American Crime recap: Episode Nine
And we finally learn who committed the 'American Crime.'
And so we finally come to the original sin. Nine episodes into the show’s heartrending 11-installment arc, after so many dead-ends and red herrings, false accusations and travesties of justice, dashed hopes and characters’ terrible decisions, we are granted an admission of guilt—a maximum mea culpa—for the central crime at the heart of American Crime.
Until now, this crime has remained impossible to pin down: many different things to so many people. It has been, to be sure, a death sentence (for Matt Skokie), a literal mind eraser for Gwen (still stricken with aphasia) and a new lease on life (for Hector, who lands himself in the witness protection program, reunited with his estranged girlfriend in from Sinaloa and 4-year-old daughter). It has also managed to somewhat mend sibling fences between Aliyah and Carter and foster a tenuous reconciliation between Barb and Russ (who legitimately fears his ex might commit suicide with her newly bought snub-nose revolver if Carter goes free). But as well, the crime exploded with the force of a cluster bomb, tearing asunder three families who will never be the same going forward.
Alonzo plods through daily existence looking like he’s been cold-cocked with a two-by-four now that Jenny moved into Uncle Oscar’s house and Tony is back in juvie facing sentencing as an adult for his viciously pipe attack on Joaquim; Tony’s overwhelmed public defender attempting to pass the buck to an expensive private lawyer. Eve and Tom seem on the verge of spiritual collapse after swallowing the bitter pill that Gwen will require adult diapers—on the heels of Tom’s continuing struggle to register his daughter was a “slut” at the time she was attacked.
And thanks to Audry’s shocking Episode Seven accusation that Brian ritually and habitually sexually abused her, his life is being turned upside down by police investigation while Audry’s foster father—the softee of the family—has withdrawn all support for her. Ruth takes matters into her own hands by confronting Carter in prison to say: “Please help save her” by walking away from the woman he calls his savior.
It is through Ruth’s efforts that Carter realizes the tired “It’s the world against Aubry and me” narrative holds no real hope for either of them. So he accepts a plea deal with the DA to shoulder a minimum 15-year sentence capital murder. But first, Carter communicates his decision wordlessly, via a gesture that sends Aubry into paroxysms of anguish. With Brother Timothy functioning as their intermediary, he sends her a magazine photograph of an inter-racial couple kicking back in paradise ripped into two pieces. It’s the aspirational image that sustained Aubry and Carter through so many junkie days of opiates and squalor as the beacon for a gleaming future just out of reach, now a visual metaphor that their fever dream of love on the run is over.
Which is what prompts Aubry to finally and formally claim responsibility for Carter’s alleged crimes.
Which is what shines a spotlight on the act of violence and retribution that sealed this disparate group of characters’ inter-locking fates.
NEXT: The truth comes out
In front of Deputy DA Soderbergh and her foster mom and dad in an interview room at the psychiatric hospital, Aubry fires her lawyer in order to say on the record: “I shot Matt. I shot his wife.”
And from there, the gamine junkie spins a baroque tale of woe. It begins with Carter going over to Matt’s house to score (thereby confirming the dead man’s past as a drug dealer of local renown), where Matt attempted to negotiate the swapping of sexual favors from Aubry for heavy drugs. When the deal resulted in a zero sum game—“Carter comes back and tells me Matt Skokie was all, ‘Nigger this’ and ‘Nigger that.’ ‘Nigger, your white bitch,” Aubry recalls for the prosecutors—she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Here is where we discover that the American Crime in question is an even more multi-faceted offense than we had previously imagined. Although this reviewer was not exactly startled or even caught off guard by the revelation that Aubry had committed the murder-assault—Carter’s insistence upon his innocence coupled with his overall recalcitrance at describing any details of the night’s events during his previous court appearances suggested as much by their omission—her new deposition was illuminating in several regards.
- The crime at the heart of American Crime is a crime of passion. Aubry heads to Matt’s place with the stated intention of wanting to “get some business handled.” In short, Carter was too cool to care about Matt’s racism, but Aubry found his comments egregious enough to borrow their roommate Everett’s gun in order to mete out street justice on behalf of her true love.
- The crime is a sex crime. Does it matter that Aubry had traded sex for drugs with Matt in the past? (As a kind of glancing blow, she added: “His wife wasn’t putting out—not for him anyway. He was pretty hard up.”) When she showed up to confront Matt, he punched her and started ripping at Aubry’s clothes as a precursor to what she feared would be full-on sexual assault. This is what most directly compelled her to shoot Matt in the face. And confronted with Gwen coming out of a back bedroom holding something “big and gnarly enough to kill” in her hands, Aubry ended up blasting the woman, too.
- The crime is not a hate crime. Regardless of Hector’s muttered testimony about Carter castigating Matt as a “white bitch”—or, for that matter, Barb’s various bigoted television appearances and the neo-Nazi lady who got shot in Episode Eight’s march melee—with Aubry taking responsibility for the muder-assault, the race card is finally off the table.
By way of denouement to so many answered questions, the episode ends with a touching tête-á-tête between Barb and Russ. Having moved into Matt and Gwen’s blood-drenched crime-scene apartment, he uncovers photos of Matt and Mark as boys and reminds his ex: “It wasn’t all bad.”
Maybe it’s because Barb’s focus has shifted from offense to defense (her come-to-Jesus “Am I a racist?” moment in Episode Eight and the brick to her car window in Episode Nine not withstanding), she allows Russ a meandering philosophical rumination that touches on gambling, the universe, control issues, roulette odds, and their shared past. “We all have to live with the things we’ve done,” he concludes. “We’ve got to live, Barb.”