Photo: ABC

It’s interesting—all season it has seemed like the only common thread running through American Crime this year is the human trafficking angle, but in the finale, which I thought was a strong episode, it suddenly became clear to me that the human trafficking part is merely a way to include all of these stories in the season. The real commonality is more about parents and children and the complex relationships therein.

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Episode eight felt more cohesive than any other episode this season, even before the final scene put everyone together in a courtroom, and it was because nearly every parent-child relationship on the show found some bit of resolution, even if they weren’t completely wrapped up.

The one that struck me as the most interesting was the Coates family and Gabrielle. I had serious doubts that anyone would believe Gabrielle’s version of events and had a real sense of foreboding for her going into the finale, so it was a pleasant surprise that at least some sort of justice will be delivered on her behalf.

Getting to meet her son was a nice twist, offering viewers a peek into her life and its own set of issues. Yves wishes his teen mother had been there for him, but she was busy taking care of other people’s children in order to provide for him. It was an interesting parallel to Shay’s storyline, where she too was trying to provide for her baby in less than ideal circumstances. One wonders if Shay lived and successfully kept her baby, what would that life had been like? Would her grown child have resented her for however Shay tried to provide a life for him or her?

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It’s also reminiscent of Raelyn’s life, working 16-hour days to keep food on the table and a roof over her daughters’ heads, at the expense of spending much time as their actual mother. No wonder she was so exhausted and kind of threw up her hands at the whole thing. Sometimes it’s just too hard.

But it all demonstrates different versions of the same problem, parents trying to raise kids they were perhaps not prepared for (or even wanted) in a system that makes it hard for someone so poor to do anything else but remain poor. It’s the cycle of poverty at work and it’s no coincidence that these stories didn’t end with much (if any) hope.

On the flip side, though, are the storylines where at least financial security is not a concern. Gabrielle’s wrap up managed to deliver not only a little justice for her, but also perhaps the most satisfactory conclusion to the dysfunctional Claire and Nicholas that we could have hoped for. Kudos to Claire for wanting to own up to her crimes. She didn’t come right out and say it, but it seems like she knows she needs help and she’s willing to get it and that’s about all you can ask from someone like that.

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I also don’t feel quite as much despair about little Nicky as I initially thought I would. Based on Nicholas’ reactions, it looks like this might be just what he needs to finally step up and be a father to his son. Yes, he’s still an ignorant, arrogant a-hole who will probably infect Nicky with his put-upon white man BS, but hey, at least he didn’t wash his hands of the whole thing and leave Nicky to flounder in the foster care system. There’s a glimmer of hope there.

There’s also a glimmer of hope with Jeanette and Raelyn’s daughters, even if I wish Jeanette had figured out a way to help them without her in-laws. But this episode finally demonstrated for me what Jeanette and Carson have the potential for in their marriage—maybe they had it once upon a time and lost it and now they can get it back.

My favorite moment of the finale was when Carson stood up to his sister in defense of Jeanette. The look on her face was stunningly beautiful. It was such a small thing, but it said so much that it brought tears to my eyes. Enough cannot be said about Felicity Huffman’s acting prowess; she conveys so much with so little. But anyway, I have a lot of hope about them as a couple and what life-changing effects they can have on their nieces.

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It’s a shame Laurie Ann couldn’t have gotten some comeuppance, but that’s not really the way the world works, so I’ll settle for Jeanette making the best of a hard situation. I like to imagine that with two girls to throw herself into and possibly Carson now understanding if she wants to have more to do than keep his house, things might really get better for Jeanette. Maybe she can even find small ways to improve things on the farms.

And in another mostly hopeful ending, Kimara chose to leave her position and go work for Abby for a $15,000 raise, something she “negotiated” by calling Abby and Greg out for their shady bookkeeping. There’s really nothing to be upset about here. Kimara will still help kids, she’ll get paid what she’s worth and she can afford better fertility treatments. That’s what I call win-win-win and it’s a better ending than how I expected this storyline to wrap up.

Unfortunately, not all of of the storylines could leave us with slivers of hope. Dustin coming forward about Shay only to be used as a scapegoat and prosecuted for accessory after the fact was just the depressing cherry on top of maybe the saddest storyline of the season. Railroading the one person who tried to do the right thing after Shay’s death is not justice in any way and maybe the judge will understand that.

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We also didn’t get any kind of wrap up with Luis other than putting Isaac and Teo in the courtroom montage, not that I expected to touch base with Luis this far removed from his exit from the show. But the Luis-Teo parent-child relationship was one of the healthier ones this season and it’s sad to think about Luis and his wife back home, alone with their grief.

Overall, though, American Crime went out on a strong note. I think episodes seven and eight were two of the best since the premiere. Do you agree, A.V. Club readers?

Stray observations

  • I understand the need for an end scene that feels like a wrap-up, but having everyone in the same courtroom, with the figures of those who died standing in the back didn’t really work for me. It felt a little like gilding the lily.
  • “Because the people in Raleigh don’t have the will to make things better.”
    This line really stood out to me and I’m curious what you guys think. It felt like Laurie Ann was saying that things are the way they are on the farm because North Carolina politicians won’t pass laws that force farm owners to be better people. Like, as long as this is all we have to do to get by and make a profit, that’s all we’re going to do. And that’s certainly a business-minded perspective, it just really surprised me to hear Laurie Ann be so brazen about the way things work. Did I interpret that line correctly?
  • I’m not at all surprised that Raelyn violated her parole on purpose, it’s what I suspected last episode. What is surprising is the amount of money she stole from the farm. I don’t recall knowing it was $25,000 and like Jeanette, I am very curious what Raelyn did with so much money. I wish we had gotten an answer there.

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