Sunday, April 10, 2022

REVIEW: '61st Street' - Moses' Plans for the Future Disappear Simply By Being in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time in 'Pilot'

AMC's 61st Street - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Track star Moses Johnson is swept up into a world of chaos, violence and corrupt policing during a presumed drug sting gone wrong. Public defender Franklin Roberts considers retirement and his impact on the community.

"Pilot" was written by Peter Moffat and directed by Marta Cunningham

Moses Johnson couldn't possibly be guilty of killing a cop. And yet, that's exactly what happens. The police respond with absolute viciousness and hatred. They are motivated out of anger and take out their vitriol on a community they already see as less than. They were monitoring the people selling drugs on the corner. They took aggressive actions to cut down on the drug trade. But all they care to remember is the moment a gun is fired. That gives them permission to do whatever they want. Moses responds by running. That's his entire identity. Before that moment, he was a track star preparing for college. He received a full-ride scholarship. He made his way out of this community. Success awaits him. All of his dreams are coming true. He can be the pride and joy of the south side. He will accomplish many great things - possibly even an Olympic medal. He worked hard to achieve all of this. He wants to protect his younger brother from the gangsters encroaching on their neighborhood. He fondly remembers a time when there was honor amongst criminals. They knew school zones were off limits. But now, everyone is so desperate to survive. They will cross any line if it leads to personal prosperity. They are proud to boast of what they are willing to do. That means even pointing a gun in Moses' face. The cops don't care to understand what that moment was possibly about. Instead, they only see a murder that happened while another felony was in process. That means they can charge everyone they arrest with the murder of one of their own. It's a classic tactic of seeking the maximum punishment and ensuring an entire community pays for the crime instead of one individual. It's necessary to see the systemic cases of human behavior. The scope is necessary and can provide enlightenment. Moses doesn't want anything to jeopardize his future career as an athlete. He recognizes the threat that comes from being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He blames the officer for refusing to get out of his way. He didn't mean for him to pay with his life. That's what happens though. And so, all of this only escalates further. The intensity quickly goes up. It's a matter of life or death for everyone. It's not only Moses' life on the line. His brother and mother are targeted by the police just as fiercely. The officers believe they must be allies to their cause otherwise they would be just as responsible for this loss. They simply can't imagine a scenario where that is true. And yet, loyalty is a much more complicated thing. It can't quickly be surmised like that despite the lieutenant's best efforts to intimidate.

The potential evidence exists to shine a light on what happened. There is no reason to believe Moses and Joshua were selling drugs or trying to buy them on the corner. The police are in close enough proximity to respond with violence when the situation calls for it. They can't ignore the moments before the gunshot. That provides meaningful context. Meanwhile, eyewitnesses and cameras are present. The lieutenant sees that. That will be a necessary tool to understand what happened to his fallen officer. Of course, Michael also went to work wearing a wire. It took a confidential informant for him to question the policy decisions being made by his superior. He wasn't being promoted for a reason. That comes with no clarity. Nor should the audience assume that any of these police officers are good at their jobs. They are a corrupt entity who move in complete sync with one another. They will get the information they need no matter what. They believe their lives are being targeted by people with such animosity and hatred. As such, they have a right to respond with even more viciousness. It's a tragic cycle of escalation. Moses can't run forever. That's the advice his mother gives him. She is brave for doing so. She does so to her own detriment. She wants people to be careful and protective of her life. It doesn't make sense for her son to be wrapped up in this scandal. That's the tragic twist of fate. Any moment could turn to tragedy. It doesn't matter if the future has other plans. It doesn't matter what one's reputation is around the community. So much is revealed. And then, Franklin Roberts is baffled when the system turns against the people who live here. He has been a public defender for decades. He too doesn't exactly seem good at his job. He has given his life to the profession. He now reckons with the idea that he didn't change anything for the better. He may have only made things worse for his clients because he offended judges who wield the power to sentence them however they want. It's a brutal depiction of the criminal justice system and the desperate people who are forced to endure it every day. It doesn't offer much personality or characterizations though. That may come in the future. Right now, the audience is suppose to be intrigued by the situation and the actors involved. Tosin Cole isn't exactly believable as a teenager. That's a problem when trying to display his innocence. The world has hardened plenty of people already. And now, they are forced to endure even more because the entire system ensures this is the outcome for so much of life. That's bleak and may not make for a thrilling or engaging show to watch every week.