While this week’s devastating American Crime was undeniably well-directed and performed, it was also the first time this season where the show felt overly manipulative. The writers fell into the trap they often flopped into in seasons one and two: They sometimes write characters who feel more like mouthpieces for a creator, and too often every scene has to matter. It’s still a good show, but let’s hope it breathes a little more as we head into the final arc.
Sadly, we’ll go into that arc without Shae Reese (Ana Mulvoy-Ten). As the season has progressed, it’s become clear that year three of American Crime is about people on the lower rungs of the American social ladder and how the system can so easily allow them to fall off. Before the season even began, a young immigrant worker sending money back to his family had his body disposed of in a river. We return to that same river six weeks later, again seeing the corpse of a young person who had too few options. The river may not be done claiming bodies.
High on the list of characters to worry about is Gabrielle (Mickaëlle X. Bizet), the Haitian au pair for Clair (Lili Taylor) and Nicholas Coates (Timothy Hutton). As their marriage comes apart at the seams, largely due to Nicholas’s cruel manner of releasing the stress caused by his failing business on his wife, Gabrielle looks like a victim in waiting. And she’s starting to sense it too. In the opening scene, she’s writing a letter to God when Clair interrupts her. I’m worried she’s asking for help.
Shortly thereafter, we see just how toxic things have become between Clair and Nicholas when they’re out playing pool with another couple. Clair is talking about the stress of raising a child as Nicholas sulks and seethes. He throws out passive-aggressive barbs like “Clair went and got herself a nanny to do all the work” and makes fun of her “little mind.” He accuses her of not being sharp anymore and having the nanny do everything, creating a trickle down of abuse, which Clair ultimately takes out on Gabrielle. Before then, Clair gets under her husband’s skin by saying something to their mutual friend (Lauren Bowles) in French, which Nicholas doesn’t speak. It leaves her looking shocked and she won’t tell Nicholas what it was that Clair said.
Meanwhile, Shae is learning that life as a webcam girl is not what she was promised. We also see that she’s now visibly pregnant. She’s chatting with one of her regulars, someone who has even seen pictures of her ultrasound, and a guy who has a physically disabled significant other for whom Shae also puts on “shows.” The idea seems to be that Shae doesn’t just want to touch herself for horny dudes — she wants to form relationships with people whom she feels she can help. She quickly learns that doesn’t pay as well when she gets her weekly payment from the house boss.
Kimara Walters (Regina King), the woman who wanted so badly to help Shae, and who I once thought would take her unborn child, is confronted with what could be called “fraud for the greater good.” She learns that Abby (Sandra Oh) has been fudging the numbers as to how many people are at her shelter, and now Kimara is being asked to confirm the inflated totals. Who does it hurt? It takes away more state funds but they already don’t have enough beds for the number of people they’re trying to save. It’s a convincing argument, but it’s likely to get Kimara in trouble given the pattern of cause and effect on American Crime.
Jeanette Hesby (Felicity Huffman) is learning about the effect of her actions this week as well, stuck on her sister’s (Janel Moloney) couch. She thinks Jeanette should at least call Carson (Dallas Roberts), who’s still looking for his wife. Jeanette soon learns that she can’t really get a job, despite helping out around the farm for years. She’ll have to take courses. Will the harsh reality of life outside of Jeanette’s bubble send her back into it?
The morning after their fight, Clair is eating a breakfast for one, purposefully not making enough for her husband. Things are going downhill fast. Nicholas mentions how he has to go to work, looking for sympathy. When he doesn’t get it, Nicholas takes out his frustration on Clair, who takes out her stress and frustration on Gabrielle. Suddenly Clair needs an office again, so she decides that the au pair is going to move out of her nice bedroom and into a room that looks like it’s being used for storage. At the same time, Nicholas is badgering their friend to figure out what Clair said while they were playing pool. It looks like it might drive him crazy, but he makes the case that Clair is very purposefully shutting him out — using a language with their new au pair that Nicholas doesn’t even speak.
After a few transitional scenes, we learn exactly what Clair said and why it was so shocking. She accuses Nicholas of being the reason they couldn’t have children. We learned they had to have nine IVF treatments, and she blames Nicholas for them not working earlier, accusing him of being resentful, saying, “I had to use another man’s sperm and that’s why you hate Nicky.” The real punch to the gut comes when she says, “The one thing a man should be able to do … and you couldn’t do it.” Nicholas can’t even respond. He looks tearful. We hold for a long time as Clair puts tea on the stove and we hold on the burning gas oven long enough for it to feel foreboding. Gabrielle hears the teapot whistle. Later, Clair is putting ice on her arm and sneaking out in the middle of the night to mail something dressed in only her robe. She’s likely looking for help — keep in mind her passport is in the safe. She might be afraid to leave.
And then tragedy strikes. Shae is looking at a client list and gallery for some of her competition, going into Tracy’s (Gideon Adlon) room to try to get into her account. She gets caught. As she tries to leave, Tracy stabs her in the back. Blood spews everywhere and we watch the light go out of Shae’s eyes. Immediately, the house goes into clean-up mode. Did she have family? Go pack her stuff. The cover-up begins. The man who recruited her to the house looks at a photo of the ultrasound as he packs her stuff up. We end as we began six weeks ago: with a body in the river.
• American Crime sometimes suffers from being a little preachy. I totally agree with what Jeanette’s sister says about how they buried stuff about minimum wage in the transgender bill in her state, but it didn’t feel like an organic conversation. The majority of this season has avoided this trap. Let’s hope they bounce back next week.
• The show felt a bit unfocused this week. I wondered what was going on with Carson and Laurie Ann. And I’ll admit that I miss the Luis-Coy-Isaac arc, which made for a stronger first four episodes. Hutton and Taylor are phenomenal but, so far, the first half of the season was better.
• There are only two episodes left. Where do you think we’re going in those final two? Will Gabrielle make it out? Will Jeanette return? And will Kimara learn what happened to Shae?