Friday, May 31, 2019

REVIEW: 'When They See Us' - The Trial Balances Hope and Despair as It Builds to More Tragedy in 'Part Two'

Netflix's When They See Us - Episode 1.02 "Part Two"

As the jogger case stirs tensions nationwide, the families of the boys and their lawyers prepare for a bitter legal fight against the city of New York.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the next episode of Netflix's When They See Us.

"Part Two" was written by Ava DuVernay, Julian Breece & Attica Locke and directed by Ava DuVernay

Hope and despair have to be deftly balanced when it comes to telling this story. The show absolutely has to live in the moment as everyone hopes that justice will prevail on their side in the end. However, the audience is fundamentally aware that all of this is building towards tragedy because of the conviction of the boys who become known as the Central Park Five in the media. It's a very difficult approach to storytelling. However, it's completely needed in order to properly tell this story. This is a tale of systemic oppression that failed so many people repeatedly. It's a show that pleads for the system to change to ensure that even more people aren't abused in the same way. This has become a very public case. There are protests happening outside the courtroom during every day of the trial. There is a ton of coverage on the news. Public figures are releasing statements even though they have no connection to this case whatsoever. It's potent when the show recalls just how sinister the current president was in calling for the death penalty for these teens. There is compassion in hearing Oprah Winfrey's words of hopeful exoneration. However, it's all a bunch of noise that is happening elsewhere. The true drama occurs in the courtroom. The prosecution understands that this isn't a slam-dunk case. Linda Fairstein believes that it is because of all the evidence she aggressively pursued immediately in order to care for the central victim. The woman who was attacked has no recollection of it whatsoever but walks away with disabilities for the rest of her life. That's tragic and should never be lost in all of this. She was a victim in this story as well. She isn't personally responsible for condemning the fates of the five teens though. She couldn't say one way or the other whether they were the ones who assaulted her. Instead, she is mostly used as a prop by the prosecution in order to stir up rhetoric that whomever would do this to a white woman is an absolute monster. It's easy to blame people of color for the crime because they are treated as such in so many aspects of the world. The overall series doesn't follow that known perception though. It understands that this is a rich community of nuanced individuals. They aren't monolithic in a way that is easy to describe. These five teens all had their own aspirations in life. Their lives were completely destroyed because of this case. Some of them were released on bail. Some of them were not. That too shines a light on just how demoralizing the criminal justice system can be. It rewards those with the means to pay any of the legal fees the court deems necessary. There is also the fear that the teens can't find adequate lawyers to take on their cases. However, the team that is assembled is passionate and capable of making a compelling argument. There is no physical evidence that links them to the crimes. The only damning piece of evidence is the tapes and written statements. Those are certainly powerful moments. And yet, this hour goes back and forth regarding the perception of guilt. There are crushing moments of defeat where it seems like the prosecution is making the best argument by telling the best version of this story. And then, there are rousing moments where the defense delivers a valid point. It's clear that no one in this courtroom took their innocence seriously though. As such, they are all condemned to horrifying fates within the prison system. It's devastating to all of the families. But it's incredibly personal for Kevin, Antron, Yusef, Korey and Raymond. They may not understand the full ramifications of the actions they take or that others take on their behalf. But they are the ones who are ultimately faced with all of the consequences. They chose to fight together. They all proclaimed their innocence. That wasn't enough. They are found guilty. It feels satisfying to the prosecution. But it reverberates in such a destructive way for the people who just wanted normal lives and to be treated fairly by the system. It just isn't set up that way and that's absolutely horrifying.