In American Crime Episode 3, a little progress on the case at hand developed, but we mainly learned further backstories among most of the characters. Family played an especially important role in the episode, as we got to meet Aubry’s stepfather, Carter’s sister and Alonzo’s brother-in-law.
The episode opens with Alonzo (Benito Martinez), for all intents and purposes, alone in the house. Although Jenny (Gleendylis Inoa) is there, she ignores her father’s attempts to speak to her. We can tell that tension hangs heavy in the Gutierrez household in the wake of Jenny exploding at her father in last week’s episode, accusing him of wanting to be white, hating his heritage and, by extension, hating his children because they look like him. Alonzo still seems to be thinking about this, as well as obviously feeling helpless to do anything about or for Tony. His face is grim, intense and sad as he eats breakfast, the sounds of a banal morning news show in the background, which he barely seems to notice. He continues to get ready for his day, and we briefly see a photo of him and his late wife. But Alonzo does notice when the TV news turns to the case in which Tony was linked. Alonzo promptly turns the TV off when that comes on. Leaving the house, he encounters a TV news crew just arriving and coming up to ask him some questions.
Later in the episode, we find out what he said to them. In a dark editing room, the crew is playing back Alonzo’s answers, and the editor settles on something that makes him say, “That’s good, go with that.”
The snippet the editor wants is Alonzo angrily decrying the “illegals” and “punks” like the one who got Tony into trouble (referring to Hector). “Those are the ones who make the rest of us look bad.”
The news crew is obviously looking for the most inflammatory statements from Alonzo. We don’t learn what else he might have said (this bit seems edited out of a longer answer), and it’s clear the local news wants something sensational.
Speaking of Hector (Richard Cabral), we see him still recovering from his gunshot wound in prison. The doctor tells him he may be ready in about 6 weeks, though he will still have a limp. Hector wonders if the doctor can help with his planned extradition to Mexico, but the doctor says all he can do is perhaps heal him more quickly.
Another patient starts talking to Hector, apparently a member of the gang Hector is in, and telling him to make use of his time in here. He suggests Hector take the meds that are on hand, since they could be a good source of money. Hector does not seem keen on the idea.
Barb (Felicity Huffman) and Nancy (Lili Taylor) visit the deputy D.A. on Matt’s case, demanding that “special circumstances” be put forward on the case. Barb wants Matt’s murder to be treated as a hate crime. Nancy pulls up old news items about Carter’s previous altercations, one of which took place in a bar, where he said that all white people should go. The prosecutor doesn’t believe that this case could be considered a hate crime, and they may come across as overzealous.
Barb insists, and again brings up the reverse-racism card, saying that if a white man had said he “hates blacks” and then shot a black person, he would be tried for a hate crime. “One rule for them, one for us?” Barb asks. Nancy says she will go public with her advocacy for Matt and Barb, and the prosecutor does not appreciate that.
While Barb is working on her issue, Russ (Timothy Hutton) is interviewing for a job at a garden store. Having quit his job in Arizona to spend time in Modesto at least through the trial, he is desperate for money. The manager at the store doesn’t sound particularly convinced that Russ will stick around, since he has not given up his Arizona home and can’t say for sure if he is staying in Arizona or moving to Modesto. Russ is given the familiar “we have a lot of interviewees, we’ll be in touch” line, and he leaves, politely, but obviously knowing he is a long shot for the job, if he has a shot at all.
We find out later just how desperately Russ does, in fact, need the money. Not only for his living expenses, but because he has decided to side with Gwen’s parents, Tom and Eve Carlin (W. Earl Brown and Penelope Ann Miller) on the question of where to bury Matt. Barb finds this out as she leaves a beauty salon (where she passive-aggressively berated the staff for not being able to give her the same hairstyle she normally gets in Simi Valley) and is served with papers from Russ petitioning to take Matt’s remains. Barb tries to avoid the man, who flings the papers at her feet and tells her she is served. Desperately, Barb says that she’s not picking the papers up, hoping that keeps her from being “served.”
Meanwhile, Tony is continuing to have tough times in juvenile detention. During a pickup basketball game, his bully throws the ball directly into his face, causing lots of blood. As the bully kicks Tony on the ground, another young Hispanic man, Edgar (Julian Works) comes to Tony’s aid, scaring off the bully.
Later, Jenny visits Tony. She tells him she is scheduled to meet with his probation officer, and wants to tell the officer about Tony’s bully. Tony tells her not to, that he has someone looking out for him. “That’s what got you into trouble in the first place,” Jenny responds. Jenny tells Tony that their father wants to visit, but Tony refuses.
Also having father problems is Aubry (Caitlin Gerard). Still at the nice hotel, we first see her via flashes of her daydreams of being with Carter (Elvis Nolasco) again. Her voiceover on top of these flashes give some insight into her drug problems. “Life looks better, or slower, or more colorful” she says. “I can’t be regular, and I don’t get down on people who want to live regular. … I could use some helping out. … I called you because I want to try.”
We leave her daydreams and see in the hotel room who she is talking to — the man she called for money last week, who turns out to be her stepfather. “I can’t understand why you choose people like [Carter] over your own family,” he tells her. “You’re not my family,” Aubry answers. The stepfather says that her mother and brother are coming to town, but she says she doesn’t want to seem them.
We find out during Aubry’s conversation with her stepfather that Carter left his job and the woman he was going to marry for Aubry. Aubry is convinced that her stepfather, despite his claims to want to help her, only wants to put her on meds “so people don’t think you brought home a crazy little bitch from foster care.” Her stepfather insists that if she wants help, Aubry is going to get counseling.
While Aubry’s stepfather is not thrilled with the type of person Carter is, we also find out that Carter’s sister likewise has strong reservations about the type of woman her brother is with.
We see Carter getting humiliatingly strip-searched prior to seeing a visitor, and that visitor turns out to be his sister, Aliyah Shadeed (Regina King). That is her name now, as a member of the Nation of Islam, but over the course of their intense conversation across the pane of glass separating them, Carter reminds her that her birth name is Doreen Nix.
Aliyah begins by wishing Carter a happy birthday, and he claims to have forgotten it was his birthday, but later says he more chose to forget.
Aliyah tells Carter she heard about his predicament from Celeste, who we later find out in the conversation is the woman Carter left for Aubry. We also find out that Carter used to “add numbers for the water and power company.” Aliyah is disappointed that Carter has thrown away “a good woman of color who could have become your wife, a good job.” But she is still willing to fight for Carter. Aliyah says she can get him a lawyer who works “for a cause, not for a dollar.”
However, when Aliyah tells Carter that she won’t do this for nothing, and that his change will begin with humbling himself and begging for forgiveness, Carter tells her he won’t beg her for anything. She explains that only Allah can forgive, and Carter strongly resents this.
“Seriously? Kill that,” he exclaims. “I don’t believe in that crap. I don’t need that to get by.”
“What do you need?” counters Aliyah. “Drugs? Sex with little white girls? You take their drugs, you sleep with their women and then they put you in their jail.”
When Carter asks Aliyah to get in touch with Aubry and tell her to stay cool until he gets out, she refuses. Carter angrily tells her to not come around anymore.
(As an aside, Regina King’s guest appearance — she’s also powerful in next week’s episode — is among the highlights in this remarkable series. Really mesmerizing performance every time she’s on the screen.)
Back at the Gutierrez household, we find Jenny and a man who turns out to be her uncle laughing and having fun, taking selfies. The man is drinking a beer, and when Alonzo comes in, things come to a halt, with Jenny looking a bit embarrassed, perhaps thinking back to her argument with her father.
Outside, Alonzo talks with his brother-in-law, who is disappointed that he was not initially told about Tony’s problem, and that Alonzo let Tony talk to police without a lawyer. “I’m not accusing you,” he tells Alonzo.
“The hell you’re not,” Alonzo responds. He tells her how Jenny screamed at him about how he wanted to be white. “Where does she get that crap? She doesn’t get that from you?”
When Alonzo reminds him that he doesn’t haven’t kids, and doesn’t know how to handle them, he reminds Alonzo of what he does know about.
“You got some white cops questioning your brown boy and you don’t do anything about it? I know about that SB1070 down in Arizona. I know about stop-and-frisk.” He also tells Alonzo he saw his TV interview where he railed against “illegals.” “Why buy that kind of trouble for yourself?”
“I’m Mexican-American,” Alonzo says. Referring to Hector, who got Tony in trouble, he says, “He’s just Mexican. That’s the difference between me and him. And me and you.”
That last part is said with a bit or irritation and condescension, and Alonzo follows up by telling his brother-in- law not to come around drinking beers in front of his daughter anymore.
Later, Jenny meets with Tony’s probation officer (David DeLao), who seems more interested in talking about her father and the home life for her and Tony. Jenny is more interested in finding out about getting Tony released, but over the course of their discussion, she does reveal some things. Primarily, that following the death of his wife nine years earlier, Alonzo had treated Tony like a baby, not wanting him to grow up. This obviously came to a head as Tony neared an age when he wanted to explore more independence. Jenny admits that she had to grow up quickly, having to take care of Tony and the house. After this, she quickly wants to turn the discussion back to Tony’s situation.
Whether Jenny learned about drinking for her uncle or not, she later ends up having a beer at an outdoor party she was invited to at school. It’s a bunch of kids hanging out in a wooded area, typical high-school stuff. At one point, a quick siren burst goes off, followed by the familiar flashing lights of a squad car. Jenny looks terrified and quickly puts down her beer.
In this scene, we see more of the series’ superb technique at creating a tense, dreamlike situation. Most of us have probably had some experience with being stopped by a cop, even if just for a minor traffic infraction. That in itself may be enough to make us nervous. Jenny is particularly anxious, and without saying anything — just her facial expressions amid the overbearing lights and noises, and the police officer’s off-camera voice — she conveys a combination of fear and also defiance. She tells the officer she has not been drinking, but he still wants to see her ID. She refuses to turn it over, and for a little bit we fear that she has something on her record. As the tension heats up, she finally lets the officer see her ID, and it turns up clean. She is free to go.
Tom and Eve (mainly Tom) are interested in reading Gwen’s emails, but because she never signed consent over to them, they cannot. Tom is becoming obsessed with this in light of what the police told them in last week’s episode, that Gwen showed evidence of having had consensual sex with more than one man, and not her husband. Eve is becoming concerned about the toll these events are taking on Tom. Eventually, Eve admits to Tom that Gwen had confided in her that her marriage to Matt was in trouble, and that she needed gratification from other men. Things got even worse when Matt got into drugs and started hanging around with people who frightened Gwen. One of the men was a coworker of Gwen’s; Eve doesn’t know who the other man was. Gwen wanted out of the marriage, but Eve told her to stay. Eve continues talking to a stunned Tom, who also feels betrayed that his wife didn’t tell him about this. When Eve tells him that Gwen wanted confidence, Tom replies: “You don’t give children what they want. You give them what they need.”
Barb apparently allowed herself to get “served,” because near the end of the episode, we find her and Russ in a lawyer’s office, sitting across from each other with their respective attorneys. Continuing his slow development of a backbone, Russ tells Barb that Matt is not going back to Simi Valley. When Russ’ lawyer suggests a compromise — putting Matt’s body in storage until Gwen comes to and can decide — Barb is horrified. She again turns things into a personal attack on Russ, telling him that she thought getting arrested at the house in front of their sons was the worst he could do to them.
Russ reminds Barb that she is outnumbered in this decision, and that Gwen would want this. Barb counters that he’s only doing this to make up for his previous lack of caring. Russ says he cares enough to want to know what was going on with their son, bringing up the drugs.
“If Matt was using drugs,” Barb snarls, “who brought that into our family? Who brought addiction into our family?” She looks pointedly at Russ, before reminding him that he can’t stay her for very long, let alone afford a lawyer.
“You used to scare me, Barb,” Russ tells her cooly. “That’s the only good trick you had.” He gets up and leaves the lawyer’s office with an increased confidence.”
Barb doesn’t get good news later at her hotel room, either. Nancy calls to tell her that the deputy district attorney is not going for the “special circumstances” discussed at the start of the episode.
Returning from the party, Jenny is alone in her room. Her father checks in, and at first she gives him the same cold treatment she has been of late. Alonzo sits on the bed beside her, beginning to explain where he is coming from, when suddenly — the weight of the night’s events, as well as her meeting with Tony and the probation officer, and likely years worth of having to had to grow up too quickly — come to a head, and she breaks down and hugs her father, perhaps the first time in a while that she could break her “adult” mask.
Later, Alonzo meets with Tony’s probation officer, who tells him that police don’t think Tony had any direct knowledge of Matt’s murder. The officer says he won’t be referring Tony’s case to the D.A. However, the officer will also not be remanding Tony to Alonzo’s custody.
Alonzo is stunned. How can a home not be a good place for his son? The officer tells Alonzo what Tony has told him, and how he enjoyed doing something he knew would agitate his father. He also reminds Alonzo of how Tony did not even want his father visiting him. Tony will be kept under observation by professionals as part of an interdiction, to see if his problems can be worked out. Just as at the end of last week’s episode, Alonzo is left in stunned silence, his efforts to be a father “the right way” again not working out.
The very last scene begins with a zoom-in on blooming flowers. A customer asks a man if he works there, and if he can help them. Panning out, we see it is Russ, who did end up getting that job at the garden store. He pleasantly tells the customer that yes, he can help. They walk away from the fresh blooms, Russ apparently blooming into a confident new man of his own.