The penultimate episode of American Crime’s excellent second season features fallout, repercussions, and even more unearthed skeletons. Although this specific installment may have been a little clunkier than the last two, the arc of the season has reached the point where we can clearly see what the writers, directors, and actors have accomplished. And it’s remarkable.
Will we ever know exactly what happened on the night of the party that started it all? Will there be justice for the shooting? What would that justice even look like? That I’m still asking these questions is nearly as revealing as their answers would be. By examining the complexity of crime and its impact, American Crime has fulfilled the promise of its first season.
The episode starts with a look at four very different families. First, the Blaines. Taylor (Connor Jessup) is in jail, awaiting his trial and speaking to his lawyer. He claims that his mother Anne (Lili Taylor) would be better off if he were never born. He’s ready to take responsibility for his actions. Or is it guilt? Maybe shame? Jessup is great here, swallowing some lines with emotion, spitting out others like he needs to get them off his chest. Taylor thinks that he’s going to drag Anne down with him; he says that he understands why his mom left him all those years ago. He doesn’t. She left him so she could come back to him. Anne refuses to give up, saying, “Taylor is not a shooter. People need to know that.”
On to the De La Torres. Sebastian (Richard Cabral) and his two girls are in a hotel room in Indianapolis. He’s on a social-justice crusade to help Anne. As he sifts through emails from Leyland Academy’s board of directors, he finds damning instances of hate speech. He’s going to make the emails public. He tells his girls, “Daddy’s helping.”
Terri Lacroix (Regina King) is with her family as Kevin (Trevor Jackson) laments going back to school. She agrees, but Michael (André Benjamin) thinks things need to get back to normal. As Terri says, “Doing algebra doesn’t make things normal.”
Finally, the Sullivans are in the same boat. Becca (Sky Azure Van Vliet) doesn’t want to go to school either. She doesn’t feel well, but Dan (Timothy Hutton) pushes her back. It’s interesting that the mothers seem more eager to keep their children at home until they’re well, while the fathers encourage a return to normalcy as quickly as possible.
Kevin confronts LeSean (Andre Williams), one of the kids who beat up Taylor a few episodes ago. LeSean throws it right back at him: “We did what you told us to do.” It’s an interesting theme, this idea of responsible leadership, and the writers have developed it in a careful way this season. How much responsibility should a coach take? A headmaster? A principal? A parent? A team captain? Kevin is visibly upset, but LeSean tells him to chill.
Leslie (Felicity Huffman) is speaking to a lawyer about the pressure she’s facing to leave Leyland. She claims she’s being scapegoated. Did she really “try to do good things?” Is she the villain of American Crime? How much do you blame her for the shooting? What could she have done differently? Her lawyer advises her to settle for a good exit package, and it looks like that’s the way things are headed … until a certain Milwaukee social-justice warrior intervenes. She gets a call about the school server being hacked, then asks for a “breach review.” We all know that Leslie is too smart to write anything controversial in an email. Is this her way out?
Meanwhile, Dan is trying to coach a basketball team that’s been torn apart. It’s not going to work. LeSean and Kevin are fighting. Eric (Joey Pollari) jumps in and gets called “Gay Boy.” In all seriousness: Why wasn’t this basketball season cancelled after the death of a player, if not for the party controversy itself? Schools have surely canceled athletic seasons for less. Dan won’t give up, and tries to talk Eric into returning. He says, “You don’t know what it’s cost me to make this team work” to a kid who tried to kill himself. Dan has a bit of a problem seeing beyond himself.
Beleaguered principal Chris Dixon (Elvis Nolasco) is speaking with his colleague Monica (Stephanie Sigman). Earlier, Monica spoke with Evy (Angelique Rivera) in Spanish, which was not subtitled. It’s been too long since I was in high-school Spanish class, but the last word — “nada” — probably isn’t a good sign for Chris. It turns out that Evy told Monica about the sexual harassment and racial slurs that led up to the fight in the hallway. Mateo told Chris that Evy was being harassed, but Chris didn’t want to hear it after Mateo used the N-word. As Monica says, “You got it wrong and a lot of people got hurt.” Couldn’t the same be said about Leslie? Chris clearly messed up, but should this mistake cost him his job? And what does it say that Evy didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell him about the harassment before the fight happened?
The buoyancy of Leslie’s life preserver is revealed. Whatever you may think of Leslie, she’s not dumb enough to email homophobic messages via a school server. However, that’s exactly what the other members of the Leyland board did, so it’s time for the board to be dissolved. Leslie will stay on as headmaster to maintain a modicum of stability. She lobbied for transparency and inclusion. And now, her ability to keep her head above water looks like it might save her.
Anne still doesn’t have a lot of options. As her lawyer says, “Taylor got a gun and shot a boy.” The best outcome he can get is involuntary manslaughter, and that’s only if they can convince the jury that the gun went off accidentally. He’ll get ten years and serve half. But if that plan doesn’t work, he could get 25 to 30 years. Anne is stunned that Sebastian’s smear campaign hasn’t worked. She calls him and asks for something more inflammatory.
After another scene in which Dan seems obsessed with himself, Steph Sullivan (Hope Davis) brings photos of Taylor that she took in her role as school photographer to Anne. Of course, Anne is confrontational. Why would Steph do this? Taylor isn’t dead. Then Steph mentions Becca. She can’t keep the secret. She reveals that her daughter sold Taylor drugs on the day of the shooting and they were her drugs. Steph even says, “She got them from me,” (which brings to mind this timeless ad, of course). Why is she doing this? She wants Anne to make sure Taylor doesn’t rat her daughter out. And if Anne won’t pass that message along, Steph threatens to say that Becca also sold Taylor drugs the night of the party, whether it’s true or not. Davis does her best here, but this was an awkwardly written scene. I’m not sure I buy it.
Chris is waiting for his meeting when he sees Evy and her father walk by. It seems like Chris will be fired and Leslie is going to keep her job. Is that justice? He reads a statement, in which he blames himself and talks about what he did not know about the sexual assault. The council then catches him by surprise by asking about Taylor. Remember: Taylor transferred to Thurgood Marshall before the shooting, and Chris knew about the assault. This is the direct narrative tie-in we’ve been waiting to see. Could Chris have stopped the shooting? They don’t have the budget to counsel kids like Taylor, but he did go to Leyland to follow up with Leslie. Why? Is it because Taylor was white? This is a fascinating scene, even if the people asking the questions were written a little broadly.
Peter (Ty Doran), who was essentially kidnapped by his mother (Emily Bergl), calls Eric to come and get him. He sounds scared. After a hand-off in the parking lot, Eric criticizes her crazy behavior. She throws some of it right back to him, and he says, “I deal with it.” He doesn’t deal with things all that well. The music and tone make me think we’re supposed to be sympathetic here, nodding in agreement with mom. I’m not, especially after she accused their father of molestation. Sorry, lady. Life handed you lemons, and you set the house on fire.
Evy goes to visit Taylor in jail, saying that she needs to know the truth about that night. Is the big revelation finally coming? Nope, not really. “I lied about a lot, but not that,” Taylor says through gritted teeth. He has no reason to lie anymore. And since it’s so difficult to distrust him, that now means Eric, the kid we felt bad for in the previous scene, is a rapist. This show thrives on conflicted feelings about its characters.
The episode ends with a trio of key moments that will likely play into the season finale. Kevin confesses to mom that he knows about the beating of Taylor. His parents take him to their cop ally, but Michael wants it to end there. Meanwhile, Sebastian meets with a reporter, calling himself a “white hat, hacking for justice.” He clearly wants a bit of attention for himself. Finally, the Leyland Academy board is dissolved. The school will go on, and Leslie is the only rat left on the ship.
- The “previously on” music is a perfect overture to American Crime. It sets the tone for what’s to come, which is really needed after a goofy lead-in like The Real O’Neals.
- Here’s a recapper secret: We get to see most shows early, but ABC has chosen not to do so with the final two episodes of this season. Watching it live, I realized how bizarrely it’s broken up. There are SO many commercials. Even though it has a standard running time, it’s chopped up with more breaks. This kind of show would work better with longer stretches of drama. Would you be okay with that if it meant longer commercial breaks?
- Isn’t it interesting that the creators of American Crime don’t name their episodes like pretty much every other show does?
- I’m going to miss these characters. They can’t (and won’t) possibly tie all of their lives up next week, and I’m already wondering how people like Eric and Kevin will turn out down the road. The actors and writers have made them so three-dimensional that I care. That’s a sign of great drama.