With a title like “#StayWoke”, everyone should probably have known going in that this episode of CONVICTION was going to be a controversial one. Sorry in advance if you thought it was going to be particularly nuanced, though. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. To be honest, this was a better episode than I expected it to be. This is largely because Hayes generally took a backseat to Conviction’s secondary characters. And “#StayWoke” is a better episode for it.
This week the show decides, in its predictably non-delicate way, to take on the hot button topics of police brutality and Black Lives Matter. The episode opens with Wallace giving a press conference about the accidental murder of a 15-year-old boy named Andre Watkins by police. They’d believed he matched the description of another man who’d committed a crime nearby, even though he was just a child. Wallace calls for calm in the city, but no one feels very hopeful about the prospect.
Hayes decides that this situation presents the perfect opportunity for the CIU to step in. She’s convinced that her team can help illustrate that the city is just as interested in justice for its African American residents by digging into a possibly misjudged case with a black defendant. She claims that such a case could be both an investigation and a conversation starter. Hayes is clearly imagining herself as part of a show with a lot more complexity than Conviction tends to display.
Freddie suggests the team take on the case of Porscha Williams, a radical black activist currently serving a life sentence for killing a white, female police officer. Six years ago, at a rally to protest racial inequality, things got heated between protestors and police. A shot rang out. And when the dust cleared, Sgt. Kelsey Blake was bleeding out, shot through the neck. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen Porscha with a gun and one man testified he saw her shoot Sgt. Blake. An all white jury in Albany convicted her in three hours. She swears she’s innocent.
Led by Freddie, the team uses social media images and technology to recreate a 360-degree view of the crime scene. Using this method, the CIU is able to completely discredit the eyewitness. (He perjured himself in order to obtain an alibi for some protest-related vandalism he was committing and didn’t actually see anything.) They have several difficult and uncomfortable racially-charged conversations with Sgt. Blake’s widower, as well as with a woman who was an armed bystander during the shooting. They finally crack the case wide open when someone realizes the medical examiner’s truck was left at the crime scene all day after it broke down. The vehicle being left all day in the heat means that the body of the dead officer would also have been affected. The coroner explained that the diameter of the wounds on the body would have likely changed, and he’s pretty sure now that what he originally thought was an entry wound, was actually an exit would. This means that Sgt. Blake was shot from behind, and Porscha couldn’t have done it.
Who did do it? One of the original witnesses who claimed he saw Porscha with a gun., a man named George. He tries to run away when confronted by Sam and Maxine, but finally admits that he lied because he was scared. Maxine tries to keep him from panicking, but he pulls a gun on them anyway. George ultimately ends up committing suicide rather than face the consequence of his actions. And Porscha is set free to reunite with her family.
Again, the case of the week is fine and good, but it’s not that exciting in and of itself. (Which is why I’ve devoted so little time in this write up to that part of this story.) And if you’ve watched this show for any length of time, you were probably able to guess the identity of the actual killer pretty quickly anyway. Man, Conviction is really obvious about telegraphing its plot twists. It’s one of the biggest reasons I wish they’d spend less time on the cases each week. They’re not that good! Anyway, this time, that’s actually kind of okay. Because the most important part of this episode isn’t the actual case the CIU is charged with solving this week. It’s the impact that it has on several of Conviction’s characters who are not Hayes.
After the past few episodes which all involved Hayes trying to figure out what privilege means to her, it was almost refreshing to see so little of her this week. Especially when Merrin Dungey is given such a great opportunity to shine as Maxine. The Porscha Williams case understandable hits Maxine the hardest. She’s an African American woman, and she used to be a cop, so she’s uniquely positioned to see this incident from almost every angle. And watching her struggle with her feelings about it is extremely compelling to watch.
Maxine gets the two best scenes in the episode this week, and they taken together they highlight the breadth of her struggle. One is her explosive conversation with Porscha in prison, when the two women clash about what it means to fight for equality. Their argument gets so heated – Maxine contends that not all cops are on the side of injustice, and Porscha accuses her of not caring that her own son will have a target on his back – that it seems as though they’ll come to physical blows. Afterward, Maxine goes to see her father – where she unpacks some of her emotions a bit. Her fear that she can’t protect her son, that she doesn’t know how to keep him safe because he’s a black boy in America is palpable. She cries, and you want to cry with her. (Ugh, Merrin Dungey is just so. good.) Maxine’s dad gives her a pep talk, because he is the best dad ever. Does everyone else want to hug him every time he’s on screen? Just me?
Elsewhere in this episode, after the team has an incident where several of its members debate whether two black women look alike, Tess confesses to Freddie that her aunt was murdered and that she misidentified the suspect in the line-up. The man served five years in prison, based on her I.D., before DNA evidence exonerated him. He now runs a coffee cart in a different part of the city. Tess goes to visit it every day, buying the same thing and leaving a huge tip. All because she feels horrible about what she did. She was just a kid so her testimony wasn’t in open court, and he doesn’t know who she is. Freddie suggests that Tess is looking for forgiveness, and should maybe consider just asking for it.
And just in case you were worried that there wouldn’t be any hilariously soapy bits to enjoy this week – fear not! Naomi, the woman who is apparently both Hayes’ and Wallace’s ex-girlfriend arrives in town. Ostensibly, she’s there to help Wallace with his Department of Justice investigation, but it seems like she’s most around to flirt heavily with both of them. Hayes and Naomi get together for a “Hey, it’s nice to see you again” drink one evening, and they come thisclose to hooking up, but are interrupted by a phone call from Wallace. When Hayes tries to drunk dial her ex at the end of the episode, she’s shocked to discover her making out with Wallace in his office. Poor Hayes, I guess? (But if you ask me Naomi and Wallace probably deserve each other.)
Season 1, Episode 6 (S01E06)
Convictoin airs Mondays at 10PM on ABC
Lacy is a digital strategist by day and a writer because it seemed like a good start to her supervillain origin story. Favorite things include: Sansa Stark, British period dramas, and that leather duster that Aeryn Sun wears in Farscape.
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Lacy Baugher | Contributor