Let’s start with the elephant in the room: The second season of American Crime was guaranteed to end ambiguously. If you saw the first season, or if you paid attention to this season’s deeper themes, you’d never expect neat bows tied at the end of each plot thread.
However, I’m not sure the blatant ambiguity in this finale is entirely earned. Sure, it’s not “really about” the question of whether Taylor (Connor Jessup) or Eric (Joey Pollari) will continue their abusive behavior. But if that’s the case, why spend so much time on that question in this episode and the last one? There’s a fine line between thematic ambiguity and simply toying with your audience, and I can see how tonight’s finale may cross the line for some viewers. I’m not there with them — I tend to believe that anyone who judges a story on its last 30 seconds is overreacting — but I hoped for a tighter final few minutes than we got.
The episode opens as the circle of blame widens from the Leyland email servers to the other families associated with Taylor’s alleged rape and the shooting of Wes Baxter (Michael Seitz). And so, Terri LaCroix’s (Regina King) emails about the Blaines being “white trash” get out, as does evidence that Becca (Azure Sky Van Vliet) sold drugs to Taylor on the day of the murder. Dan Sullivan (Timothy Hutton) is brought into an office by a Leyland staff member and feigns ignorance about his daughter’s role. It’s way too late for that. Rebecca is being suspended and they’ve already contacted the police; they’re waiting in the hall. I wish Becca had been developed into more of a well-rounded character this season. As it is, her tragic arc feels too much like a plot device.
While Dan is struggling to keep his daughter out of jail, the cops are rounding up the boys who beat up Taylor. Anne (Lili Taylor) conveys the “good news” to Taylor, telling him that this could lead to a reduction of Taylor’s sentence, or even get him sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of jail. Taylor is surprised that Anne is happy about more carnage and destruction in other families. Speaking of that, Becca tells an investigator that she didn’t know about Taylor’s plan. She got the Oxy from a friend and Steph (Hope Davis) confesses that she got the weed from her. Becca is looking at a level-six felony, which means six months to two years in a juvenile-detention center.
As Steph cries, admitting that she told Anne about the drugs, Dan goes into the hall to see half of his basketball team waiting to be interviewed. The cops go through what happened that night and Terri learns that Kevin’s (Trevor Jackson) confession was withheld at Michael’s (André Benjamin) request. Their cop friend is taking the fall for them — and why that is, exactly, isn’t clear — but Terri yells at Michael: “We brought Kevin in here to tell the truth!” There’s been a slight revision to Terri’s character in the second half of the season, ostensibly as a response to Wes’s death, but I’m not sure it’s totally consistent with the shark we saw in the first few episodes. Perhaps her ruthlessness is what made Michael act the way he did. After all, American Crime is all about cause and effect.
Meanwhile, Thurgood Marshall principal Chris Dixon (Elvis Nolasco) is forced to resign for his handling of the school’s racially charged incident and the protests that followed. (Taylor’s brief time at Marshall certainly didn’t help, either.) Chris will get $75,000 in “be quiet and go away money.” He’s still defensive, and doesn’t see how he could have handled things differently. He doesn’t understand how his racial bias triggered the controversy.
We then see social-justice whitehat Sebastian (Richard Cabral) speaking to the reporter, denying that he had anything to do with the recent leak. It seems that Sebastian opened a door, but he doesn’t like what came through after him. The reporter throws him a telling line: “That’s a problem, isn’t it? When people who aren’t accountable start taking control.”
Cut to Kevin, a man who controlled his teammates and controlled his party, but has consistently refused accountability. As we cut between the players who were involved in the beating, he continues to dodge. Eric confesses it all: When the guys called him, they wanted to mess up either Eric or Taylor, with Wes saying, “Any fag will do.” LeSean (Andre Williams) is defiant, even when the investigator throws out the words “hate crime.” It’s time for Eric to help himself and repeat all of this in court. Why? To help Taylor? The kid who falsely accused him of rape? As Eric says, “He lied about me, he killed Wes, but he gets to be the victim.”
As Sebastian faces threats from people even deeper into the Dark Web than he is, Chris apologizes to Evy (Angelique Rivera). She was left behind in all of this, but she knew to take something for herself when she could — when Leyland offered cash. Chris takes her actions to heart and signs the settlement, at last choosing to move on. Perhaps Leslie (Felicity Huffman) should have done the same.
Dan goes to Leslie with his hat in his hand, basically begging for help with Becca: “Every kid makes mistakes.” Leslie is aggressive. He burned this bridge. Dan’s daughter is a drug dealer and his team is a gang. Leslie roasts him and throws him under the bus. She won’t (and likely can’t) help him. Dan tries to get the local reporter’s source, which leads him to Sebastian. He claims to have nothing to do with it; he goes after institutions, not people. Dan still has one last trump card: He went into Leslie’s office and got Anne’s medical records, piecing them together after Leslie had shredded them.
Eric is with his brother, Peter (Ty Doran), who is trying to help before it’s too late. “It can be different,” he says. There’s a bit of weak writing here, but Pollari’s performance is excellent enough to resonate through it. He says he will confirm that Wes and the other players assaulted Taylor. Now Taylor has to confirm it in court.
Taylor refuses. He wants the plea deal. He’ll get ten years, and maybe serve five. He sees the inverse of what Eric does: Rather than make himself the victim, he’d be allowing his rapist to control his fate. Their perspectives just don’t intersect. Taylor is tired of being a victim and wants to take back his story. Anne is confused, but Lili Taylor is good enough to sell that idea that her character understands, too.
As expected, Leslie denies that the medical records came from her office. Dan is going public and willing to testify. She’ll have to step down during the investigation. It’s one controversy too many for Leslie, even if she denies it. She goes to the Sullivans — the power roles reversed yet again. She tries to appeal to him, tries to threaten him, and each of these tactics gets her nowhere. Dan puts an end to it: “Take the blame, Leslie. Take it with you when you go. Give the school a fresh start.”
So, where does this leave everyone? The Dark Web looks like it might suck Sebastian up, turning his webcam on him and his kids in their motel room. Terri is getting transferred. Kevin has been cleared, but Terri’s ugly emails are now out in public. She’s given the choice to reset her life and job in St. Louis — a lateral move, salary-wise, but with a reduced title — or she can get fired. Michael doesn’t take it well. Kevin has a sweet, tender scene with Terri; he seems to finally accept that things are catching up with them.
In the end, this finale is really about family: Anne & Taylor, Terri & Kevin, Eric & Peter, Steph & Dan. Sometimes, family is all we have.
Finally, Dominick Calderon (Benito Martinez, who starred in season one) comes on to take over Leyland. We watch as Leslie leaves, Becca get handcuffed, Kevin sits alone, Sebastian flees, and Steph cries. Eric texts someone, evidently arranging another hookup. A muscle car pulls up and the door flings open. Taylor is in court. He is given one last chance to accept or reject a plea deal. He’ll face no less than ten years in prison. We focus on the faces of the two young men who started it all. Everything leads back to Taylor and Eric. Cut to black.
- Okay, question time: Did American Crime earn this very ambiguous ending?
- Do you think Taylor will accept the plea? Will Eric stop himself from getting in the car?
- Any other unresolved plot threads left bothering you?
- And finally, who’s your season MVP? The whole cast was strong this year, but I’m choosing the final two faces we see: Connor Jessup and Joey Pollari. Their roles required a nuance that many young actors can’t pull off. They’re both real finds. I hope they come back next year in different roles.
- Thanks for joining me this season! Until next year … if ABC does what’s right and gives us one.