Seven Seconds, Netflix’s new crime drama, is a grim show full of grim people. Loosely adapted from the Russian film The Major, Seven Seconds is the latest show from The Killing US creator Veena Sud and it shares much of the darkness that permeates that show but differs by the inclusion of a defined social commentary.
The seven seconds in question is the time it took for police officer Peter Jablonski to run over Brendan Butler, a black New Jersey teenager. An obvious accident, but Peter’s fellow officers, led by David Lyons as Mike DiAngelo take a different view. A black kid killed by a cop is bad news any way you look at it, and its here in which Seven Seconds syncs up with current social strife in America between African American communities and their fractured relationship with the police. D’Angelo argues that due to the current climate Jablonski would be smeared and convicted as a further confirmation of police brutality against racial minorities, brutality that he and his men perpetrate every time they walk the streets. So Brendan is left bleeding in the New Jersey snow for 12 hours before he is found and taken to hospital where he later dies.
The main plot of Seven Seconds is propelled by this cover-up, with D’Angelo’s men trying to keep their cool as Assistant Prosecutor K.J. Harper and recently transferred New York detective Joe “Fish” Rinaldi take up the case, and Brendan’s mother Latrice, played by the phenomenal Regina King demands justice for her son. It’s a timely story, that takes a few episodes to firmly shake of the tropes that are familiar to most crime shows.
As compelling as the story is, Seven Seconds is plagued by characters and plots that seem to have been cribbed from other, better sources. D’Angelo is very much in the Vic Mackie mould but no where near as magnetic through no fault of Lyons who does well with what he’s given. The same goes for Michael Mosley as Rinaldi who is a blunter, more racist version of The Wire’s McNulty with none of the charm, seriously, he has no charm whatsoever. It takes a few episodes before Mosley can escape that comparison, mainly thanks to the one character that doesn’t feel over-done, KJ Harper. Played by Children of Men’s Clare-Hope Ashitey, KJ is the type of female lead that is defined just as much by her faults as her strengths. She is clearly a brilliant lawyer, but she’s also an alcoholic that frequently disappoints her boss, her clients, and sometimes doesn’t even show up to court.
What’s most interesting about Seven Seconds is how Brendan is treated by both the characters and the show itself. As the victim it takes two episodes before we even see his face. Instead we are given hints of the person he was: through his mother, and adoring uncle, and who he might be: the fact that he was found with an expensive bike has cops and his own father automatically thinking that he is affiliated with the local gang. In its best moments Seven Seconds asks the questions of the worth we assign victims die to their possible circumstances. Does the possibility that Brendan was a gangbanger make his death mean less? Some characters certainly think so, and the show explores the how circumstances can be too easily made to fit a convenient story.
Seven Seconds is a show that demands patience, the first three episodes are basically a three-hour pilot that drops a few too many sub-plots, but the show moves into high gear from then own and becomes compulsive viewing.