I just watched the final episode of season 4 of this Netflix series, and the series will not be renewed. I hadn't known this in advance, and in some ways, it made for better viewing.
The set up involves Daniel Holden, an 18 year old man convicted of rape and capital murder who spends the next 20 years on death row. New DNA evidence comes to light, and he is released, subject to retrial, a threat that hangs over his head with serious consequences artfully navigated throughout the four seasons. The series jumps around in time and place, with scenes on death row, at the time of the crime, and post-release, often with flashbacks. Little attention is paid to the original criminal trial.
First, what I love about this series. The show is dark, and the characters are genuine and devoid of cliches. I found it gripping. I paced myself, but could have binge watched in more rapid succession. Viewers are apt to connect with Holden and his immediate family, especially his younger sister, Amantha, whose relentlessness on her brother's behalf is largely responsible for his release, and to a lesser extent his mother and the troubled new family she forged while Holden was incarcerated. Each of these characters and others reveals powerful flaws, and just when you might be inclined to write a character off, the writers surprise you, challenging your expectations, but without undermining the series' essential realism.
The depictions of death row are stark and genuine. The loneliness and sense of isolation, physical and emotional, are palpable. The series is about relationships, with family, and with those who become family due to tragic circumstance. And it is about loss, the actual loss of loved ones, sometimes for cruel or arbitrary reasons, and even more so, the permanent loss of self that seems unimaginable, a full lifetime dissipated at what should be the prime of life.
I won't issue a spoiler, but I will say that I particularly like how the series ended. It wasn't "neat." We can surmise what might happen, but we don't know. If the writers were hedging, hoping for a possible fifth season, I suspect they might have handled it a bit differently, and probably less well.
I have never seen an actual death row, but I have represented two inmates who were on death row while practicing law, and I visited with each them in the extreme confines of lawyer-visitation room. I did so in the context of the pro bono commitment of the two law firms I worked for prior to starting to teach, both on the same death row in Bessemer, Alabama. Not only did the prison scenes in the series seem genuine, but so too did the personalities. This included especially the subdued nature of the men I represented who experienced severe isolation and who struggled to avoid a total loss of hope. It also captured the inevitable and tragic breakage of families, those of the victim and that of the man convicted of capital murder. As the series beautifully demonstrates, despite the title, no one comes out fixed in these circumstances.