I'm convinced: American Crime is one of the best shows on network TV.
This episode can feel transitional at times, but it's a great example of showrunner John Ridley's tight, effective writing. Ridley is playing with themes and issues that emerge organically from his characters. Nothing feels grafted onto this plot.
When we last saw Anne Blaine (Lili Taylor), she was going to the press after Leyland Academy and the police declined to investigate Taylor's rape accusation. This episode begins as the school's headmaster, Leslie Graham (Felicity Huffman), sits down for an interview about the scandal. She's in spin-control mode — defensive, but deftly pushing blame onto others. She points out how they met with Anne three times, and each time, she didn't have answers for them. She's planting seeds of doubt, and she's simply better at handling the media than Anne is. It's an unfair fight.
In a therapy session, Taylor (Connor Jessup) expresses regret for saying something about what happened. If he were a girl, Taylor suggests, the rape would be a national story. A sexual assault against a boy just isn't treated as a serious crime. It's a tightly written scene, which allows Ridley and his staff to inject social commentary into their narrative. We also get another hint that Anne has suffered tough times: Taylor says he's afraid to talk his mother because "she's got enough she's got to worry about."
On cue, we see what Taylor means. The episode cuts to Anne in a restaurant, where she sees a man get rough with a woman at his table. Anne confronts him, first by asking him to take his hand off the woman's neck, then by demanding he leave. It's an interesting scene; Anne looks the man square in the eye, never backing down. She's tougher than she seems.
Anne isn't the only tough mother, though. When we cut to Terry Lacroix (Regina King), she's dispassionately handing a box of Kleenex to a woman she just fired. She's cold as ice: "I wish you luck in all your endeavors." Later that night, she talks about how the woman tried to play the race card on her, asking for help simply because they share an ethnicity. At first, it feels like mere character development, but this moment will play into Terry's story line later.
Meanwhile, her son Kevin (Trevor Jackson) is getting hands-y and aggressive with a new girl named Nikki (Rima Rajan). (In the season premiere, the boys were looking at photos of Nikki on their phones.) After Nikki turns him down, Kevin starts eyeing someone else across the room. He's an 18-year-old boy, controlled solely by his hormones. Later, he seeks romantic advice from his dad, Michael. As Michael tells him, "Lesson one: Women, you can't win, so it's about figuring out how much you gonna lose." It's another well-written conversation, which echoes the themes of perception that ripple throughout American Crime.
When Anne reads the story in the paper, she's disappointed. She calls the reporter to complain, noting, "It sounds weak." The paper couldn't print Taylor's name, though, and the details are still sketchy. They need more facts.
The article does have an impact on the Lacroix family — Kevin is 18, so he gets named. Terry gets word of the story as she arrives at work, then moves quickly to call Michael. Kevin's Facebook page is already getting blasted. She wants him to pull their son out of school. It's the perception problem again: Terri knows it's important to get out in front of the story. King is fantastic in this sequence, conveying both terror and the icy determination of a powerful figure.
At home, Kevin meets with his family and their attorney. They ask a lot of questions: Was any alcohol at the party? Was Kevin inebriated? Was he alone with a girl? Did he have sex?
Kevin admits he had sex at the party. He claims it was consensual, but also part of a ritual called "making the team," in which seniors hook up in bathrooms. It's basically hazing. The only thing the Lacroixs know for sure, though, is that an article about sexual assault mentions Kevin. Terri probably thinks it's vengeance from Val, a girl she's never trusted. The police haven't made contact … yet. They're probably scared of the Lacroixs, just like everyone else.
The next few scenes dissect the fallout of the article. In a conversation between Eric and his friends, we hear an intriguing line: "I knew were gonna get in trouble." Eric acts confidently, but looks nervous when everyone walks away. Coach Dan (Timothy Hutton) calls Kevin to check in on him. The scene could have been played as Dan being worried about his liability, but instead, Hutton turns toward earnest concern. As Dan's colleague later reminds him, his job could be in jeopardy. He stands firm: "I am not walking on these kids."
At Thurgood Marshall High School, the police question Evy (Angelique Rivera), which forces her dad to take time off to be by her side. Evy was just a witness, but the cops are pretty intense with her. Of course, she doesn't have clout like the Lacroixs, who haven't even been questioned at all. Evy reveals a few details from the party: Taylor couldn't stand up, something crazy happened, and nobody tried to help him. We learn that Eric drove them home, and "he was off about something." Is everything about to come crashing down on Eric?
After a few dinner conversations between Eric's parents, Eric and his brother, and Chris (Elvis Nolasco) and another teacher, we reach the Sullivan home. Steph (Hope Davis) is stressed because people already want to remove pictures of their daughters from the Leyland Academy website. Dan spins it back to his boys, and she calls him on it. Then, we learn Steph likes to smoke down. They used to get high together, but Dan is worried about drug tests, especially with so much attention on the basketball team. We also learn that their sex life isn't what it once was — nor what Steph wants it to be.
Evy tells Taylor that the cops pulled her out of class. She's furious. Keep in mind, Evy still doesn't know the extent of Taylor's allegations. She thinks he just got messed up at a stupid party. As they talk, Evy encourages Taylor to transfer back to Thurgood Marshall.
In the episode's most vital scene, Terri and Michael learn more about the accusation. There was no GHB in the victim's bloodstream, so he wasn't drugged. From this statement, Terri realizes a boy accused someone of sexual assault. King conveys shock and incredulity as she says, "Boys don't get raped. First of all, boys don't do that to other boys. Boys fight back. Are they even taking this seriously?" Remember what Taylor told his therapist? He was right.
Michael storms out. He gets an emotional moment with Kevin, who says he was only with Val. I could be wrong, but I believe Kevin. Eric is the one who knows something. The scene ends perfectly. Terri, in the same tone as the woman she fired, says, "Can't you do anything for us?" And then, almost as if she realizes the similarity, she cries.
The episode ends with Taylor telling his mom that he wants to do what's right for himself. Will he drop the charges? Will he transfer out of Leyland? Then, Leslie gets the news she's been dreading: Another person's semen was found on Taylor, as well as traces of blood that indicate forced contact. This is officially being investigated as a rape.
- This episode is very transitional and dialogue-driven. Although the writing and acting are strong enough to carry the story, I wonder if it will grab viewers who want twists and turns.
- The Lacroixs get a chance to shine this week. Regina King kills it every chance she gets, but I'm impressed by Trevor Jackson and Andre Benjamin as well. This is a fascinating family.
- Some of the quick-shot scenes in the second half of the episode are overly scripted. Each one could have been meatier. It's surprising, really: American Crime is the rare type of network show that could be longer.
- On that note, does anyone else think American Crime would get more critical attention if it were on AMC or FX?