So it would appear to end not with a bang but a whimper. After inscribing herself so deeply into the weave of Modesto’s social fabric—leveling accusations of reverse racism before various law enforcement officials and howling for victim’s rights on the local news, taking a defiant stand against “those people” wherever her perceived challenges lay and enduring at least two horrible mini-mall hairdo makeovers—Barb’s bottomless reservoir of rage seems to have finally been drained, giving way to battered resignation.
“I’m done,” she says curtly to Russ toward the end of Episode 10. “I’m taking myself out of this.”
The catalyst for this most incendiary of characters change of heart: Barb has registered the news of Aubry’s paradigm-shifting psych ward confession. And even while the grieving mother remains convinced of Carter’s guilt, unable to process mounting evidence that Matt was an inveterate scumbag—an attempted rapist and wife beater in addition to being a cuckolded drug dealer and meth head—she understands that achieving the kind of justice she seeks within a system that is fundamentally “broken” remains neigh impossible. “The only people getting punished around here are us,” Barb says to Russ before handing over the snub nosed revolver she bought in Episode Nine and taking off.
American Crime’s penultimate installment is chock-a-block with institutional exits and bumpy transitions of one kind or another, although by next Thursday, almost anything could still happen to these characters. It’s the calm before the proverbial storm episode, a pre-denouement in between the race riot and justice being served.
For her part, Aubry aggressively dismisses her foster father’s attempts to overturn her confession and basically tells him to get lost. She does, however, demand a psychic evaluation to determine how admissible her testimony will be and her fitness to stand trial; there is some kind of strategy afoot but Aubry’s overall endgame is unclear.
In light of recent events, Aliyah all but beats on her chest in victory. Post-confession, she demands the deputy DA action Carter’s release lest her mosque group begin agitating a false imprisonment campaign. Moreover, she meets her brother behind bars one more time to debrief him about his impending freedom—no small task considering she’s also managing to keep him completely in the dark about how an admission of guilt by Carter’s One True Love™ is singularly responsible for his freedom.
And so Carter remains the show’s bewildered pawn: the tragic figure buffeted by society’s latent disdain for suicidal people and beaten down to a shadow of himself by the American criminal justice system while simply trying to remain true to his heart. Adding insult to what will almost inevitably turn into a devastating psychic injury, Aliyah asks for Carter’s “trust” in spite of his earlier misgivings about her sisterly love and political motives. “Don’t trust anything you are going to hear,” she warns him in what one imagines to be famous last words.
Meanwhile, Hector’s fate is changing swiftly. Awoken from jailhouse slumber by an aggressive prosecutor to be asked a battery of questions about Carter’s alleged murder weapon, Hector is finally and thoroughly discredited and deported back to Mexico; the American Crime has jumped the country’s southern border.
NEXT: And it doesn’t go well for Hector there either[pagebreak]
It matters not his remorse over a daughter he will likely never see grow up or that Hector’s stated intention was to give the D.A.’s office precisely what it forced his hand to deliver: a false accusation. His credibility is blown; he has no chips to bargain. And after a trip on the Grey Goose, Hector discovers his ability to live or die in Mexico resides with a judge—not a jury—who will weigh the character’s Sinaloa murder rap (committed in self defense, Hector claims) against the testimony of an as-yet unidentified eye witness.
Given his abject circumstances, given the near-total absence of hope he has endured for the show’s run so far—the shooting, stabbing, gangsta ridicule, and legal railroading—there is little reason for optimism. Hector’s dreams of landing a technology job and living “in the mountains” drift further and further out of reach; the TV fates have been particularly cruel about denying this immigrant’s American dream.
But that said, things were looking pretty dark for Tony, too. The machinations of the private lawyer Alonzo has sold his garage to pay, the getting his assault case moved to family court (where father and son are assured the judge wants nothing more than their reunion as a family unit)—it will be all for nothing if Tony doesn’t land some character witnesses to vouch that his metal-pipe beat-down of Joaquin is not the be-all indicator of criminal intent it might otherwise seem.
And despite his efforts canvassing Modesto, Alonzo can’t find anyone to give Tony that co-sign. So it falls to the boy’s increasingly desperate father, Uncle Oscar, and Jenny to conjure the argument that will keep Tony—still Charmin-soft at his core even after two stints in juvie and the institutional support of a street gang—from being tried as an adult and sentenced to hard time in the penitentiary.
Since somewhere around the show’s half-way point, I have in private moments despaired at Tony’s predicament, expecting all his better intentions to be rewarded with life in the slammer. (Blame that inexorable way American Crime has of crushing its characters’ smallest hopes under a polemical wheel.) So when Jenny, seated before the family court judge, transitioned from her go-to spiel about Tony being a “good kid” to a full-on admission of her share in his guilt—the soliloquy about Tony as her protector and his lifelong mission to uphold that responsibility—I was actually shocked. Much more so than when Aubry revealed that she, not Carter, was Matt’s murderer.
Jenny’s small kiss on Alonzo’s cheek. Alonzo landing mechanic work at an auto garage run by the same kind of “illegals” he publicly castigated before. Tony hugging Alonzo with genuine warmth and gratitude after his (apparently successful) court hearing. We have waited until the show’s second-to-last episode for these grace notes. And after so much onscreen misery showcasing a system—a populace, really—out of control, to see the Gutierrezes come back shakily together as a unit arrives as more than a relief. It’s a tiny but bright, much-needed beacon of hope.
It somewhat blunts the blow of seeing Aubry behind bulletproof glass in black and white stripes pleading guilty to first-degree felony murder.