One of the quotes that I think about most is the following from Madeleine L’Engle:
“Truth is what is true, and it’s not necessarily factual. Truth and fact are not the same thing. Truth does not contradict or deny facts, but it goes through and beyond facts. This is something that it is very difficult for some people to understand. Truth can be dangerous.”
When she said this, L’Engle likely imagined a very specific kind of truth—one that evolved beyond human meddling, unbound by the trivialities of reality. L’Engle’s version is something specific, something I’ll refer to as capital-T Truth for purposes of the rest of the review, for reasons you’ll understand momentarily.
As lovely as L’Engle’s Truth sounds, it’s a far cry for what passes for truth now. As we now know, truth is too often something twisted, handcrafted to sell a story that’s already been written, with those who have the power wielding the pen.
The deeper into American Crime’s first season we get, the more obvious it becomes that the truth is not only relative, but perhaps even irrelevant. This realization comes on the heels of an episode that spent roughly half of its running time mired in its typical ping-ponging between characters before the entire season took a hard right turn onto an unexpected course for the final two episodes.
That course correction takes place at the hands of ever-troubled Aubry, whose foster mother conspires with Aliyah to break Carter and Aubry up for good, a plan whose success leaves the girl defeated. Though Aubry is nothing if not an agent of chaos, the amount of havoc she was able to wreak with a single conversation was truly unprecedented. After instructing her mother to gather her lawyer, a detective, and someone from the DA’s office under the pretense of giving testimony against Carter, Aubry instead gives a full confession, claiming responsibility for the death of Matt Skokie and wounding of Gwen.
This far into the season, knowing as little as we do about what actually took place the night of the incident in question, it makes sense that someone surprising would come forward to take responsibility for what happened. What makes it all the more interesting is the fact that the person in question is Aubry, the character with the most specious history when it comes to telling the truth. Though I personally fall into the camp that believes most things Aubry says, particularly when the lies she tells don’t serve to benefit her in any way, there are plenty in the viewing audience who see the character as a pathological liar.
But at this point, whether or not Aubry is telling the truth matters so little, it’s almost laughable. Her story is cogent and logical. She knows things that may or may not be public knowledge, and she backs up her statements by telling the witnesses where they may be able to find information to corroborate everything she says. Based on everything the show has taught us, from Carter being a loving and relatively non-confrontational guy, to Aubry being unpredictable and foolishly impetuous, to Matt being an latent racist with increasingly dark secrets, to no one being able to unequivocally prove that Carter pulled the trigger, Aubry’s story doesn’t have to be true to change everything. It just has to make sense.
More than anything, the takeaway from American Crime is that when it comes to matters of race or justice or even just day-to-day human interactions, there is no Truth to guide us through the dark, or if there is, it’s too difficult to wrap our heads around as we try to live in this world. There is only the perception of lowercase-t truth that we all agree to abide by, the lie agreed upon. Lest that sound a little too Matrix-y, let’s go back to L’Engle.
The truth of American Crime is this: a black man is accused of murdering a white man and held for months because of it, while a Latino man and youth were pressured to provide evidence, “facts,” to support the narrative that the cops were frantically trying to establish.
Aubry’s confession blows up the established narrative, replacing it with another story. At this point, it doesn’t matter if it’s any more or less true than the original story. It only matters that it’s something that everyone can agree upon and line up behind. There is no room for loose ends in the world, for questions without answers, for people who are both good and bad, for neighborhoods that are downtrodden, for individuals who are complicated. We need our people to fit into the boxes we have provided for them and we need our stories and our realities, to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Going through life, whether trapped in a fictional reality like American Crime or a world where property damage is deemed a greater wrong than police misconduct, we fight every day to soothe the dissonance between what we know to be fact and what we know to be Truth, trying to find a way to live with ourselves whenever we see the space between the two. That space only grows wider as we are constantly fed stories that have been created for us.
The difference between Truth and modern truth is that the latter is full of easy answers and closed cases. The former is full of battles and is often hard to look at straight on. American Crime has two episodes left to acclimate its characters to their new truth and its audience has two episodes left to ponder how often they settle for the truth because the Truth is just too hard to find.
- Hector is out of prison and visiting with his family, still trying to sell them on his big plans for the future. His (ex?)girlfriend would just be happy with him holding down a steady job. But big dreams are necessary to survive the worst places in the world and it seems unlikely that hopes of a customer service job would be enough to keep Hector striving to make a better life for himself.
- Russ reaches out to Barb to remind her that she was the source of every good thing in their sons’ lives, in hopes that she won’t do anything drastic if Carter walks free. It’s a nice moment for them both that suggests a positive shared history that we haven’t seen much evidence of previously.
- Tony’s friend is accidentally killed when he acts aggressively towards the guards. The fact that this happens with little fanfare, as largely an afterthought, is hugely significant and completely horrifying, suggesting it’s something that happens far more often than anyone is truly comfortable with, and it’s enough to shake Tony to the core.
- Alonzo is so desperate to free Tony that he’s entertaining offers to sell his business in order to hire a defense attorney. There’s no telling what Tony’s fate may hold if Carter’s case is dismissed and, in particular, this plot seems like a race against time.
- Gwen is heading home with her parents and Tom is shaken. It seems almost inevitable that he’s going to bounce sooner or later, but only time will tell.
- By episode’s end I was much more excited about seeing the final two episodes than I thought possible when the episode started. That’s probably a good thing.