The fourth episode of American Crime’s second season feels like the closing of a chapter. We learn significant details about that fateful night on which the season hinges, seemingly releasing much of the narrative’s legal tension. Now we push toward a new chapter, which focuses on reputation and perception. That’s what this show is about: The perception of a crime matters as much as the act itself, even if no actual crime was committed.
The episode opens with a young man’s searing speech about how it feels to be raped. The crowd snaps instead of applauds, hinting that this may be a poetry slam or performance-art show. It’s an incredibly powerful opening sequence, especially for network television. The young man describes rape as feeling like “every room in my home being broken into at the same time.” After breaking the fourth wall to look us right in the eyes, he ends with a genuinely heartbreaking line: “You were so busy figuring out how they got in that you forgot all about the person living there.”
We cut to headmaster Leslie Graham (Felicity Huffman), as she reads the details of the rape accusation to coach Dan Sullivan (Timothy Hutton). They need a name. Leslie wants a sacrificial lamb, and she’s angry that Dan won’t give him one. They can no longer play protector; if someone on Dan’s basketball team tells the truth, this will all end. Dan confronts his team, furious that they swore nothing happened. As he speaks, we focus on Eric (Joey Pollari). He seems nervous. The boys start to argue — if the offender doesn’t come forward, they’ll all be publicly embarrassed. We again focus on Eric as someone says, “Warrants are coming.” It seems clear that he’s involved, especially as we see him asking for support from his dad, Curt (Brent Anderson).
Meanwhile, Terri and Michael Lacroix (Regina King and André Benjamin) meet with their legal counsel. Every day, things are being written about Kevin — he’s 18 years old, so his name is the only one in the paper — and it has to stop. They have a lot of questions. Should Kevin give the police a sample? Should he step forward? What can they do to head off the press?
Anne Blaine (Lili Taylor) meets with principal Chris Dixon (Elvis Nolasco). Her son Taylor (Connor Jessup) wants to go back to Thurgood Marshall High School. During the meeting, Anne admits that Taylor is the unnamed victim in the article; she just wants to find him a safe place to grow up. Later, Anne talks to an older woman who wants to take her to Chicago for a getaway. (It’s either her mother or a family friend, I couldn’t quite tell.) I don’t believe that Anne would even consider such an offer right now, but it’s character development nonetheless. Anne could really use a break.
Curt is looking for help, so he meets with Terri and Michael. The police want to interview the team. Kevin and Eric are both captains, but they live very different lives. One is rich, one is not. One is black, one is white. Eric was suspended, but Kevin is the one being slandered in the press. Terri is brutal and cold throughout the scene. Just as Curt begins to explain why he can’t afford a lawyer, she suddenly takes a call. After she steps out, Michael offers to help, but notes, “Kevin will have his side and Eric should have his.”
Then, we see Eric having dinner with his dad. After Eric says he doesn’t want to talk to the cops, Curt warns him about arrests and samples. Mr. Tanner seems like he honestly wants to help, but Eric lashes out about the family’s divorce. Curt just wants to get the whole thing over with. Eric’s face suggests that it won’t end well.
In the next scene, Leslie and her boyfriend, Charles (Christopher Stanley), go to a play. He’s surprised to learn that she still plans to go through with a performance piece at Leyland despite the bad press. We learn a little bit about his past — his daughter had a public situation to which he responded too late — and we see that he’s worried about Leslie. Think about it: If the school is proven to have withheld information or covered anything up, she’s going down. We also learn Charles wants to marry her.
Taylor is back at Marshall and talking to a counselor, but he’s still pretty shy. He’s just “trying to go day-by-day right now.” He wants a fresh start. When asked what he wants to accomplish, though, he has no answer. Meanwhile, tension is building at the school — when Evy (Angelique Rivera) is groped in the halls, a young man named Mateo (Dylan Ramos) comes to her defense. Later, Mateo gets suspended for fighting and throwing out the N-word. Life at Marshall is very different than life at Leyland Academy.
Back to the Lacroixs. Kevin (Trevor Jackson) doesn’t want to get Eric in trouble, but his mother refuses to take no for an answer. Terri points out that Kevin and Eric will be treated differently because of their races. Also, Kevin doesn’t know for certain that no one did anything wrong. He has to protect himself, so he releases a statement that pushes all guilt elsewhere — Val can account for his whereabouts, and he says he didn’t take the pictures of Taylor. Kevin is a little nervous, but that’s because he essentially throws the rest of his team under the bus. I don’t think he’s lying.
On to the main narrative: the fall of Eric Tanner.
While Eric’s brother, Peter (Ty Doran), who goes to Marshall, is telling him about Mateo’s fight, Eric is clearly lost in his own world. To get his brother’s attention, Peter grabs his phone … and then Eric violently freaks out. He nearly chokes him. Eric is clearly hiding something. Just as I began to get worried about what he might do, he walks into the bathroom and locks the door. We see him chase his dad’s Ativan with beer. It’s undeniably sad to watch.
We cut to the hospital, where Eric is recovering from his suicide attempt. His parents are there, but he only opens up to Coach Dan. The way Hutton gulps before asking, “Did you assault that boy?” is perfect. Then, Eric reveals what we suspected: He’s gay and Taylor came to the party to hook up with him. They planned it together. He has evidence to prove it, but he’s kept that to himself. If anyone finds out that he’s gay, his social life and basketball days will be over.
In a pretty cold move, Dan walks out of the hospital room. He goes home, and tells his daughter that she can tell him anything. Great. Try harder, Coach Dan.
The episode then makes a big jump forward in time, as we see Anne being confronted by text messages and emails between Eric and her son. We didn’t see Eric go to his parents or the police, but we can presume he told them all. Anne is encouraged to have a heart-to-heart with Taylor. She does so, but angrily. When she gets home, she tells Evy to leave. Evy refuses, and then it ALL comes out. Anne is furious, but thankfully not about her son’s sexuality. She’s mad because she looks like an idiot. She even reads some of the texts in front of Evy. Lili Taylor pulls off heartbreaking work in this scene: “Did you think that I wouldn’t love you because of the way you felt? Do you really think that I can’t love you?”
The episode ends as the emails and texts are read by Leslie and the Leyland Academy board. A few board members claim that the issue is over, and legal counsel advises them to not “direct traffic,” but Leslie won’t give up. What about the “tradition” of Making the Team? Everyone knows about that now, and the school seems unsafe. This is Leslie’s tipping point: “We can hope things fall the school’s way, or we can make certain that they do.”
- Joey Pollari really steps to the center here, selling Eric’s torment between his closeted sexuality and his athletic future. I love how American Crime works as a true ensemble, giving new actors the spotlight in each episode. This one really belongs to Pollari.
- This episode focuses on the theme of loyalty. When crises arise, we retreat into our groups — whether it’s family, a basketball team, or a school. And when we try to be loyal to more than one group, we falter. Coach Dan protects his team, but hurts his school. Kevin protects his family, but hurts his team. You have to choose a side when problems hit the fan.
- There’s such fluidity in the direction and writing this week. With such a large cast of characters, the show can sometimes feel staccato in terms of structure. This week is doesn’t, largely because of the focus on Eric.
- Does anyone think the story is moving too slowly? I worry that there aren’t enough hooks.
- Eric says the sex was consensual, and there’s evidence that the meeting with Taylor was pre-arranged. So, where does American Crime go from here?