With his sexuality now out in the open, Eric faces widespread ostracism from his family and friends

By Sarene Leeds
February 11, 2016 at 09:45 PM EST
Ryan Green/ABC
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Another week has gone by in the world of American Crime, and we still haven’t found out whether or not Taylor Blaine was, in fact, assaulted. But that’s just as well, because the hints of the other underlying problem of what went down between Taylor and Eric Tanner have finally bubbled up to the surface in tonight’s episode. This Indianapolis community is making no bones about what’s got them really riled up: Gay people are living among them.

The episode concluded only with Taylor in fear of his safety from homophobic assailants, but that doesn’t mean Eric hasn’t been undergoing his own internal trauma, too. Both boys were punished considerably for their sexuality throughout the episode, while we were also able to get a better idea of why Taylor and Eric felt the need to keep the truth about themselves hidden.

In both cases, their choices were understandable, and I’m not talking about the distinctly conservative community affiliated with the Leyland School. The teens each come from a home life where intolerance up until now has only been subtly suggested. But with tonight’s episode, everyone’s bigotry came out in full force.

Anne Blaine continues to demonstrate an inability to accept her son’s homosexuality, calling him “confused.” It is also pointedly clear that Taylor was drastically affected by the eight months he spent with the still-unidentified older couple Nate and Patty after Anne abandoned him. So under the advice of his therapist, Taylor confronts the burly, camo-cap-wearing Nate while playing hooky from school. It doesn’t take a genius to put together that Nate is not a fan of this kid (and vice versa), and when Taylor recounts a memory from their time together, we can see why their feelings are mutual. The man Taylor’s mother entrusted to his care would take him to Indianapolis Colts games — and then shout homophobic epithets at the losing team.

But whatever internal conflict Anne may still have about her son, obtaining justice for Taylor remains priority number one. After last week’s visit from another disgruntled ex-Leyland parent, Anne began tonight’s episode having filed a lawsuit against the school for negligence. Love remains the basis for everything this single mother does. The same cannot be said for Eric’s divorced parents, Lilah and Curt, especially Lilah.

Eric has been all but shunned by his mother and younger brother, Peter, ever since they learned the truth about his sexuality. His father is attempting to be understanding, but more often than not, his beliefs overtake any sort of compassion. Now Peter refuses to ride in the same car with his brother, and Lilah is more upset over Eric being ex-communicated from their church than the fact that he was in so much pain he tried to take his own life. In one of the most disturbing moments of the entire season, Lilah expresses her wish for Eric to have died from his overdose: “We could’ve at least buried him as our son.”

So it’s no wonder that between this kind of a home life, and the blatantly forced open-arms welcome he receives at Leyland, that Eric remains a lonely and extremely angry kid. His basketball teammates are disgusted at the idea of having to share a locker room with him, and Coach Dan Sullivan has to ask the students to give him more applause following Eric’s awkward, Leslie Graham-penned speech of gratitude.

NEXT: The Unwilling Poster Child

Ah, yes, let’s not forget the Leyland headmaster in all this — the one who, ironically, is coming off as the most accepting person in the entire school right now. Definitely more so than Coach Dan, who has to stop himself before he says to his players that Eric “became gay,” or the irate, uber-conservative board member named Don who tears into Leslie for “normalizing deviant behavior.”

But what these folks don’t understand is that Leslie’s tolerant attitude is all part of her next agenda: Managing public perception of Leyland as Anne takes her “last stab at civil restitution” with the lawsuit. This is done by “welcoming a confused young man who almost took his own life.”

There’s that word again. “Confused.” Not “gay.”

The biggest pawn in Leslie’s agenda is, of course, Eric, who is turned into the newest poster child for gay teens coming out — against his will. Since Leslie is all about maintaining the school’s perfect image, and remains oblivious to Eric’s home life, or even how he’s being treated now that he’s back, she thinks nothing of subjecting him to a probing interview with an openly gay reporter.

What she didn’t expect was for Eric to come off as the antithesis of a role model for LGBT teenagers. Her phony attempts at a warm welcome home, mixed in with Eric experiencing nothing but ostracism from his family and friends, has produced an apathetic, self-loathing young man who doesn’t hesitate to use a derogatory word to describe homosexuals. During the interview, Eric asks why he has to “speak up for every gay kid,” stating for the record — which Leslie then begs the reporter to strike — “I’m gay, but not a faggot.”

Eric’s vulnerability is through the roof at this point. He’s willing to do anything to feel part of a group again, which is probably why he agrees to his teammates’ demands that he lure Taylor into an ambush through the promise of a meetup. What’s so sad about this exchange is it’s unlikely any of the players have changed their tune about Eric, even though he did what they asked. So while Taylor showed up at the designated location, it wasn’t Eric who was there to greet him, but four Leyland basketball players who chased the frightened teen into the darkness.

What’s also important about this attack, is how the players were galvanized by Kevin LaCroix’s livid speech that Taylor has destroyed all of their lives with his behavior — citing his mother’s warning that “bitches always trying to play you.” However, it is even more important to remember that Kevin was not with his teammates when they convinced Eric to make the call to Taylor, and he was not there for the ambush. He may have inspired the confrontation, but he was not a part of it.

NEXT: “No one’s clean”

It’s a wise move on Kevin’s part, whether it was intentional or not, because the last thing the LaCroix family needs right now is another brush with the law. Terri’s and Michael’s stress continues to go through the roof this episode as they learn Anne has named their son independently in her lawsuit. This prompts Terri to furiously accost Anne while she’s working at the diner, calling Taylor a “whore” and blaming the single mother for the ruin she’s brought to her family. As Terri tries to compose herself in her car following the incident, she’s treated like a common criminal by a police officer (who responded to the diner’s call about a disturbance), though he does accept her word that she knew nothing about the fracas that happened inside the restaurant.

Kevin may be keeping his hands clean, but once Terri comes home and relates what happened to her, Michael decides he’s had enough of playing by the rules. He meets with their detective friend and declares that he’s willing to play dirty if it means protecting his family: “No one’s clean. Everyone has things they want to keep hidden, but it’s out there — it’s just the world we’re living in.”

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In a calm yet determined demeanor, Michael clearly presents his request: “All I’m asking is find a way to let [Anne] know she’s messed with the wrong family.”

It’s hard to know who is in more danger at the conclusion of the episode: Is it Anne, who has now incurred the wrath of the powerful LaCroix family? Or is it Taylor, last seen running from four jacked basketball players out for revenge against the outsider who turned them into suspected criminals?

Stray observations:

  • Better late than never: Gang member-turned-actor Richard Cabral, who received an Emmy nomination for his work on American Crime last season, pops up ever so briefly tonight as new character Sebastian de la Torre. Single-dad Sebastian is a computer geek who also appears to be running an underground vigilante operation targeting bullies and assailants online.
  • The growing schism between the Hispanic and African-American communities at Marshall High School is about to reach powder-keg levels, as last week’s mini-protest has turned into a full-scale daily picketing event. Principal Chris Dixon remains unwavering in his decision to suspend the three Latino students he saw beating up a single black boy (the boy, Tre, remains without punishment, despite having made bigoted remarks toward Evy Dominguez, which sparked the fight in the first place). However, Chris’ seemingly unfair judgments are not winning him any allies with the parents or the conflicted Hispanic teachers (one of whom decides to join the protest). My only issue with this ongoing subplot is it still remains very far removed from the rest of American Crime‘s action. It needs to be connected with the other characters soon or else it will continue to get lost in the dominant Leyland story. But this may be series creator John Ridley’s intention, showing how the issues of lower-class schools get swept under the rug when there’s a flashier problem at hand at a wealthier institution like Leyland.
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