I have a problem with art that imitates life so well, it leaves us with the message that there is no WINNING. It punches you in the gut and reminds you that even when you think you might win, you will lose. And that is my main problem with Seven Seconds, a drama offered up by Netflix, and created by Veena Sud.
TRIGGER WARNING: police brutality and death
When Seven Seconds starts, we see a white dude driving while on the phone. He’s distracted when he hits something and his car spins around a couple of time and finally stops. When he gets out his SUV, he sees spinning bicycle wheels under his tire. He didn’t hit something; he hit someone. He looks around and his truck’s guard is half off and bloody. He looks a few feet ahead and sees blood leading to a ditch. What does he do? Surely, calling 911 would be too much like right. He calls a buddy who shows up with 2 others and we see they’re all cops. His superior (Mike DiAngelo) walks to the ditch and looks down. There’s a body there. DiAngelo tells him to drive off, because they cannot let it out that a white cop has killed a Black boy. Especially not in this age of Ferguson.
Shaken up by the magnitude of what he just did, Petey Jablowski drives off, leaving the 3 officers behind to handle the rest. They “handle” it by leaving the scene, as if nothing happened.
And that’s in the first 10 minutes of the show. Later on in the day, a dog finds the body in the ditch, and that is when the story really starts. We find out the person that Officer Jablowski hit is a 15 year old Black teenager named Brenton Butler. His parents Isaiah and Latrice have to pick up the pieces, and an assistant prosecutor (KJ Harper) is assigned the case. KJ is a Black woman who is overworked, messy AF in her personal life and a barely functioning alcoholic. Her partner on the case is a gum-loving, jokester white dude detective who goes by “Fish.”
The show spends 10 episodes (each an hour) getting KJ and Fish caught up on what we already know. They start connecting the dots of what happened, who did it and why Brenton was left for dead. With the help of Latrice Butler’s compulsion to find justice for her son, the case starts to come together, but it is no easy feat.
Seven Seconds is definitely timely in the theme of police brutality and our assertion of “BLACK LIVES MATTER” even as the justice system tells us otherwise. The show is gripping. I was drawn in before the first 15 minutes and was invested in what would happen. These fucked up cops, the innocent Black boy victim and the parents whose lives are torn apart with grief. I was IN and over 3 days, I binged all 10 hours because I needed to see it through.
Seven Seconds had some character development problems, in my opinion. The character, KJ, in all her shenanigans often came off as a self-saboteur and we were barely given a reason why. I found mysef screaming at the screen at her behavior often. Although I had to root for her, it felt like she was just set up to fail. Also, HER HAIR. What the hell was that? It was a limp wig with terrible bangs and a thin ponytail. I never got over how bad it was, as I watched the show. It was almost offensive, how bad it was. Anyway…
The highlight for me was Regina King’s portrayal of Latrice Butler. It felt so real how she vacillated between crippling grief and blinding rage, as a mother who needed answers for why her son Brenton’s life was cut short. The event, which took about 7 seconds, changed her life and seeing how she wanted to jump out her skin from the pain was heartwrenching. I think it was an award-winning performance. Regina King is a quiet force.
HERE IS WHERE REAL SPOILERS START. IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED IT AND WANT TO, TURN BACK NOWWWWWWW.
OK YOU GONE? Lemme finish.
I usually like to finish things I start, and up to episode 6 or 7, I was excited to keep watching. And then something happened once the show got into the courtroom. KJ and Fish finally got to the point where they found out the cop who hit Brenton, and the 3 others who helped cover it up. This is where it gets painful to watch because it’s the part that got TOO real.
In the end, the 3 others get off and Jablowski is sentenced to less than a year behind bars. For killing a Black boy, leaving the scene and hiding evidence.
I was pissed. PISSED. Not because this is unexpected but because this is how it would have played out in real life and I don’t think we needed to see that. What did Seven Seconds want us to feel? Because I don’t think it accomplished anything but to remind us that life sucks, Black lives don’t matter to the state and there’s no winning for us.
It felt gratuitous, and somehow exploitative to be put through that. Even in fiction, ain’t no win for us. There wasn’t justice for Brenton. Just like there hasn’t been justice for Trayvon. Alton. Rakia. Sandra. Eric.
That is why I wouldn’t recommend anyone who is Black watch it. Not because the show wasn’t good, but because it is triggering AF. I audibly said “whew” so many times during the drama that I had to take a few deep breaths.
This is the same problem I had with Poussey’s death on season 4 of Orange is the New Black. It’s the reason I am really thankful that Get Out didn’t use their alternate ending where Chris ended up in jail. Then I realize that MAYBE, just MAYBE, the difference is that a Black man (Jordan Peele) knew that he didn’t need to use his film to break our hearts further. Meanwhile, Jenji Kohan and Veena Sud are creators who can write these stories of tragedy from the detached space they occupy as non-members of the groups whose heart they can break over and over again with their stories that lack triumph for Black people.
Jenji is a Jewish woman and Veena was born to parents of Filipino and Indian heritage. They can write these and stomach the tragedy porn because they aren’t TRULY connected to the pain of what they’re creating. They can write sympathetic storylines for the white cops who take Black lives, and spend time showing “both sides.” I feel like it’s callous because what we need less of is finding out how the Pete Jablonskis became monsters. What we need more of is finding out how the Latrice Butlers triumph over their tragedies.
In a world where we just found out that Alton Sterling’s murderer will not even be charged, I didn’t need “Seven Seconds” to proverbially punch me in the face. I did not. And I ask WHAT WAS THE POINT? To rub the reality of our lives in our faces? Because well done. Mission accomplished.
Maybe I’m just hypersensitive right now but I need more art that challenges me but doesn’t make me feel like everything hopeless. Ultimately, the hopelessness is what made Seven Seconds lousy, to me.