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American Crime introduces more confessions and confusion

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In a few of these weekly reviews, I’ve emphasized the importance of patience with American Crime. Patience is a virtue that was needed for the first season, and maybe even more in this current installment. It’s not that the show is especially slow-paced but it’s the fact that occasionally it’s hard to see where it’s trying to go and when it finally gets there, it elicits just an acknowledging head nod rather than a sense of fulfillment. If there is one thing that’s been trying my patience in an otherwise superb season of television, it’s the separate storylines of Leyland and Marshall.

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Over at Marshall, Principal Chris Dixon has been dealing with high tensions and protests revolving around his decision to suspend a Hispanic student for a fight but to not punish the black student (the “victim” of the fight, Chris insists). He’s been accused of being racist against Hispanics, of preferential treatment of his own race, and of failure to deescalate the situation. The story has been interesting, though it pales in comparison to what’s happening at Leyland, but it’s never been given enough attention nor has it really folded into the main narrative. Instead, it has existed on the fringes as less important — perhaps a metaphor for public and private schools — sometimes almost as an afterthought, and often pulling me out of the juicier plots that are swirling around. It’s an odd choice and it becomes even odder in “Season Two: Episode Nine” when Chris finds himself having to choose between defending his actions or making public amends in an attempt to keep his job. After Chris apologizes for his handling of the fight and admits that he has some racial bias — basically that he could not look past the racial slur (making this episode synergetic with last night’s American Crime Story)the conversation then pivots to Taylor. Chris is called out for not paying special attention to the Hispanic students — his argument was that he couldn’t possibly check up on every individual student in his school — but for going to Leyland to meet with Leslie about Taylor, a white student. Chris protests that it wasn’t about race but his earlier admission of racial bias comes back to bite him in the ass.

The thing is, this isn’t a bad storyline! It’s interesting and it’s a conversation starter. It explores racial biases that we aren’t aware that we have, and it does so through a black character. Chris isn’t racist, of course, but hearing the N-word clouded his judgment and made him rush to action. It also has smart things to say about public school funding and how Chris’ budget was so slashed that he couldn’t possibly get every student the attention that they need. It provides a neat (maybe too neat?) financial contrast to Leyland High. The problem is that these scenes in Marshall always felt so out of place and when they converged with the mention of Taylor, it didn’t really mean much.

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The rest of the episode is pretty great, though, as all the episodes have been this season. It swiftly deals with the “kidnapping” plot by having Peter call up Eric to come rescue him because their mother still hasn’t calmed down, still won’t accept Eric, and still won’t believe her husband even when she’s out of that house. The episode also features Steph Sullivan going to Anne’s house to admit that Becca is the one who gave Taylor drugs, and that the weed was stolen from Steph herself. It’s an uneasy conversation between two mothers each whose main objective is to protect her child. Steph wants Anne to talk to Taylor and try to keep Becca from being arrested but Anne refuses. Steph then quickly jumps to a calm threat: If Becca is named, then Becca will testify that she sold drugs to Taylor for the party too, and that Taylor lied to the police about basketball players drugging him.

Anne continues to get more and more desperate to save Taylor from sentencing. Sure, Sebastian leaked awful Leyland emails to the public, switching the narrative to show how callous the school is, but it doesn’t change the fact that Taylor still stole a gun and killed a student. (What the emails do accomplish, however, is Leslie dissolving the Leyland board; in an almost infuriatingly smart move, Leslie has the blame placed on everyone else because she was always careful to not say stupid things on the Internet, effectively destroying the board that was planning to force her resignation.) Anne doesn’t know what to do so she calls Sebastian again, asking him for more and more.

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Speaking of Sebastian, we’re starting to see his darker, creepier side tonight. Not that it’s any surprise considering he’s a guy who obsesses over media coverage, hacks for “justice,” and gets revenge on people he’s never met on behalf of other people he’s never met. Tonight, it’s starting to come out that he’s not really doing this for justice but because he wants to feel in control, he wants to get publicity, and he wants to be hailed for what he’s doing — hence why he admits his hacking to a reporter, a move that’s surely going to come back to haunt him.

In fact, there’s a lot of that going on in this episode from Chris’ earlier admission of racial bias to Kevin (after getting into a physical scuffle with a teammate) ‘fessing up about his boys assaulting Taylor. Kevin’s right in that he didn’t explicitly tell his teammates to go after Taylor (he was doing a lot of bullshit macho posturing in the conversation) but it sure does sound like he did, and now he’s willingly implicated himself but the result of this is still up in the air. As we head into next week’s season finale, everything is still up in the air: Taylor’s jail sentence, Becca and Kevin’s involvement, Sebastian’s hacking, and we still don’t even know the truth about what happened at the party. American Crime has a lot to get through in its last episode — let’s hope it does it right.

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Stray observations

  • Another interesting reveal this week is that we learn Evy was touched inappropriately by the student Mateo fought, furthering complicating Chris’ action to punish Mateo.
  • I loved the scene between Evy and Monica, and how it was done entirely in Spanish without subtitles.
  • Sebastian uses a webcam instead of a babysitter, further adding to his creepiness.
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