It happened on the basketball court at night, on a quiet street with few witnesses. But if anybody expected Tony’s steel-pipe-to-the-jaw beatdown of Jenny’s high school tormentor Joaquin in Episode Six to stay below the Modesto PD’s radar, they must not have been paying attention to the cell phone video Tony’s “boys” reveled in re-watching on repeat around the taco truck. It’s the kind of youthful indiscretion captured by modern technology and passed around social media like so many peanut M&Ms that ruins lives—in this case, a life already on the downward spiral thanks to a combo of being at the wrong place at the wrong time mixed with acquired wisdom from the School of Hard Knocks™. (Specifically, Tony’s juvenile hall homey of a homey put the pipe in his hand and told Tony it was payback time.)
So, with the inevitability of tides in Thursday’s episode, the teenager again finds himself behind bars. And Tony’s fate rests with a prosecutor who will have to make a difficult judgment call: Is the character a victim of circumstance—an innocent boy misidentified as an accomplice to a murder he had nothing to do with—or a bona fide criminal?
Never mind that question can only exist because of Tony’s experiences within the criminal justice system. This far into the show, we understand American Crime is as much about the formation of American political consciousness as it is about solving a brutal murder-assault.
A quick status update: Gwen has been diagnosed with Aphasia, a brain disorder that has curtailed her ability to communicate and, moreover, seemingly obliterated her memories of Matt, the drugs in their house, or any of the men with whom she was sleeping. She’s in no state to provide witness testimony. “How do we move on from something my daughter can’t even remember?” Eve asks a local priest. “And if we don’t tell Gwen the truth, are we just living lies all over again?”
Barb’s one-woman race war grows to finally include Asians with the introduction of Mark’s fiancée Richelle Yoon (Gwendoline Yeo), a military officer who flies in from Germany for a bracing jolt of her future mother-in-law’s bigotry. At first, Richelle handles Barb’s barbs admirably enough. Then things get knotty. Barb accuses her of “putting things” in Matt’s head before twisting the screws hard with an insinuation sure to pop up in couples therapy for years to come: “Is he marrying you because he has something to work out with me?” she asks.
Russ, meanwhile, gets laid off from his Home Depot-esque big box store for lying on his application about having never been convicted of a felony; someone mysteriously brought this info to his boss’ attention. Could it be a person angry at Barb’s grieving-mother grandstanding on local TV? Russ thinks so.
With clockwork-like consistency, characters rail against “the system”—how it’s broken, corrupt, unfixable, racist, etc.—and in Episode Seven we see Hector suddenly use that shaky infrastructure to his own advantage. Trading the DA his testimony against Carter for better prison conditions, a reduced sentence, and, most importantly, the promise not to deport Hector back to Sinaloa where he is facing a separate murder rap, the convict delivers damning testimony about Carter’s alleged hate crime.
“It was all about ‘this white boy, this white boy,’ was talking all crazy to him,” Hector says with a camera rolling. “Up in his grill. When things got hectic, he shot him in the face.”
Surrounding all of that, the episode features a number of desperate people needing help, asking for help and getting little of what they require for the effort. Back in juvie, Alonzo attempts a little tough love with Tony, piquantly informing him Papi is all the help Tony’s got. So now might not be the time to turn a cold adolescent shoulder with the teenage petulant thing. “You ‘helped’ me last time,” Tony reminds Alonzo, a nod to his father’s Episode One advice to cooperate with cops without a lawyer present.
NEXT: Here comes the episode’s requisite bad news