'American Crime' recap: Episode Three
The murder case is no closer to being solved—and everyone is having uncomfortable conversations.
With Matt’s murder now a month old, police seemingly no closer to establishing a motive for Gwen’s coma-inducing assault and a legal custody battle brewing over where to inter the cadaver, “Episode Three” propels the American Crime narrative forward focused around an uncomfortable conversation.
Namely, the kind of ruinous disconnect between mom, dad, and the kids that lurks, awaiting the slightest disruption in order to manifest itself, beneath the veneer of normality. The episode darkly illustrates how children can grow up to realize their elders’ worst fears and force the kind of personal evolution for which almost none of the characters are prepared.
We open with a scene of domestic unease focused around Jenny Martinez’s increasing recalcitrance toward Alonzo’s stern parentage. But as he leaves for work, Alonzo comes face to face with a TV news crew that has evidently staked them out to question Tony’s involvement in Matt’s murder—perhaps the truest indication of the Martinez family arriving on America’s crime radar. Alonzo stays on his most passionate topic, railing publicly against Tony’s accused co-conspirator, Hector, as an “illegal,” a Mexican immigrant in America that makes “the rest of us look bad.”
Cut to a queasy meeting between Barb, Nancy, and the Modesto district attorney inside the corridors of justice. Barb remains the most fully realized dramatic creation of American Crime mastermind John Ridley, clearly the designated bomb-throwing character into whose mouth he loves funneling the most incendiary of dialogue. And here Barb—who also receives a poofed-up Super Cuts hairdo that serves to exacerbate rather than mitigate her skittering hate vibes—doesn’t disappoint.
Clinging to her stubborn “blame the victim beliefs,” she makes clear to the DA that landing a conviction for Matt’s death is only one of the things on her to-do list. Attempting to build an argument of anti-white bias based around prior statements made by Carter and Hector is, in fact, job one. Ergo, Barb’s knock-on outrage over the slings and arrows she suffered from color in public housing years ago makes itself felt in her cri de Coeur to the D.A.: “If a white person hated blacks then shot a black, you’d charge him with a hate crime. You know it!”
Hector is shown grimacing through physical rehab with a doctor itemizing his muscle graft, reduced mobility, femur damage and the lifelong limp he can expect thanks to being shot by police in a video store parking lot during the pilot—an outcome that bewildered the character at the time and still seems to visibly perplex him after four weeks in police custody. Hector is also informed that he can expect to be deported back to Mexico in a few weeks, once he has convalesced. Which is when a fellow inmate advises him to “be productive.” That is, steal pain meds from the infirmary to sell on the jail’s lucrative black market.
And Russ is shown trying to get a job in the flower department of a Home Depot-like home improvement center, having lost his employment back in Arizona thanks to his open-ended leave of absence. The scene is short but impactful. Where Barb is wild-eyed and accusatory, full of grandiloquence and fury, Russ seems shell-shocked and fragile yet brimming with world-weary realism. In the episode, he also effectively teams up with Tom and Eve for Team Oakland Burial and has a process server blindside Barb with papers to push along the process of finding a gravesite for Matt—a function toward which she appears congenitally resistant.
The parent-kid stuff is rendered in three jarring strokes. The mysterious man at the other end of Aubry’s anguished collect call in Episode Two turns out to be none other than her adoptive father, a man who evidently cares but whose patience has worn thin via years of his daughter’s chaos, addiction, and self-destruction.
Her attitudes toward escapism and her doomed love with Carter are revealed in a nifty piece of voice-over: “I see a better life, that’s why I do it,” Aubry is heard saying. “When you get high, you look in a mirror or out a window; I look at a magazine and life looks better or slower. Or has more color. Something. It’s just not regular. I can’t be regular. I get down on people who want to be regular. That’s their thing.”
Although Aubry clings to the belief that Carter couldn’t possibly be Matt’s killer, she agrees to refocus her drive, receive counseling, and meet with her estranged mother and brother in return for consultation with a lawyer (presumably to spring Carter from the hoosegow).
NEXT: Bad parental advice
Tony, meanwhile, continues to be preyed upon by his Caucasian juvenile hall tormentor from Episode Two on the basketball court. The kid bloodies Tony’s nose with an errantly tossed ball. Which is the precise moment, salvation comes by way of another, considerably more thugged-out Latino boy who gets the white bully off Tony’s back and, in turn, becomes a presence Tony refers later to Jenny as “someone looking out for me.” It’s a jail-yard allegiance with certain sinister implications given Tony’s rapidly evolving grasp of race and power; some kind of recruitment has occurred.
As Jenny explains to the probation officer who interviews her about the family’s home life: “The only thing Papi did wrong—Mami died and Papi, you lose somebody, you don’t want to lose anybody else. Tony was the baby. Papi treated him like the baby.”
Across town, Tom sets off on a campaign of agitating to gain access to Gwen’s emails for clues of what led to her predicament. He and Eve continue to fitfully process information from the police that Gwen was not sexually assaulted and had consensual sexual relations with multiple men before she was attacked—until the penny drops. Eve admits that Gwen had confided her marriage to Matt was dissolving. Worse, “Gwen said she needed to be with other men,” Eve tells her husband. “She felt very lonely. Things got worse and Matt got into drugs.”
“She wanted gratification,” she continues. “She wanted to be around someone.”
Most jarring of all, Eve is the one who counseled Gwen to stay with Matt, the implication being that this piece of advice directly led to her being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In that way, American Crime provides a nifty bookend to Alonzo’s urging Tony to speak to police outside the presence of a lawyer, a hasty act that proves his undoing.
For his part, Carter receives a visit in jail by an initially mysterious woman wearing a hijab. Through a glass partition, she counsels him to humble himself, and “beg Allah for forgiveness.” This is his sister Aliyah (Regina King). And when the former junkie tells her where she can take her religious posturing, she reads Carter the riot act.
“What do you need? Drugs?” Aliyah asks. “Sex with that little white girl? You wonder why you’re accused. You take their drugs and sleep with their women and they put you in a cage!” When she refuses to communicate his reassurances to Aubry, Carter angrily calls for a jailer to take him back to his cell.
From there, the episode closes with some good news and some bad news. First the good news: Tony’s probation officer notifies Alonzo that he does not believe Tony had any direct knowledge of the murder and will not be referring his case to the DA’s office. Then the bad: Tony’s behavior—coupled with his refusal to allow Alonzo to visit him in juvvie—suggests the single-parent home environment can’t sustain the kid. While Tony will receive parole, “We don’t think home is the best environment for Tony,” the officer tells Alonzo, adding he needs “interdiction and counseling.”
Mute despair registers across a father’s face in a moment is simply wrenching. The officer adds: “How are you going to help him when he doesn’t want to talk to you?”