Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Depraved indifference

"And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
The balance is undone, crazy ions
You can feel it out in traffic
Everyone hates everyone."

If you saw Seven Seconds, the title of this post will make sense to you.

I just finished watching it, 10 episodes over five days, and while I enjoyed it for the most part, the ending left me feeling like I'd invested all that time for naught.

It would be sort of like reading a lengthy and complicated detective story in which the crime is never solved and you don't find out whodunnit.

Spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

In this case we do know whodunnit from the get-go. We know the who, where, when, why, and we think we know the what (but wait, there's more).

Seven Seconds is the story of a cop who accidentally hits a black kid on a bike, because he's on the phone and distracted, and never sees kid or bike before impact. This pretty much happens in the first seven seconds of the show, although the meaning of the title is unclear until the last quarter hour. I sort of assumed that it meant that seven seconds was all it took to turn many lives inside out, although it seemed pretty random to me as the amount of time it would take to hit a boy on a bike, have the car come to a stop, get out, see the bike under the front bumper and realize what you just did.

Anyway, the copper calls his new boss, who comes out to the scene, a deserted park in Jersey City, along with two other cops. They convince him, against what seems to be his better judgment, to split the snowy scene, because a white cop killing a black kid, even accidentally, would add to the racial tensions already running rampant in the township.

What they don't know is that the kid isn't dead. Yet. Because they didn't fucking bother to check. By the time he's found, some 12 hours later, lying in the ditch where he was thrown, exposure to the elements and loss of blood have his organs shutting down. Emergency surgery does what it can, but the teenager dies in the hospital.

The story was developed by the creator of the series The Killing, which as you know, I loved. And there are similarities, particularly in the odd-couple crime-fighting partnership, this time of a booze-addled public prosecutor, KJ, and Fish, a misfit homicide detective.

Shades of Holder and Linden. Only without the redemption.

Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) in a classic shot from The Killing.
KJ Harper (Clare-Hope Ashity) in a classic shot from Seven Seconds.

The Jersey City cops are flagrantly bent, bent as paper clips, taking cuts from local drug dealers and just generally being bad actors, closing ranks, chanting "blue lives matter." We think the new guy, the driver who hit the kid, may have some values, a conscience, because at first he wants to turn himself in and take the rap. He's overruled by his new colleagues, and later also pressured by his wife, complete with new baby, to avoid pleading guilty and serving jail time.

There are many sub-plots and the full range of emotional damage and outrage and desperation from the family of the kid. And was he or was he not a good kid or a gangbanger? Why was he in that park at that time, riding an expensive bike? I won't get into all 10 hours of it, but the pivotal plot point is that there was a witness, a teenage junkie hooker who was sleeping rough in an abandoned building. She didn't witness the accident, but she heard the crash and she saw the four cops convene at the crime scene and then drive away.

The cops rationalize the cover up to each other and themselves by claiming the kid was dead, but no one bothered to take a closer look. Hell, to them it was just one more black banger, just another totally disposable life. Why else would he have been out in that park at that hour on an expensive bike? Only as it turns out, the teen wasn't in a gang, he was a good kid, just a gay one, sleeping with a gang member and borrowing his pricey bike to get home so his parents would know he'd stayed out overnight.

Cover ups can get complicated, each cop is watching his own back, suspicious of the others, paranoid about being allowed to take the fall, especially the Hispanic one. And then there's that darned witness who can place them all at the scene, who watched them drive away.

So they do the logical thing. They take her out. They don't know that she only smokes smack. They inject her with a fatal dose of heroin. This happens off camera at the end of episode eight, and I was so shocked that I couldn't believe it. I looked on IMDB to see if she was credited in episodes nine and ten, and she was. But only as a corpse it turns out.

The last two episodes are mostly the trial of the cops, but without the eyewitness, the evidence is sketchy and circumstantial. There's the bumper of the car that one cop kept and then planted at another cop's home. That's enough for KJ to drive a plea bargain deal. The hit-and-run driver agrees to an 8 year sentence if he will testify about the other cops' involvement.

But then on the stand, he denies that they were there at all and instead tells a sob story about how, after the accident, all he did was stand there, looking at the Statue of Liberty in the distance, remembering a visit as a kid when he saw the bruises on his mother's legs as he climbed the stairs behind her (because his father used to whale the both of them). Could he have played a better sympathy card for the jury?

And that might have been his undoing. Because on the morning of her closing argument, KJ goes to the crime scene and realizes that you can only see the statue if you climb up on the bank overlooking the ditch, which would have meant the cop would have seen the kid's bleeding body. He would have seen the color of his skin.

How long did he stand there looking, KJ asks the jury. One ... two ... three ... four ... five ... six ... seven seconds?

It's a powerful moment and we think that, against all odds, justice will prevail.

But here in Jersey City, courts simply don't convict cops of crime.

The jury returns a verdict, not guilty of a racially motivated crime, guilty of vehicular manslaughter, sentence of 364 days, commuted to 30 days. The other cops all walk.

I felt like I'd wasted 10 hours.

Because where was justice? Where was the retribution, the reprisal, the redress? The penitence, the accountability, the deus ex machina? The redemption?! Isn't that the reason we watch crime drama?

There wasn't even a hint that the cops would be investigated for the murder in cold blood of the eyewitness. After all, she was just a teenage junkie prostitute, just one more disposable life.

All along, I kept wondering how vengeance would be dispensed. Would the Hispanic cop, the one who administered the fatal hypodermic, crack? Would the accessory-after-the-fact cop's wife or her similarly implicated cousin ultimately do the right thing? Would the driver man up and own his cowardly mistake?

Except now, penultimately, we know that it wasn't wholly an accidental mistake, now that it's been revealed that he stood there and made a decision not to render aid. Which wasn't just a humane responsibility, but his obligation as an officer of the law.

Oh sure, there's the implication that all of their lives will be irreparably blemished. The murdering cop can't sleep. Relationships with wives and girlfriends are hopelessly screwed. Surely the cops will suffer guilt and remorse for the rest of their days, or years or months or a week, maybe.

Except I don't think guilt and remorse are likely bedfellows for depraved indifference.

So that's it. KJ at least gets the respect of the black community, who all rise, row by row, as she exits the courtroom. Fish tells her she did well. She already knows she's lost her job, along with any vestige of faith in the system. In the final scene she takes a long look at the statue of blindfolded justice, before walking off into the proverbial sunset.

Netflix didn't renew the series, despite leaving some hedge-your-bets loose ends, so there won't be any closure, no flash forward to a magical Linden-Holder-like happy future.

Which is fine, because if anything these characters had less romantic chemistry than Linden and Holder, which is saying a lot.

And as Harry Bosch said, in another series I'm watching, closure is a myth.

I pulled up behind a Cadillac
We were waiting for the light
And I took a look at his license plate
It said, "Just Ice"
Is justice just ice?
Governed by greed and lust?
Just the strong doing what they can
And the weak suffering what they must?

Oh, and the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
Sex kills
Oh, sex kills

Doctors' pills give you brand new ills
And the bills bury you like an avalanche
And lawyers haven't been this popular
Since Robespierre slaughtered half of France
And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
The balance is undone, crazy ions
You can feel it out in traffic
Everyone hates everyone

And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
Sex kills
Oh, sex kills

All these jack-offs at the office
The rapist in the pool
Oh, and the tragedies in the nurseries
Little kids packin' guns to school
The ulcerated ozone
These tumors of the skin
This hostile sun beating down on this
Massive mess we're in

And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills
Sex kills
Sex kills
Oh, sex kills
Sex kills.

(Joni Mitchell, © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing)

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