by Joshua Alston | via Vulture
Before Shots Fired aired on Fox, it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where the producers screened the pilot along with “The Fire This Time” to gin up enthusiasm. The decision to show a famously discerning audience the first and then the sixth installment of a ten-part series seemed odd at the time, but it’s easier to understand after watching this episode why the producers would want viewers to see it as quickly as possible. I now have a better understanding of the methodical-to-a-fault storytelling approach, but part of me wishes I’d been able to leapfrog the past four episodes just like the Sundance audience got to do.
“The Fire This Time” finds Gate Station erupting into violence after weeks of rising tensions over the sometimes complementary, sometimes competitive investigations into the deaths of Joey Campbell and Jesse Carr. Whether they take place in a small, unknown town like Ferguson or a familiar global city like Los Angeles, which is coming up on the 25th anniversary of its own uprising against anti-black police violence, riots make any place look hostile and alien. Once the civil unrest begins and a heavily militarized police force descends on Gate Station, it’s clear there’s an emotional impact that would have gotten lost had the show not introduced the community, its denizens, and its unique dynamics before turning the town into a domestic war zone.
That said, the decision to depict Gate Station before, during, and after the riot leaves Shots Fired with the unenviable position of dramatizing the exact moments when the community’s frustration coalesces. “The Fire This Time” has trouble with that part, because its uprising doesn’t feel attached to anything in particular. Almost invariably, riots are incited by some kind of event, either the initial act of police violence or the announcement of a verdict that fails to provide the community a sense of closure. The deaths of Joey and Jesse happened weeks ago and no one has been charged, much less tried and acquitted, so nothing actually happens to set off this dangerous demonstration.
The episode begins with Pastor Janae leading a rally, where she pitches the same idea to the agitated crowd that she mentioned to Governor Eamons. Janae sees riots as a cleansing fire, a disruption so alarming it forces the powers that be to examine the emotions that gave rise to it. She encourages the crowd to emulate Baltimore and Ferguson, actually going so far as to use the word riot, but couching the language in elaborate metaphors. In doing so, the episode suggests that Janae uncorked something she can’t contain. Soon, masked looters are firebombing the local soul food restaurant for no apparent reason — or it feels like no apparent reason because the episode never identifies a tipping point for the riot other than Pastor Janae’s speech. Ideally, the dramatization of a riot would help the audience understand how the community’s relatable anger turns into irrational violence, and this doesn’t quite hit the mark.
What the episode does instead is use the theme of confrontation throughout. While the events leading up to the riot are unclear, the riot scenes are interspersed with conversations, big and small, that illustrate how everyone involved is incredibly stressed and looking for an outlet. Alicia Carr pops up at the sheriff’s station, which is celebrating Breeland’s 20th anniversary on the force. Everyone’s so distracted with the party, they barely notice when Jesse’s mom slips in and confronts Officer Beck directly. Seems like the kind of conversation someone should intervene in, but instead, Alicia pleads with Beck to describe the final moments of her son’s life.
Preston and Ashe start applying pressure in their investigations, newly convinced by Durkin’s suicide that there’s a major cover-up at work. Preston goes after Governor Eamons, betting she’ll shake the trees herself if he tells her the volunteer deputy program she used to woo wealthy donors resulted in a young man’s untimely death. Like Pastor Janae, Preston’s bold play has unintended consequences.
To read the rest of the recap, “The Fire This Time,” click HERE!!!