For urbanites, cities are home as much as they are a mountain to climb. They are not a place where you rest, per se. They are a place where you compete for nearly everything: time, money, housing, food and space. In Netflix’s Seven Seconds starring Clare-Hope Ashitey and Regina King, a city is also a place where you compete for compassion.
The overarching theme of of the new show created by The Killing’s Veena Sud is of the vector of whose identities matter to whom and what that means. Can marginalized people tell the difference between an accident and an intent to murder? Would they, when presented with the long arch of their people’s history, even care? Seven Seconds tells us no, and, while the premise is flawed, the story unspools in intriguing ways revealing complex characters in a misbegotten concrete world.
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It isn’t a whodunit. We know who kills Brenton Butler in the park and we know how. Detective Pete Jablonski (Beau Knapp) is driving through on the way to see his pregnant wife. He hits something. And when that something turns out to be a black boy he calls his boss, Sergeant Michael D’Angelo (David Lyons). The guy — who is leader of the corrupt Narcotics unit — begs him to cover it up. No way the world would forgive him in this political climate. Not after Ferguson and Baltimore. Not with everything being so black and white at the moment: he’s a cop and the kid is black. The child lays in the freezing winter for hours, a red streak of blood permeating the snow. Echoes of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown come to mind. So it’s up to an assistant prosecutor named K.J. Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and an off-kilter detective named Joe Renaldi (Michael Mosley) to help get to the bottom of the crime as the boy lays in a coma.
Told as an anthology, the collection of episodes runs the gamut of each character’s pain. Latrice Butler (Regina King) tumbles into her despair like a blanket tossed onto a bed. Her loneliness, fear, and rage are palatable. Officer Jablonski is cornered between guilt and shame over the accident. One defined in the show as “depraved indifference”, which is conduct so wanton, so deprived of concern for the welfare of others, that it warrants the same treatment as someone who committed murder with intent. That split keenly shows the difference between how the law sees human beings and how the audience will, even as the accident and now crime, leads to more crimes and cover-ups.
The nugget that’s missing and that was present in a show like The Night Of, for example, is how the system views all of this. After all, systems are just a collection of people making decisions. And what Seven Seconds actually shows is how cities choose who matters. How social constructs like race, sex, gender, class, and occupation affect how public systems assuage or punish their citizens. And how job holders have an inordinate amount of power over who gets a beating and who doesn’t.
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As the crimes pile up, Harper and Renaldi develop a strange bond. The prosecutor’s past includes a case gone awry that leads to unintended consequences. Renaldi’s newness to the department leaves him out in the cold a la Serpico, a role he relishes. Somehow, their mutual brokenness ends up fitting snugly together, as Harper plies the pressure with booze. These interactions are some of the shows best, leading to unexpected crack ups and understandings.
Otherwise, the ambition of Seven Seconds runs ahead of it. The main characters are deeply fleshed out while others fade into single-handed tropes. The members of the narcotics unit are cops hellbent on upholding flawed principles. There’s a haphazard theory that the hit-and-run victim had gang connections, as well. The boy’s father is all but a heap of ‘I’m trying.’ But what’s most intriguing is how Seven Seconds just misses telling the story of the main character of the show: the city. How it cradles some and shuns others. How groups and laws filter reality through their own misperceptions. How history informs are reality. And, how, if anything is to change, the component parts of the city must change alongside it.
Seven Seconds is currently available for streaming on Netflix today, Feb. 23. Be sure to watch it and share your thoughts on our review in the comments section.
Andre Grant is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has written for HipHopDX, Complex and The Well Versed. Follow him (and us!) on Twitter @DreJones.
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