The season 2 finale leaves it to the audience to draw their own conclusions

By Sarene Leeds
March 10, 2016 at 04:05 AM EST
Ryan Green/ABC
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There was no greater reminder that the point of this season of American Crime wasn’t to solve the case, but instead to hold up a mirror to our society, than in the final minutes of tonight’s finale.

The season — and the Taylor Blaine saga — came to an ambiguous end with the episode concluding before we ever found out if Taylor’s accusation that Eric Tanner raped him was based in fact. Creator and showrunner John Ridley left it up to the audience to decide which boy had been telling the truth all along. But given the way he left things, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t even want us to focus on the “whodunit?” aspect of the story. What we should be doing is recognizing his ongoing commentary on the subjects of homophobia, race, and prejudice.

It doesn’t matter if Eric raped Taylor or if Taylor made the whole thing up. The most disturbing conclusion of American Crime season 2 is how, too often, the attitudes of a community never really change, despite undergoing harrowing incident after incident. We can take comfort knowing that, of all people, Coach Dan Sullivan got to be the hero of the hour (or rather, for about two seconds), single-handedly taking down the seemingly untouchable Leyland School headmaster, Leslie Graham. But Leslie hadn’t even finished packing her suitcase before her replacement started spouting off familiar-sounding platitudes about how “the future of the Leyland School is the future of education.” We are given no reason to believe that this new administration will be any more tolerant than its predecessor, and why should it be? No one, not one person with the last name of Blaine or Tanner or LaCroix or Sullivan has exhibited any sort of change of heart when it comes to their opinion of gay people. Even Peter Tanner, having been returned to the “tolerant” side of his family (and I use that term loosely), is nagging Eric about getting back to the way things once were. Everyone, at best, just wants to forget that this all occurred.

Sadly, that is probably what’s going to happen, considering that everyone’s story lines just withered away without any sort of real conclusion.

So how does it all play out?

For starters, Sebastian de la Torre’s cockiness from last week comes back to haunt him big-time in tonight’s finale, as a copycat hacker starts releasing personal information from Leyland families online (emails between Michael and Terri LaCroix making fun of white people; Becca Sullivan’s drug-dealing texts). This latest cyberattack ends up turning the tide in Taylor’s case, but whatever good Sebastian was trying to do in bringing the teen to justice has now been permanently silenced. The copycat, named Evans Webb, teaches the audience a valuable lesson about the dangers of online vigilantism when Sebastian discovers Evans has been secretly filming him and his daughters from their motel room. (Evans even throws Sebastian’s arrogant declaration of “nobody controls the digital space” right back in his face.) Now that Sebastian realizes his reckless activities have put his children in peril, he has no choice but to bolt — from Indianapolis and from American Crime.

But these leaks became irrelevant as far as Taylor was concerned, with the incarcerated teen deciding to forgo testimony — that resulted from the hack — that could reduce his prison time. Instead, Taylor decided to take control of his future, bleak as it may be. 

NEXT: “I stopped feeling like a victim”

The personal communications that ended up online resulted in the arrests of Becca, Eric, Kevin LaCroix, LeSean Young and the other basketball players who beat up Taylor. Eric’s confession, however, where he admitted to being coerced into luring Taylor into the ambush, is determined by detectives as something that could lessen Taylor’s sentence. So when Eric agrees to testify in court, Anne and her lawyer present this development to Taylor as good news. Except in Taylor’s eyes, it’s not. To Anne’s shock and dismay, Taylor asks for a plea deal, which would result in no less than 10 years in a state prison. The teen would rather spend a decade in jail than have “the guy who raped me” be his “savior.” The reason why he doesn’t show any remorse for killing Wes Baxter is because, as he explains to his mother, it was the first time since the captains’ party that he “stopped feeling like a victim.” If he’s made to be at the mercy of his assailant again, then he’s right back where he started: scared and helpless.

If anything, Taylor voluntarily going to prison for all of his 20s is a pretty compelling argument for painting Eric as the captain’s party aggressor. Still, we’ll never know for sure, especially because Eric spends the episode making an equally compelling case as the falsely accused. As the finale concludes, right before Taylor answers the judge’s question on whether he’ll accept the 10-year plea deal, we see Eric in a similarly dubious situation: standing by the roadside, contemplating whether or not he should get into a car for an anonymous hookup — a hookup that could possibly result in another physical altercation.

Could all of this have been avoided if Eric and Taylor didn’t exist in such an intolerant community? The explanation seems way too simple to be the correct answer, but at the same time, there’s got to be a shred of truth in that observation.

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As it turns out, Dan was one of the few characters with a victory tonight, but it was a Pyrrhic one at best. The basketball coach took down Leslie Graham by revealing to Sebastian that the Leyland headmaster was indeed behind the release of Anne’s medical records online. Remember when he snuck back into her office that time in episode 7? Well, it was to uncover several shredded documents that he painstakingly put back together (it’s good to have a hobby that requires patience and meticulousness, like building ships in bottles). Sadly, there was no time to celebrate his vindication, which was spurred by Leslie’s cold shoulder when Dan begged her to help Becca avoid criminal charges. The man who spent all season putting the goal of winning above all else — including the well-being of bullied teenagers (Taylor, Eric) ended the episode having nearly lost everything. Our last shot of Dan and his wife, Steph, is as they watch their daughter being led away from the courtroom in handcuffs.  

The LaCroix family also finished season 2 with a Pyrrhic victory: At first, things look pretty bad once Kevin is arrested and Terri learns Michael told Det. Ken Williams to toss out their son’s statement about his suspected involvement in Taylor’s assault. She insists that Kevin give his confession to the police once again, and her son is ultimately exonerated. But let’s not forget that American Crime is a show where the subject of race is never far from anyone’s mind, so even though Kevin was cleared of any criminal activity, his parents have still been humbled — and all because they dared to deal with racism in their own way.

NEXT: “Nobody’s cared about me”

Terri and Michael’s personal emails, in which they exchange jokes about white people, are made part of the online leak — and Terri’s company retaliates with an offer of either a severance package or relocation (with a demotion in title). Here the family is unfairly punished over something that had nothing to do with the Taylor Blaine case. But it doesn’t matter that Terri gives a coherent argument to her white boss that, for all intents and purposes, should excuse the emails: “For people of color, there is a world that we live in that’s different than yours. One you’ll never, ever experience. And the way we express those experiences out of context can be taken to mean something that they don’t.”

She can argue her case all she likes, but her powerful reign at that company is over, and as with many of the story lines, the episode (and season) ends with the family’s next steps a question mark and a feeling that they’re being forced to start over.

But the LaCroixs aren’t alone in the “forced to start over” category. That’s the same fate bestowed upon Marshall High School Principal Chris Dixon, who spent all season on the periphery of the Leyland-centric story, only to have his reputation ruined by a tangential connection to Taylor. Chris is made to resign after last week’s disastrous review, his decision to do so sweetened by the lure of a $75,000 settlement and the reminder by his superintendent boss that, no matter his decision, he’s “just costing the district money.” If that weren’t depressing enough, the man whose goal was help others, just ended up mired in interracial bickering and bureaucratic politics, which resulted in his failure as an administrator.

The only person who closes out American Crime not unscathed but the strongest out of any of the characters is Evy Dominguez. In her sole scene, where Chris attempts to make amends with her, Evy demonstrates how she is now armed with the most potential to change her life. Ironically, and in the most disturbing realization of all, she has the Leyland School to thank. Chris can be remorseful all he wants, but what he neglected to notice was that Evy was just a pawn in other people’s battles, whether it was Tre trying to get into her pants, Mateo looking for a reason to get into a fight with the African-Americans, the Hispanics needing a platform to protest their second-class treatment, and Taylor using her as his beard. “Nobody’s cared about me,” she says, and she’s finished letting people walk all over her for their own benefit. Before exiting the scene — and the narrative — she credits Leyland for being the only people to “do right” by her and her family. “You gotta think about yourself sometimes, you know? Gotta take what’s in front of you.”

Is it worth trying to extrapolate what became of these characters after the cameras turned off? Perhaps, but it’s not so easy to do so when we see stories like this fictional Indianapolis-based one in the news on a regular basis. In real life, more often than not, there is no resolution.

One thing is for certain: It would be a true American crime if the series is not renewed for a third season by ABC, and if it doesn’t bring back everyone in this stellar cast — Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Lili Taylor, Regina King, Elvis Nolasco, Richard Cabral, etc. — for an all-new story line.

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