“Seven Seconds” is a Netflix original created by Veena Sud, creator of AMC’s “The Killing.” Loosely based on a real story, this crime drama follows the accidental death of a black teenager, Brenton Butler.
When a white off-duty officer, Peter Jablonski (played by Beau Knapp), crashes into Brenton and his bicycle, his team does everything they can to cover up the crime out of fear of what the media will do to Jablonski. Isaiah and Latrice Butler (played by Russell Hornsby and Regina King) demand justice for their son when the police do not immediately resolve Brenton’s case.
Soon enough, racial tensions between the community and the legal system intensify to the point of no return. The one person who could uncover the truth is KJ Harper (played by Clare-Hope Ashitey), a black prosecutor who is held back by her alcoholism and a lack of respect from her peers.
On May 2000, the real-life Brenton Butler was arrested and charged with robbery and the murder of a Georgia tourist in his motel. While he confessed to the crime, critical physical evidence, including the murder weapon, were missing. Butler had submitted a written confession in, but in a surprise twist, Butler testified that he was beaten and manipulated into confessing to the crime. He was acquitted, and his family sued the city of Jacksonville for the wrongful charges, settling on $775,000.
Unfortunately, the writing does not do justice to such a heartbreaking story, even if none of the characters are based on real people. “Seven Seconds’” storytelling tends to pick up and then slow down, like someone trying to drive for the first time. One minute, it focuses on investing commentary and complex characters, and the next, it dedicates its time to crime procedural clichés and forced symbolism.
The story also relies heavily on coincidences, making each turn of events feel contrived. Rarely does a character get to push forward with their story arc unless it is revealed someone just happened to see one of the cops and sense something is wrong. It feels as though the story wants to inject a more significant form of idealism than the story itself lends you to believe, leaving you unsatisfied.
The underlying strength of the series is the performances from its cast, particularly Ashitey, who portrays one of the most important characters in such a topical story. With the plot focusing on racial tensions caused by various circumstances, such as the failings of the police and intercommunity struggles, having a black female protagonist prove herself to be the most willing to help is engaging enough on its own.
However, the writing also allows her to be flawed and heroic at the same time. She drinks, she fumbles at times while on the job, she has a history of promiscuity, and her only ally in solving this case is an equally condescending white man who treats her as inferior to him. This does not deter her from putting her career on the line if it means discovering the truth. Despite not being based on a real person, the character feels real
“Seven Seconds” is an enthralling watch that comes to unsatisfying conclusions. If the series is getting renewed for a second season, there is still hope that they can improve upon their mistakes within its first tries.
No matter the contrivances, “Seven Seconds” shows us that there are no accidents when we refuse to take responsibility for our actions.