- "The fuck did I do?"
- ―Jimmy McNulty
James "Jimmy" McNulty is an Irish-American police detective in the Baltimore Police Department. While he has proven to be a canny and tenacious detective, he is disliked by several of his superiors due to his tendency to go around the chain of command to set up investigations. When off the job, he has frequent problems involving alimony, alcoholism, child support, relationships, and money. McNulty nevertheless manages to play the role as one of the more competent officers in several of the largest drug-related arrests that take place within Baltimore.
McNulty joined the department after a year of college at Loyola University Maryland as a means of supporting his pregnant girlfriend Elena , whom he later married. His first few years on the force proved him to be a very effective patrolman in the western district under the command of Major Colvin. He was promoted to detective, assigned to the homicide unit, where he was partnered with Bunk Moreland. The two worked well together, but his attitude drew the anger of his superiors (unlike Bunk, who does not buck authority). Jimmy and Bunk also frequently drank together after hours, and help each other commit adultery. Jimmy is separated from his wife due to having been caught in an adulterous affair with Assistant State's Attorney Rhonda Pearlman.
Prior to the beginning of the series, McNulty had begun to notice that Avon Barksdale was building his territory in the drug trade, and had successfully beaten several murder prosecutions. He becomes responsible for the formation of the Barksdale detail following the trial of D'Angelo Barksdale, who is found not guilty after a witness changes her story in court. In the Judge's chambers, McNulty is frank about his observations and the lack of investigation so far, prompting Judge Phelan to bring it up to Deputy Commissioner Ervin Burrell. Major Rawls was furious with him for going around the chain of command. Needing a report to show the murders that the Barksdale Organization supposedly beat, Rawls keeps McNulty past his shift to type a report for the Deputy with each case bulleted in the report as "The Deputy Loves Dots." McNulty tells Bunk that he hopes that this investigation will lead to a case that meant something to him. Squad Sergeant Jay Landsman asks McNulty what assignment he would find least desirable, and McNulty says that he finds the diesel fumes in the Marine Unit intolerable.
Due to McNulty, a case unit initially consisting of Narcotics Lieutenant Cedric Daniels and his squad of Kima Greggs, Ellis Carver, and "Herc" Hauk was formed. Deputy Burrell had then urged the majors and shift lieutenants to send additional detectives to set up an investigative detail of the Barksdale Organization. As Burrell had given the department the idea that the case was unwanted, most of the additional manpower were rejected by their commanders and dumped onto Daniels as a message to make a quick case not focusing on quality police work. From Homicide, Rawls dumped McNulty and Detective Santangelo into Daniels' case squad as both detectives proved somewhat undesirable in that unit. Daniels and McNulty argued about how to handle the case at their first meeting; McNulty, after seeing an FBI drug sting, suggests surveillance and wiretaps, while Burrell has ordered Daniels to provide a fast case with "buy-busts," to appease Phelan. Soon after the investigation began McNulty learned that Daniels had been investigated for having questionable liquid assets from his friend in the FBI, Special Agent Fitzhugh. McNulty's relationship with Daniels continued to be complicated by their mutual distrust.
The detail was assigned assistant state's attorney Rhonda Pearlman as a prosecutor. McNulty was having a casual relationship with Pearlman at the time. McNulty is officially "separated" from his wife, who limits his contact with his two sons, Sean and Michael. One afternoon while they are in his custody, he spots Stringer Bell in public, and sends his sons to tail him and get his license plate number. When Elena finds out, she tried to have an emergency order placed against him to stop him from seeing his sons at all. She is also mad that he continues to see Pearlman casually.
Working on the Barksdale detail, McNulty becomes friends with Freamon, who is defiant like McNulty and was reassigned to a dead end job because of it. Freamon often tried to temper McNulty's aggressive attitude towards Daniels. Frustrated by the fact that Barksdale's dealers don't use cell phones, they come up with the notion of cloning the dealers' pagers instead. They also work together on Daniels' conscience, convincing him to allow them to do better police work and look deeper.
With the help of Kima Greggs, McNulty tracks down the elusive Omar Little, gaining his respect and cooperation. Omar agrees to testify against "Bird" Hilton, and his assistance also leads to McNulty inadvertently solving a case for Santangelo, who, in turn, reveals that he has been acting as a mole for Rawls, and that Rawls will fire McNulty if he finds any way to justify it. Kima also introduces McNulty to her confidential informant (CI) Bubbles.
Kima is shot in a buy-bust sting operation gone wrong. McNulty takes it particularly hard, though everybody (even Rawls) assures him it's not his fault. McNulty has a frank discussion with Daniels in which he admits that the Barksdale case is really just a chance for him to show how clever he is and how messed up the department is. Daniels told him that everyone has known this all along but that the case had taken on meaning for those involved.
The detail succeeds in arresting Wee-Bey Brice for shooting Kima, "Bird" Hilton for murdering a states' witness, and both D'Angelo and Avon Barksdale. McNulty is almost able to convince D'Angelo to testify against Avon but, ultimately, D'Angelo takes a twenty year sentence instead. When the Barksdale investigation closes, Rawls reassigns McNulty to the marine unit, based on information that Landsman gave him.
McNulty is bored at his new job in the Marine Unit, where he is partnered with Claude Diggins. While on harbor patrol, he spots the body of a dead girl in the water. When Rawls argues the case does not lie in his jurisdiction, McNulty got some revenge, spending three hours poring over wind and tide charts to prove that it was. When Beadie Russell finds thirteen dead bodies in a shipping container on the Baltimore docks, McNulty again intervenes and, with the help of the city medical examiner, Doc Frazier, shows that they too lay within Rawls' jurisdiction. The case is given to Bunk and Freamon, who thus grow quite angry with McNulty.
To make amends, McNulty promises to discover the identity of the murdered girl he found floating. Despite his best efforts, he was unable to do so. Bunk Moreland is also after him to find Omar, who is needed to testify against Bird. McNulty coerces Bubbles into looking for the elusive stick-up man, and Omar testifies successfully.
McNulty signs an agreement that he will pay alimony, thinking it will be unnecessary because he believes he can still reconcile his marriage. He decides to give up alcohol and detective work, two of the main reasons for his failed marriage. He even breaks it off entirely with Pearlman. When Elena confirms the marriage is over, he grew despondent, and began drinking more heavily than ever.
When Daniels' unit is recreated to investigate Frank Sobotka, a vengeful Rawls refuses to allow Daniels to have McNulty. McNulty seems to accept this with good grace, but continues to try to help the detail in unofficial ways. Daniels is able to persuade Rawls to let McNulty return to the unit by taking on the murders of the fourteen girls. Appropriately, McNulty's first assignment is to go undercover as a john visiting a local whorehouse, a task he enjoys greatly, much to the amusement of his colleagues. He also flirts with Beadie Russell, who has been assigned to Daniels' detail, though he seems to shy away from a relationship.
While on surveillance, McNulty watches the Greek's subordinate Vondas send a text message. He reasons that the time and location could be used to retrieve it from the phone company's databases; it is from this message that the detail learns that the Greek had shut down his operations and has left the country with Vondas.
McNulty manages to get back his detective position when the Major Case Unit is formed, but is disappointed that their target is not Stringer Bell. He begins looking into the Barksdales anyway, finding out about D'Angelo's alleged suicide and Avon's early release. Investigating D'Angelo's death, he quickly realizes it was no suicide, though he is not able to prove anybody's culpability.
McNulty reconnects with his old commanding officer from the beginning of his career, Major Colvin to Daniels to set up the Barksdale organization as the Major Crimes Unit's primary target. Angered by McNulty's back burning attitude, Daniels tells McNulty "When the cuffs go on Bell, you need to find a new home, you're done in this unit!". Even Freamon thinks McNulty should be more loyal to Daniels.
McNulty begins a relationship with political consultant Theresa D'Agostino, but he grows to realize that she has little interest in him in any way other than physical. He eventually grows dissatisfied and begins to feel less fulfilled. Largely due to Freamon's work, the Unit is able to implicate Stringer Bell, but he is murdered before McNulty is able to arrest him. After Avon is arrested, Daniels revaluates his decision to get rid of McNulty, but McNulty has come to realize that he has no life outside of his work. He gets a transfer to patrol in the western district, which he remembers as the happiest time of his life, and begins a relationship with Beadie Russell.
McNulty's role was drastically scaled down in the fourth season. He has moved in with Beadie and her two children, and is enjoying his life as a patrolman in the Western alongside Sergeant Ellis Carver. His beat includes the corner Bodie Broadus is working on behalf of Marlo Stanfield. Short on detectives, McNulty is requested by both Major Daniels and Administrative Lieutenant Mello to do investigative work in the district which he refuses to do. Mello remains disappointed while Daniels realizes that McNulty has improved his behavior in working as a patrol man. When the other officers are involved in making arrests for statistical purposes, he focuses on quality arrests, such as two burglars who had been stealing from Churches. In the process he mentors Officer Baker, a younger patrol officer in the Western, whom he and Bunk Moreland end up refering to as "good police." He also cuts down significantly on his drinking, only having one or two now and again, and sometimes resolving to stay sober. Bunk and Freamon are amazed at how much Jimmy has changed, and Elena expresses regret for having left him, saying "if I would have known you'd grow up to be a grown-up, things might have turned out differently." McNulty soon begins to miss the importance of the Major Case Squad, and quietly begins getting closer to Bodie, hoping to turn him into an informant against Marlo. After "Monk" Metcalf sees Bodie with McNulty, Bodie is killed. McNulty feels guilty, and rejoins the Major Case Unit, much to the delight of Freamon and Daniels.
McNulty is back to his old habits after a frustrating year long investigation into the vacant murders that has failed to yield any results. When the major crimes unit is closed down McNulty is despondent, telling himself that he was talked into rejoining the unit by commands promises of reform in the department. McNulty is transferred back to homicide and his frustration manifests itself in heavy drinking and womanizing despite his relationship with Russell.
McNulty, like most of his fellow detectives, becomes angry over departmental budget cuts ordered by Mayor Carcetti, which effectively cut off overtime. Looking to force the department to put money back into the funding of Homicide, McNulty fabricates evidence linking several deaths to a non-existant serial killer. McNulty "jukes" a few bodies to appear as though injuries occurred that point to serial murder and ties red ribbon around the limbs of several of the bodies as well. His plan is successful and the department gets the necessary overtime funding to investigate his fictitiious killer. The plan backfires however, when McNulty can no longer keep it a secret. He is reprimanded by Rawls and Daniels and reveals his plan. McNulty is subsequently fired from the department and a fake wake is held for him at Kavanaugh's, where, despite his nefarious dealings in the department, he is honored and receives a friendly send off from his colleagues and friends.
|Season 1 appearances|
|"The Target"||"The Detail"||"The Buys"||"Old Cases"||"The Pager"|
|"The Wire"||"One Arrest"||"Lessons"||"Game Day"||"The Cost"|
|"The Hunt"||"Cleaning Up"||"Sentencing"|
|Season 2 appearances|
|"Ebb Tide"||"Collateral Damage"||"Hot Shots"||"Hard Cases"||"Undertow"|
|"All Prologue"||"Backwash"||"Duck and Cover"||"Stray Rounds"||"Storm Warnings"|
|"Bad Dreams"||"Port in a Storm"|
|Season 3 appearances|
|"Time after Time"||"All Due Respect"||"Dead Soldiers"||"Amsterdam"||"Straight and True"|
|"Homecoming"||"Back Burners"||"Moral Midgetry"||"Slapstick"||"Reformation"|
|"Middle Ground"||"Mission Accomplished"|
|Season 4 appearances|
|"Boys of Summer"||"Soft Eyes"||"Home Rooms"||"Refugees"||"Alliances"|
|"Margin of Error"||"Unto Others"||"Corner Boys"||"Know Your Place"||"Misgivings"|
|"A New Day"||"That's Got His Own"||"Final Grades"|
|Season 5 appearances|
|"More with Less"||"Unconfirmed Reports"||"Not for Attribution"||"Transitions"||"React Quotes"|
|"The Dickensian Aspect"||"Took"||"Clarifications"||"Late Editions"||"–30–"|
David Simon, the character's creator, has described his goal of presenting McNulty as ambiguous in his motivations. Based on his experiences of real detectives he feels that most crime dramas present their police characters with the inherent falsehood that they care deeply about the victims in the cases they are investigating. Simon states that in his experience a good detective is usually motivated by the game of solving the crime - he sees the crime as an "insult to his intellectual vanity" and this gives him motivation to solve it.
The character was originally named Jimmy McArdleyy but executive producer Robert F. Colesberry suggested renaming him to Jimmy McNulty (after his maternal grandmother) because no-one liked the name. Dominic West's original audition tape for the part was recorded with him as the sole actor leaving spaces for the lines that would be spoken back to him. The producers were amused by the tape and agreed that they had to give him an audition.
The character has been described as "irresistibly charming, a classic anti-hero; a modern-day Rockford." The role of McNulty's character has been described as defying genre conventions - although his actions drive several plot points he is not exactly the central character you might expect from the shows opening or promotional material. Flak magazine also picked McNulty as a central character - they commented on the uncommon experience of having the main character fit to a standard police character archetype ("He has poor impulse control. He's personally fearless and outspoken, and he bangs babes like a hunchback rings bells.") but also exposing the archetype as self destructive and emotionally immature. Salon described McNulty as "The heart, soul and oft-impaired nervous system of "The Wire"", again selecting him as a central character. Salon also chose McNulty's pride as his main character trait - they described this aspect of his personality as being the thing which gives him his success as an investigator and his failure in most other aspects of his life. EW picked McNulty as offering one of the shows most wicked ironies, he is one of the characters you would expect to be on the side of law and order as a police detective but they describe him as a "boozing cop who pisses on authority and order."
- ↑ "The Cost"
- ↑ Org Chart - The Law. HBO (2004). Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
- ↑ "More with Less". Joe Chappelle, Writ. David Simon (story and teleplay), Ed Burns (story). The Wire. HBO. 2008-01-06. No. 1, season 5.
- ↑ Ian Rothkerch (2002). "What drugs have not destroyed, the war on them has". Salon.com. Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
- ↑ Alvarez, Rafael (2004). The Wire: Truth Be Told. New York: Pocket Books.
- ↑ Jim Shelley (2005). Call The Cops. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2006-07-12.
- ↑ Jon Garelick (2004). "A man must have a code" - listening in on The Wire.. Boston Phoenix. Retrieved on 2006-07-12.
- ↑ James Norton (2005). The Wire vs. The Sopranos. Flak magazine. Retrieved on 2006-07-12.
- ↑ Dan Kois (2004). Everything you were afraid to ask about "The Wire". Salon.com. Retrieved on 2006-07-12.
- ↑ Gillian Flinn (2004). TV 2004 The 10 Best. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved on 2006-07-12.