by Christian Holub | via Entertainment Weekly
With Shots Fired, creators Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythewood have taken on an admirably audacious task: delivering an entertaining network drama about the fraught and complex issue of police violence. The pilot was mostly spent introducing the characters, setting, and central conflicts.
The show hits the ground running with a thought-provoking situation that reverses the racial dynamics of the famous Ferguson shooting that brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of national consciousness. Instead of an unarmed black kid like Michael Brown getting shot by a white cop like Darren Wilson, the inciting incident for Shots Fired is an unarmed white kid being shot by a black cop named Joshua Beck (Mack Wilds). The shooting itself takes place in a majority-black neighborhood of North Carolina, so it’s a crowd of black people who gather around Beck and the kid’s body, at least until more cops show up and start fingering their weapons.
From there, we move to an office of the Department of Justice, which has been summoned by North Carolina’s governor to investigate the shooting and make sure local biases don’t come into play. For “optics,” the department wants to send a young black prosecutor, Preston Terry (Stephan James), to be the face of the case. Preston has a vision of the world where “truth has no color” and attorney generals are tasked with defending the American promise, but his superiors seem more interested in the unshakable confidence he once displayed as a baseball talent.
Preston’s primary partner on the investigation is Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan), who has toughness and experience in spades but also some major personal problems. Ashe has a daughter she loves, but the girl lives with her father, Javier, and his current partner, Paula. Ashe and Paula don’t get along, to the point that Ashe throws a vase at Paula’s head just for raising her voice around the child. Javier, for his part, is getting fed up with the conflict.
Ashe decides to follow the time-honored method of forgetting your personal problems by diving headfirst into work. She and Preston arrive in North Carolina and immediately interrogate Beck at the police station. Though unwilling to talk at first, Beck opens up after Ashe shares her own story of shooting an unarmed man on her second day as a cop on the streets. Beck admits that he was on patrol when he saw a white guy in a nice car, and suspected he might be a drug dealer. Beck says that the kid belligerently refused to answer questions. When he opened the car door, the kid grabbed for the gun and Beck shot him in self-defense. It’s pretty similar to the stories told by Wilson and other cops who have been caught in this situation, almost as if it’s a standard template every police officer is instructed to follow. As we find out later in the episode, that’s literally true in Beck’s case.
The current conversation cuts off when Preston asks why Beck needed to shoot the kid four times to protect himself, and whether there was an inciting incident for pulling the kid over or if Beck was just profiling. Beck shuts up after that, which enrages Ashe. She clearly doesn’t think much of Preston at this point and tells him to leave the questions to her.
Preston and Ashe’s next stop is the scene of the shooting (one of the white officers at the police station is insistent they not refer to it as a “crime scene” until a crime has been proven). One of the first people they meet there is a boy on a bike wearing a Panthers jersey. Preston reveals that the kid is actually wearing the jersey of Preston’s NFL star brother. That works as an icebreaker, though the kid flees once an intimidating-looking car drives by.
Next up is the mother of Jesse, the boy who was killed. Preston and Ashe find her ironing a dress shirt for the funeral, but that only makes her cry because she knows Jesse would never have worn such a thing willingly in his life. He preferred comic book t-shirts. So she’s sad, but also angry, and clear about how she sees the situation: She didn’t “lose” her son. He was murdered.
To read the rest of the recap for Hour One, click HERE!!!