American Crime Episode 9 recap

Jeff Pfeiffer

There were some stunning developments on American Crime Episode 9. Biggest of all, Aubry (Caitlin Gerard) ended up confessing that she was the one who shot Matt and Gwen. But given her track record, can she be believed? There was also a surprisingly tender (for them, I guess) moment between Barb (Felicity Huffman) and Russ (Timothy Hutton).

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Before we got to that point, though, we met up again with the main characters in the wake of the march for Carter that turned chaotic, and violent. Images of the protest were shown, and probably couldn’t help calling to mind yet another real-life incident in Baltimore from this past week. Even when it may not be purposely trying to do so, American Crime can’t seem to help but reflect our current society, to an almost eerily close likeness.

Barb is getting training on the gun she bought, so at least she should get some recognition for realizing she shouldn’t just run out with a weapon she has no experience with. The trainer guides her hand, and she fires a bullet into a paper target, and hits. She  then proceeds to empty the chamber into the target, seeming to, even subtly, enjoy the power.

Although she seems tempted by the gun’s power, she seems that she wants to wield it more as a security blanket, and a way of her having at least some control in her increasingly out-of-control life. Barb clearly seems like a controlling type from what we’ve learned about her in the series, but we learn more about that background, and her potential evolving and self-recognition, in this episode.

At one point, Barb is meeting with Nancy (Lili Taylor), and Barb again brings up some of the self-reflection she started to display last week. Barb is recalling how her even more racist friend was left bleeding on the ground at the march following a gunshot (it’s still unclear what happened, exactly, and whether the “friend” survived). “That could have been me,” Barb tells Nancy, feeling guilty that her bigotry was such that it drew in some even more hateful types.

Nancy tells Barb she is different, because she feels what she feels for a reason — her son was murdered. She isn’t saying what she says because she believes God wants the races separate, as the members of Rainbow Works believe.

“What difference does it make how you got there?” Barb asks in response.

“At least you feel bad about it,” Nancy offers. When Barb’s back is turned, Nancy notices the gun in Barb’s purse, and looks concerned. Barb picks up on what happened, and begins offering excuses like “it’s for protection,” and “I know how to use it.” But Barb herself seems nervous, and almost guilty, at having the weapon. From the outset Barb hasn’t seemed comfortable with the gun, but almost feels that she has to have it, again, as something that gives her a sense of control and security.  However, given her this discomfort and indecision about whether she really wants it, that could lead to something terrible happening down the road.

Nancy seems to realize that, as later on she meets with Russ, who has begun his work on fixing up Matt and Gwen’s house. Prior to the meeting, Russ had been in the garage, where he found a box containing various pictures, spanning decades. The first ones he looks at give him fond recollections. They are of Matt as a baby, and of Matt and Mark as young boys.

Mixed in, however, Russ is startled to find more recent photos of an adult Matt on duty in Iraq, where he posed for terrible scenes in which he and others are degrading dead Iraqis, smiling and laughing as they pose with the corpses as if they are hunting trophies. One photo even shows Matt urinating on a dead combatant. It’s shades of the abuses that went on at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Russ burns these military photos in the stove. They are reminders, in addition to the evidence that Matt dealt drugs, that Russ’ son was not who he thought he was. Russ takes in that information, but chooses to keep the images of  young Matt as a reminder of better times. And those better times did include Barb, as we can see from the photos, the two parents enjoying time with their boys.

That reminder to Russ that the Skokie family did have better times comes into play when Nancy does stop by. She asks Russ if he knew Barb had bought a gun, and Russ is stunned. “If there’s one person in the world who should not have a gun, it’s Barb,” says, and the audience surely agrees. Nancy brings up her concerns about the possibility of Carter’s release, and what Barb might do with the gun should that happen.

“Barb would never shoot anybody,” Russ says. She may be intense, but Russ doesn’t think she has murder in her.

“I’m not worried about her shooting anyone else,” Nancy responds. Russ looks concerned but says that Barb is “not like that.”

Nancy asks what “that” looks like? How could you know who might become suicidal? Nancy brings up how, in the wake of her daughter’s murder, she contemplated ending her life. She had bought a gun, planned out a place to do it where her husband wouldn’t be the first to find her, where it wouldn’t leave a mess.

“What’s the type, except you can’t stand what you’re going through anymore?” Nancy asks. “It was so easy, right up to pulling the trigger. You have to be strong to do it. I wasn’t. Barb is.”

Russ gets the point. “Our lives weren’t always this bad,” he tells Nancy, his memory perhaps inspired by finding the old photos. “She should remember that.”

“Maybe you should remind her,” Nancy suggests, before leaving.

And Russ does remind Barb, at the end of the episode. He stops by to visit, and she lets him in, somewhat cordially for her. There seems to be a softening between the two since we first met them, though Barb still manages to get in passive-aggressive jabs at her ex. But the loneliness that the two have been feeling, especially in the four months since Matt’s murder, is palpable here, and has probably pushed them to the point where they at least have to go back to relying on each other to a degree.

Russ has arrived with the box of Matt’s old photos (the good ones), and as they look through them, he says, “It wasn’t all bad.”

“No,” she agrees.

The two have an interesting discussion of the old times, when they both used to gamble on video poker together, before Russ developed a full-blown gambling addiction. As Russ describes what led him to gambling, and what kept feeding his compulsion, he reveals that it wasn’t about money. It was about control, feeling like he was in command of the dice, or the cards, making them turn up or land the way he wanted. “I made it happen,” he says, of what he used to believe.

“You can’t control the universe,” Barb says wearily, not only just to Russ, but seemingly to herself as well, if perhaps subconsciously. “You can’t even control what’s going on here. Matt needed you, and you weren’t here.”

Russ admits that he has to live with that. But he then expands it outward.

“We’ve got to live, Barb. I’m grateful for all you did for Matt and Mark. I know it wasn’t easy, all the tough choices you had to make.”

We don’t see Barb’s reaction immediately, but she must be surprised, and probably touched, at hearing these words from Russ. This is what she has been telling everyone about herself and how she raised the boys, and she’s finally hearing it from Russ.

Russ continues. “Whatever good things the boys had, they had because of you. Remember that.”

Russ gets up and leaves without looking at Barb, and we finally see her stunned, emotional expression. Has Russ gotten through to Barb enough to make her not do anything she and others will regret?

Speaking of regrets, Tony (Johnny Ortiz) started to have a few in this episode, especially in light of what happens to his pal Edgar. Back in juvie following his assault on Joaquin, Tony reconnects with Edgar (who, with is cousin, got him in trouble on the outside again in the first place). During one of the music sessions where a counselor plays a guitar and sings, Edgar takes the guitar and begins goofing around, singing a song filled with sexual references that gets the rest of the boys riled up and a bit out of control. The counselor tries to put an end to it and take the guitar back, but Edgar suddenly explodes in rage, threatening to strike the man with the guitar, and yelling. A guard comes in, tells the rest of the boys to get down, and tackles Edgar, subduing him with a chokehold. As Tony watches in anger and horror, he meets Edgar’s eyes, and watches the life go out of them. Tony gets up and yells at the guards to stop, but he is pulled back. When the guards get up off Edgar, the boy’s lifeless body remains on the floor, and Tony is in shock.

This scene, like so many others in American Crime, again as a real-world call back, as it reminds viewers of the Eric Garner death at the hands of the NYPD last year, which led to the “I Can’t Breathe” phrase that became common among protestors.

Clearly, this incident had an effect on Tony. When he later meets with his father (Benito Martinez), Tony at first opens up to Alonzo a little more about what he felt when he got back into juvie. “I wasn’t a punk no more,” he says. He liked how he had finally earned respect.

Alonzo says Tony is his son, and that he will always love him, no matter what. Tony then gets emotional, and opens up further, as a son who actually needs his dad.

“Poppi, I need you to get me out,” Tony says. He tells Alonzo how Edgar was killed. When Alonzo tells him he is working with a public defender, Tony cries softly, “I need you to do more.”

Alonzo meets again with the public defender, who tells  Alonzo that he is already overwhelmed with his case load, and does not have time to devote all of his time to Tony. The man suggests Alonzo get a private defender for his son. When Alonzo exclaims that he doesn’t have the money for that, the attorney responds, “He’s your son. Get it.”

Later, Alonzo makes plans to somehow get the money with a sadly extreme measure: He plans on selling his auto shop, which he had built up over many years. He is showing it to a potential buyer (who refers to himself as a “hard-working illegal,” likely a jab at Alonzo’s known prejudice against Mexicans like him). To add insult to injury for Alonzo, as if it isn’t bad enough for him that he has to be bailed out by an “illegal,” the man underbids him, offering $50,000 for the shop when Alonzo has been asking $90,000. The offer is in cash, but the man snidely tells Alonzo not to worry, it’s not drug money, before driving off.

Mulling the offer, Alonzo visits his brother-in-law. Explaining the high cost of a private defender (even if Tony’s case is quick, it cold cost about $20,000), Alonzo finally breaks down. “I fucked up,” he says. “I couldn’t save Tony.”

His brother-in-law is calm and understanding. He tells Alonzo that there are some lawyers he does advocacy work for who might not charge as much. Alonzo grudgingly agrees to let his brother-in-law talk to his lawyers; again, he is perhaps being helped out by one of the “illegals” he despises. Alonzo has had to swallow his pride quite a bit recently, but especially in this episode, where he has started to come to a realization that not everything — not parenting, not people in general — is as simple as black-and-white.

Meanwhile, another one of the “illegals” that Alonzo has bad-mouthed before, Hector (Richard Cabral), is out of prison awaiting his testimony in court against Carter. He is at a motel, when his ex-girlfriend and their daughter visit. At first, the little girl is nervous, if not outright frightened of Hector, since she has basically not seen him during her short life, even as her mom explains in Spanish that this is her father. Eventually, as the three sit down to a fast-food lunch in the hotel, the daughter opens up a bit, even having some fun with her dad as he pretends to gobble up her fries.

It seems like a happy family reunion, and that’s what Hector believes is happening, but again, his ex keeps it real. When Hector brings up grand ideas of him getting a tech job, and the three of them moving to the mountains, she shoots down the fantasy.

“Can’t it ever be regular for you?” she asks. “Regular for you would be staying out of trouble for six months. Why do you always try to make it so big?”

Hector suggests they get married, but she offers another reality check, explaining it would take seven years to become citizens. After already waiting for him for five years, she is dubious about wanting to wait another seven.

Hector’s big appearance arrives. As the groups gather in court, where it will be determined if there is enough probable cause to continue the case against Carter (Elvis Nolasco), protestors are back outside, demanding justice for Carter. The Skokies, and Aliyah (Regina King) and Timothy (Cedric Duplechain), awkwardly enter the building simultaneously, glancing at each other.

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Eventually, Hector comes to the stand. Carter stares at him as he walks up, and continues to look on skeptically as Hector is sworn in, assuring the court he is telling the truth. Hector explains he was in the area of Matt and Gwen’s attack on the night in question, and had gotten a text from Carter. Hector is asked what the text said, but we don’t hear his answer, so we can probably assume it’s the same testimony he initially gave the detective on the case.

Prior to Hector’s appearance in court against Carter, we find out more about what’s been happening in Carter and his sister’s lives. Aubry’s stepmom Ruth (Jennifer Savidge) meets with Aliyah at the protest headquarters and suggests they work to get Carter and Aubry to stop seeing each other, as they both appear bad for each other. Things get a bit heated when Aliyah calls Aubry “a drug addict and habitual liar.” Ruth responds “your brother is a thief and an enabler.” Aliyah does seem interested, however, when Ruth asks to speak to Carter about ending things with Aubry.

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Later, in prison, Aliyah arrives and asks Carter to “just listen” to Ruth. Carter seems skeptical, but agrees to hear the woman out. Of course, the first thing he asks is about how Aubry is doing, and if she asks about him. Carter keeps harping on his romantic fantasy about how “it’s going to be me and her” and “I gave myself up for her.”

Ruth shoots this down, reminding him that they were caught at drug dealer’s place. “The way you two are, is any of this good or normal?” Ruth asks Carter. “You say you love her; let her go. My little girl is dying. The girl you say you love is dying. Please help me save her.”

Carter seems impacted by these words. Later, Carter passes an envelope to Aliyah, who gives it to Timothy. Timothy later meets with Aubry. Right away, of course, Aubry asks how Carter is doing. Timothy says Carter asked him to hand-deliver the envelope, which she opens. She is shocked to find it is one of the ads featuring an interracial couple that they both dream over. Except this one is torn in two, separating the fictional couple in a symbol that also seems to mean that they, and their fantasy, is over.

Aubry can’t abide this, and her anger must be restrained by a guard. She cries that she wants to see Carter, but Timothy leaves. We see her briefly flashing back to fantasy scenes of her and Carter together in a field, but even she can’t cling to that very long before being snapped back to reality.

When meeting with Ruth later, Aubry becomes aware that Ruth had talked to Carter. “You talked to Carter and he did this,” Aubry says angrily. Aubry wants to see her lawyer, and the detective on his case. “I’m going to send Carter a message,” Aubry says, somewhat ominously.

Aubry meets again with the group, including her parents, for an official interview, as she did when she accused her brother of molestation. What will she say this time? It’s a bombshell.

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Aubry is shown a picture of the gun used in Matt’s killing that Carter is accused of using. Aubry agrees that is the gun used in the killing, “but Carter didn’t use it. I used it. I shot Matt. I shot his wife.”

Her parents and lawyer erupt and demand the interview be stopped, saying Aubry is a habitual liar. Aubry fires her lawyer on the spot, and tells her parents to leave. Her dad leaves, but Ruth insists on staying. So with Ruth and two detectives remaining with Aubry, the interview continues.

Aubry says on the night in question, Carter went to a drug dealer to score drugs. When asked for the dealer’s name, she responds, “Matt Skokie.” When asked if Hector drove Carter, Aubry presumes so.

Carter was low on funds, so Matt said he’d give him some drugs if Aubry fucked him. Carter wanted none of that, and left (not before stealing some cash and credit cards). When Carter returned to where he and Aubry were crashing (with a drifter named Everett), Carter told Aubry how Matt was “all ‘nigger’ this, and ‘nigger’ that.” There is disgust in Aubry’s voice as she recalls Carter telling her this. While Carter was too cool to care about the slurs, Aubry claims she was enraged. Later one, while Carter and Everett were passed out, Aubry says she took one of the guns Everett had lying around and went to settle with the “racist bastard” Matt Skokie.

(A note on Aubry’s use of the word “nigger” in the episode, and why censors let the word through, since I noticed some questions about it on Twitter during the episode. People were wondering why that word was allowed, but other words like “fuck” were censored out. I get the impression it was allowed to signify the power of the word, and to explain how it would set Aubry off enough to act the way she said she did. It would also be important to her testimony, and it was not a more casual use of the term. I would guess that if characters just threw the word out randomly to refer to others, it probably would be censored, but that’s just my take on it.)

Aubry says she took Everett’s gun with her to Matt’s place “only for protection; that guy was violent,” but in the past we’ve seen firsthand how things with Aubry can escalate. Given what we’ve learned about Matt as well, the meeting of these two would be likely to end badly, as it did (again, at least based on Aubry’s story).

She says she had swapped sex for drugs with Matt before, and she used that as an in this time, and Matt did in fact let her in. Aubry says Gwen wasn’t putting out for Matt, so they started negotiating. When Matt tried to get sex from Aubry, Aubry says Gwen came into the room screaming. Matt was rough with Gwen, practically wringing her arm off throwing her back into the other room.

Aubry tells the detectives that when she saw how Matt treated Gwen, she was enraged. “I hate seeing guys do that.” She admits she’s been on the receiving end of that enough times herself.

Aubry says when she tried to leave, Matt wouldn’t let her. He grabbed her arm as he did Gwen’s, and when Aubry fought back, he threw her down, then began trying to tear her clothes off.

“It was like my brother and his friends all over again,” Aubry says, somewhat slyly, knowing she would get an inevitable response from Ruth, who does sigh and rub her face nervously.

Aubry says she used the gun to shoot Matt in the face, in self defense. Gwen ran in with something in her hands, so Aubry shot her, too. She says she then took off and threw the gun in the river. “That’s where you found it, right?” The detectives subtly look at each other, as if Aubry has said something key that people did not commonly know about the case.

Afterward, Aubry says she went to a liquor store and bought a PBR (FYI to those on Twitter who were wondering what PBR is, it is Pabst Blue Ribbon beer). “They probably have video of me.”

The detectives shot off the recorder, and Ruth looks on, stunned.

So, what do you think of Aubry’s story? Some of it, based on the detectives’ responses, seems to check out. Given Aubry’s history of flying off the handle like she did when she slashed another drug dealer’s throat, it wouldn’t be impossible to imagine her doing this. And from what we’ve learned about Matt, it also wouldn’t be hard to see him acting the way Aubry describes him.

But Aubry has also proven, like many addicts, to be an accomplished liar, throwing out enough accurate bits of info along with her exaggerations to keep people guessing, and in some cases, believing. Is she trying, in her own way, to again “save” Carter? It would be unusual to have the case wrapped up completely with two episodes still to go in the season, but American Crime has proven it’s not a usual series.

In any case, Aubry’s story will certainly have implications for Hector, since it doesn’t gel with what he has told authorities. Can’t wait to see how things proceed.

Next Week: Aubry and Tony have their respective cases brought before a judge, and things don’t look good for Hector in the wake of Aubry’s confession.

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Ryan Green/ABC