American Crime is doing amazing things with television this season. Granted, it started this endevour in the first season but it’s more amplified now. It’s heavier, it’s darker, it’s downright traumatic at points. Yet it’s not operating purely under dramatic flair; American Crime is aiming to do something important and it’s actually following through.

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“Season Two: Episode Eight” is an episode that almost defies grading. How do you put a letter grade on an hour of television that is interspersed with heartbreaking interviews with a teacher from Columbine, the mother of a gay son who committed suicide, a genderqueer victim of bullying? It’s a move that the more cynical could have assumed would be exploitative or just a way to cheaply add dramatic tension to a series that is built entirely on dramatic tension. Instead, it was done well and handled with care: Neither the interviews nor the fictional plots felt forced or out of place, there was a nice balance that made the interruptions feel mostly natural, and it added to the overall narrative instead of distracting from it. Most of all, it made the fictional real. It reminded us that yes, this is a scripted program but yes, these are occurrences (rape, violence, bullying, school shootings) that happen in real life and, unfortunately, far too often.

Picking up two days after the shooting, a school assembly headed by Coach Dan reveals that Wes died. Dan pleads with the students to love each other, says that “hate, death, guns in school” shouldn’t be “the new normal.” The students are obviously distraught—we get shots of the memorial, students crying and comforting each other—as are the faculty, but it’s also reflective of “the new normal” that life, and classes, have to go on. (Except final exams, at least?) For obvious reasons, this is hitting Headmaster Leslie especially hard. Taylor waited for over an hour for Leslie, just waiting to take aim. Leslie knows that she was targeted, she knows that she could be dead, and she knows—even if she won’t ever admit it—that she definitely had a hand in making Taylor’s life hell. It’s finally starting to catch up with her, too, as some people are calling for her resignation (the school board is split on the decision), most notably Dan. Their confrontation in the gym is a long time coming—Dan speaks with total honesty about how he feels she poorly handled the situation, and with sadness as he reels off the horrors his team has faced in such a short amount of time (accused of rape, tried to kill himself, murdered). It’s a stark contrast with Leslie whose personality means she is always to remain emotionless, practical, defensive, and analytical—Dan says she looked at this like it was a math problem—though we do get a glimpse of her being truly shaken up in private, at home, makeup-less and distraught.

How are other characters dealing with this? Eric’s mother fled along with his younger brother. She is convinced that her husband “did things” to Eric, and that’s the reason why Eric is gay. It’s such faulty, fucked-up, and damaging “logic,” especially when she keeps stating that Eric was “normal” “before” he was gay. Eric himself is confronted by his father about the men that Eric meets on websites and apps, arguing that Eric is trying to kill himself “every way [he] know[s] how” which doesn’t seem entirely off. Eric doesn’t have any clandestine meetings with strangers this week, just an antagonistic meeting with Kevin where he confronts Kevin for having the team physically assault Taylor.

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Another plot introduced involves Becca Sullivan, who confesses to her father that she’s the one who provided Taylor with the drugs (including pot she stole from her mom, which just further strains the Sullivans’ relationship) he was on when he shot Wes. The parents disagree on what to do—though Dan quickly smashes her phone, which Steph points out just makes Becca look guilty—and I’m pretty eager to see how this one is going to play out.

American Crime returns to that familiar sight of prison visitation from the first season in “Season Two: Episode Eight” when Anne visits Taylor. Taylor’s detached and eerily calm, his expression barely changing as he explains to his mother that he went from “a space of wanting to hurt myself” to a place where he thought, why not hurt the ones who have hurt him—and especially hurt his mother—instead? Anne, understandably, is at a loss of what exactly she can do to help her son. He’s likely going to be tried as an adult (Anne’s “stand your ground” and “self-defense” defense isn’t going to hold up) and it’s suggested he take a plea deal—but Anne thinks that’s ridiculous considering Eric didn’t have to take a plea deal (or anything) when Taylor accused him of rape. But there’s another important point for her to take into consideration: She lives in a town with “backwards views on gays” so does she want them deciding how long Taylor will be in prison?

Anne finds out there might be another option to help her son. Sebastian, who has been keeping a close eye on the news even as Anne continues to ignore his calls, decides to just drive out there and meet up with her in person. Desperate, Anne agrees. Sebastian is something of a cyber vigilante, a person who watches injustices happen on the web and tries to fix them because he knows that police are ill-equipped to do so themselves. Harming others on the Internet deserves consequences just as harming people in the real, physical world does. His plan is to find some dirt on the school—there’s “always something”—and use it to help Anne and Taylor out. And they could definitely use all the help they can get.

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Stray observations

  • I didn’t mention the real life interviews much because they speak for themselves but suffice to say, the teacher admitting that there’s no guarantee that one of the students she loves won’t shoot her? That just destroyed me.
  • “I couldn’t accept failure in you because I couldn’t accept failure in myself.” - Terri apologizing to her fired employee was also a good moment
  • Another good and very complicated moment is Michael LaCroix admitting that there’s a certain amount of vindication he feels about Taylor being a murderer, essentially getting himself punished after—how Michael sees it—trying to destroy’s Kevin’s future and reputation.

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