Monday, February 26, 2018

REVIEW: Netflix's 'Seven Seconds' - Season 1

Netflix dropped the entire ten episode first season of Seven Seconds on Friday, February 23. This post will feature brief reviews of each specific episode of the season.

The drama stars Clare-Hope Ashitey, Beau Knapp, Michael Mosley, David Lyons, Russell Hornsby, Raul Castillo, Patrick Murney, Zackary Momoh, Michelle Veintimilla and Regina King.

101. "Pilot"
Written by Veena Sud and directed by Gavin O'Connor

The premiere has a lot of exposition it needs to get through in order to properly set up this story. It's chilling to watch that opening sequence with Peter Jablonski on his phone on that ice covered road only to hit Brenton Butler with him only slowly realizing that. The show doesn't confirm the victim's identity for a long time. It establishes several additional characters before it's confirmed that this young man is Isaiah and Latrice's son. The audience sees those two giving back to the community through helping another set of kids at school and in the church choir. They are in love. But the hour also pulls back the layers for them as a family where the return of Uncle Seth is looming and they are completely destroyed by the realization that they don't know exactly what their son was doing. Setting that up as a mystery that perhaps ties into gang activity isn't that interesting. It seems more cliche and problematic. It's much more engaging to see the aftermath of this event and the cover-up than linger on the secrets of the victim. It's better to move forward instead of lingering on the past. And right now, the only thing stopping the cover-up from succeeding is K.J.'s lackluster approach to being a prosecutor. Her being a high-functioning alcohol is all-consuming of her character. It's a compelling note for her though because it also connects her to this case in a way that is real and visceral. She reacts not out of empathy for the destruction of this African-American family but in knowing just how impossible the cops' story actually is. That may be fueling her drive for not showing up in court. Or perhaps that extends completely out of her being thrown for a loop by this case of life or death. It's her first of this nature and is really making her spiral in her disease. That's just enough of a complication to ensure that the legal system doesn't move in the way her boss or the cops expect it to right now. B

102. "Brenton's Breath"
Written by Veena Sud and directed by Jonathan Demme

Well, it already seems like Seven Seconds is meandering a little bit. It's expanding the world of the characters to showcase how their daily lives are affected by this tragedy. But it's also just a lot of opaque storytelling choices of various characters just wandering through their lives. And so, a significant amount of time is spent on Latrice clinging onto the hope that her son will recover simply by talking to him, Isaiah going to work instead of the hospital and just walking around the slaughterhouse, and Jablonski and his wife worrying about the pregnancy. It also continues to set up this cop unit in which Jablonski seems like the only good officer. That has the potential to be very problematic. He's the one who committed the central crime and is spiraling because of it even though he doesn't know the true extent of what's happening. But he's also learning how corrupt this unit actually is. The core trio are actually working with drug dealers. At least that's what seems to be the case. But it's also just abundantly clear that DiAngelo is covering up this crime to ensure nothing paints his unit in an unflattering light. It's also significant that DiAngelo and Fish are forming some kind of bond because they have similar personalities. They are horrible and offensive people. They are on conflicting sides of this case. Fish is reluctant to help K.J. investigate further but he ultimately does because he can see that things aren't lining up - even though he is just assuming that Brenton is a gang member. Manipulating that relationship could ultimately help DiAngelo in the end. But the case changes immediately at the conclusion of the episode when Brenton dies while Latrice goes to get food. It's such a powerful final moment for Regina King that once again proves why she is an Emmy-winning actress. It's so moving to watch that grim reality hit Latrice and absorb her completely while realizing that her son died all alone the moment that she left his side. B

103. "Matters of Life and Death"
Written by J. David Shanks and directed by Jon Amiel

Is Jablonski becoming too sympathetic of a character? He's certainly the most sympathetic cop on the show. He still sees the humanity of the people he meets on the streets. His new co-workers call him naive because of that. To them, they just see these vicious criminals as animals who deserve to be treated as such. It's easy for them to make that argument in the end considering what happens with that baby they discover during the bust. That's enough to potentially change Jablonski as well even though the audience is suppose to like that he has a wife and new baby to return home to. He doesn't like this new unit but he's forced to stay with them because they covered up his crime. He is indebted to them. And now, that's trapping him in a bad situation that is bound to only get worse. The only question is if the audience should care about what happens to him knowing that he killed Brenton and the grief that is now causing the Butler family? It's so moving watching that aspect of the show. Latrice is searching for answers. She repeatedly gets her hopes up to no avail. Now, she learns the devastating news that her son's killer is still at large. She has no answers. And then, Isaiah gets arrested because the police don't wish to see him as a grieving father. They just see him as yet another angry black man. That's so disruptive and difficult to watch. It's just a brief moment for a character the audience doesn't have too much insight into at the moment though. Plus, all of the gang-related speculation with Brenton has to be a massive red herring, right? It's just painting too many of the assumptions with the handling of the case to ultimately be proven correct. It shades how Fish sees this story. DiAngelo can justify his actions by saying it was just another gang member lost. The show didn't make Brenton a human being before killing him. But it's important to the nature of this story that his humanity shines through. Otherwise, there's just no point to any of it. B-

104. "That What Follows"
Written by Dan Nowak and directed by Tanya Hamilton

This actually turns out to be quite a pivotal episode. Of course, all of that largely happens in the end. It's still mostly an episode that lingers in the ambiguity of its characters and its premise. It's still enjoying the mystery of its characters and their place in this narrative. The end of the hour makes some pretty definitive statements. Leading up to that though, things are very uncertain. Will Jablonski be sympathetic because he refuses to engage with this unit's harsh and corrupt tactics? Is Latrice going crazy in the aftermath of her son's death? Will K.J. be able to effectively prosecute this case? And now, some definitive answers are given. Jablonski fully embraces his role within this unit. He accepts being a part of this corrupt culture. He asked for their help when he needed it. And now, he's saying all of the right things he needs to say to fit in. It's all with the assumption that he actually means it too. Plus, he's threatening to kill his father. He is now firmly in the villain camp after a few ambiguous hours. It's because of that that it hits so profoundly when Latrice recognizes him on the street as the man in her son's hospital room. She needed to know she didn't imagine that. And now, she recognizes his voice once more as he is brutal to yet another group of young black men. But the most crucial development of this episode may be Fish and K.J. realizing that DiAngelo and his unit were involved in the Butler case. Nadine recognizes them immediately. She didn't witness the accident itself. But she did see the cover-up. She knows they are to blame. That tied together with Latrice seeing Jablonski is enough to give the audience confidence that these four individuals involved will be exposed much sooner than expected. And that's a thrilling prospect that shows that this season doesn't want to linger on one idea for too long. That's good because this aspect of the story was already becoming quite dull and uninteresting. B-

105. "Of Gods and Men"
Written by Shalisha Francis and directed by Coky Giedroyc

Well, this is a somewhat frustrating episode. The previous one ended on the enticing note of everyone discovering that DiAngelo and his unit were responsible for the murder and coverup of Brenton Butler. But now, the narrative solely seems interesting in wiping away all of that evidence just to keep that plot going for a little while longer. And so, K.J. doesn't get a written statement from Nadine that identifies DiAngelo, Osorio and Wilcox as suspects. That's a story bound to end in tragedy because DiAngelo has tracked Nadine down to ensure that she won't be of any use to the investigation anymore. It's an ominous final note that definitely suggests that he's going to kill her. And then, Latrice no longer trusts K.J. and Fish enough to actually name Jablonski as the man she saw in the hospital - who was likely the driver of the car. K.J. now realizes that one of the paper seagulls was taken from the crime scene. That proves Latrice's seemingly crazy story is true. But now, Latrice is uncooperative. She's that way after an hour of harassing Marie. She does that because she believes no one else is fighting for justice in a world that no longer makes sense. Her marriage is falling apart because she is turning her back on God to find answers about her son's murder while Isaiah has no time to actually connect with the physical world around him. He's just cold and distant while refusing to see things as they actually are. He would just rather be hung up on the fact that his son was possibly in a gang. And yet, all of the gang related stuff really isn't that interesting. It's just something there to eventually set up a big twist. But the episode still wants to end on an uplifting note of K.J. fighting against the oppressive system to ensure this story actually stays out there and isn't silenced just because all of her evidence has gone up in smoke. But again, that mostly just seems like contrived complications to keep the story going in the same way that it has been instead of actually changing over the course of the season. C+

106. "Until It Do"
Written by Francesca Sloane and directed by Ernest Dickerson

It's become clear that Seven Seconds enjoys playing with mysteries. It didn't make its central storyline a mystery in regards to who killed Brenton and who helped cover it up. But it does thrive on the mysterious nature of Brenton with any new detail coming to light to completely flip this case on its head - like his arrest in New York for marijuana possession and Latrice's knowledge of it. That's in addition to the mystery over who tipped off the press (still unknown) and what happened to Nadine (she survived her encounter with DiAngelo and is living with Fish though DiAngelo believes she's no longer a threat for plot reasons). But the structure of this season has told things as if it was a ten-episode mystery. That's an odd creative decision that keeps things from escalating in a natural way. It also means that some supporting characters aren't truly fleshed out until the sixth episode. The concerns of Osorio, Wilcox and Seth haven't been all that important up to this point. But now, the show is just presenting the case for why Osorio and Wilcox may flip on DiAngelo and the unit to protect themselves. Meanwhile, Seth is mostly the entry point to the gang world that seemingly confirms here that Brenton had nothing to do with that. Of course, it's still a mystery why he was at the park in the first place and why he was friends with these criminals. But again, it's the show trying to tell an unbiased story about perception. Brenton's image changes in an instant because of this minor arrest in New York. It's such a small thing but it turns the case toxic. A civil lawyer doesn't want any part of it while the prosecutors only reluctantly give their support. That change is what fuels Latrice's decision to ask Seth for a gun to kill Jablonski. That's a dark moment. It's her taking action for her son's death. She is no longer wallowing in the grief. It's fascinating to see how Latrice and Isaiah are lashing out in different ways while they are apart. But both are incredibly destructive that should carry consequences moving forward. B-

107. "Boxed Devil"
Written by Rhett Rossi and directed by Ed Bianchi

The audience has been ahead of the characters for this entire season. We've known the truth about what happened to Brenton and the coverup. As such, that runs the risk of the lead investigators Fish and K.J. seeming dim just because they aren't coming to those conclusions fast enough. It makes it seem ridiculous that it takes them forever to understand Teresa's message about her cousin's husband. It makes it seem ridiculous that neither of them actually know Jablonski once they identify him as the driver of the vehicle. So yes, that does mean the first half of this episode meanders quite a bit as it builds to its climatic conclusion. It's a lot of back and forth between Jablonski being arrested, killed by Latrice, killed by the gang or going on the run after receiving help from DiAngelo. But the second half of the episode is the most intense and effective stretch of the season so far. It's the stunning conclusion to this mystery that the entire season has been building towards. It leaves just a handful of episodes left to analyze the legal repercussions of this case. That's important too. A case could be made for there needing to be even more time spent on that aspect of this story. But right now, it's thrilling to watch Fish have that sit down moment with Seth where he believes he has a gun and plans on using it to deliver a message. It plays on the audience's expectations as well. We expect him to have a gun because it is missing from Latrice's hotel room. But he doesn't. It's just another pointed sequence that showcases the lack of humanity in this system. Sure, it's the show also manipulating the audience to make it effective. But it's also tied deeply to the images of the police using violence in order to break up the protest just outside the doors. That shows that there are still systemic and destructive issues at play here that extend far beyond the unit involved with this crime. As such, it's satisfying to see all four of them arrested in the end. It's the kind of resolution everyone has been hoping for. But the show is also extremely aware that it's not the end of the story. There's still so much that can go wrong and compromise this case. B+

108. "Bailed Out"
Written by Evangeline Ordaz and directed by Dan Attias

It really is so devastating to see how minor the consequences are to the arrests of the four officers here. This episode is all about establishing the legal showdown. The cops get their new lawyer. K.J. has to present her case to her boss and the grand jury. New testimony from Nadine makes her case even stronger. But it's so completely nauseating to see how this system still allows these horrendous individuals to do so much destruction in this world. The judge has no sympathy for this case. He allows the officers to be released on bail for a minimum amount. Only Jablonski is confined to house arrest but that's still a joke because nothing happens as soon as he breaks that to reunite with his wife. These cops are still allowed to conspire together. They exist in a system that uniformly empowers and respects them. They've made so many mistakes this season. They deserve to be locked away for many years. The show is simply highlighting just how broken the system is and why justice isn't always served. Nadine dies because no one of importance is aware of just how destructive and villainous these individuals are. Yes, Jablonski has a heart in finally opening up to his wife about his abusive childhood. But that's not an excuse for his horrendous behavior now. He still has to be held accountable for his actions. Everyone does because they looked into that ditch and didn't report Brenton's injuries like they swore an oath to do. That's their negligence in this case. And now, they are hoping to get off by silencing the witness. That mostly seems like a plot device to keep the story going for another two episodes where K.J. will have to argue for Nadine's grand jury testimony to be allowed in the trial. It certainly keeps the possibility of these officers getting away with their crimes open. That's a disheartening realization just as the Butler family are all trying to move on and find acceptance that they have done all that they can do to help Brenton. It plays it true to life while also preying on the audience's visceral reactions of just how profoundly messed up all of this actually is. B

109. "Witnesses for the Prosecution"
Written by John Lopez and directed by Victoria Mahoney

The breakdown of the lines of communication appears to be such a central theme of this story. The audience is made privy to every action and reveal of information in the show. We have the full tapestry of information. We are allowed to feel different emotions than the characters because we know exactly what happened and how it happened. We are furious that K.J. doesn't have the evidence to prove that all four officers were responsible in Brenton's death. This hour puts everything on the record for the first time. It's the show putting out every thread of information and making sure that everyone knows everything. So yes, that is repetitive. Isaiah didn't know about Brenton's arrest and Latrice bailing him out. Latrice didn't know the truth about Brenton being gay and spending the night with his boyfriend. Fish is the only one who knows that Nadine only smoked drugs and didn't shoot up like her overdose suggests. This hour is all about the emotion that comes from this going on the record in the trial against Jablonski. He is the only one on trial. K.J. is desperately trying to make those charges stick. She's presenting a solid case. The facts are on her side after all. The most powerful elements of this hour though are the reveals that the audience didn't know about beforehand. Yes, that includes the social services call on Isaiah after he disciplined Brenton with a belt. That reveal wasn't all that necessary or engaging. It just continues to prop up just how poor a father he actually was. But it's the final twist that truly shakes up this case. K.J. was operating under the assumption that Jablonski committed a hate crime by not stopping once he saw that Brenton was black. The audience didn't know the surgeon had to peel the hoodie off of Brenton and that's why he survived for as long as he did. But now, that's the precise detail that could potentially ruin this entire case. That's absolutely devastating. It's such a minor fact. But it gets its power from the surprise and the sudden understanding that Jablonski could ultimately walk free by the conclusion of this trial. B

110. "A Boy and a Bike"
Written by Veena Sud & Shalisha Francis and directed by Ed Bianchi

Latrice and Isaiah were active parts of their son's case. Isaiah was the one who figured out why Brenton was in the park that morning and that it wasn't gang related. Latrice figured out who Jablonski was and the role he played in Brenton's death. But they also got in the way of the investigation as well. Latrice harassed Jablonski and Marie. She withheld information from K.J. and Fish because she didn't know if she could trust them. Isaiah was ashamed to admit his shortcomings with both his son and his brother. He didn't want to feel like a failure even though he pushed his entire family away. And now, the outcome of this story comes directly because of their actions. K.J. becomes confident in her case once more after discovering the bumper in Jablonski's backyard. She feels she can offer him a deal in order to get the other three officers involved in the crime. She is confident and shares those feelings with Latrice and Isaiah. When Marie is offering her sympathies to Latrice though, Latrice tells her about the hit DiAngelo put out on her husband. It was an action to prove that there is no reason for them to be loyal to him any longer. Meanwhile, Isaiah confidently sits down next to DiAngelo to tell him that all of his manipulations and scheming are coming down hard on him. That he's about to go to prison and will likely die because of DiAngelo's testimony against him. These two actions fuel DiAngelo, Marie and Jablonski's actions throughout the remainder of the trial. They are the actions that compromise this entire case. Jablonski takes notice and uses it to remain loyal to his unit. He goes down for this crime alone. He refuses to turn on them. The show doesn't delve into his mindset in that moment. But it showcases how corrupt and complicated this entire system can actually be. It's hopeful to believe that an impassioned speech from K.J. to the jury will be enough to convict Jablonski for 20 years. In reality though, she didn't make a convincing case for this being a hate crime. To the audience, she did because it's a moment guided by the images she's asking the jury to imagine. The show is building that connection with us so that we can empathize in addition to knowing the full truth of this story. But the jury seldomly has all of the information. That's what produces the final result of Jablonski being the only officer going to jail and it's only for a year with the option for parole in 30 days. It plays as a heartbreaking defeat. This entire case has exposed the corruption of this world and nothing meaningful will change because of it. It's the show playing things true to life. There's always the hope and the prayers that things will change. It's infuriating to watch when it doesn't. And now, the characters have to find a way to keep on living knowing that mistakes were made and justice wasn't quite found for either Brenton or Nadine despite the guilty verdict. B+