Spoiler Warning for all episodes of “Seven Seconds.”
I have never been so thoroughly satisfied, yet completely disappointed, after finishing a series as when the credits of the new Netflix original series “Seven Seconds” flashed across my screen. Released Feb. 23, “Seven Seconds,” follows a family’s fight for justice against a police coverup surrounding the death of a young black teenager. Allow me to shatter your hopes now, there is no happy ending. Creator and writer Veena Sud triumphs with her harshly realistic depiction of the human lives and emotional hardship behind racial injustice. The profound acting allowed me to become further immersed into the far-reaching web of hurt, anger and deceit built after Brenton Butler’s death.
“Seven Seconds,” however, is not without flaws. Unlike Veena Sud’s “The Killing,” there is no mystery to start this series. The first episode begins with officer Peter Jablonski’s (Beau Knapp) frantic drive to the hospital, when he accidentally hits a teenager riding a bike. Viewers immediately know the suspicious circumstances behind what may appear to be an unfortunate hit and run accident and are then led on a roundabout plot full of inconsequential filler while the series attempts to catch up. These ambiguous sub-plots lead to unnecessary character ties and many unanswered questions. The series also adds exaggerated character weaknesses in what seems an attempt to humanize the individuals portrayed and explain their convictions. Brenton’s attorney, KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey), especially has a needlessly tragic incident in her past to possibly explain her alcoholism and detachment issues. Peter Jablonski also endured an abusive father and a stillborn child, perhaps fueling his drive to protect his family above all else. Even quirky detective Joe ‘Fish’ Rinaldi (Michael Mosley) with a distant daughter and a wife that cheated on him with many of his previous police force, consequently lives a withdrawn life at home with several dogs and develops an attachment to the young, runaway heroin addict Nadine (Nadia Alexander).
Throughout “Seven Seconds,” there are seemingly insignificant cues hinting at the issue of race and what it means for Brenton’s life and his family’s success in fighting for justice. In episode one, Brenton’s parents, Latrice Butler (Regina King) and Isaiah Butler (Russell Hornsby), rush to the hospital after receiving a call notifying them that their son had been injured. Upon arriving, they hurry to the reception desk to ask about their son Brenton’s condition. The receptionist becomes annoyed, replying to the parents that a Benton been admitted, and they had given her the wrong spelling. This minor detail illustrates the hospital’s indifference to a critically injured young black man, so much so that they don’t even enter his name correctly. The final episode ends with another important cue as KJ Harper leaves the courthouse and turns to peer at the “Lady Justice” statue, holding uneven scales. This shot hints at the continual racial injustice received at the hands of the law, with law enforcement always on the upper hand.
“Seven Seconds” also utilizes an ongoing connection between life and death. Episode three, “Matters of Life and Death,” opens with Latrice Butler’s tearful goodbye to her son and his body being taken to the morgue. This shot directly contrasts the one immediately following of Peter Jablonski meeting his newborn son for the first time, illustrating the inequality of Peter gaining everything the Butler’s have lost. Episode nine, “Witness for Prosecution,” also reveal Teresa (Adriana DeMeo), Peter’s wife’s cousin, to be pregnant soon after the death of Nadine.
Aside from race, “Seven Seconds” tackles many other difficult issues including religion, veterans re-entering civilian society, substance abuse and LGBTQ acceptance. Latrice and Isaiah Butler are prominent members of their church community, but after losing their son begin to question their faith. Latrice particularly questions how God could let her son die alone in a ditch, while the person responsible walks free. After episode eight, “Bailed Out,” reveals that Brenton was not involved in a gang, but in a relationship with gang member Kadeuce Porter (Corey Champagne), Isaiah Butler struggles to accept that his son was gay. He seeks the advice of his church pastor, who comforts Isaiah with reassurance that God had created Brenton exactly as he wanted. After Kadeuce testifies that he was in fact Brenton’s boyfriend, Isaiah finds him beaten in his motel bathroom and it’s assumed he was attacked because of his relationship with Brenton.
Isaiah’s younger brother Seth (Zackary Momoh), is a military veteran returning home after deployment. Several episodes mention his difficulty finding a civilian job, even stating that the VA had encouraged him to reenlist, and episode eight echoes these struggles as he and many other veterans wait for assistance. Seth wrestles with his identity as a civilian, returning to his previous gang and nearly leaving for a second deployment. Several characters in “Seven Seconds” suffer from addiction and substance abuse, including the 15-year-old runaway, heroin addict Nadine. Even after Fish offers her a safe place to hide from the police looking to eliminate the only witness to their coverup, she refuses to stop her drug use. Officers Mike Diangelo (David Lyons), Felix Osorio (Raúl Castillo) and Gary Wilcox (Patrick Murney) use her known drug addiction to stage an overdose when Felix injects her with a fatal dose of heroin.
Overall, “Seven Seconds” proves a meaningful and honest series that resonates especially well given recent racial struggles throughout the country. Veena Sud’s authentic take on race in the criminal justice system is sure to continue an important conversation.