Luis's backstory is brought to light, while Jeanette makes an appalling discovery
American Crime buried the lede several times in tonight’s episode, but what better way to drive its point home?
Fifteen undocumented farm workers died in a savage trailer fire, though between riveting scenes that sought to develop some of this season’s characters beyond their press-site bios, even the viewer can’t entirely be blamed for getting distracted. But the Hesby family? There’s no excuse.
The second episode of the new season is structured so beautifully that by the time Jeanette is brought face to face with a burned-out trailer shell in the final minutes, we realize that we’ve treated this story the same way the local news outlets and the Hesbys have — with blatant disregard. In the beginning of the episode, Luis overhears some fellow laborers talking about how a lot of people got hurt, and Carson Hesby’s furniture shopping is interrupted by a call about a fire and some people getting killed. But the subject is almost entirely swept under the rug as we get caught up in Kimara’s increasing weariness for both her job and her pregnancy odyssey, as well as Luis’ backstory.
While Kimara’s and Luis’ narratives do weave seamlessly into the season’s overarching theme — and are worthy of analysis in this recap — the levels of mistreatment at the hands of ruling-class-like families such as the Hesbys are brought to the forefront tonight, leaving a revolting taste in our mouths. During a lavish party hosted by acting matriarch Laurie Ann Hesby (Cherry Jones), Jeanette pumps her drunk and depressed brother-in-law, JD (Tim DeKay), for information on what really happened to those laborers. (Side note: The contrast between the black and Hispanic North Carolina farm workers living in shacks and the white Hesbys sparing no expense for their soiree is frighteningly reminiscent of the antebellum days — and I’m sure that was on purpose.) JD spills on the extent of the tragedy, but the facts aren’t nearly as appalling as the reaction Jeanette gets from Laurie Ann when she asks if she can help in any way.
See, Laurie Ann apparently attended the school of governmental hypocrisy and blows off her sister-in-law with a boilerplate, “These folks have our prayers.” The next morning, after a search of news sites and an indifferent reaction from Carson results in a big pile of nothing, Jeanette goes all Erin Brockovich on the matter and heads off to investigate the scene of the fire. In the trailer park, she learns that the laborers, who live more than 15 people to a trailer, died because they were literally trapped inside as the flames engulfed them. Jeanette, in an expertly executed reaction by Felicity Huffman, is stunned into silence as she realizes the extent of her husband and his siblings’ apathy — as well as her own level of ignorance.
It’s heavy stuff, especially given everything else the episode tossed our way in the buildup to Jeanette’s epiphany. The rest of the hour deals primarily with the concept of what it means to be a parent and how it encapsulates your entire being, specifically in the cases of Kimara and Luis. You know, lighthearted fare.
The truth about why Luis is really in North Carolina has come to light, which is that he’s searching for his teenage son, Teo. After he crossed the border to find work, Teo has vanished into thin air (the money he was sending back home stopped arriving). So now, with no resources or family in the United States, Luis is relying on a single photograph of his son and a word-of-mouth system to trace Teo. Fortunately/unfortunately, Teo left a bit of a trail, because he wasn’t exactly what the farm bosses would call a model worker. Meaning, he wasn’t one to shut up and keep his head down. Given the fact that we’ve already seen images of a dead body floating in a river, which we can now pair with the knowledge that he refused back down when the bosses got in his face — particularly when we find out they didn’t pay him what he was owed when he was told to move on — it’s unlikely this story is going to have a happy ending.