was able to rationalize with some of his actions. His character foundation is what followed him throughout the entirety of the show.

Season 5 Synopsis: In season five, McNulty displayed an inhuman mentality — one of a deranged person— to get this case to continue, so much so, that the description of the fictional killer, given by the Behavioral Analysis Unit, was McNulty to-a-tee.

Along with his relentless mentality throughout season, McNulty’s issues with alcohol became as prominent as ever; leading to him being forced to choose between himself and family. In chapter two of the Impact of Substance Abuse on Families, it said that families are built upon complex infrastructures and must be maintained at that level of complexity, and when substance abuse is present in the household, it will heavily influence the upbringing of the children. McNulty married Beadie Russell, a police office at the Port of Baltimore and inherited the role of stepfather to her two sons. In previous seasons, McNulty attempted to be a solid father-figure to his two sons, but as work began to become more demanding of him, he would accept the fact that his ex-wife Elena would be the primary parental figure for their kids. At the beginning of season five, McNulty was the happy stepfather and husband in Beadie’s household. This can be seen when he refuses to get as drunk as shown in previous seasons and also, made it his promise to be home with his family every night. As the season progressed and his workload became heavier, he would deteriorate to a degenerate alcoholic who had frequent sex with random women at the Wee Peter’s Pub, just as he did in his marriage with Elena. The character decline seems to be a constant cycle. He was a selfish person, who cared more about having fun by himself than being with his own family. McNulty exemplified a narcissistic police officer because he showed that he couldn’t sustain intimacy. In a season two clip, Sergeant Jay Landsman cracked a joke about him being selfish, but would soon be proven true.

The selfishness and this “addiction to himself”, as Landsman said, was the reason why McNulty became the worse version of himself in season five. Apart from the gap in intimacy, he displayed many of the traits of a narcissistic personality throughout the entire series, not just season five; lacking empathy for others, creating conflict with others to receive preferential treatment over them and would go to extreme lengths, if he didn’t get it. All of these things can be seen primarily in season five.

Apart from the example from the final season, he had been doing this since the first episode of the show. In the debut episode, McNulty appeared at D’Angelo (Dee) Barksdale’s trial and would later speak to Judge Phelan about why the Barksdale crew gained so much power in Franklin Terrace in West Baltimore. McNulty couldn’t stand the fact that Dee’s murder case had been dismissed and mentioned that “everybody in West Baltimore” knew that they were guilty of the murder and that the murder was apart of a larger picture. His uncanny desirer to search into the crew led to the Major chewing McNulty to pieces.

Conclusion: McNulty wasn’t meant to be the perfect Detective in Baltimore, so it’s understandable that he has his demons. This is the tale that most modern classic television shows tell; they make us seriously consider why we admire them as much as we do. This was the running theme with many of the characters in this show. Kima Greggs was the main female character and she made me consider my admiration because she elected to continue to work in the Major Crimes units after getting shot in season one and going against her ex-wife’s desires. He may not be the moral compass, but without the complete narcissist behavior of Jimmy McNulty, the Barksdale and Stanfield cases would have never been solved.

Please mention any comments and/or criticism to me, so that it could help me in my professional endeavors.




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Isaiah Zuniga

Isaiah Zuniga

I write and stuff, some of it may interesting to you, but it’s all interesting to me. Let me know what you think about what I wrote. All criticism is welcomed