The ambitious ABC drama's first season comes to a close with a focus on forgiveness.
Forgiveness. It’s the most important yet least utilized word in American Crime’s season finale. In three different church services attended by three different families all connected by the titular violent act, the messages were all focused on the preciousness of forgiveness. “True forgiveness, it’s a phenomenal act, but one we each have the capacity to perform,” Tom and Eve’s minister states, while the sermon Aliyah hears touches on the danger of those who refuse to perform this phenomenal act. “If we as a people cannot forgive, then we as a people are cursed to hate.” Words that ring true in life—but especially in the lives of our characters of American Crime.
After the words that set the tone for the rest of the finale, the episode delved straight into Hector’s incarceration in Sinaloa with his lawyer attempting to convince him to mount some kind of defense during his trial. But try as the lawyer might, Hector won’t even give out names for those who can vouch for his character. “If the only reason I’m fighting is to save me,” Hector states, “Well I don’t know how to be good to myself like that anymore.” Hector’s trial story was easily the fastest wrap up American Crime presented during the season finale, probably because heavy focus was put on Carter and Aubry’s heartbreaking ends. But I would have liked a little more exploration into why Hector refuses to forgive his decisions enough to defend himself for the chance at a fresh start. The fact that the prosecution’s star witness could not be located to provide testimony and the judge’s comments about gang cases being a “waste of time” after throwing out the trial speak to the power of those in charge of gangs and cartels in Mexico. It seems likely that this witness was killed by someone in that world, but Hector doesn’t seem to know anything about it.
Meanwhile Russ is desperately still trying to grapple with the fact that Carter is a free man and that his family has been torn apart. Barb is still in her “I’m taking myself out of this” phase, and Mark and Richelle are heading back to Germany to get away from this mess. Russ cannot let go, even attempting to reconcile in both the emotional and physical way after he confronts Barb at her house. “I don’t care Russ,” she states as nothing changes the harder they work to keep fighting. Russ continues to hold on for dear life to trying to rebuild his family after their tragedy despite everyone else letting go. But Barb knows the truth, “The only thing that was keeping us together was something brutal. It’s behind us so now we’re scattering.” “You don’t have to accept it,” Russ replies. His obsessive need to keep his family together is partially what makes him commit such a heinous act later in the finale. And while his aggressive attempts go horribly wrong, he does have a point when he tells Barb she doesn’t have to be alone.
Tony and his family continue on their slow but steady rise back to semi-normalcy, but it’s clear that Tony’s past transgressions won’t be forgotten anytime soon. After taunts about Tony’s juvie stints result in a fight, Alonzo is called to the school to talk about his son’s history—despite Tony doing nothing wrong. Alonzo can take it no longer and refuses to hear anything more from the woman if all she can do is look at his son in a prejudicial light. Alonzo sees this being a wider-spread problem and plans to leave Modesto for San Jose for a fresh start and a new job opportunity, but Jenny’s not ready for the move and would rather stay with Carlos and his family in Modesto. “You should feel happy,” Jenny tells her father. “You raised us to take care of ourselves.” But Jenny promises that no matter what, she won’t leave her father alone.
We go from hopeful to complete hopelessness: Newly released, Carter still can’t quite put words to how he’s feeling. He also doesn’t learn that Aubry has confessed to the crimes until Brother Timothy explains that Aubry had detailed evidence that only the killer would know about what happened that night, and she claimed she was the only one there on the night. Timothy then adds, rather suspiciously, a line about how “Lies come back on the liars.” Are we to believe the popular theory that Carter and Aubry had a Bonnie and Clyde moment and were both involved in killing Matt and almost killing Gwen? Or did Carter do the crime all on his own? He then gets up and whispers something to Aliyah. Perhaps its a confession, but we never find out the truth. Instead we then see him go straight to the hospital to visit Aubry, who continues to believe she and Carter will be together.
NEXT: Russ refuses to let go until one final, bloody act
Carter, however, is much more hardened by reality than Aubry. He knows that the paradise from the beach ads will never happen, even if Aubry has a special way of making dreams feel so real. Carter’s theories about love stemming from his childhood imaginary girlfriend hammered the point home a lot stronger than necessary I think, but he knows their truth. “It’s not real,” Carter tells her point blank. “You can’t be the girl in my head and I can’t be the guy you’re walking on the beach with in a magazine.” But regardless of Carter’s protests, Aubry stands firm in her idea of their future together, “You’re going to come back to me and we are going to be phenomenal.”
But Russ has other plans. Carter heads to a bar for a drink, but all he can do is picture his dream version of Aubry (or Elaine). So he sits down outside to make a call to the hospital to talk to her (a freedom she gets as part of her rehabilitation). Before he can really say anything of importance, Russ comes up and shoots Carter in the head with Barb’s old revolver, before walking across the street and turning the piece on himself in front of the cops. After Barb is sent in to identify Russ’ body, Mark and Richelle offer to help with the funeral arrangements and other details that need completing, but Barb replies, “Weren’t you very desirous to be done with your father and your racist mother? It’s a show. It’s over now.” But Barb can’t handle her reality, and as she breaks down by her car, Mark and Richelle run over to help as Richelle offers advice, “It’s gotta stop. We can’t keep burying this family… You gotta decide what you want from this life.” Her words fade, but it seems as though Barb might finally want to listen.
Aubry on the other hand can’t move forward. She screams at doctors and the police officer who tells her about Carter’s death—she insists they have to find a way to save him. But it’s too late. The episode then takes a strange turn showing Aubry easily sneaking out of her room and making her way to the operating table where Carter is still lying bloody with a tube in his mouth. Suddenly he begins to breathe and clutches Aubry’s hand. But the whole thing is a dream as the camera cuts to reality: Aubry has killed herself.
Despite so much heartache, darkness and pain, the finale ends on a hopeful note. Hector arrives at an interview for a new job in Mexico answering phones at a call center. The interviewer begins by telling Hector the importance of being bilingual and all looks optimistic until he asks Hector about being in jail and being in a gang. At this point, Hector gives an impassioned speech that deserves to be shared in full.
“My girlfriend right? See she asked me if I was tired of my life, getting cut up, getting shot. I’ll tell you for real: I’m not tired of my life, I’m worn out. See I know people come in here all the time asking you to take a chance on them, tell you how they changed. See I don’t know from other people what makes them do how they do. But I’m 26 years old, and all I got to show for my life is a limp and a scare and a 5-year-old girl who needs her daddy to live straight. I’m not part of nothing anymore, I’m just trying to get a job.”
After Hector gets the job, he comes back to the car, where his girlfriend asks how he feels. We never get his answer, but after an episode and a season filled with a dearth of forgiveness and a wealth of worry that people have to “pay for their sins,” it’s nice to see someone’s life having the potential to get better.