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Binge watching: “The Divide”

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Binge watching: The Divide
Image credit: WE tv

While waiting for the new season premiere of House of Cards and Game of Thrones, we discovered Imposters. Funny and totally irreverent, we wait every week for each new episode. But seven days is a long time to wait. In between, we watch Law & Order. We’re so desperate for something good to see on TV that we decided to backtrack to 1999 when the first season of Law & Order was aired. The stories are always interesting but, if you’ve seen Law & Order, you’d know that the format doesn’t really vary. The first half is always about how the police gather evidence and the second half consists of the trial. It can get tedious. So, we browsed Netflix looking for something else to watch and we discovered The Divide.

It was after 10.00 p.m. last night when we started with the first episode. I noted that Tony Goldwyn (yes, the actor who plays the United States president in Scandal) is co-creator and co-executive producer of the series. It was weird seeing his name as part of the production rather than the cast. In my mind, he was always the money-hungry Carl Bruner who got Sam Wheat, Patrick Swayze’s character, killed in Ghost. If I had seen other movies that he starred in, I never really noticed. He was Carl Bruner until he was Fitzgerald Grant III in Scandal. But after seeing the first two episodes of The Divide which he directed, I became a fan. I found the series so riveting that I didn’t turn off my iMac until after the fourth episode concluded.

What is The Divide about? It’s a story about the criminal justice system. Sounds too much like Law & Order? It isn’t. The story revolves around two white convicts, Jared Bankowski and Terry Kucik, who were found guilty of murdering a black family. Bankowski (played by Chris Bauer who also played the lecherous schoolteacher accused of molesting an underage student in The Devil’s Advocate) was days away from execution. A non-profit legal organization sought to stay the execution by having the DNA evidence presented in the trial re-tested and re-evaluated.

But The Divide is more about the people who participate in the justice system—their motivations, ambitions, personal politics and ethical standards. It is also a hard look on how these people and their decisions make the criminal justice system flawed and fallible. There’s the D.A. Adam Page (played by Damon Gupton who was also in Whiplash and La La Land) who suppressed evidence for fear of losing a conviction and marring his rising legal career. Christine Rosa is a legal intern whose passion in proving Bankowski’s innocence is matched by her belief that her own father was wrongfully convicted of murder. There’s Jenny Butler, the only survivor and only eyewitness in the multiple murder, who was a child when the crime was committed. There’s the police with their questionable techniques in identifying a suspect. And there’s the public that no one is really sure if driven by a quest for true justice or if the drive to convict two white men for the murder of a black family was simply racially motivated.

Granted, The Divide is not easy to watch. Not because there’s too much legalese (there’s very little) but because it can get uncomfortable—and even scary. Not scary the way horror movies are but worse. When you consider the unreliability of eyewitness testimony (any lawyer worth his salt knows that eyewitness testimony is the most unreliable of all), the less-than-pure intentions of lawyers who are more concerned with winning and adding another case to the “closed” pile than truly finding out who’s guilty and who’s not, the not-too-bright cops who make mistakes with the collection of evidence and the politicians who want to pacify a blood-thirsty public to boost their careers, well… you question if the justice system is truly just.

It is, perhaps, this disturbing sub-text of The Divide that did not make the series too popular. By nature, people want reassurance that the system works but The Divide says otherwise. And most probably find that upsetting if not downright alarming. The pilot episode was watched by less than half a million viewers and the number was down to less than 300,000 by the time the season concluded. Consequently, the series was retired.

Today, three years later, there’s still no word if there will ever be a second season. That’s sad. In an era of reality shows and celebrity chefs, it’s a happy day when one discovers a gem that makes one think and question everything that one has always accepted as a matter of course. A gem like The Divide.