There’s something really engrossing about prison dramas that I can’t help but become invested in. Whether it be Prison Break and Orange Is The New Black (the early seasons, before they started losing quality), or Wentworth and Oz, there’s a timeless quality about life behind bars and seeing prisoners rising up or working together to overthrow a corrupt system is a simple but effective story trope that never seems to get old.
For Life then is an interesting series in that respect, standing out from those dramas by combining its court-room segments with the usual prison tropes and some strong acting performances to back it up.
Episode 2 of For Life begins with Aaron narrating about pitting one debt against another before sitting with the warden and talking. He tells her he wants to sue the police over withholding his police file and tries to get her onboard to support him, which she eventually does.
Wallace speaks to Knox about the footage of his fight and implores him to tell the truth, vowing to get him out of solitary if he does. While this bubbles over in the background, Wallace speaks to Henry during visitation and advises what he’s planning to do – taking the police to court – which Henry advises is nigh on impossible to do. Back in his cell, Wallace phones Maria and asks her to let Ronnie visit the prison so he can meet him.
The next day, the captain threatens Wallace after admitting to being the one who made his bus late last episode. In court, Wallace hammers down the law and gets the Judge to back him. Riding a high, back in the prison he speaks to Knox’s former inmate Phil who brings new light to the situation involving the Nazi. With new ammo, he checks the security footage in the prison and finds Knox scared and asking for help from one of the officers.
With this information, he speaks to Wild Bill and concludes that Knox wanted to be put in solitary for his own protection – protection against Wild Bill. Ronnie arrives at the prison midway through this investigation, talking to Wallace about Jasmine, the baby and the current situation back home. However, Walter tells Wallace to search his client’s (Knox) medical records to find what he needs.
With the records in hand, Wallace speaks to Phil and tells him he knows what’s going on. Knox signs a form allowing his case to be opened and he makes a deal with Wallace, who promises to try and get him transferred somewhere Wild Bill won’t be able to reach.
With Phil there to testify, he learns the truth first-hand. Both of them asked for solitary to protect themselves from Wild Bill, as they were romantically involved together. Thanks to Knox contracting syphilis, Bill and the other Nazis beat him up badly as a “warning”; Knox only joined the Nazis for protection.
As the trial continues, Knox’s case is dropped after interrogating the guards and learning abou neglicence from the officers who didn’t file the right paperwork. After the case is thrown out, Wallace convinces the Warden to transfer Knox away from Wild Bill for his own protection.
Jasmine arrives at the court for her Father’s big day and they talk about Ronnie before the Judge arrives. Wallace hits another roadblock though, as the police throw yet more woes his way thanks to redacted files and half truths that slam the door shut on Wallace getting access to his records. It’s a big blow but he promises his crying daughter that things will be okay.
In prison, he phones Ronnie and they talk about Jasmine and what she’s given up for him. Ronnie lays down the law for him too, telling Wallace she needs to take care of herself and not keep visiting the prison every week, which isn’t good for the baby.
As the episode closes out, the warden finds out about Jasmine being pregnant and news of Wallace’s files not being released causes a media circus, whipped up by Henry who agrees to support Wallace from now on. In the yard, the Warden tells him the same – he has her support to try and get justice no matter what.
With a little more characterisation surrounding Aaron and his family set-up, Nicholas Pinnock does a great job bringing our protagonist to life, with a good balance of conviction and steely resolve balanced by intimate, emotional segments. This works really well in the context of the show and makes him a character easy to root for because of this.
Seeing the legal obstacles he’s had to try and navigate, even this early on, really hammers home how difficult it is to claw yourself out of this despairing black hole. The individual cases around this story do well to subvert expectations, with this week’s forbidden love angle a nice touch. As predicted, the show is peppering in a blend of stand-alone segments with a more serialized drive and I’d imagine this will continue throughout the show’s run time.
So far so good though, For Life is shaping up to be a decent prison drama here and quite what will happen in the coming weeks remains to be seen.