When They See Us Episode 1 is a horrifying portrayal of the racial profiling and coerced confessions of The Central Park Five, which deepens as the chapter progresses.
This recap of When They See Us Episode 1 contains significant spoilers. Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Limited Series is based on the notorious events surrounding The Central Park Five in the jogger case. You can read our season 1 review of the Netflix Series by clicking these words.
When They See Us episode 1 engrosses the audience in terror to understand the brutal, tragic nature of what the young boys were subjected to after a woman was found raped in Central Park in 1989. If you are not aware of this story, it may be worth checking out the 2012 documentary that documents the story of racial profiling, injustice, and media frenzy.
When They See Us episode 1 highlights that the boys framed for the horrific crimes were normal foolish teenagers, enjoying the usual shenanigans of a boisterous social lifestyle; heading to a party, but getting drawn in by crowds running through the park. Part 1 signifies the “wrong place, wrong time” direction at first, but once the prosecutor gets hold of the events of that night, she knows that none of the circumstances link; When They See Us becomes a story of racial profiling, coerced confessions and illegal processes carried out by the police.
When They See Us episode 1 is tantalizingly challenging to watch, especially once the police round up on the teenagers based on extremely light descriptions and an impassioned detective Linda Fairstein (Felicity Huffman) who is determined to solve a rape case. Part 1 demonstrates that it is not about catching the criminal; it’s having a story, showing the city that they are dealing with an epidemic of women getting sexually assaulted using race as the advertisement to absurdly arouse the media. Ava DuVernay has not held back in her approach, and part 1 of the limited Netflix series proves that.
Once the five teenagers are in custody in When They See Us episode 1, we witness uncomfortable scenes of police abusing their power due to pressure from the prosecutor to nail a story. The racism is transparent, the lack of care for the law is eye-opening, and the torture of the teenagers, who have to endure 18 hours of questioning, some without guardians until the very end, is taunting. There’s one defining and tear-jerking scene in particular when one of the mothers visits the police station, and she bravely powers through to where her son is and declares that he is not waiving his rights to an attorney; the way she expresses her disgust at the police for treating minors this way is paramount. This is why I believe the story of Brendan Dassey in Making a Murderer; it’s not difficult to imagine the influence of adults, and in this case, they physically and mentally abused them to sign their life away.
But what is most damning about When They See Us episode 1 is that it portrays a successful outcome for the police. By holding the teenagers in different rooms, they manage to interconnect coercive stories on each other, and with the pressure mounting, they force each one to sign off their statement of what happened that night. Specifically, the scenes with the young Kevin Richardson (Asante Blackk) who is petrified by the officer’s tactics to get him to admit that he raped a woman he has never met.
When They See Us episode 1 is a fantastic start to the Netflix series, and although it’s a fictionalized version of real events, it does a grand job in ensuring you feel the scandal at the time.
Our coverage of When They See Us season 1 does not end here. You can read the recap of episode 2 by clicking these words.
Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.