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American Crime: “Episode Three”

Lili Taylor, Felicity Huffman
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As the weeks go by and American Crime continues to progress, one of the most notable things about it is how precisely structured it is. Themes reappear throughout an episode and each incident presents itself after a subtle twist of the kaleidoscope, creating a completely different image with components that, on the surface, appear to be identical.


“Episode Three” opens in the Gutierrez house, silent but for the banal droning of a radio morning show. It’s a month after the crime and Alonzo is preparing for work. He calls out to Jenny but she continues to shun him, still blaming him for Tony’s plight. He leaves for work to find a television crew waiting for him. Later we’ll here what he says to them as he’s ambushed in his driveway. “He’s illegal. Those are the ones. Always make the rest of us look bad.”

Tony is invited to join a pick-up basketball game while still in juvenile detention. Shortly after joining the game, he gets drilled in the face with the ball, immediately falling to the ground, bruised and bloody. He, like in previous episodes, is taunted, and the scene is painful to watch, until an unexpected savior arrives on the scene, scaring off Tony’s tormentors and telling him to get up and come with him. And to stop crying like a bitch. This savior is a fellow detainee, another Hispanic teenager, rescuing Tony from the clutches of his Caucasian, asshole roommate. The audience is relieved that Tony is protected and that maybe this means he’ll make it through this experience relatively unscathed.

The episode then skips immediately to Barb and her advocate arguing with a representative from the District Attorney’s office that special circumstances should be added to the charges around Matt’s death, specifically, that he was targeted because of his race. Barb argues her case, “If a white person said he hated blacks and shot a black, you know you would charge him with a hate crime.” The emphasis is hers, she spits the word like it’s so much bile in her mouth. “One rule for them, one rule for us. We don’t deserve to be treated equal?”

Later, we see Carter receiving a visitor in prison, a Muslim woman who turns out to be his sister, who found her religion later in life. He scoffs at her beliefs and she turns the accusations around on him, scolding him for taking their drugs, sleeping with their women, and then being surprised when they put him in their cage. She later upbraids him for throwing away a good woman of color who could have been his wife. Doreen, now Aliyah, is devout, both to her faith and to the idea of bringing her brother back from the brink and into the fold.


But at what cost? Aliyah wants to get Carter a lawyer, one working for a cause, not a dollar, but in order to help him, she needs him to change, humble himself. Beg for forgiveness, not from her, but from Allah. Across town, his girlfriend Aubry is in a similar situation with her foster father. He’s come to her, trying to talk sense into her but she continues to push against him, wanting him to help her see Carter but unwilling to acquiesce to his influence in her life. He tells her that if she wants things from him, she’s going to have to do stuff for him, including seeing her mother and brother.

Time and time again, the episode introduces these examples of the way that life repeatedly breaks us down along party lines, specifically racial, but not only that. We see people, relationships, fracture or form around more than just race, but religion, citizenship, family. And time and time again, even if who or what is spouting these words or initiating these actions that we may find abhorrent, the series resists the impulse to paint them merely as monsters, taking care to always lay the foundation for their words and actions.


The show is mercurial, refusing to be pinned down to a single point of view. It wants the audience to examine its impulses, the revulsion at Barb’s words, the relief at Tony’s rescue, the uncertainty of Carter and Aliyah’s encounter. American Crime isn’t interested in the audience feeling comfortable in their preconceived notions and it has little use for the casual engagement of lazy liberalism. Everyone is a victim on the show and everyone guilty of sins against their fellow man. It’s an ugly and frightening and cruel world. And American Crime wants you to remind that if you aren’t part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

Stray observations:

  • As an aside, I have to say that the direction on this show is just ridiculously good. Almost certainly the best direction on network television of any show not named Hannibal. For instance, these images are haunting and say so much more about the Nix sibling relationship than words could.
  • There wasn’t a place for it in the review proper, but Tom and Eve had some great stuff this week, as we find out that Eve had far more information about Gwen and Matt’s relationship than she ever let on. Tom, of course, is upset that she kept Gwen’s secrets regarding outside relationships and Matt’s drug involvement from him but she argues that she owed it to her daughter to keep her confidences. Just sterling work all around from both Penelope Ann Miller and W. Earl Brown.
  • Hector continues to be abandoned in his own show, much like Aubry. This week saw him starting the rehab process for his leg and learning that he’d likely be extradited in six weeks. In the meantime, a new friend is encouraging him to start up a side business revolving around stealing drugs from the infirmary which seems like just a sterling opportunity.
  • Jenny getting busted at the block party was ridiculously tense and Gleendilys Inoa was superb. The choice to never show the cop’s face was so illustrative. It doesn’t matter what he looks like. For Jenny, he is every cop.
  • Also, that’s Regina King as Carter’s sister, a casting choice I cannot support enough.
  • Good for Russ for finally standing up to Barb’s bullying. And for getting a job in Modesto after being laid off.
  • Tony not being returned to his home was heartbreaking and I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with it moving forward.

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