For Life S1E1 Review: Pilot

After finishing The Good Place I was searching for a new show to watch.
As a fan of 50 Cent’s transition into film I heard about his moves with the STARZ network and his production company, G-Unit Film and Television.
This is how I first found out about this new series on ABC, For Life.

The story is loosely based on the story of Isaac Wright Jr, a man who was falsely imprisoned and became a lawyer while incarcerated.
This series’ main character is Aaron Wallace.
He is imprisoned with a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
He has spent the last nine years incarcerated and is shown entering the courtroom where he was charged but this time no longer powerless.

Played by British actor Nicholas Pinnock he brings a Denzel-esque performance to the role where as a viewer you understand the gravity of the situation.
He has a raspy voice and it’s believable that this man has done almost a decade inside the pen.
Wallace is shown suited up and entering in the courtroom with a purpose.

What I enjoy about this opening moment in the series is it shows the difference between the prosecutor and the defendant.
Wallace is a lawyer and as prison rep he is helping his fellow inmates like Rodriguez.
We can see he cares about the people he represents as he’s shown greeting Rodriguez’s grandmother as they enter the court.

The prosecutor, in contrast, has been handed this case last minute as a favor for a friend and is not concerned about the outcome even telling the person on the phone to “order the drinks, give me 30 and I’ll meet you there.”
Dez O’Reilly served under Glen Maskins before he was District Attorney for New York.
Now as Assistant District Attorney himself O’Reilly is surprised to see the opposing council is a person he put away nearly a decade ago.
O’Reilly and Maskins took his life and freedom away from him and being a lawyer is how he proves his worth and fights back.

In a Sorkin style “walk and talk” Maskins and O’Reilly are befuddled how Aaron was even in that courtroom.
This is a vehicle to understand Wallace’s journey from inmate to lawyer.
He worked for the paralegal association representing other inmates he also gained degrees from online.
Wallace found a loophole and took the Vermont bar, which is the only state where you’re allowed to “sit for the bar exam with a degree from an unaccredited law school” from there he applied to have his license accepted in New York where he is currently housed.

We learn there’s a “morality test” and as a convicted drug dealer he had to have someone who advocated for him.
This sponsor was former colleague of Maskins, Henry Roswell, a retired state senator and former public defender.
The first case for Wallace is Rodriguez who’s sentenced for twenty years for rape and attempted murder.
Allegedly the girl he was with OD’d on pills he gave her but the drug dealer changed his story and Judge Tanaka is looking at each lawyer’s case to determine if a retrial is necessary.

In the prison we find out Aaron Wallace’s motivation.
He’s a complex character, he’s not just being prison rep because it’s a good thing to do, instead it’s a way to protect himself inside and being a lawyer is the way he sees to get out of this prison.
His goal is go at the D.A., case by case, bit by bit proving that Maskins is unjust and once that’s proving he’ll go on to show they “worked” him over.
Ideally if all falls right he’ll be able to go back home to his family.

As Wallace’s narration says at the beginning “I was just like you” and spoke of having a family, businesses and friends.
Under the RICO law he’s imprisoned and taken away from his wife Marie, played by Get Rich or Die Trying’s Joy Bryant, and his daughter Jasmine, played by Tyla Harris.
There’s a scene between Aaron and Marie in the visiting room. As Marie is entering you can see prison doesn’t just affect the incarcerated but those who love and care for them.
There’s crying from children, arguments between visitor and inmate. This all sets the scene for what follows.

The scene shows life doesn’t stop just because you’re on the inside.
Jasmine, first shown as a little girl during the opening monologue is according to Marie prepping for her SATs.

Aaron still has to sign her report card and that gives reason to why Marie is up there.
You can see she cares for him, she brings him ties for when he stands in front of the court as a lawyer.
But there’s some obvious tension this explodes when he sees Jazz’s grades.
Marie feels the pressure is on her for Jasmine to succeed while Aaron believes Darius is too soft on Jasmine.
It’s shown that Marie has a boyfriend and when confronted throws back how she’d throw Darius out “if you came back home, but you’re not cause you’re locked for life”.

This is a hard scene to watch.
There’s conversation about how he denied a plea, that instead of life he could’ve seen outside in the next three years.
He tries to reminisce and is remorseful about not being home with them.
It’s too much for Marie to stand and she leaves as he calls after her.

This show is great because it’s not just showing the prisoners lives but the warden as well.
Safiya Masry is shown as someone who cares. She’s married to Anya Harrison who is Brooklyn’s District Attorney.
Played by Indira Varma she’s immediately thrown into the action when she joins the guards after there was a fight in the prison.
She isn’t worried about guards who don’t like her reforms, when she learns one quit this morning she feels they’re better without him.

Captain Foster, Glenn Fleshler of HBO’s Barry, objects and feels she’s moving too fast with all of these changes.
She comes back with facts, violence is down 34%, suicide attempts are cut in half and drug usages has also dropped.

It’s refreshing seeing Masry as a warden who is about change and isn’t just words but wants to be among the people even walking the yard and fostering a relationship with Aaron Wallace.
On the yard we see prison politics at play.
The neo-Nazis seek the favor of Aaron Wallace for Joey Knox’s release.
This is antithetical to his community where Bobby and his best friend Jamal reside.
The leader of the Nazis threatens to spread malicious rumors about the warden and Aaron if he doesn’t help.

Jose Rodriguez got his retrial.
I really like that this show has both the prison element and the judicial element. We as the audience get to see both sides.
There’s an element of humanity in this moments where we see both Rodriguez and Wallace both in civilian clothes showing that inmates aren’t just property of the state but are still people with personalities, hopes and dreams.

Rodriguez is shown on the stand telling the judge his side of the story.
There was an age gap in the relationship between himself and Molly Davidson but her parents look down on him because of where he was from.
Molly came from privilege and he was in a household of poverty.

For Life shows that with Aaron’s first case he’s still learning as a lawyer.
Wallace explains that because of the age gap in New York once Rodriguez turned 18 it would be considered statutory rape which explains that charge from earlier in the episode.
But his point about the legality in other states is rightly objected because their laws don’t apply in this case.

There’s a distinction between these lawyers at play.

For O’Reilly this is just another case and as he told Maskins he believes he’ll run circles around Wallace but for Aaron this is the first case to proving his point that the New York judicial system and by extension the district attorney Glen Maskins is crooked.

I didn’t expect what happened next.
In response to Aaron going at Maskins in the press somehow Maskins and O’Reilly got to Wallace’s witnesses.
The drug dealer who sold the drugs to Molly is now apart of an undercover case so he can’t testify.
Officer Dawkins, who saw the suicide note, recanted and went back to the story that he saw no such thing.
Wallace explodes after learning this development of events. Judge Tanaka threatens that he is close to contempt of court and could possibly lose his license if this outburst escalates.

Though defeated Wallace explained to Rodriguez when questioned that Jose will never find another lawyer more motivated than him.

This is proven when Wallace uses Wild Bill’s forgery expert to manufacture an identical note to the original one written by Molly six years ago.
Wallace hopes this would prove her state of mind and that Rodriguez is innocent which led to Molly being called to the stand.
Filled with guilt Molly then confesses after reading the words of the suicide note she wrote on the day of her overdose.

Wallace wins his first case as a lawyer and Jose Rodriguez is set free.

No good deed goes unpunished.
The neo-Nazi’s help in this case is in exchange for Wallace representing Joey Knox and petition for his freedom from solitary confinement.

This show is enthralling and complicated with twists, turns and interpersonal relationships.
I’m excited to see where this show is going and agree with executive producer 50 Cent who believes that by the second season For Life will be the highest rated drama on ABC.

Quotes/Favorite Moments

The opening monologue

I use to be just like you.
I had a life I loved. I had a family and a home.
I owned a business. I paid my taxes
I had my friends.
Some of them were kinda friends you’d be better off without, maybe I should’ve known.

The powers that be came down of me, So here I am now, nine years late.
For the first time back in the same courthouse where they came to take my life away.
Except today, no matter what anybody thinks about me, about who I am and about how I got here.
Today I’ve got a way to fight back. You can be damn sure that’s what I’m gonna do.

Aaron and O’Reilly’s confrontation at the courthouse
“How are you here?” – O’Reilly

Hard work and good will. What’s your method? – Wallace

Aaron Wallace’s reason for being prison rep

What I do as prison rep is commodity to keep me alive. Becoming a lawyer is what’s getting me out. I’m gonna use your case to start attacking the D.A.

Day by Day, case by case. Time I’m done and he’s soft and his credit’s shot, that’s how I’m gonna prove that he worked me over.

Everything I do, everything I’ve done is about getting my freedom, getting back to my family.

Marie and Aaron’s plea conversation

“You should’ve taken the plea.” – Marie

It was 20 years Marie

“You would’ve got parole in 12, that’s three years from now. I would’ve waited for you. And Jasmine would still have her father” – Marie

Hassan Johnson’s appearance

Most famously known as Wee-Bey from HBO’s hit series The Wire he plays Bobby, a fellow inmate and friend of both Aaron and Jamal.
It was a pleasant surprise and I genuinely smiled every time I saw him.
I like to imagine this is an alternative reality where Wee-Bey was transferred from Baltimore and is serving his life sentence in New York.

Masry and Aaron’s showdown in her office

After Wallace went after Maskins in the press Masry warns he was being foolish and that it threatens their relationship.
Instead of risking Maskins making a fuss and going to the press about Anya and Masry’s marriage being a conflict of interest with Masry allowing Wallace to be prison rep she recommends he wins the cases he has.

“I got no choice but to provoke him, hoping he gets reckless and makes a mistake” – Wallace

So that’s your long game?

“I don’t see any other way” – Wallace

How about win your cases? Get yourself some credibility

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