Caitlin Gerard

It was somewhere in the middle of watching “Episode Ten,” the penultimate episode of American Crime’s first season, that I made a startling realization about the five stages of grief. Created in the late ‘60s by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the model illustrates five main responses to the aftermath of trauma. Traditionally, the stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and can be experienced in any order or, in some cases, not at all. But in pop culture, the Kübler-Ross model has become shorthand for processing grief and, as a rule, characters proceed through the stage as originally described.

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It really wasn’t until tonight’s Barb arc that I identified a profound flaw in Kübler-Ross’ model, which is, sometimes there’s very little difference between depression and acceptance.

Barb has given up. She’s given up on the idea of justice (or what she envisions justice to be), she’s given up on herself, and she’s given up on the idea that there’s any way to salvage what is left of her broken family. Barb is depressed, to the extent that she no longer trusts herself with the gun she purchased, dumping it into the possession of her long-time adversary Russ in an attempt to keep herself out of harm’s way. She’s depressed and frightened and plummeting toward rock bottom.

But the most curious aspect of the descent of Barb is how there is no separation of depression and acceptance, they are inextricably intertwined. Barb has reached a point where she’s ready to move on to whatever the future holds because she understands that things that she longs for are no longer feasible. But this isn’t acceptance, not really. This is acquiescence. She hasn’t come to terms with her loss, she’s simply buckling under the constant pressure the depression applies.

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Yet, how much does that matter in the long run? If the end result is the ability to, even reluctantly, move forward, does it matter if that progress comes by brute force or by reason? It’s possible that question can only be answered in next week’s finale.

A show like American Crime depends so heavily on how it concludes its multiple storylines, the final episode serving as a lens through which to view the whole of the season. Therefore, where the characters are left at the end of the penultimate episode means all the more. Throughout “Episode Ten” we see character after character coming to a point where they need to make a choice of whether to let go or whether to hold on. Curiously, no matter which they choose, the decision alone seems to bring them a certain amount of peace.

Aubry moves forward through the system after last week’s confession, even as her family pleads with her to come to her senses. Her foster mother tells her that she always knew it would come to this but that Aubry’s foster father couldn’t believe that she was capable of such monstrous things. In that sense, it’s a merciful act later in the episode when she informs her father that she was not a failure on his part and that he should just let her go. Similarly embroiled in strained family dynamics is Mark, who finally sits down to speak to his mother about what they wanted from each other in the future, informing her that he would always respect what she tried to do for him, which Barb pushes into an admission that he does not love her. Mark is a curious case, asserting his need for limited contact with his parents going forward while wanting credit for wanting them in his life whatsoever. He wants to be free from the burden of his family and Barb lets him go.

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Meanwhile, Alonzo is desperate to free Tony from juvenile detention, selling his business to hire an attorney and begging people to serve as character witnesses. He is humbled, cowed, no longer a slave to his prejudice and pride, and because of that he is able to find renewed strength in the family whose help he previously eschewed. Alonzo wants his family back and to get it, he realizes that he will need the strength and solidarity of the extended family who have been anxious to provide him with the support he was always too proud to accept. Aliyah and Carter, too, cling to each other, even as he questions how it is he’s now free from prison, after spending so many months behind bars. Aliyah knows that once Carter finds out that he is free at Aubry’s expense that all bets are off but, simultaneously, he must suspect that something of the sort is happening, as what other reason could Aliyah have for asking him to operate on blind faith?

Going into the season one finale, the characters are ready to face those things they fear most: love, trust, weakness, acceptance. The question is whether or not American Crime exists in a world that allows for victories, no matter how small, or if everyone is just playing to lose.

Stray observations:

  • It was announced tonight that American Crime will be back for a second season news that is, pretty shocking, all things considered. There is reason to be relatively hopeful, however, as season two will tackle a new story and perhaps the show will be better calibrated moving forward.
  • So, ultimately, I think the biggest question mark moving forward has to be Gwen. Still suffering from aphasia, I’m not sure if it’s realistic to expect an 11th hour memory recovery to give the audience the closure they so desire. But…. that’s gotta happen, right?
  • I honestly have no idea if Aubry is telling the truth or not, but pleading guilty was a pretty baller move, all things considered.
  • Hector is deported, when his testimony is proven false, despite the strong encouragement he received from the police department to give them what they needed to convict Carter Nix, no matter what it took. His ex-girlfriend is upset, but still empathetic, telling him she will see him at his trial.
  • Jenny finally came forward with what happened to spur Tony’s violent outburst and likely freed her brother from further detention, allowing a moving reunion for the family. A very solid win in a season that seems unlikely to provide many.
  • The scene between Alonzo and his “communist” brother-in-law was extremely cathartic and comforting, a long overdue element as far as American Crime goes.

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