Aubry tells her story, and Tony finds himself behind bars again.

By Chris Lee
April 17, 2015 at 03:01 AM EDT
Van Redin/ABC

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

We find Carter in a wretched state, beaten bloody by guards and suffering through lonely days in solitary confinement. In a tearful sequence, he lays himself bare to Aliyah. Turns out Carter once attempted to hang himself as a kind of last-ditch response to his middle class torpor and feelings of alienation: something his sister never knew. And Carter credits Aubry with saving his life—an alternate reading of how the character has been portrayed until now as a relatively self-obsessed temptress in constant search of oblivion and escape. “I don’t know how to make things right,” Carter says to Aliyah. “I don’t know how to get Aubry back. I need you. Please help me.”

Things get worse for Alonzo on the home front when he discovers Jenny wants to move in with her aunt and uncle. Clearly at the end of his tether, wild-eyed at the reality that his family has disintegrated around him, Alonzo makes an uncharacteristically anguished plea. “Mija, I need your help!” he tells Jenny.

“I’ve been helping you since I was 10,” arrives her reply. That’s how old Jenny was when her mother passed away, forcing Jenny to assume a kind of spousal supporting role she never wanted to assume.

But no episode of American Crime would be complete without at least one devastating blunderbuss of bad news. And Thursday’s contains two. Furthering the “Matt, we hardly knew ye” critical mass of evidence Barb has been attempting to sweep under the rug since the pilot, a congregant at Aliyah’s mosque unearths damaging information from the dead man’s personal computer. A) a photo taken during a paintball shooting outing with friends of a man in an Obama mask held up like some hunter’s game trophy on Matt’s Facebook page. The caption: “Went hunting today.” B) an ISP history full of visits by Matt to so-called “Patriot groups” and anti-government websites. “People are calling him the 9/11 hero, not the anti-government drug dealer he actually was,” Aliyah informs a worker in the mayor’s office who declines to take on her cause.

Finally, it is Aubry’s turn for a solemn soliloquy in the presence of a lawyer and her gathered foster family: her father, mother, and grad-school-enrolled brother. Facing up to 45 years in prison for charges including intent to kill, felony drug possession, and attempted flight, Aubry is allowed to cop a plea in exchange for testimony against Carter, according to the DA. So Aubry lays out what she’d be willing to say in court.

“I don’t know when the bad things started, but it was shortly after we met,” she says with quiet deliberation. “Sexual, psychological, physical. Bad things. I kept telling myself, it’s not abusive. He really loves me. But I was trapped, and he knew that.”

“It all started with beer,” she continues with the world-weary voice of a tortured soul laying out the road map that led to her self-destruction town. “He said it made me happy. And he liked me better like that… He’d get me wasted so I couldn’t do anything when his friends came over. I would get passed around and I couldn’t defend myself. I begged for them to stop.”

The lawyer leaps up in theatrical indignation. Carter passed her around?! The answer, of course, is no. Not Carter. Aubry’s foster brother is the one who ritually sexually abused her, she says. A fiery “the lady doth protest too much” outburst from him and her brother is dragged from the interrogation room breathing fire and brimstone all the way.

“I’m messed up,” says Aubry. “I’m not mentally fit to testify against anybody.” And while that may or may not be true, the character is shown for what she is: pathologically and constitutionally incapable of being any but her own worst enemy.