Tuesday, March 28, 2017

REVIEW: 'Rebel' - Rebel Deals with Her Brother's Tragic Death by Becoming a Private Investigator in 'Pilot'

BET's Rebel - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

A renegade cop has to make a series of tough choices after an on the job incident changes her life forever.

The two-hour pilot has sorta gone out of style. It used to be very common. And now, there are only a couple shows per year that do it. It's understandable why it's no longer the trend. It's a lot for an audience to commit too. Television is already running too long right now. Just because the creative team has the ability to tell their story for as long as they want on a cable or streaming platform doesn't always make it wise. Sometimes restrictions are good and force the creators to focus on what's really important. Of course, BET is trying to make two-hour pilots a thing again. All of its ongoing dramas have started this way. Both Being Mary Jane and The Quad did. And now, Rebel from John Singleton continues that trend. And yes, there are moments in this premiere that drag. Basically anything that has to do with Method Man as Rebel's ex-husband didn't really work for me. Meanwhile, the second half of the premiere largely just sets up the formula for the ongoing series. And yet, this extended premiere tells a powerful story and does a phenomenal job in setting up Rebel and who she is as a flawed character and what's important to her. That's a great starting point for a potentially great series.

The key inciting incident of this story is the death of Rebel's brother by her fellow police officers. It's a very timely story. The show adds a nice familiar twist on the proceedings as well. It personalizes the story. The cops that are first on the scene known who Malik is. In fact, those officers are Rebel and her partner, Mack. Sure, that could seem very melodramatic. If Rebel wasn't there, it would help create a larger mystery as to what happened. Before his death, Malik seems like a good kid. He's in an esteemed music program with rap aspirations. He has a solid relationship with his family even though his father wants him to stay at home more. Yes, he has a shady crew but there's nothing screaming that he's a bad kid about to commit a crime. And yet, he still ends up in this situation where he has a gun and police are chasing him. The surprise of that sequence works because it feels like the tension alleviates once it's revealed it's Malik. But that's not the case at all. Mack still fires which creates a situation where the additional cops arriving on the scene believe that Malik is still armed and shooting at police. That's what leads to his death.

Of course, the action that follows is largely about the emotional uncertainty Rebel is feeling - both on the job and in her life. She has a big personality that doesn't always play well with others. She speaks her mind all the time. She's on the side of truth. And right now, it seems like Internal Affairs is trying to twist the narrative into something that looks good for the department. It seems clear cut what happened. The audience experiences it all alongside Rebel. Mack shoots for some unknown reason. The stylized sequence of what he's thinking in that moment could be too over-the-top. It really is this elaborate and highly dramatized sequence. That's not really a tone that extends through the rest of the premiere. But with it being the big event that sets the plot in motion, it's fine for it to be perceived that way. Rebel feels justified for shooting her partner because he fired at an unarmed citizen for no reason. And yet, the new officers on the scene take a split second to react and openly fire on Malik. Rebel wants to blame them for his death. And yet, those characters aren't important for the remainder of the premiere. Rebel has their files but she gets distracted by other story details. It seems like a case where people reacted horribly in the moment without all the facts. But something more sinister could be happening as well - especially with whatever is going on in Mack's head.

The story also creates a huge question for Rebel's career. She can either go along with the official story and keep her job or she can stand by her lawsuit and have to go into business as a private investigator. Of course, it doesn't really feel like that big of a choice. While she's suspended from active duty, she takes on a case for a friend. Honestly, the case itself doesn't feel that original. At first, it seems pretty generic. Private investigators work at exposing cheating spouses. That's such a basic understanding of the profession. And yet, the case takes quite a bit of turns. Some of them are more successful than others. It's shocking when Bill, the husband of Rebel's client, is killed and Rebel can't stay at the scene to gather information. But it's also not a mystery as to who killed him. Dolores simply got involved with the wrong man. She had a fling with someone who got too obsessed with her. I guess that's the reason why she hired Rebel. But it still doesn't make much sense as to why she talked about fearing her husband and buying the gun. Not everything in this story adds up. Plus, the final reveal that Rebel is working against terrorists is a quick escalation of tension to establish stakes. It works when it comes to showing how badass Rebel is. But it's a huge turn that doesn't totally fit the story that preceded it nor does it seem like it'll continue to be important moving forward.

But Rebel sure does have a rousing final moment for its lead character. She doesn't seem like the type of person who would stand up and deliver a fantastic speech motivating people into action. She doesn't want to talk to the press about her brother's death nor does she want to attend any protests. And yet, she also finds herself having to defend her actions to a number of people throughout this premiere. She passionately gives her statement to Internal Affairs even though they don't want to hear it. Yes, she sees her version of the truth to be the definitive fact. She doesn't care about what anyone else has to say. That ultimately costs her her job as a police officer. She won't apologize for that. She was making waves at the department way before this incident occurred. This premiere opened with her arresting a known criminal without her partner. It ends with her walking into a restaurant with a shotgun to catch more criminals. She's good at her job and has no patience for the people who stand in her way. That's powerful to see. But it's also equally powerful to see her simply perform her poem about rebelling at an open mic. That shows that she's this complex women who expresses herself in many different ways. She's connected to many different people in this world. But more importantly, she's making the commitment to continue to pursue justice even though it seems to be letting her down with the most personal case to her.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pilot" was directed by John Singleton with teleplay by Kate Lanier and story by Amani Walker.
  • At first, I couldn't quite tell if Rebel and Cheena were best friends or something more. However, their dynamic is really strong. Their banter helps create the private investigator formula for the show moving forward - with Rebel as the detective and Cheena as her internet researcher.
  • Giancarlo Esposito plays Rebel's lieutenant at the police precinct who protects her no matter what. He gets caught in the middle of this case because Rebel is risking so much in the name of her brother. He's happy to help her at first. But things quickly grow more intense as the premiere goes along. Though maybe she can still count on him as a police contact once she gets established with her new job.
  • Rebel's mom is dead but her father is still alive. He was already a broken man who drowned his sorrows in alcohol. That's probably only going to get worse after Malik is killed. He already seems like an offensive and ignorant man made worse when drunk. But he also may be losing his mind as he believes Rebel is his wife doing the funeral.
  • So, Method Man plays Rebel's ex-husband, TJ, who is still in love with her. He's a very weird part of this story. Him just showing up at her apartment and seducing her just isn't behavior that should be rewarded. And yet, it's suppose to be a mystery of whether he will stay or go back to the East. I'm just not that engaged with it.
  • Malik was involved with someone named Texas. He's the person responsible for Malik being in that alley in the first place. Rebel is searching for him but doesn't get a clue until the end of the premiere. So, that's the big tease for next week's episode. I hope she gets definitive answers soon. She deserves that after everything she's experienced in this life.