Saturday, April 4, 2020

For Life 1x03 Review: "Brother's Keeper" (Caring About More Than Yourself) [Contributor: Thomas]

"Brother's Keeper"
Original Airdate: February 25, 2020

I’ve recently gotten back into writing reviews for this show and, since the world has essentially stopped waiting out this pandemic, I feel there’s no time like the present to continue what I’ve started.

Aaron Wallace was plucked from his friends and family, accused of a crime he hasn’t committed. He has been sentenced to serve life in prison and being ever resourceful he becomes a lawyer while incarcerated. He is now serving as prison rep for his fellow inmates.

This episode, he’s shown helping a fellow Black man, Hassan, get free. This comes after the Joey Knox situation where, because of a debt, Aaron was put in a situation of defending a neo-Nazi which caused strife in his community. What I enjoy about this show is that instead of having bottle episodes that neatly tie every storyline together, For Life continues the story with main, recurring, and guest characters remarking about what has taken place.

One narrative device that this show does that I like is their use of the monologue. Typically the audience hears a voiceover spoken near the beginning of the episode. Usually this is done by Aaron, in this episode it’s Hassan that lays the groundwork for the episode. He speaks about caring for not only yourself but showing kindness to everyone.

Hassan is shown leading a support group for addicts in recovery. He then encourages Frankie, who is afraid about relapsing after getting the required number of days sober to exit the program. Frankie explains about the ease of gaining drugs once he goes back into gen-pop (general population) which prompts the warden, Safiya Masry, to step in and assure steps are being put in place to prevent the ease of flow. We are then shown that Masry isn’t just talking; the contractors shown working demonstrate that she’s serious about the transitional wing she plans to place people like Frankie instead of just having them go straight into general population.

Hassan has been clean for three years and even wrote a 28-page letter apologizing to his brother, trying to make amends for the wrongs he did on the outside. In this episode, Aaron is trying to convince Hasan’s brother, Calvin, to go on the stand and serve as a witness to the depraved state Hassan was in. If he can prove how intoxicated Hassan was, Aaron hopes to ask for leniency and that he won't serve the full 15 years.

The acting in this show is phenomenal: from the main to supporting cast, it’s remarkable. The gruffness of Aaron’s voice gives a sense of realism of someone who has been imprisoned for nine years. The nervous energy Masry has when Frankie talks about how easy it is to get drugs into Bellmore reminded me of how one mistake could destroy all her hard work of setting new systems in place. Jamal, Aaron’s right hand man, brings a levity to some of the more difficult scenes and Calvin, who the audience has just met this episode, brings emotion that shows how excruciating Hassan’s addiction has been on his family. I understand why he resists helping Aaron at first.

We learn why Aaron has taken this case, whereas the other characters are in the dark still trying to find out why. Masry is intrigued and is hopeful that Aaron is genuinely helping an inmate she cares about, while District Attorney Maskins and Assistant D.A. Dez O’Reilly are puzzled. Aaron is using Hassan’s case to try and gain access to his police file. After being roadblocked last episode, he seeks to appeal to Hassan’s brother, who is a cop.

After a scene where we see Aaron’s competence as a lawyer and him discussing that he’s “one for one so far” with his cases, and we hear about how Masry gave Hassan “a sense of purpose,” we see the trial. Judge Cummings hears Aaron, as the defendant, try to prove Hassan’s depravity and shows him signing a plea deal that wasn’t lawful. Unfortunately for Aaron, his preoccupation with his own case leads to his lack of preparation on Hassan’s behalf.

This show is not predictable. I truly believed after Aaron got punched back to reality with the decision the judge made and his impressive showing that the judge would easily release Hassan on time served. Instead we are shown that regardless of his growth in his craft, he still has ways to go as a lawyer.

We see that Maskins and Dez O’Reilly are after Aaron. They felt threatened after his success in proving wrongful imprisonment of his first client. According to O’Reilly, they were embarrassed and “want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.” They fight back by getting a subpoena to check the Bellmore surveillance tapes. The tapes show he forged and filed a fake letter that was used in his case. They also tried to scare Marie into turning on her husband by sending uniformed agents to her job. They also have Maskins speak with her directly where he shows he’s researched her, as he knows about her boyfriend and about their daughter Jasmine.

Again: Maskins is not an evil villain, but instead tries to appeal to her and we see he truly believes that they got the right guy and that Aaron was a drug dealer who got what he deserved.

At the prison I’m reminded why I love the dynamics between Aaron and Masry. She calls him out on trying to use Hassan and he doesn’t back down to her demands if it conflicts with his freedom as shown in the last episode. She believes in upholding “the line,” which prevents them from having a problem but Aaron doesn’t have time or the luxury to do such things. He explains how Judge Cummings denied Hassan’s freedom to “teach” a lesson about how to be a better lawyer and how Maskins, who’s running for the “highest office in the state,” is after him and coming after his family. I love that both have valid points and neither is portrayed a villain or unreasonable; instead, regardless of their personal views, they come to an understanding of Aaron's use of the line and him giving her information about the guards and drugs that will better the prison.

Aaron couldn’t find a precedent in New York that clarifies the difference between an abandoned building and a residence. He missed his opportunity to use an out-of-state precedent to try and sway the judge. It’s easy to write off Judge Cummings as just another “Clarence” who doesn’t use his power to rightly release Hassan, instead subjecting him to years of being in jail for another 12 years. But there’s also his remark about how he views judgeship: “Some judges feel it’s their job to make law in a courtroom. I am not one of those.” He talks about how Aaron was lucky to even try again with Hassan’s case but that he needed to be better.

Aaron loses the case but Calvin not only restores his relationship with Hassan,  but also gives Aaron a photocopy of his police file. Marie tries not to get so hopeful after the warning from her boyfriend Darius about not losing focus, but it’s a great ending to an action-packed episode.

Favorite Moments/Quotes:
  • “The police didn’t do their job, prosecution dropped the ball, and previous counsel was derelict in his ethical and legal obligations. Everyone failed him the first time around, Your Honor. Please let’s not do that to him again.”
  • The conversation of Blackness in America and how it’s perceived from the highest level with D.A. Maskins all the way to those affected like Aaron and Hassan was great.
  • My favorite parts of this episode where those confrontations between Hassan and Aaron about Aaron being for himself, Calvin and O’Reilly speaking about the system working, and seeing Calvin and Hassan reconnect. They even have a discussion about the Black judge on the bench and if he’s a “Clarence” (in reference to Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, who is seen by many as a sellout to his race).
  • “Everybody’s in here for themselves, just gotta be smarter about it. Slow down.”
  • “This isn’t a reaching facility... your opportunity to call witnesses you certainly didn’t give your client the best opportunity to win today. Motion denied.” 
This review was originally posted at ELVNTWNTYSVN.


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