Sanaa Lathan and guest star Beau Knap.
Gina Prince-Bythewood understands love, sex, and heartbreak. The co-creator of Shots Fired wrote and directed Love & Basketball and Beyond the Lights, two of the most beautiful, confident, and keenly written romances of the past quarter-century. So it’s no wonder that, despite being a radically different kind of story than she usually tells, Shots Fired is shot through with sexuality. One of the best scenes in the pilot, which Prince-Bythewood directed, is the montage that combines Preston and Kerry’s first hook-up and Ashe’s dalliance with Preston’s brother. It’s a totally superfluous sequence, but damn if it isn’t sexy and handsomely shot.
So in a sense, it’s forgivable that “Truth” builds to some sexually fraught moments between Preston and Ashe, the odd couple who until recently were clashing about everything from procedures to politics. Preston and Ashe are attractive folks with a natural, if a bit prickly, chemistry. The audience would want to see them together were this any other kind of story, and if the tragic deaths of two young men didn’t loom so large over the show. And as an “opposites attract” romantic pairing, they’re actually kind of cute. He asks questions, she shoots first. He orders salad at barbecue joints, and she drinks most of her calories. He’s by-the-book, while she’s by-the-script, specifically the original screenplay from Cleopatra Jones. They’re pretty ’shippable, all things considered.
But here’s the thing: Preston and Ashe are on the cusp of bedding both of the viable sexual partners within their reach, but aren’t even close to solving either of the two murders they’ve been charged with investigating. So their budding romantic relationship feels like a needless distraction. The only saving grace of those early hook-ups, or at least it seemed, was that the writers were presumably closing off a romantic path between the two leads. Apparently that’s not the case, and if Preston and Ashe are falling into a will-they-won’t-they pattern in the fourth of ten episodes, it can’t be long until they open the doors connecting their adjoining hotel suites. Focus up, you two, there are murders to solve.
Perhaps that’s a complaint for another day, since the fleeting hints of romance between Preston and Ashe are the only major flaws with “Truth,” the best episode of Shots Fired so far. The episode feels tighter almost immediately thanks to the last episode’s cliffhanger, where the missing and presumed dead Cory turned up at a hotel. As it turns out, Cory and his parents went into hiding after that mysterious sedan chased Cory down. He was a witness to Joey Campbell’s murder and can identify the shooter if he sees him again. The lead is exactly what Preston and Ashe need to reanimate their slow-going investigation, but the way they react to it shows how much they’ve influenced each other already.
Preston is beginning to realize that justice simply isn’t blind in this country, and hearing Cory’s account riles him up so much he overplays his hand when asking for more Department of Justice support and a wider investigatory scope. Ashe, normally the bomb thrower, takes a more deferential tone with the boss and puts her focus on getting protective custody for Cory’s family, but by that point, Preston has already soured the tone of the video conference. Ashe is pissed when they go to lunch, and she blames his ego for ruining their chances at making sure their most valuable witness remains alive. Another cute thing about Preston and Ashe: They don’t seem to realize that they’re both deeply emotional people in a field that demands stoicism.
After the minor setback, they get a few major breaks. Cory and his parents are still alive and in protective custody, and Ashe arranged it not a moment too soon. In a deftly edited sequence, a generic-looking hit man goes to the hotel room to kill the family, but they’ve already been whisked away. That scene frustrated me a little because it hints at the possibility that Shots Fired is actually about a broader conspiracy that ultimately doesn’t have that much to do with race. But it was so thrilling I couldn’t be mad at it.
Ashe also chases down the source of the weed found in Jesse Carr’s vehicle and learns that out of 600 marijuana strains available in the county, Jesse and Joey were found in possession of the exact same one. Preston and Ashe don’t exactly know what this means yet, whether Jesse and Joey knew each other, worked together, or were both victims of the same crooked sheriff’s department. But they’re clearly connected, so Ashton (I’m testing out some super-couple portmanteaus, don’t mind me) leverage the revelation to get permission to formally investigate both Joey’s and Jesse’s deaths. They’re so thrilled they celebrate together with drinks and wind up having several lingering moments when either of them could have lit the sexual tinderbox and chose not to.
The show’s broader look at the community and the larger forces that create Jesses and Joeys is also falling into place, with this episode delving more into Governor Eamons’s dirty work. Her namesake legislation is an education bill that dumps millions into the state schools but includes a bussing component that riles up the white parents and is funded by a private prison company, which pisses off the black activists. The writing occasionally hits the nail too squarely on the head, with some rather literal talk about how Eamons hopes that by taking the dirty corporate prison money now, she can avoid more tragedies like Joey Campbell’s death in the future. At least she seems focused on delayed gratification and future benefit, unlike Preshe, who can barely keep their pants on long enough to find a new lead. (Yeah, Preshe is pretty terrible. Ashton makes the most sense.)