“Brother’s Keeper” proved the best episode yet, as Aaron fought the case of a reformed drug addict whose brother might represent his best chance yet of fighting for his own freedom.
This recap of For Life Season 1, Episode 3, “Brother’s Keeper”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
For Life Episode 3, the best so far by quite a margin, opened with Safiya (Indira Varma) supervising a support group for recovering addicts led by Hassan (Felonious Munk). One of the mentees, Freddy (Matthew James Ballinger), raises concerns about the general population and being exposed to the drug flow among the guards and inmates, despite recent crackdowns on dealers, but luckily a new wing is being built for recovering addicts to help them transition — this is the best example yet of how Safiya’s progressive reform is actually impacting the inmates, and we see early a clear distinction between her and the old-guard COs who don’t even want to refer to Hassan by his preferred name.
Aaron (Nicholas Pinnock) is representing Hassan in “Brother’s Keeper”, and offers to contact his brother on his behalf to testify in his case. As he explains to Jamal (Dorian Missick), of all the inmates who want Aaron to represent them, Hassan is the only one with a relative who’s a cop. And a cop means access to Aaron’s file, though he’d rather nobody knew this since it gives something of a bad impression.
The relationship between Hassan and his brother is complex. Hassan has been inside a long time, after having been caught stealing copper wire to fund his drug habit, and his new spiritual awakening isn’t particularly compelling to the man who saw him steal their mother’s dialysis equipment. When Aaron meets with Hassan’s brother he points out all the people Hassan has helped, but it’s countered by Hassan’s brother pointing out all the deserving people he put away. They’re all there for a reason.
Nonetheless, Hassan’s brother agrees to testify, and even says Hassan looks good at the trial. Meanwhile, Assistant District Attorney Dez O’Reilly (Erik Jenson) arrives at the prison with a subpoena for some security footage, investigating Aaron for forgery and filing a false instrument — this is obviously referring back to the fake suicide note he submitted in the pilot. He goes over the footage with Safiya and there’s a clear moment where he exchanges paper with Marie (Joy Bryant). Luckily another, separate subpoena is required for O’Reilly to interrogate the guards who were on duty, and Safiya is able to get to them first. They all saw Aaron bring the paper in but nobody can say what was on it or what color it was.
Despite Hassan’s brother testifying that he was out of it when he took the plea deal and couldn’t possibly understand what he was doing, the judge denies the motion since Aaron has only produced one potentially biased witness. He makes a point of patronizing Aaron for learning on the job — much to the enjoyment of the prosecution — and explicitly states that he didn’t give his client the best chance at success. This idea is only exacerbated by Hassan overhearing Aaron asking his brother to look at his police file; he understandably feels used, a means to an end rather than a case Aaron genuinely cares about. His brother feels the same way and argues with Aaron: “Should have thought about that before–” / “Before what? I decided to be black in America?” For Life Episode 3 doesn’t make its thematic undertones particularly subtle.
“Brother’s Keeper” makes a point of showing how Aaron’s legal battles negatively impact Marie, who is pulled from work by men from the District Attorney’s office and slyly intimidated by Maskins (Boris McGiver) himself, and also her relationship with Darius (Brandon J. Dirden), who later says that no matter how much love he has for Aaron he just can’t see an outcome in which he doesn’t drag them all down with him.
O’Reilly tries to grill Hassan’s brother, but he proves much too smart for that — in actual fact, seeing the extent to which Aaron’s case is being hampered lights a bit of a fire under him, and he agrees to look into the homeless guy who was supposedly living in the tenement Hassan broke into. Nobody bothered to check that he was actually there at the time; they took his abandoned sleeping bag and personal effects to mean he was, but if he wasn’t Hassan’s charged will be bumped down and he’ll get out on time already served.
This is a smart play, and Aaron tells Safiya he’s filing a new motion. She wonders how Hassan furthers his agenda, which she makes clear she knows is the case. Even the judge complements Aaron on the tactic, even though, after proving that the homeless “resident” of the building died six days before Hassan stole the copper wire, he denies the motion once again on the basis of some intricate case law. This is pretty obviously just his way of teaching Aaron a lesson, and it’s Hassan who pays the price. When Safiya later confronts Aaron about crossing the line by forging evidence and then representing Knox to pay off the Aryans for use of their forger, he uses this to his advantage in a speech that stands out as a highlight of For Life Season 1, Episode 3. Aaron says with all the obstacles against him, it’s up to him where he draws the line, and before Safiya can even raise the possibility of removing his privileges, he shares with her some intel on the guards and drug trade that he got Freddy to dig up leverage.
To cap “Brother’s Keeper” off, Marie goes to see a very apologetic Aaron. She has a gift for him — a photocopy of his entire police file, delivered by Hassan’s brother. One page, in particular, is marked. That’s where he should start. When Aaron says this is the first step in securing his freedom, Marie can’t help but smile.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.