My ophthalmologist is always excitable. She enjoys life. She’s an excellent MD. She knows I’m a writer, and a Script Doctor, and she makes bumping into her at her office to pick up my contact lens order, a real delight!
My doctor is also a Jersey City girl, born-and-bred, and she’s tough, and smart, and she knows the city well; and my doctor implored me to watch the new Netflix Seven Seconds cable series because it was about the city in which we spin.
She told me Seven Seconds was dark, and ugly, and that “bad people live here in Jersey City” — but my doctor loved the series, and she binge-watched all 10 one-hour episodes in a single sitting! She went on to tell me I had to watch it too, and that she would be testing me on what happened in the story the next time I sat with her for my annual eye examination. I took her up on her offer — and challenge! — because I had no other choice!
Here are my thoughts on the Seven Seconds series — and there are spoilers here — so don’t read on if you don’t want to know what happened and why.
First, I love the ongoing joke in the show that Jersey City gets the “ass end” of the Statue of Liberty. Her back is, perpetually, aimed right at New Jersey! New York gets her face; Jersey gets her farts!
The Statue also has a large, moral, code that she embeds within us, always vigilantly watching; and the fact that she stands on New Jersey land, and is owned by the State of New Jersey, but she has always faced, and shone, her light upon New York City instead is, and has always been, a rich tease about who gets to be the butt of that immigration joke of hope and belonging. She lives in Jersey, but says she’s a New Yorker!
Second, Seven Seconds suffers from a lack of dramatic compression. The story moves too slowly, leading to boredom, and thought seeking. There is no energy to the arc of the story. No driving force. There’s 30 minutes of drama that stretches over ten hours.
The fact that the entire story would not “be” if the main character had only been allowed to do the right thing from the start, as he wished — and admit that he, a White cop, accidentally ran over a Black teenager — is a telltale sign that the story itself is out of whack with the rest of the reality of the real world of Jersey City.
In the final motivation, when the White cop ends up doing that anyway, confessing to his role in the accident in the last episode, you cannot help but feel rotted from within, and you realize you just gave away 10 hours of your life to Netflix where absolutely nothing of importance changed over the course of those life-stealing episodes.
Now, if that White cop had some baggage, something so horrible in a Racial discrimination sort of way, that would feed into the need to cover up what was an accident; and that might’ve helped push the story along — but when your White cop is a self-effacing “choirboy” — then it doesn’t ever make sense he’d stand one second, let alone seven, for the lie being told around him to protect the Blue Line, and the city itself.
Third, the matter of the sexuality of the dead son is unremarkable in fact, and breathtakingly cynical in revelation. It feels like an add-on to the drama when we find out the dead son was Gay; and it appears to just to play another poke in the eye of the religious father never knew his son.
There was no intrigue or depth in the sexual unmasking, just a sorry sort of matter-of-knowing a little bit too much that didn’t really play into the story, except, perhaps, to cruelly add to the “surprise” ending of where, and how, the dead son got in the way of the White cop’s SUV that killed him: the Gay Black Teen was sleeping with his boyfriend, and had to bike it on home, and fast! It all reads, feels, and behaves, as inauthentic — but calculated! — by the staff series writers.
The final kludge is the courtroom revelation in the last episode that the missing, bloody, SUV grill had been found — blurted out in court, really — that just wasn’t plausible in the hard life of the show. If the woman, impregnated by a bad cop, had somehow prepared us for the revelation of her true character, we might have purchased her shilling — but it was against the nature of her character to turn rat without a self-preserving reason, and it was at that moment that we, as the audience, knew the writers have given up on the show, and they just wanted to wrap up the ending as quickly as possible, and they did.
The star of Seven Seconds is Clare-Hope Ashitey. She plays an alcoholic District Attorney, and while her facial expression is unfortunately lacking any sort of reflexive thought, she is always cool under pressure. You root for her. You don’t ever quite understand why she’s so incapable of communicating her feelings, but you certainly understand her disconnection with both her personal, and professional lives.
Regina King is usually a reliable powerhouse, but in Seven Seconds, she is stuck, against her acting will, in a cookie cutter role of the grieving mother. If I hear the word “Brenton” one more time out of her mouth, I’ll scream for her.
If Clare-Hope Ashitey lacks any recognizable facial expression, Regina King overplayed her own face, and could not stop making inappropriate contortions. We understand why. Her role was poorly written as a simpering milquetoast, and she was trying to make the best of it all, but you can only be stuck in wondering, and not knowing, for so long before becoming grating, and tiresome.
There was a lot of unnecessary killing in Seven Seconds — and since the final resolution of season one was of — nothing changes, everything stays the same — I don’t hold much hope a second season would be reasonably more effective, or particularly insightful.
If the bad guys always win, and the good guys always lose — why watch a show only to be reconfirmed that all hope is always useless, and every killer will always get away with murder?