As we've seen again and again, the second season of American Crime is all about perception. The theme is explored once more in this episode, with a pair of conflicting accounts about the same sexual encounter.
First, we hear Taylor's (Connor Jessup) story. The young man, whose rape accusation sparked the season's main narrative, is listening as his aggressively sexual texts are read back to him. It gets much more intense from there. In front of the police and his mother, Taylor admits to having had sex one time before the basketball party and to sending the texts to Eric (Joey Pollari). However, Taylor says he never gave Eric permission to go as far as he did. He never said yes. He was drugged and Eric took advantage of him, even putting something in his mouth to keep him quiet. Afterward, Eric left him to crawl out on his own. He texted Eric, trying to get him to talk about it.
Then we hear Eric's story — and it's very different. According to his version, Taylor's texts got more and more intense. Kevin (Trevor Jackson) invited Taylor, but he didn't know Eric was gay. He says Taylor wanted to have sex at the party because "it turned Taylor on to do it kind of public." Eric portrays what happened at the party as intense but consensual. Taylor may have been buzzed, but he knew what was going on and wasn't drugged. Eric then claims that Taylor got too drunk afterward, so he drove him home. He thought of it as a hook-up. Taylor cried rape after it didn't turn into something more.
The women in Taylor's life are confused by what he reveals. First, Anne (Lili Taylor) wants answers about that earlier sexual encounter he mentioned to the cops. He explains that it happened in the eighth grade with a friend who used to sleep over at the Blaines' house. (They never did anything there, though.) It's a good scene: Lili Taylor conveys an appropriate concern, but without blunting Anne's anger and pain about her son's withheld secrets. I loved the line, "If you can't tell me what you're doing, don't tell me what I'm feeling." Anne then takes the confrontation a little too far — she makes statements that verge on victim-blaming about Taylor's texts — and he walks off.
Meanwhile, Leslie (Felicity Huffman) is meeting with Steph (Hope Davis) about the photography she's doing to promote the gala. Of course, that's just a pretext. Leslie always has an agenda. She starts off politely enough, asking Steph about how Dan (Timothy Hutton) is doing … before suggesting that he should tell the boys on the basketball team to "do what's right in their hearts." Eww. Leslie is using Steph to convey a very specific, very spun message to the basketball team. She also wants Dan and Steph to put on a good face and attend the gala that evening.
After an interesting scene in which Kevin meets with his teammates, who clearly still know a thing or two but say "none of us are going to say anything to the police," we get another scene of Taylor in therapy. He thinks he's wasted his time. If nobody gets arrested or goes to jail for an assault, what's the point? Taylor is very protective of his single mother, and he feels she's been hurt. In a telling moment, he says, "I feel more alone than when this started."
Finally, Evy (Angelique Rivera) gets her turn. We learned earlier that she didn't know Taylor was gay until Anne outed him in front of her. She doesn't care that Taylor is gay, but she confronts him about the intensity of his texts and his physical behavior with her. She starts hitting him, then asks if he's clean. He swears that he is — he says he was tested — but Evy is clearly hurt.
Nevertheless, she defends him to the cops in the next scene. She uses the word rape. She says that someone incapacitated him. It's interesting that Taylor's account is corraborated and Eric's is not, although Evy could just be trying to protect someone she cares about.
In a developing subplot, Thurgood Marshall principal Chris Dixon (Elvis Nolasco) meets with friends of Mateo, the kid he expelled for his role in a racially charged fight. They're furious. They claim that Mateo was only protecting them; the other kid had been harassing them for days. Chris doesn't care. "All Mateo was doing was acting like a thug," he says. It's hard to blame him for not punishing behavior he didn't see, but his lackluster reaction isn't good enough. The students decide to protest outside the school. For now, it's a small demonstration. I have a feeling it'll grow very soon.
After Taylor almost kisses a guy in the bathroom, Anne gets a call from the detective. There will be no charges in her son's case at this time. When she tells Taylor the news, he seems almost relieved, save for his concern that Anne won't stop trying to find justice. Kevin's parents get the news, too — but they're not happy about the "at this time" part. Will the charges continue to hang over their son's head? It seems like American Crime hasn't told us everything about what happened that night.
Leslie, on the other hand, couldn't be happier. Leyland can welcome its black and gay basketball captains back into the fold, then sell an image of acceptance to prospective donors. The other board members aren't convinced, but Leslie spins how they can sell Leyland's act of forgiveness. Tolerance is a buzzword. When Leslie says, "The other boy lied, ours told the truth," I remembered that Taylor was also "theirs" until the incident. Where's the tolerance and forgiveness for him? It's a nice touch to see Leslie furiously washing her hands in the next scene, much like Lady Macbeth's damned spot.
After a few brief character moments, we get to one of the best scenes of the season. It's Steph's birthday and she wants to know if Dan would consider leaving Leyland. She can tell they've manipulated him and won't stop any time soon. Dan isn't convinced. She sees a good man who's in over his head, but he still wants to fight for his team and thinks it will all blow over. Steph explains how she was affected by an earlier conversation with her daughter, which left her convinced that she doesn't truly know what love is. Dan accuses her of being high. It's terrific work for Hutton and Davis, two of the show's best actors. I love how the scene is mostly filmed from a distance, in a single unbroken shot, as if we're eavesdropping on their conversation. It's also great to see how they talk over each other, like people actually do when they fight, but so rarely do on TV.
We finally get to the gala. Leslie gives a speech about history and challenges and it's another gross moment: "Real men stand up for each other. Real men stand up for what they believe in. Real men tell the truth." It leads into the modern-dance number we've seen practiced a few times over the past few episodes. The dance involves a lot of writhing bodies and seems inappropriate given what hangs over Leyland, but it gets a rousing ovation. The show really must go on.
Finally, Anne is at work when a man asks to speak to her. He says his daughter was at Leyland six years ago and accused a teacher of sexual harassment. The school turned the accusation back against his daughter by suspending her and spreading rumors. They tried to sue, but ultimately took a settlement. He's not even supposed to be talking to Anne, but "something gotta be done about that school." It's a surprising conclusion to the episode, but I'm not sure I like this device. Does Anne need another reason to defend her son? Is a stranger's story of past injustice what pushes her to go after Leyland? The moment feels a bit overwritten, but we'll see where it goes.
- That closing scene wasn't the only overwritten bit this week. The Taylor-Evy confrontation felt very scripted, as did the scene between the Lacroixs and the cops.
- How do people feel about the black screens that appear when people swear? It pulls me out of the moment — I'm always half-convinced my satellite dish is acting funny. I'd rather have the words bleeped out, to be honest.
- We've talked a lot about American Crime's round-robin of young actors. This week, the spotlight lands on Jessup. He comes through well and doesn't overplay a few moments that could've been melodramatic. The show's casting agent definitely deserves a raise.
- I love being reminded how great Hope Davis can be. If you haven't seen her work in About Schmidt or American Splendor, you should.
- What do you think Kevin's teammates are hiding about that night? And whose version of events — Eric's or Taylor's — do you believe?