Even as horrible events continue in reality, such as the police shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina this week, American Crime continues its gritty reflection of our reality. Looking at Twitter comments the past few weeks during AC episodes, I’ve noticed a theme among some viewers that are similar to what I have been feeling: American Crime, in its storylines, themes and presentation, can be so realistic that it is almost hard to watch. When you hear and read about, and look at, events such as the Scott killing, do you really want to watch a show that reflects a similar reality, or would you rather watch something more escapist? I would argue that its realness makes American Crime essential viewing, even as a catharsis of sorts. I will admit it can be hard, though. As you watch characters you just know are making bad decisions inexorably head toward the next predicament, we are watching them almost as if in a dream. This was evident once more in American Crime Episode 6.
Bad decisions were in abundance last week for Carter (Elvis Nolasco) and Aubrey (Caitlin Gerard) when they attempted to go on the run to Canada. That did not work out, to say the least. Carter is back in police custody, but we do not seem him in this episode save in a brief (and perhaps mis-remembered) flashback from another character. Where Carter is being held is not only a mystery to us, but to his sister Aliyah (Regina King). She and Timothy (Cedric Duplechain) learn that Carter, originally scheduled to appear before a judge, has had his case “shuffled.” The bail money provided for Carter is forfeited.
Aliyah is frustrated throughout the episode with not only her inability to get any info on her brother’s whereabouts, but also with herself. In one poignant scene at her place of worship, she and Timothy are alone, and talking. Timothy has finally found a judge for a writ to produce Carter, and he knows the police, who have botched the case at various steps up to this point, are probably trying to force a confession from Carter. Aliyah recalls when she left Carter at his apartment.
“He wanted a plate of ribs,” she says, mournfully. “If I’d only sat with him …”
“The devil’s hand is in this,” Timothy tells her.
“He wanted to talk to me as his sister,” Aliyah continues. “All I had to do was be family for him, and I couldn’t even acknowledge that. Is that the devil, or is that me?”
“All he had to do was not run away,” Timothy responds. Aliyah admits that while she expects Carter to take his responsibility, she must also take her own. Her guilt over not lending her ears to her brother for a little while, which opened up the door for him to reconnect with Aubrey and get into more trouble, compels her to be more forceful in her quest to find where he is, though we do not learn that in this episode.
Speaking of Aubrey, she has survived her overdose, and is hospitalized and still asking people for a fix. We learn that the man she attacked with a razor blade in last week’s episode did survive, but Aubrey is still facing serious trouble. When we first see her, her stepdad is visiting, and telling her police have offered her a deal — reduced charges if she turns on Carter. (Earlier in the episode, this is what Timothy had suggested to Aliyah would happen, that the prosecution would try to clean Aubrey up and get her to testify against Carter.) By now, you probably could have guessed Aubrey’s reaction to the notion of betraying her lover. She tells her stepdad to get out.
Later on, Aubrey’s stepbrother Brian comes to visit her, and tells her the same thing — cut a deal and drop Carter. The siblings’ interplay here is interesting. They share eye contact, Aubrey’s gaze toward her brother a bit more penetrating, his more sheepish, and almost guilty. “Do you really think confessing will make things better?” Aubrey asks, a tear streaming down her cheek. Brian says nothing, but leaves. Remember this interaction for upcoming episodes.
Also still in the hospital is Gwen. Detectives want to question what she knows about the night she and Matt were attacked; her parents aren’t sure, but they give it a try. Speaking into a tape recorder, Gwen tries to answer questions from the detective, but she is clearly having issues remembering, and speaking. Looking at photos of various men, Gwen does not recognize any of them, nor does she recognize the name “Carter Nix.” All Gwen says she can remember is a Sunday three weeks before the attack, when she, Matt and her parents drove up to see butterflies. Gwen says she remembers sitting in the back seat, wanting to feel like a kid again. The desperate detective continues to press her on her memory of that night in question, but eventually Gwen breaks down and cries, unable to remember. Eve (Penelope Ann Miller) ends the interview, and the detective leaves in frustration.
Following Carter’s attempt to flee and recapture, Barb (Felicity Huffman) and Russ (Timothy Hutton) are understandably irate. Russ, in particular, seems to have developed a cynicism of the police and detectives that Barb had from the beginning, and in this episode he is almost as intense as Barb, who is almost beginning to have a world-weariness about her.
In this episode, we see again how alone both Russ and Barb are in this strange town, even among their own family. Upon hearing that Carter had tried to escape, Russ shows up at Mark’s (David Hoflin) rental place with some discount locks he got from work, to put on Mark’s windows. Russ isn’t sure they are safe, and with Mark’s fiancee coming to town soon, he wants extra protection. However, Mark wants none of it. He tells Russ it’s too late to play the protective father after walking out all those years ago. He asks Russ to leave, and Russ, for a moment, just stands out in the hallway, facing the door, helpless to offer the help he so desperately wants to.
It turns out Russ can’t even talk to the co-worker, Lisa, who previously offered to listen to his drama (and to put her “drama” up against his). He asks her if her offer to listen is still good, and she says yes. He tells her his son hates him; she says that’s what sons tend to do. Lisa reveals to him, somewhat bitterly, that her husband walked out on her. When Russ admits he did the same thing to his family, we begin to sense a little more aloofness from this once friendly woman. The kicker is when Russ tells her that his family is the one all the news stories are about regarding the murdered veteran and his wife.
“I ran once,” Russ says, about his desire to stay and see this through, “I’m not running again.”
Turns out the drama is, indeed, too much for Lisa, who politely and somewhat nervously excuses herself to get back to work.
Barb isn’t having much more luck finding someone to listen to her, at least on a personal level. She does manage to appear on a local news program to talk about her son. This scene contains the elements that make American Crime so powerful and realistic in its details. As Barb is speaking to the host, in the background we see a picture of Matt and Gwen on their wedding day — he in his military garb, she looking radiant in a dress. Next to them is Carter’s mugshot, somewhat intimidating. This scene shows the subtle ways in which news coverage can impact viewers’ perceptions of victims and potential perpetrators. A picture can indeed say a thousand words, and can form — even subconsciously — an opinion in a viewer’s mind of the person they are looking at as either an upstanding member of society, or a “thug.”
The host presses Barb on various topics, clearly trying to get some response from her, using the old “some people are saying” line so prevalent on networks like Fox News. “Some people say this about race,” the woman says to Barb at one point. And I’m sure regular viewers who have come to know (and most likely dislike) Barb had a good laugh when she replied, in a stunned manner, “Not from us. Not from our family. I taught my children to be open-minded.” I’m sure Mark would disagree, based on his conversation with Barb last week when he frankly stated he and Matt were brought up in a climate of bigotry.
However, Barb gives herself away in almost her next sentence, where again she goes on a “those people”-type rant: “You read all the time about a black person, who is actually a criminal, who gets shot by police, and people lose their minds. But a good white kid gets murdered in his home, that’s okay because maybe he smoked a joint on weekends.”
Barb’s comment there is especially stinging in light of the reality of another deadly police shooting in the real world this week, and viewers can’t help but think of that incident or others as Barb is talking.
Following Barb’s appearance, Nancy (Lili Taylor) congratulates her, and tells her she really should go out for some wine and relax. She asks if she has anyone to go with, and Barb doesn’t but wonders if Nancy would join her. Nancy has a prior engagement.
Nancy is indeed busy, as we later see, though it wouldn’t have been a surprise to me if she had just been making that up as to not have to spend more time with Barb. There have been times when Nancy seemed to bristle at some of Barb’s attitudes, and I’ve gotten the impression that, aside from both having suffered the horror of murdered children, Nancy and Barb don’t have much in common.
That is confirmed in the scene where we see Nancy was going. It is apparently the anniversary of her daughter’s murder, and we see Nancy quietly pondering the gravestone. She is shortly joined by a man, her ex-husband, and he hands her a rose as they greet each other with a combination of muted happiness at seeing each other again (they apparently do this once a year) and sadness at the loss of their daughter, and their time with her.
He is concerned for Nancy, having seen Barb on TV and knowing Nancy is helping with her case. “What are you putting yourself through?” he asks her, kindly but firmly, and clearly worried for her. He reminds her of the horrible things Barb has been saying on TV, and tells Nancy that there is a difference between grieving and getting ugly. “She’s not you,” he says to his ex-wife. “You are defending things you don’t believe in.”
The man leaves, the two of them stating they will always love each other, and promising to meet by their daughter’s resting place again next year. Nancy is left to quietly reflect, as are we, given our new insight into Nancy.
Later, we see that Barb has made a new friend, and is out for wine with her. This woman seems to empathize with Barb, and is just as shocked as Barb was when Barb tells her her son’s fiancee is a woman of color, specifically an Asian-American. “Could be worse,” the woman tells Barb upon hearing the fiancee’s race, after initially asking in a shocked voice, “Is she a black girl?” This seems like a woman who can reinforce Barb’s prejudices, and perhaps even go beyond that, as Barb even seems taken aback by her at times. Barb is concerned that people will think badly of her given the things she has said in public.
Continuing their isolation from each other are the members of the Gutierrez family. Jenny (Gleendylis Inoa) refuses to tell her father (Benito Martinez) where she got her black eye. She won’t even reveal anything to Tony (Johnny Ortiz).
The isolation continues as Alonzo and Tony go to their latest counseling session. Alonzo is doing most of the talking, recalling how tough things got when his wife passed, and how Jenny helped with things while Alonzo attended to Tony. The therapist asks Alonzo if he wonders whether that made Jenny feel isolated. Alonzo, clinging to his fantasy that things have been perfect because he thinks he has done everything “the right way” does not even consider that that might be the case, chalking up the fact that Jenny doesn’t want to join them in counseling as her just being a teenage girl.
Throughout Alonzo’s talking, Tony has been gritting his teeth, and at times glaring at his father. Finally, the therapist tries to bring Tony out of himself, which he does, big time. He blames his father for his arrest, and for Jenny not wanting to be around. Alonzo tries to interrupt, but the therapist tells him to let Tony talk. Things get heated as the therapist furiously scribbles notes. Alonzo sees her doing this and has a nervous smile, probably concerned about what the doctor may be writing about his “perfect” world that is crashing down around him at every step lately.
“Something’s going on with my sister,” Tony says, exasperatedly, “and all he want to talk about his what we used to do.”
We later see Jenny spending time at her aunt and uncle’s house, talking to her uncle in Spanish and having a good time, and being far more open with him than with her father. I don’t know Spanish, so I don’t know what was being said, but it’s clear her uncle is more understanding of her at this point.
Continuing to seek his understanding of what happened to his sister, Tony visits Carlos, Jenny’s somewhat-boyfriend. Carlos is at first worried about being branded a “snitch” if he tells what he knows about Jenny’s attack, but Tony eventually gets it out of him that a boy named Joaquin beat his sister.
Tony later meets with Edgar’s cousin again, and the trouble I could sense was starting to happen in last week’s episode comes to a head. He tells the two older boys he’s with about what happened to Jenny, and the two get Tony drunk and high. At first Tony doesn’t want to drink, but it doesn’t take long for him to follow suit (he has always seemed easily impressionable).
The three of them head out and find Joaquin shooting hoops at a park. After Joaquin’s friends are beaten and chased away, Tony’s older friends hold down Joaquin and tell Tony to get revenge for his sister. After pausing briefly, Tony beats Joaquin in the head with an iron rod several times. The three boys run off, leaving Joaquin moaning.
Hanging out with other friends later, they are all casually laughing over a video they are watching on a phone. It turns out Tony’s beating of Joaquin was recorded! Sorry, Tony, but once all the Internet sees what you’ve done, you’re in big trouble. But Tony doesn’t think of that immediately. He seems torn; he looks at the blood on his hands and seems to feel some remorse, but he also seems to enjoy the laughter, accolades and camaraderie he is getting from his new clique thanks to his actions. Taking another slug of beer, now like an old pro, we leave Tony with a serious, experienced look on his face. He is now the “big boy” he had wanted to be, but not for the right reasons.
Throughout the episode, Hector (Richard Cabral) has been trying to work a deal with the authorities, based on what he claims to now about the Skokie case. The prosecutors are desperate to hear what Hector knows, and in exchange, Hector demands immunity, witness protection, and a clean start. As a sign of cooperation from the authorities, he also wants to be transferred to a different facility, where he can be protected.
Later, a detective is talking to the drug dealer Carter had beaten back in Episode 1, who was part of Aubrey and Carter’s misadventure last week. In a flashback, the man seems to recall Carter screaming “white bitch!” over and over while beating him. I’ll have to check back in the earlier episode, but I’m not sure if that’s what Carter said. Is this the man’s memory playing tricks on him, based on what underlying prejudices say would have been the case? Or is this man purposely trying to make things harder on Carter, based on their previous altercations?
In either case, the DA’s office now announces that they are going to add the “special circumstance” Barb had asked for earlier to Carter’s case — the case is going to be tried as a hate crime, as based on the witness testimony, they are going to assume Carter targeted the Skokies based on their race. Barb and Nancy watch the press conference in relief, but it seems like the authorities are trying to cling to anything to get a conviction, based on how they’ve bungled a lot of things already.
At the end, we see Hector being loaded into a van, to be transported to another facility. It sounds like his deal is made, and he will be testifying against Carter.
“Should have made a deal with me from the jump,” he tells the cops who are accompanying him. “Could have avoided all this nonsense.”
Next week: We (and Barb) finally get to meet Mark’s Asian-American fiancee, Rochelle; we learn where Carter is; and Tony gets in deep trouble.