For the People series premiere recap: 'Pilot'
Welcome to the Mother Court.
From the powerhouse production company that gave us attractive doctors saving lives and hooking up in Seattle, attractive crisis management professionals managing crises and performing monologues in D.C., and a bounty of other attractive people doing dramatic things in cities across the U.S. comes For the People.
The latest Shondaland venture (created by Paul William Davies) is about — you guessed it — attractive lawyers fighting for justice and, probably, hooking up in New York City. And you guys, I am here for this. Yes, our six federal public defenders and assistant U.S. attorneys all seem a bit too young and shiny and idealistic for reality, but isn’t that the fun part? The pilot merely gives us a taste as to what’s up with public defenders Sandra (Britt Robertson), Allison (Jasmin Savoy Brown), and Jay (Wesam Keesh) and prosecutors Seth (Ben Rappaport), Leonard (Regé-Jean Page), and Kate (Susannah Flood), but even just their broad-strokes characters, paired with the snazzy aesthetics and the format that looks at cases from both sides, are enough for me to bite.
We meet our six young upstarts as they are sworn in as the newest batch of lawyers in the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York. As Chief Judge Byrne (Vondie Curtis-Hall) informs them (and us), this court is the oldest, most prestigious trial court in the country. Cases from the Titanic disaster were heard here. Aaron Burr
sang practiced law here. Judge Byrne tells them (us) that the cases are hard and the stakes are high. They aren’t messing around here, and not everyone is worthy. This is the Mother Court, y’all.
And after that not-intimidating-at-all lecture, our lawyers are off to meet their bosses and get to lawyer-ing. Since the episode — and future episodes, one would assume — pairs off our main cast on three separate cases, let’s tackle the recap that way.
Leonard Knox v. Sandra Bell, terrorism
Sandra is a Sacramento girl staying with her law school BFF and fellow public defender Allison in Allison’s parents’ giant apartment on the Upper East Side. Sandra and Allison are a more sentimental version of Shondaland’s most famous BFFs, Meredith and Cristina — they vent in bed together, they hold hands, they support each other no matter what. We like them, a lot.
Leonard is your classic super-hot, super-dick lawyer-type. He works very hard to seem heartless, but a few moments at the end of the episode let on that there is more to this guy. A bad boy who deep down is a softy? Yes, please and thank you.
Leonard and Sandra are the lead prosecutor and defender for United States v. Mohamed Fayed. The young guy is being charged with attempt to use a weapon of mass destruction on government property — in layman’s terms, he was caught trying to blow up the head of the Statue of Liberty. Sandra and Leonard are an even match-up. They may be of different temperaments, but they are both extremely good, extremely tenacious lawyers.
Over at the U.S. district attorney office, Leonard discovers that friendly Seth has this juicy terrorism case. Leonard wants it. Leonard is a guy who gets what he wants. He presents his case to his boss, Roger Gunn (Ben Shenkman), a no-nonsense “just win” type of guy: Leonard deserves this case because, well, he is a better lawyer than Seth, who worked at a mid-tier law firm. Sweet Seth sees this as an invitation to show he has integrity. He tells Roger that yes, this case is hard, but at least Seth is humble enough to know that it will be hard and that will make him fight harder to win. Seth doesn’t realize Roger has no time for integrity or humility — Roger hands the case over to Leonard. (Recap continues on page 2)
Sandra, on the other hand, ends up defending Mohammed Fayed because the girl is an overachiever. Or, as Allison puts it, Sandra is the only person who would “make a hard job harder.” After meeting with her boss, baseball-obsessed and very practical person Jill Carlan (Hope Davis), Sandra sees that the “Attorney on Duty” position is open — this is the person who fields all the new cases coming in that day — and against Jill’s advice to wait until Sandra has more experience, Sandra doesn’t take no for an answer. And what case should come in first? Terrorism.
After the initial hearing, Leonard offers Sandra and her client a way out — a plea deal for 15 years in prison. Obviously this means there is something in the discovery Leonard doesn’t want Sandra to see — but to see it means rejecting the deal and going to trial, where if convicted, Mohamed could get a much worse sentence. After realizing there is something else going on in this case (Mohamed mentions his “team” to her) and getting a pep talk from Allison, Sandra rejects the deal and demands a look at the evidence. She does not confer with Jill about any of this. Week one and Jill already has no control over her employees!
The risk pays off and Sandra learns that Mohamed was the mark in an FBI sting operation. The FBI sought him out, helped him build the (fake) bomb, and orchestrated the entire thing in order to arrest him. They just didn’t count on a park ranger finding the “bomb” before Mohamed made it to the crown. Can someone be guilty of a crime they were only going to commit because the FBI gave them the means necessary?
What follows is a battle of the lawyer minds. Jill and Sandra visit Roger and Leonard and basically tell them that their strategy is to argue attempt — Mohamed was stopped before he made it to the crown; did he take a substantial enough step toward performing the crime to prove he was going to do it? They say no. In actuality, they are going to argue entrapment. They just want the boys to think they are going for attempt so that they’ll focus their energy on that argument. Get it? Lawyer-ing! What, like it’s hard?
After a newly created tradition — on the evening before every first day of trial, Leonard will eat at the noodle restaurant near the courthouse next to Blunt Cut, er, Kate (when will these two hook up?) — Leonard is raring to go. He can play tricks, too. He knows how to push Sandra’s buttons. He presents a witness that he knows Sandra won’t be able to bite her tongue over, and he’s right. Sandra pushes the ferry boat driver until he gets emotional and opens up about living through 9/11. Reminding the jury of the similarities of that day with this case is the exact opposite of what Sandra needs to do to win.
With a mistake like that and the cards stacked against them to begin with, even Sandra’s rousing closing argument about Mohamed being turned into a monster by our own government cannot overcome the emotions evoked by Leonard’s closing, reminding the jury of the many attacks we’ve suffered. Mohamed is found guilty. Sandra takes it hard, but Jill reminds the young public defender that one case does not make the lawyer. Sandra will live to lawyer another day.
Meanwhile, Leonard is back at the office for a celebration. He looks like he wants to be anywhere else. He heads into Blunt Cut’s office for some quiet. She doesn’t celebrate people going to jail. Leonard sits in silence contemplating what happened in that courtroom. He may have won, but was it really justice? See, you guys, the Tin Man may have a heart after all. (Recap continues on page 3)
Kate Littlejohn v. Jay Simmons, fraud
This case is much less about the actual case — a guy is being charged with fraud for making a fake government bureau and swindling people out of money, among a long list of other cons — and more an introduction to our two lawyers.
Jay is a well-meaning, naive guy. He says things like “I trust my client,” before, you know, researching anything about his client. So, obviously, he comes to find out that his client is repeatedly lying to him and thinks he’s a tool. That last part is caught on surveillance tape, and Jay agonizingly listens to it over and over again.
It doesn’t help that he’s going up against Kate Littlejohn, easily my favorite character of the bunch. Unlike Jay, Blunt Cut lives for research. She also lives for highlighters. Blunt Cut is my kind of girl.
As expected, Blunt Cut is a rule follower to the extreme; it’s why she is a prosecutor. She easily shuts down any argument Jay has and is not swayed with his speech about having compassion. Her few moments with Leonard, though, hint that Blunt Cut isn’t as unfeeling as she comes off.
Seth Oliver v. Allison Adams, insider trading/true love
If you’re going to tell a story about lawyers on both sides of the courtroom, you know at least one pair is going to be in love. Seth and Allison are like a nerdy, legal Romeo and Juliet. They repeatedly tell each other that this situation will be fine, they are professionals, and their relationship will survive this…so you know there is trouble ahead.
One minute Allison and Seth are pumping one another up for their first trials as a public defender and an assistant U.S. district attorney, and the next they realize that they are going head to head in the courtroom. IT IS TOTALLY FINE, YOU GUYS.
The case seems like an easy one for Allison. Her client is a secretary who unknowingly repeated some intel from work that her now ex-husband used to make money. She did not intend to profit from this information, had no idea what her husband was doing, and it was only for $9,000 anyway. Chief Judge Byrne seems annoyed he is even hearing this case.
However, Seth feels like he has something to prove to his boss after being stripped of the terrorism case, so he gets tough. With a little help from Roger, he decides to up the charges against the woman. He wants to pressure her into taking a deal.
Allison and Seth argue at home. This is an innocent woman with a child! She can’t go to prison, even for six months! He tells her he isn’t planning on prosecuting the charges, he’s just using them to pressure them. Allison shouldn’t take it so personally. But of course it is personal. And now Allison knows that to best serve her client — to win — she is going to have to destroy her boyfriend. In front of the judge, she rejects the deal and tells him that she has firsthand knowledge that Seth is only using the charges to pressure her client, which is an ethics violation.
Seth gets put on probation. Allison isn’t sorry — she was doing her job. So it turns out they were wrong: their relationship cannot survive this. Seth moves out. Jasmin Savoy Brown and Ben Rappaport have some serious chemistry — we’ve only just met Allison and Seth, and yet I am terribly sad to see them end. Come on you two, work it out! It’s only the law!
After a tough few days, Sandra and Allison sit in their apartment, both having suffered some big losses. But these gals are not the type to wallow. Sandra takes her sad BFF for a walk across the bridge to get a look at the Mother Court in all her evening glory. They are worthy, they tell each other. And they’ll prove it, together.
Fingers crossed that we get a little more backstory on our six lawyers — you know at least one of them will be tragic — but until then, what did you think? We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but will you be back next week? Is this show worthy?
For the People