Punctuated by its signature theme music—a lugubrious violin dirge—American Crime seems to proceed with an inexorable, stuttered progression: one step forward (vis a vis an overall tragedy shared by the characters), two steps back in terms of narrative resolution. A full third of the way through the show’s 11-episode arc, not only are police no closer to pinning a murder rap on anyone, one suspected accomplice has been released, another is set to be deported regardless of his increasingly tenuous relationship to the crime and the prime suspect has been suddenly granted a new lease on freedom thanks to a surprise bail hearing.
But first, a bit about character evolution. Observed wrapping her head in a black hijab with serious deliberation, and delivering a galvanizing sermon to her mosque congregation, Aliyah is shown for what she really is: an articulate woman with a laser-like focus and an abiding sense of spirituality. Moreover, she is revealed in “Episode 4” as something like the anti-Barb: someone who sees herself facing a vast racial conspiracy, determined to fight both inside and outside the system. “Debt is slavery,” Aliyah says to her congregation. “Credit is slavery. To be greedy and selfish: That’s how they live.” They, of course, being white people. And their way of life being the thing to repudiate in favor of worshipping One True God.
Aliyah hires a lawyer, “Brother Timothy,” to replace Carter’s ineffectual public defender. And he soon uncovers that the ballistics on Carter’s gun do not match the caliber of bullets found in Matt’s body—that Carter’s DNA is nowhere to be found in Gwen’s rape kit. Previously held without bail (thanks to the seriousness of the charges against him and sheer volume of circumstantial evidence), Carter is granted a bail hearing; he could get out.
Alonzo, meanwhile, is confronted by his broadcast-across-the-airwaves abnegation of illegal immigrants as “giving the rest of us a bad name.” He wakes up one morning to see his auto body shop covered with graffiti branding the character a “pocho” (a derogatory term in Mexican Spanish that can be understood to mean race traitor) and, more explicitly, “sell out.” In turn, Alonzo picks up paintbrush and paint to cover up the accusation, a fairly apt metaphor for his predicament.
His son Tony, concurrently, is adapting to jail life thanks to formalizing a friendship with that juvie Sherpa from “Episode 3.” The boy counsels Tony to say what his parole officer wants to hear—that Tony will play nice with Alonzo—and, further, that once Tony gets back on the streets: “You get some hook-ups going, it gets out on the outside. You get some eses looking out for you, you’re not a bitch no more.”
In other jailhouse news, Hector maneuvers to drop out of his street gang, Los Cuetes, arguing to his shot caller, “I’m not slinking around like no bitch in the corner.” Further, it’s just a matter of weeks before he’s deported to Mexico, a span of time he hopes to pass quietly. Even while his gang overlords brand Hector a “stupid-ass loser,” they appear to initially assent. Traveling the prison hallways on crutches later in the episode, however, Hector’s face is brutally slashed by fellow Cuetes. The implicit message: blood in, blood out.
A sub-motif in “Episode 4” is one of reluctant adjustment to horrible circumstances. Matt’s Army-enlisted brother Mark Skokie (David Hoflin) comes to Modesto for an indefinite stay, functioning in part as Barb’s rock in the storm. Russ is now gainfully employed at the garden center of a big box home improvement store and living at a motel. While Aubry is regularly—eye-rollingly—attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the behest of her adoptive father. Her mother and brother show up in Modesto in full-on intervention mode. Cut to scenes of Aubry furtively scoring heroin from a fellow N.A. attendee and sniffing bumps off her knuckle in some kind of park.
The character’s mom attempts to lure her home to Wisconsin where she is offered a stint in rehab. But Aubry insists she must stay in California for Carter’s benefit. Mom surprises everyone by announcing she’ll stay too. “Maybe I’ll learn to see what it is you like so much about this place,” she tells Aubry.
NEXT: Justice is served?[pagebreak]
All of which is riveting but brings narrative resolution no closer, everything in “Episode 4” essentially serving to muddy the characters’ various states of existential limbo. Cue the bail hearing where Carter and Aubry see one another face to face for the first time in weeks. And their near-silent exchange of “love yous” threatens to supersede Carter’s primary reason for appearing in court. Brother Timothy shatters the D.A.’s case by pointing out that Matt had a “sellable” amount of drugs in the house when he was murdered.
“’Sellable’ is a reach, your honor,” the district attorney says.
“Then what would you call it?” Timothy fires back. “A lifetime supply?”
With the knock of a gavel, it’s decided that Carter can go free if he can post a $100,000 bond. And Aliyah shocks her brother with the news that she has raised that amount by cashing in her savings, taking out loans and taking up a collection at her temple.
“Those people don’t know me,” Carter says, bewildered.
“If you’re known by Allah, you’re known by us. Freedom is close.”
But freedom has strings attached: Carter must embrace Islam—a spirituality he has repeatedly condemned as so much claptrap—and, worse, turn his back on Aubry. He balks at those demands but is effectively stifled by his own dire straits. “It’s not a negotiation,” Aliyah tells Carter, “it’s a condition.”
Silent, comatose, and intubated three ways from the neck up, Gwen has remained the American Crime’s great X-factor up until this point. Tom finds out that detectives have interviewed the men whose DNA was discovered by her rape kit examination. And over a detective’s objections, he demands to read the police report. The camera pans across certain disturbing phrases in the report: “she liked it to hurt” and “choke her” and “wanted it in the ass” and “all three of us would…”; in Tom’s face, we register every father’s worst nightmare.
Later, in the D.A.’s office discussing the possibility of Carter getting out on parole, Tom and Eve, Russ, Barb and Mark engage in a concussive round of the blame game. After Barb continues to assert Matt’s innocence in the face of Tony Montana-sized quantities of meth and cocaine discovered at his home, Tom demands: “Admit it Barb, your son was a drug addict and a drug dealer!”
Barb responds, “Your daughter was the one sleeping around.”
To which Tom explodes: “My daughter was a slut! At least I can admit it. So Barb, admit your son was an addict.”
But she doesn’t. Not even close. “How do you know they weren’t Gwen’s drugs?” Barb asks. “How do you know she wasn’t getting high before passing herself around?”
“Episode 4” ends with another narrative Jenga piece being removed from the teetering understanding viewers have of Matt’s character. Mark visits Tom to deliver some surprising news: Matt was hardly the American hero Barb makes him out to be. He was dealing and using drugs prior to 9/11 and Barb forced Matt to enlist in the military as a trap door out of that life.
“These lies are all my mom has,” Mark says. “Her husband left. Her son’s dead; all she has is a fantasy.”
Across the city, Eve and Tom are shown having the kind of argument that ends marriages in the presence of comatose Gwen. Tom insists she “didn’t love us. She humored us,” while Eve risibly reminds him that—for whatever Gwen’s freaky sexual predilections—she is still their daughter, she deserves their support. A heart-rate monitor begins to beep more quickly. A nurse proposes sedating the patient. Why sedate her when she’s already in a coma, Tom asks.
Gwen’s eyes snap open. Violins swell.