The truth about what really happened the night of the Captains' party starts tumbling out

By Sarene Leeds
January 27, 2016 at 10:06 PM EST
Ryan Green/ABC
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A few short weeks ago, Leyland Academy headmaster Leslie Graham had no qualms about castigating distraught mother Anne Blaine for using the word “rape.” “You need to be careful with that word,” she notoriously warned the working-class single parent.

But there is now a far more dangerous word making the rounds among the members of the Leyland community, Leslie included. The word “truth.”

On the one hand, it poses potential threats to the futures of Eric Tanner and Taylor Blaine. On the other, it’s being used by the manipulative Leslie as a carefully spun weapon to serve her double-sided main objective: In public, her goal is, as always, to protect Leyland’s prestigious reputation. But underneath, “the truth,” as she so carefully put it to the school board, is making sure the blame squarely lies with the quintessential outsider, and not one of Leyland’s own.

There was a whole lotta truth that came out in tonight’s episode of American Crime. But the more information that we are able to gather as an audience only makes one thing clear: There are still far more questions than answers in this increasingly complex case.

But let’s unpack what we do know. One week after the authorities officially declared the Captains’ party incident involving Taylor Blaine to be a rape case, we learn that the teen’s presence at the event was initially a planned, consensual hookup — with basketball co-captain Eric Tanner. Now, that doesn’t mean Taylor wasn’t also assaulted — there are still six more episodes to determine what precisely went down — but things are now far more complicated than what began as a straightforward rape accusation.

With the police closing in on the Leyland basketball team — arrests and DNA tests are looming — Eric’s increased fear is palpable. Throughout the episode he becomes more and more withdrawn, with many of actor Joey Pollari’s scenes filled with American Crime‘s signature close-ups on his pained face (this is a standout episode for Pollari, who should be commended with all of the young actors in the American Crime cast this season). Given what we know about Eric’s hidden sexuality, he doesn’t need to vocalize that he’s treading precariously close to having all of his secrets blown wide open.

Things come to a head when Eric’s younger brother playfully grabs his phone — which we later find out holds the evidence of not so much his culpability, but of something far worse (in Eric’s eyes): That he’s gay. As Eric wrestles his brother to get the phone back, his terrified emotions take over, and suddenly he’s nearly choking his sibling to death.

Why is Eric’s truth such a dangerous concept? Because he feels if people knew he was gay, then any chance of a basketball scholarship — which is his only hope for getting into college, owing to his financially strapped divorced parents — will be snatched away.

He locks himself in the bathroom, and all we see is him swigging a beer and emptying out a bottle of Ativan pills while staring into the mirror. We already know what’s going to happen next, so American Crime makes the wise creative decision to skirt the clichéd attempted-suicide-discovery scene and jump right to Eric’s parents in the hospital waiting room. Because the real drama comes afterward, when Eric confesses his reality to Coach Dan Sullivan from his hospital bed.

Eric’s actions were a cry for help, but given the scandal surrounding him and his teammates, his behavior has set off far too many red flags at this point. Once he starts bemoaning to Dan that he “messed up,” and pleads with him that he “can’t lose” his potential basketball scholarship, the tough questions have to be asked.

NEXT: “He wanted it”

“Did you assault that boy?” says Dan, point blank.

What happens next hits the Leyland coach like a ton of bricks: Eric insists he didn’t rape Taylor, but that’s not the whole story.

“He wanted it,” adds the teenager. Eric also confirms that his phone is filled with texts and e-mails corroborating that he and Taylor planned to hook up the night of the party. The only reason he didn’t turn it over to the police is because then “everyone would know I’m gay.”

Judging from Dan’s reaction, Eric had every reason to be frightened. The coach storms out of the hospital, and, like with Michael LaCroix last week, it remains unclear if he’s angry over learning that Eric is gay — or if it’s because he and his team have just gone through undue stress over something that wasn’t necessarily rape. Until we know Dan’s feelings about homosexuality — which could turn out to be disappointing — at least we can take comfort in the brief scene he has with his daughter, Becca, after he arrives at home. Distraught over having witnessed a teenager’s attempted suicide just because he felt he couldn’t confide in anyone, Dan implores his daughter, Becca, to talk to him if she ever has a problem.

Now that Eric has copped to his role in Taylor’s incident, the (still predominantly faceless) detective informs Anne of this latest development. But when she asks if Eric was arrested, that’s when he lowers the boom on her. The detective presents a stack of printed-out texts and e-mails from Eric’s phone, proving that whatever happened at the party initially began as an intentional hookup. Anne, like so many of the other parents up until now, is confused over the idea that her son could be gay and immediately insists that the texts “aren’t real.”

So when an infuriated Anne returns home, she’s none too pleased to find Taylor and Evy Dominguez making out. She orders Evy to go home, but Taylor’s girlfriend refuses, at her own peril. (Then again, I’d also be way too intrigued by Anne’s rampage to leave just when things were starting to get interesting.)

In her raw, emotional state, Anne not only demands to know if the texts — which she starts reading aloud — are true, but she also accuses Evy of covering for Taylor, which is almost more shattering to the girl than the later revelation that her boyfriend cheated on her, with a boy, no less. But it’s Taylor’s words of, you guessed it, the truth, that deliver the most upsetting blow to everyone present: “I didn’t go there to get attacked,” he says, thereby confirming his intentions with Eric, but still keeping the criminal element of the case open. Evy, understandably, runs out of the house, the truth far more disturbing than anything she might have witnessed at that party.

At this point, Taylor’s refrain of begging his mother to “leave it alone” makes a lot more sense. He is furious with Anne for opening up can after can of worms, because, like Eric, he didn’t want her to find out that he was gay. Anne may have proved her worth as a caring, concerned mother to the audience as an unwavering advocate for her son’s well-being in light of this incident. But to Taylor, she’s still a neglectful parent whom he fears might leave him. The reason why the truth was such a ticking time bomb for Taylor was because, as we learned tonight, Anne abandoned him once before. He didn’t want to give her a potential reason to walk out on him again. (More on this later.)

NEXT: “The truth people need to believe”

But there’s another “truth” that could be far more damaging to Taylor and Anne than a teenager admitting that he’s gay. Between Eric’s suicide attempt and the disclosure of the texts and e-mails between him and Taylor, Leslie Graham is on the Leyland Academy damage-control warpath now. Regardless of what her lawyer has to say about the school’s role in this incident, she’s going to spin the story into the kind of “truth” that works for her and Leyland.

“We have a young man in the hospital who tried to take his own life because this other young man refused to admit what he was involved in,” she says to the board. “If you read these e-mails, they are a blueprint for a rough encounter. That’s the truth. That’s the truth people need to believe.”

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It doesn’t matter that Taylor is no longer a student at Leyland Academy — he officially returns to Thurgood Marshall High School tonight, under the beleaguered Chris Dixon’s supervision — or that the encounter may have been consensual. As long as Leyland remains in the spotlight, Leslie will use all of her resources to pin this unfortunate incident on the poor, bullied, gay scholarship kid who coerced the basketball captain into attempting suicide.

Stray observations:

  • We saw the LaCroixs with their attorney last week, but they have now publicly lawyered up, throwing around whatever money and power they have left to protect Kevin and his reputation. There’s a small subplot featuring Eric’s dad going to the LaCroixs, asking if they can put on a unified front as the co-captains’ parents — basically because he’s broke and can’t afford a lawyer. But the LaCroixs have no sympathy for two reasons: One, Eric’s name wasn’t smeared all over the Internet. Two: It’s a race issue no matter how they slice it. As Terri reminds her son, “[Eric] will always get a benefit of the doubt that you won’t.” Kevin, under advice of the lawyer, for his own protection, gives an attorney-written statement to the police swearing that he did not witness Taylor’s assault.
  • I’m curious to know if the spoken-word performance-art piece about rape that opened the episode is something that will eventually be incorporated into the story — or if it was used solely as a metaphor for what Taylor has been unable to express until now. Or rather, something we thought Taylor had wanted to express up until now (he may still want to). It works brilliantly in the episode whether it’s diegetic or not.
  • It was good to finally get more of a backstory on Anne, as well as on Taylor’s childhood, tonight, because now we have a slightly better idea of why they’re both so emotionally wounded. We meet an older couple named Nate and Patty, whom I thought at first were Anne’s parents, but that seems unlikely considering Anne needed to recount the story of Taylor’s baby daddy to Patty during a visit. In short, Anne dated Taylor’s father for a month, they had sex without a condom, and when she got pregnant, the guy wanted her to “get rid of it.” Anne, as we learn here, holds very strong views on the subject of abortion, so her future became a foregone conclusion upon seeing that positive pregnancy test. But something else apparently happened in the 17 years between Taylor’s birth and the present series of events that still needs to be explored here. In the climactic scene between Taylor and Anne, mother and son discuss how Anne “left” Taylor for an unspecified period of time with the unidentified Nate and Patty because she “wasn’t good” and “needed help.” 
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