Thursday, January 28, 2021

REVIEW: 'For Life' - Aaron and Safiya Return to Bellmore After the Prison Goes Into Lockdown Due to the Pandemic in '354'

ABC's For Life - Episode 2.06 "354"

After an urgent call from Bellmore concerning the growing COVID-19 pandemic, Aaron enlists Safiya's help and heads back to the prison to investigate. Meanwhile, Marie faces a choice: expose her family to the virus or go all-in at the hospital.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides 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 ABC's For Life.

"354" was written by Garen Thomas and directed by Russell Fine

Many shows have had to decide over the last year how much of the current real-life drama of the COVID-19 pandemic to incorporate into their stories. In some instances, it's necessary and vital in order to tell informed narratives about how this virus has completely changed the world. In other places, it wouldn't make sense and would actually cripple the charms of what works in those particular premises. For Life didn't start its second season talking about the pandemic. Instead, it was a continuation of Aaron's story as he was released from prison. He was struggling to adapt back home with his family. He was dealing with the pressures of his probation. He was also starting up his legal work with Roswell in the hopes of making a difference in the community. The show felt it was necessary to establish this foundation before throwing in the pandemic as well. It's a smart and incisive creative decision. The story of how the virus has ravaged through prisons is pivotal. It's something that needs to be seen. It's an important story that can't be ignored. The buildings are essentially set up to be petri dishes for the disease. It's horrifying. It pulls Aaron back to Bellmore. He is forced to spend the night there once more. That is a huge action. He feels compelled to fight for his fellow inmates. They are being abused by the system. The new warden is tough but fair. And yet, he basically has no idea what's going on inside the prison. The guards are covering up just how bad it is. The prisoners don't feel like they can speak up. They too feel disassociated with the world. They don't know what's happening even in the next cell. The world seems like a complete unknown to them. It's easier for the people in charge to dismiss just how severe all of this actually is. That doesn't help anyone though. It's simply a way to ensure that the structure that has always worked isn't challenged in a significant way. Aaron has to fight to get inside the prison to start with. He needs to check on the safety and well-being of his client. Once inside, he and Safiya realize that there is more that is being left unsaid. Everyone has fears about the pandemic. They worry about the devastation it can cause. And yet, it's necessary to be upfront with the information. The new warden can't offer any of that. He believes that things are fine. He has enacted all the necessary protocols to keep everyone safe. He's basically told people to be in charge of their own safety. If they want to wear masks and keep their distance, then they should have the right to do so. It's leadership through inaction. The system is being abused. The union for the guards has caused more harm. Unions aren't inherently evil. They help provide protection for people who take on demanding jobs with the expectation that the forces at large respect their humanity. Unions come into problems when they seek out power through demoralizing and oppressing other people. The guards believe that their jobs are in jeopardy if the prison has to release more inmates. That is the humane thing to do though. Aaron and Safiya advocate for that. 354 lives are saved because they are taken out of this immediate danger. It doesn't suddenly make everything better. Aaron has to sacrifice a lot in order to achieve this as well. It's still the right thing to do. The pandemic has changed everything. It has forced people to make decisions that they normally wouldn't be comfortable with. Marie has had to remove herself from her family. She doesn't want to risk bringing the virus back home with her. She feels the need to serve at the hospital. It's arduous and draining. It's joyous when she sees the immediate, life-saving impact Aaron has at the prison. However, she is still worried about his health. He listens to her as well. That proves that the future looks bright for this couple. Some time has passed between the previous episode and this one. Aaron and Marie have gone to counseling. He doesn't think it does much good. But he is learning how to communicate with Marie again. He keeps her up to date with the risks he is taking. She supports him in this fight. He supports and loves her too. It's a partnership. Neither one is preventing the other from serving in a way that honors human life. They worry about each other though. That is completely rewarding and healthy for them to do as well. The show tells so much about how the characters have evolved because of the changes in the entire world. The season was first built on the personal intrigue of their lives after Aaron's release. Now, it expands the focus further. Aaron and Safiya save hundreds of lives. Jamal's fate is still up in the air. More work still has to be done. Aaron has to drop his case against the NYPD. That's devastating to him. He can still celebrate the victory at Bellmore though. That too highlights the progress he has made in his life. He can never forget his time in prison. He accomplished great things during that time in his life. And now, he continues to carry that forward. Safiya is willing to help him now as well even though she doesn't have the influence she once did. That too brings a renewed sense of purpose to her life. It invigorates the show while highlighting these incredibly personal stories during a difficult and scary time.