The penultimate episode of American Crime’s third season ends with the arrest of two very different women, and yet consider what they have in common. Both Gabrielle (Mickaëlle X. Bizet) and Raelyn (Janel Moloney) work hard just to stay afloat, and both are undone by impulsive decisions influenced by the pressures of their daily lives. Neither are completely innocent, of course, but remember that this is a show that seeks to dissect crime. It’s interesting that both of theirs feel like the acts of women who were trapped by circumstance and society.
It’s been clear that tragedy was stalking Gabrielle for weeks now. She came from Haiti, unable to speak English, and found herself amid the crumbling marriage of Clair (Lili Taylor) and Nicholas Coates (Timothy Hutton). The family furniture business is falling apart, and the stress is deepening divisions in the Coates clan that have likely been there a long time. As the episode opens, Gabrielle is a physical and emotional mess, and Nicholas is about to push away his partners, both at work and at home.
He starts by firing a man who has clearly been at the business from the beginning, ignoring his suggestions as to what to do with the failing company, and then he brings that rage and resentment home to Clair. They fight again, and she pulls no punches, accusing him of being worth nothing more than the furniture he makes. He tells her she doesn’t matter, noting that the furniture business didn’t die when she left. It’s really the last thing he has to hold on to, which explains why he’s clutching it so tightly. It’s his only life preserver and he’s drowning. He goes to leave when he sees Gabrielle and Nicky in the living room. He goes toward them and Gabrielle stands to block the boy. It’s a powerful, silent exchange. Has Gabrielle seen Nicholas abuse his son before? Or was she just worried that he would do so with anger flowing so strongly? She hugs Nicky close to her.
Meanwhile, Jeanette Hesby (Felicity Huffman) is staying with her hard-working sister while she tries to find work herself. She wakes up late at night to find Raelyn in the kitchen, angry that she comes from work to a mess. You can tell that Raelyn doesn’t want her sister there, and resents everything Jeanette gave up that Raelyn can’t even seem to touch. There’s an interesting competitive edge to many of the relationships this season, even within families. People are often most insecure around their family members and there’s a sense that Raelyn blames Jeanette for something as much as Nicholas blames Clair for his business collapsing. Raelyn’s world will soon fall apart, too, and it starts with a message that Jeanette overhears — the government needs a random drug test in the next 24 hours.
The interesting subplot to the arcs of Raelyn and Gabrielle is that of Dustin (Kurt Krause), a seemingly minor character who is now caught up in the terrifying wake of Shae’s murder in last week’s episode. He not only saw what happened, but hasn’t been able to work since — and he’s worried, along with his buddy, that their lives are in danger. He’s a loose end, one of the few things related to Shae’s murder that hasn’t been cleaned up.
While Dustin considers escaping his trap, the walls close in on Raelyn. Jeanette tells her about the message, and she’s a little aggressive when she does so. It turns out that Jeanette doesn’t think her sister has really been just working late, concerned that she’s going to blow her drug test. She even suggests that they run from it. Raelyn is not going to skip the test. Jeanette takes her the next day to the test, and both she and viewers are unclear exactly what’s going to happen. Raelyn keeps asserting that she’ll piss clean, but then says things like, “They do make mistakes,” which makes Jeanette nervous. And there’s an emotional look in her eyes. When she says something about the kids staying with Jeanette just before going in, we know something is wrong.
As Raelyn’s life falls apart, Gabrielle is about to make one of the most crucial decisions of her own. She’s making the bed, clearly in pain, and she’s worried. She sits and cries before going to her room and packing up. Remember: Her passport is in the safe. She tries to break in but can’t do so, and so she takes what little she can and leaves. But she stops. If she had just fled, she’d likely be free. But she takes Nicky with her. They go to Country Kitchen and eat a meal together. She just wants a moment in which Nicky can be happy. She doesn’t have the money to pay for it, leaving what she can, but she’s followed out the door by her waitress, just as a pair of cops roll up to see it all go down. As Gabrielle is arrested, furiously screaming in French that her passport has essentially been stolen, we also see Raelyn taken out of the drug testing room in handcuffs.
In another interesting parallel, we get to see the stories of Gabrielle and Raelyn told by others. First, Clair and Nicky spin her story to the cops, accusing their nanny of having “issues.” Clair even brings up the time she over-disciplined Nicky, and that she thinks she cuts herself. Meanwhile, Jeanette goes to her brother-in-law J.D. (Tim DeKay) for legal help. He won’t do it. He even reveals that he’s going to do jail time for the fire from a few episodes ago, which sounds ridiculous. Jeanette calls him on it, noting that it was likely J.D.’s mother who decided to sacrifice her son for PR reasons, turning him from the drunk into the saint. J.D. encourages Jeanette to go home — she may have to if she wants to save her sister.
In the end, the Gabrielle drama is the final straw for the Coates. They fight yet again, and it ends with a brutal truth about what will happen when they ultimately split: “I get what’s left of the business and you get the kid.” They’ll hold tightly to all they care about most.
Still really a kid himself, Dustin takes the opportunity on an errand to run, ending up in the office of Kimara (Regina King), who we’ve seen get a little bitter this season. Especially in this episode, as she’s seen the commonality of fraud (even in the not-for-profit sector) and feels like she can never do enough. Does Kimara have anything left to give to help Dustin? Will he tell her about Shae? And, most disturbing, will the final shot of Gabrielle be the last we see of her — trapped in a bed, unable to communicate, and sedated back to sleep?
• It’s been really surprising to see certain character development or lack thereof this season. Didn’t we all expect Lori Ann Hesby to be a major character, especially when played by Emmy-winning actress Cherry Jones? She’s been absent and there’s only one episode left.
• Speaking of that, how much of the season do you think will be intertwined in the finale? I have a feeling we could even see a reappearance by Coy (Connor Jessup) or a moment with Luis (Benito Martinez). This show has ended strongly its first two years and there are a lot of ways this season’s final chapter could go.
• What do you want most out of the American Crime finale? What do you hope happens? What do you expect will happen?