Yet another week of silence from Fox means Shots Fired will probably remain an “event series,” making “Last Dance” likely the last time we’ll see Preston and Ashe doing battle against racially biased policing. It’s a good thing “Last Dance” is a surprisingly satisfying conclusion to a series with a premise that suggested an absence of easy answers. For the most part, the evildoers are punished and the outstanding questions are answered, including the shocking murder of Lieutenant Breeland at the end of “Come to Jesus.” And for the Preston and Ashe shippers out there, the finale provides plenty of swoon-worthy moments in lieu of the continuity it can’t deliver.
The bulk of the episode is dedicated to the grand jury process, which is sort of disorienting despite the basic understanding that Preston and Ashe work for the Department of Justice. Shots Fired has been so heavy on the glacially paced investigation that I forgot on some level that the point of all this is to bring a case to try in front of a jury. But the time has arrived for the DOJ to impanel a grand jury to decide on potential indictments for Joshua Beck and Arlen Cox in the respective deaths of Jesse Carr and Joey Campbell. Preston questions some witnesses while Ashe keeps shaking the trees, and a picture of both tragic crimes falls into place.
In an interesting choice, “Last Dance” goes beyond compiling the eyewitness testimony and the corroborating evidence and actually shows both shootings from an objective perspective. In the case of Jesse Carr, the events are pretty close to what was captured in the cell phone video Jesse started recording when Officer Beck pulled him over. Beck interrogates Jesse about what he’s doing around The Houses, and when Jesse responds with impudence and sarcasm, Beck loses his cool and yanks Jesse out of the car. What happens next is a bit confusing since it happens so quickly. In seconds, Beck starts shooting and Jesse is dead, but I suppose the whole point is to put the audience into the position of a cop having to make a split-second decision. Beck was wrong to snatch Jesse out of the car, but what happened next looked like a genuine accident or a moment of panic.
The objective version of events somewhat acquits Beck, especially in light of the newly uncovered full-length version of the video with Beck’s racially incendiary comments. The full version reveals Beck was only kidding when he talked about how the sheriff’s badge he just earned will give him the authority to shoot white people. (The local newspaper publicized a sensationalized edit to drive clicks.) He’s actually a well-intentioned rookie hoping to make his community better, and he made a terrible mistake that ended a young life. In other words, Beck’s narrative is that of so many police officers who kill in the line of duty and are later acquitted because they seem like nice enough guys and claim to have feared for their lives. Based on the statistics, the chances of someone like Beck being indicted are impossibly slim.
But all bets are off in a case involving a black police officer who shoots an unarmed white student. The grand jury votes to indict Beck, and while it’s a just result, it’s not easy to watch as Beck is arrested at his home and taken from his tearful wife and children. The result in the Jesse Carr case becomes especially heartbreaking once the grand jury declines to indict Arlen Cox, who admitted to killing Joey Campbell in a moment of gross negligence. The objective version of Joey’s murder is even more chilling because of Cox’s evil intent. Cox is telling the truth when he says that he, in carrying out his duties as an auxiliary deputy, was trying to help Breeland when Joey kicked him. He’s lying about accidentally reaching for his gun instead of his taser, as the flashback clearly shows him become enraged after being kicked and shoot Joey in cold blood with half of The Houses watching.
Besides the racial difference between the perpetrators, Cox also has the advantage of a convenient fall guy. With Breeland dead, it’s all too easy to pin everything on him, from the planting of weed in Jesse’s car to the falsification of the records for the auxiliary deputy program. There’s still the question of who killed Breeland, and Preston and Ashe are on such a hot streak, they’re able to figure out that mystery too. Turns out Sheriff Platt, one of the first officers on the scene of Breeland’s murder, was close by because he’s the killer. Breeland was the only person who could correct the record, and with him dead, Platt was certain the truth of his unholy alliance with Cox would be buried as well. Platt was already on his way out of power, since Governor Eamons asked for his resignation, but Preston and Ashe’s last-minute solve ensures a more fitting end for the crooked sheriff.
By solving Breeland’s murder, Preston and Ashe are also able to solve the latest hurdle in their relationship. Ashe’s rocky relationship with Breeland made her one of the obvious suspects when he turned up dead, but she’s downright offended when Preston questions her about her whereabouts. Preston’s suspicion is enough to make Ashe call the whole thing off, but once they’ve solved the murder, they quickly move past the negative feelings and get back to canoodling. It’s almost a happy ending, save for the fact that Cox escaped justice. (His company will be under a cloud of suspicion thanks to Preston, so that’s something.) But to end with all the bad guys dead or behind bars would have been a false note for Shots Fired, a show that above all strove to show how ideas like “bad guys” and “justice” are moving targets.