An article about the captains' party goes viral, affecting everyone in the Leyland community and beyond
Credit: Ryan Green/ABC

The scuttlebutt is always more powerful than the truth — at least that seems to be what American Crime was driving at tonight.

By the time the police confirm that Taylor Blaine’s assault is officially being classified as a rape in the final seconds of the episode, the effect is almost anticlimactic. The story has been the talk of both the Leyland Academy and its surrounding community for days, further intensified by the publication of an article about the captains’ party that has single-handedly managed to piss off everyone involved. This even includes Anne, who was the facilitator of the article in the first place.

As you may remember, last week’s episode concluded with Taylor’s mother, having been blown off once again by both the Leyland administration and the police, meeting with a local newspaper reporter and agreeing to go public with her story. What Anne failed to understand when she made that decision was that the article wasn’t going to be an op-ed piece but a news story. Anne calls the reporter, infuriated with her “weak” version of the story and admonishes her for not “focusing on the rape.” Unfortunately for Anne, who’s already on edge, having spent part of her day throwing a scared-looking young woman and her abusive boyfriend out of the diner where she works, she has no leg to stand on. With no conclusive evidence (yet) that Taylor was raped, the story had its limits: “I can’t call it rape if the facts don’t support that,” the reporter tells Anne.

The article may not have been the empathetic balm that the Blaines needed, but even without the word “rape,” it ignited enough of a domino effect that now the lives of the entire LaCroix family, and Taylor’s girlfriend, Evy Dominguez, have been thrown into a possibly permanent state of chaos. Also, in a brief scene involving school photographer Steph Sullivan, we see that students who aren’t remotely involved with the incident cannot escape the shame either. Leyland parents are starting to demand the removal of their children’s pictures from the academy’s website, for fear of more negative attention.

Ironically, all of the steps Leslie Graham took last week to keep the influential LaCroixs out of this mess have been for naught: On a pure technicality, Kevin, not Eric Tanner, the captain who was ultimately disciplined, was named in the article. Why? Because Kevin had the bad luck of being the only student who had already turned 18 — not to mention the party took place at his house.

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Once the article goes online, the story spreads like wildfire, with Terri humiliatingly hearing about it from a co-worker. She instantly springs into action, calling her lawyer, the same detective-in-her-pocket from last week, and her husband, Michael, whom she orders to pick up Kevin from school immediately.

As Terri, Michael, and Kevin meet with their lawyer back at their house, the gravity of the situation begins to seep in. Kevin is forced to admit that he was responsible for providing the alcohol — and that as part of the captains’ party tradition, he had sex with a girl on the LaCroixs’ bathroom floor. But he insists through tears that he had nothing to do with Taylor’s hazing. Not that his truth even matters at this point. Now that he’s been named in this article, the stigma of “alleged rapist” will stay with him, possibly forever.

NEXT: “Boys don’t do that to other boys”

As Coach Dan Sullivan laments to his Leyland friend and colleague in a later scene, whenever anyone Googles Kevin, the word “rape” will also come up. The colleague brushes it off as a non-issue, pointing out that the “kid’s rich,” but as we see toward the end of the episode, when Terri and Michael meet with their detective friend, time may have run out on their reign of power and influence.

What the LaCroixs hadn’t realized, was that the sexual-assault victim in question was male. And once again, in the recurrent theme of the season, they too are baffled by the idea that rape can happen between boys — or that their son might be gay. “Boys don’t get raped,” insists a flummoxed Terri, who is also under the false impression that any guy would just fight back. “Boys don’t do that to other boys,” she says.

In a scene that is deliberately left open to interpretation, Michael barges into his son’s room, grabs him by the shirt and angrily demands to know if he “touched that boy.” The fury in Michael’s eyes, at least to me, suggests that he’s less upset over the idea that Kevin might have committed rape than the possibility that his son likes dudes.

But whatever the facts of the case, the LaCroixs are on their own here because their detective friend does not work in the sexual crimes division. Therefore, Kevin (and Michael and Terri), will receive no special treatment.

Tonight’s episode was a rough one for Evy as well. Although Anne may not think the cops are taking what happened to Taylor seriously, the police are investigating the events of the captains’ party — and that means interrogating its attendees, like Evy. She’s pulled out of class by a couple of unsubtle detectives and almost gets dragged down to the station if hadn’t been for the intervention of her quick-thinking principal, Chris Dixon: Any questions will be asked on school grounds, in the presence of a parent, or no dice.

As the cops proceed with their investigation, with Chris and Evy’s dad in the room, it becomes very clear that their line of questioning — and Evy’s answers — imply the possibility that whatever happened to Taylor that night was somehow consensual: They want to know if Taylor was alone with another boy for long periods of time. Evy can’t confirm that, but she did notice that the boy who drove them home, “Eric,” was “off about something.” Since we already know that Eric is in the closet, this cannot be considered just a throwaway observation.

When she confronts Taylor about her crummy day, Evy has had several hours to reflect on what happened, and now even she is starting to have her doubts about what is really going on with her boyfriend. But all she gets out of Taylor is more cagey behavior and an indifference to how any of this is affecting her, like the fact that since her father had to leave work early to attend her interrogation, now his paycheck will be short.

None of this is a criticism of Taylor’s still-closed-off attitude — not in the least. The trauma from the initial assault, compounded with a viral article and a police investigation would make any person shut down and remain apathetic toward their loved ones. But, the importance of a story like Evy’s is to remind the audience, and Taylor, how far-reaching this incident has become.

NEXT: Paging Emma Sulkowicz

However, Taylor does have a breakthrough in his slow-healing process tonight. During a meeting with what seems like yet another faceless therapist — one of American Crime‘s recurring trademarks, with characters like the sexual-assault nurse, detectives, and counselors (both school and mental-health) conveying their presence primarily through hand gestures and voices — the teenager begins to open up. First to his therapist, then to Anne, toward whom he harbors most of his resentment.

“I’m sorry I ever opened my mouth,” Taylor admits to his counselor. He feels judged, by the police, by the doctors, and by the general public because he’s a guy. Referencing Emma Sulkowicz (though American Crime deliberately avoids mentioning the former Columbia University student by name), Taylor says he thinks he’d be treated much differently if he were a girl: “I put a mattress on my back and carry it around — you think they’re going to put me on TV?” But Taylor’s ignorance is pretty stark here — it’s not like women who say they were raped are always automatically believed either.

Encouraged by his therapist to be more honest with his mother, Taylor eventually shares his feelings with Anne toward the end of the episode. He tells her he’s angry she went to the media and that her actions have also caused Evy stress and pain. In short, she’s made his life worse, despite her good intentions and the fact that any loving parent would have done the same for their child. But the bottom line is he doesn’t want to deal with the police anymore, and he wants to return to his public school, Thurgood Marshall (where Evy goes and Chris Dixon is principal). Anne agrees to her son’s conditions, so long as he promises to continue seeing the therapist.

But whatever moments of peace and calm Anne and Taylor have achieved in this scene are about to get ripped out from under them as we cut to Leslie meeting with a police detective demanding a list of all the male students at the captains’ party. He’s issuing warrants for DNA samples, and Leslie’s insistence that the Leyland families’ privacy is paramount no longer holds water in this situation. Because this isn’t “some lurid story from a young man who got drunk.” As the camera slowly pulls tightly onto Leslie’s horrified face, we hear the detective inform her that Taylor’s rape kit came back. His clothes contained “semen belonging to another individual,” and further tests showed traces of blood that “indicated forced conduct.” That word Leslie warned Anne to be so “careful” about using back in the season premiere? Well, the police have no qualms about using it now, so she’d better get comfortable with it: “We’re officially looking at this as a rape.”

Stray observation:

  • Regina King, as we already know, is a woman of many talents, but if there’s ever an award for bringing the art of double-fisting telephones into the 21st century, she would be the winner for that damage-control scene alone.

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