This week’s heartbreaking and infuriating American Crime was as insightful as network television has been in a very long time when it comes to the way the patriarchy — and often the white male patriarchy — controls the world. It was about women at very different levels of the social strata — including an immigrant, a pregnant prostitute, and a wealthy housewife — facing broken systems that treat females different than males. The men in this week’s episode were almost all loathsome, whiny man-children, taking out their issues on the women in their lives. It was another fantastic hour of network TV’s best program. Let’s look at the arcs individually.
Shae (Ana Mulvoy-Ten) seems to be making life-changing decisions every day. This week sees her dipping back into the world of exploitation, this time into the theoretically less dangerous world of webcam girls. We first see her in a conversation about how it works — tokens, tips, etc. It’s pitched as “kind of a regular arrangement,” although one doubts it’s that simple.
Before Shae can do anything, she has to have the abortion she’s now been legally approved to have. On her way into the clinic with Kimara (Regina King), she sees protesters, and the show cuts together images of Shae’s last few weeks, including the ultrasound, to visualize what’s going through her mind. She reconsiders, and leaves the clinic. While Kimara questions how Shae could possibly care for a child, Shae seems strident that she’s going to do whatever she wants to do. I’m still convinced this kid ends up adopted by Kimara.
The episode ends with Shae having left the shelter, basically killing the case against her pimp. Kimara learns that no one seems to really care, as the government is now more interested in prosecuting the deaths of immigrant workers, and can apparently only focus on one thing at a time. While Kimara tries to track her down, we see Shae getting settled at a webcam-girl house. Her name will be Cassi.
Claire Coates and Gabrielle Durand
The dynamic between Claire (Lili Taylor) and her new Haitian au pair Gabrielle (Mickaëlle X. Bizet) is growing tense and ominous. And it’s certainly not helped by the pressure Claire’s asshole of a husband Nicholas (Timothy Hutton) is bringing home from work.
It starts when Gabrielle loses her passport at the park. Later that day, Claire insists that Gabrielle put the document in her safe. Gabrielle seems uncertain, knowing that losing her passport could be incredibly dangerous, but Claire insists. There’s also a subtle exchange here in which Claire’s son asks why they don’t teach the French-speaking Gabrielle English. Claire doesn’t care about Gabrielle’s development — she’d rather teach her son French. We also learn that Gabrielle has an adult son named Yves, who she had to leave behind, and who has his own family now. Later, Gabrielle eats something that she wasn’t supposed to and gets a stern talking-to from Claire. Cracks are forming.
Those cracks grow after a night that Claire and Nicholas spend at a fundraiser for Kimara’s human-rights organization, Project Open Road. Kimara is speaking about how easy it is for people like Shae to return to the world of exploitation (which is exactly what she’s doing), while Nicholas and another gentlemen whine and moan about their white male lot in life, speaking of “the myth of white male privilege.” One even has the nerve to say, “It’s our burden except we don’t get a hashtag.” The pity party feeds into the way that Nicholas responds when he learns that Claire gave Kimara a donation of five grand. The business is struggling (although Nicholas hasn’t bothered to tell his wife that), and he gets mean with his life partner, mocking her “silly little miracle-baby story” about how tough it was to conceive Nicky.
As so often happens in this world, animosity trickles down. Would Claire respond as gruffly with Gabrielle the next morning if Nicholas hadn’t been a dick the night before? When she sees Gabrielle scolding Nicky, she steps in and yells at her, shaming her like her husband did the previous night. I don’t see Gabrielle sticking around much longer. I hope she gets her passport back soon.
Jeanette Hesby’s (Felicity Huffman) arc was the most heartrending this week, with Huffman doing some of the best work of her career. Essentially, Jeanette saw a side of her husband Carson (Dallas Roberts) that she simply can’t stand to be around anymore, even after 24 years of marriage. Her arc this week opens with a letter to Carson, and Jeanette checking into a hotel. Huffman uses her body language to sell how difficult this decision is, through pursed lips and hands on her face. Carson tracks her down at the hotel and Jeanette checks out. She’s basically on the run.
And she quickly learns that she’s inexorably tied to her husband in damaging ways. She can’t even rent a room because the money is in his name too, and she doesn’t want him to track her. When she speaks to an attorney about trying to get some of those funds, she learns that a separation means no financial support and that she then won’t be able to file for divorce for a year. She has no choice. She has to talk to Carson.
Which leads us to the best scene of this week: the diner discussion between Jeanette and Carson. Watch the details, like the shot of Carson’s hand shaking on his coffee cup. There are so many emotions at this table, including a unique blend of sadness and anger. Carson is pissed that Jeanette is leaving him, especially as his father is dying, but he’s also incredibly sad. Roberts does an amazing job conveying both of those emotions. As is often the case, anger wins out, and Carson berates Jeanette, throwing money on the table. She swallows her pride and ends the episode at her sister’s house.
Kimara’s arc this week intersected with Claire and Shae’s, until the final scene, in which she got a call from the young lady she suspected was being abused at the convenience store a few weeks ago. The girl was hit by her pimp. She needs immediate help. She gets to the hotel, honks three times, and sees the girl running down the stairs, chased by her pimp. Kimara pulls out the pepper spray and gives him what he deserves, driving off with a new victim. Let’s hope the system works better for her.
• It looks like we may officially have seen the last of Benito Martinez. He was great this year. It was only four episodes, but it set the tone for the rest of the season.
• There’s a brilliant parallel in how both Nicholas Coates and Carson Hesby are taking out their business problems on their wives. Men do this so often, but it’s nice to see Jeanette standing up for herself. Perhaps Claire will too, but I suspect she’ll take it out on Gabrielle first.
• Do you think Shae gets in trouble at the webcam house when the owner finds out she’s pregnant? And do you think Kimara finds her again? I’m starting to think the Kimara Taking Shae’s Baby arc could be the final one of the season.
• Finally, the sound design in this show never gets enough credit. The shot of Kimara sitting alone after talking to Claire amid the background noise of privileged partying is a prime example.