American Crime Recap: Cycle of Pain

American Crime

Episode Seven
Season 2 Episode 7
Editor’s Rating *****
Lili Taylor as Anne, Connor Jessup as Taylor. Photo: Felicia Graham/ABC

The ticking clock has finally reached midnight. For weeks now, the writers and directors of American Crime have been building toward an inevitable tragedy, as the two young men at the core of the story were essentially pushed aside so others could focus on political and social controversies. In both this season and the last, American Crime has reminded viewers that violence has a ripple effect. When a single act of violence isn’t countered with sensitivity, it often leads to more pain. The final act of this episode definitively proves that.

The episode opens with the kind of hate speech that will inspire its climax, as Peter Tanner (Ty Doran) spray paints “God Hates Fags” on the side of Thurgood Marshall High School. He’ll later be suspended for the action, although principal Chris Dixon (Elvis Nolasco) has lost much of his authority in the wake of the vocal protests sparked by students’ perception of discriminatory school policies.

Before that, Leyland headmaster Leslie Graham (Felicity Huffman) is feeling sorry for herself again. She’s talking to Evy’s dad, Manuel (Osvaldo Fernandez), about stopping the cycle of pain that began after Taylor (Connor Jessup) made his accusation. She plans to offer Evy and Taylor’s families significant settlements. The money means they could both go back to Leyland, but why would they want to?

Anne Blaine (Lili Taylor) sees a medical record from her own past, brought forward by the reporter from a few episodes ago. We learn that Anne suffered from depressive psychosis. When she was a single mother barely getting by, she was “hospitalized,” and Taylor was put in the care of close friends. She’s fine now, but we know this will further torment the Blaines. Anne will be seen as an unhinged, accusatory mother. And just as important: Who released the records?

Meanwhile, Coach Dan (Timothy Hutton) is already speaking to a reporter about Anne, calling her mentally ill and delusional. Dan is just a mouthpiece for Leslie, although Hutton sells the idea that this man would blame the Blaines for the suicide attempt by one of “his boys.” Nevertheless, he’s furious that Leslie uses him as her attack dog. She’s swimming, but the rest of them are sinking. Of course, Leslie turns this all back on herself, while also deftly tying them together. “We could have done this much more correctly,” she says. “You and I — we really could have.” If they’re both drowning, she’ll drag someone down with her. Dan implies that Leslie released the medical records, which seems very likely. After she leaves, he pretends to have lost his glasses and goes back into her office to look for proof.

Anne can’t find Taylor, who we finally see after last week’s off-camera assault. A lot of the violence in American Crime happens off-camera. The show isn’t big on showing us actual crimes — it’s much more interested in the repercussions — so it makes sense that we didn’t see Taylor’s beating. Anne leaves a message for him about the stories that are coming out with her leaked medical records. We learn that Taylor is crashing at his boyfriend’s place, and he’s increasingly despondent.

Terri Lacroix (Regina King) is trying to get back to normal after the accusations against her son Kevin (Trevor Jackson) were made public, but her firm isn’t too happy about the bad press. An associate checks in with her to see how she’s holding up, then suggests that she should take time off or reduce her profile. This corporate double-speak makes Terri nervous, and it should. Major companies don’t like it when their high-profile employees blow up in public, like Terri did in the restaurant last week.

As the story about Anne’s medical records turns toward the question of how they were leaked, we learn a little more about the mysterious Sebastian (Richard Cabral), who seems to be a social-media mercenary. He later calls Anne to suggest that he can change the story being circulated about her. “Nobody controls the digital space,” he says. Is Sebastian for hire? Does he work for justice? Given what happens at the end of this episode, I’m curious to see what he’ll do next.

The rest of the episode focuses on the rapidly spiraling Taylor and Eric. First, Taylor goes shopping for posters, and he comes across a striking Samurai figure with knives, which he puts up in his room alongside similar posters. He cries a bit. He looks like he’s in pain, and it’s heartbreaking. I like it when American Crime, or any network show for that matter, is confident enough to use purely visual storytelling for a few minutes, without relying on dialogue or plot to convey a character’s mental state. Taylor texts someone to meet him in an hour.

While Taylor tries to write something in the notebook his therapist encouraged him to use, we discover that he’s meeting up with Becca (Sky Azure Van Vliet), Coach Dan’s daughter. She’s relatively supportive, telling him that he needs to get back to Leyland. It turns out she’s also a dealer, and she sells him some of mom’s weed and Oxy. He buys a bunch. Is he planning an overdose? After asking about his sexuality, Taylor and Becca kiss. (They’re mostly just curious, I think.) Sadly, Becca is a bit of a noncharacter. If she had been developed, this potentially poignant scene would have resonated more.

Eric is similarly adrift and not going to school. His dad needs his help, though: Peter is getting more rebellious and mom is nowhere to be seen. To use Dan’s parlance, neither of these people are “swimming.” Eric looks for a hookup. When the guy shows up in a minivan, Eric’s unhappy to see him — he said he would show up in a muscle car. They drive around. Eric just wants to make out. Minivan Guy offers him a beer and a Viagra. Eric’s anger is bubbling. He uses the word “bitch” again. And then, Minivan Guy punches him in the face. The camera pulls back, so it’s hard to tell what happens in the passenger seat. Eric falls out of the car, then runs away.

Taylor goes to the home of the friends who watched him when Anne was institutionalized. We quickly figure out what he’s looking for: a gun. He finds one in the bedroom, then abruptly leaves. He pulls out the gun as he walks into a forest. The camera is static. We hear a gunshot. And another. He’s shooting at a tree. Is he planning revenge? On whom? He’s taking more drugs, alone in the forest, with a gun. This can’t end well. He has visions. We see snippets of happier times, but he also imagines being stabbed. Finally, he writes down four names: Eric, Kevin, Wes, Dr. Graham. He picks up his gun and leaves. Is it a kill list?

Cut to an armed Taylor, who is carefully shown reaching into his pocket, waiting in Dr. Graham’s office. A kindly receptionist may unknowingly change his course, telling him he deserved better than how he was treated. He seems to take it to heart. It feels like honest kindness, a rare action that comes without an agenda. He watches a dance rehearsal for a bit, then he goes to leave Leyland. That’s when Wes (Michael Seitz) grabs him. Wes shakes him and calls Taylor a “faggot” — he’s worried that he ratted them out about the beating. Taylor pulls the gun and shoots Wes in the stomach. We focus on their faces, on the shock and the fear. We don’t even hear a gunshot. As people rush to Wes’s aid, Taylor stumbles away.

After Leslie gets a life-changing text and leaves the conference at which she’s speaking, we get the heartbreaking final scene at the restaurant. She sees the story on the news about a school shooting, and when Taylor shows up, she immediately knows what has happened. She takes the gun from him, shaking, and puts it in her purse. She gets a calls from the police, then turns to find Taylor gone. And so is the gun. He’s in the corner booth, armed and seemingly suicidal. She calmly gets the gun away from him and holds his hand. While everyone else leaves the restaurant, she calls 9-1-1. The whole sequence is handled in one long, well-directed shot, which captures Anne’s grief and Taylor’s shock without sensationalism. Any chance of a return to normalcy is gone. We hear sirens as a mother’s hand grips her son’s shoulder.

Other Notes

  • This violence in this episode felt like something more fitting for episode nine or ten. Where do you think the narrative will go for three more episodes?
  • Do the intensity of the Marshall protests seem unbelievable to anyone else? And how will they tie into the rest of the narrative? Maybe they just won’t. Could it be a commentary on how controversy is handled on different economic levels?
  • Creatively, this episode is a bounce-back from last week’s frustrating installment. More focus on performance, and much less overwriting. Jessup is particularly fantastic here.
  • Is anyone else surprised that Kevin and the Lacroixes have been marginalized within the narrative? Kevin and Michael don’t even appear in this episode. I assume they’ll play larger roles in the season’s final run, but how?

American Crime Recap: Cycle of Pain