Luis seeks justice for Teo, while Shae goes up against North Carolina's strict abortion laws
It should be said right off the bat that this was a very difficult episode of American Crime to digest. Not so much because of its content — though that’s never been easy to swallow — but because, as we are officially at the midway point of the season, there was a lot thrown at the audience tonight, and it may just have been too much for one episode.
Case in point: In this single episode, we witnessed Shae undergo an emotionally draining battle against North Carolina’s strict abortion laws. We also watched Jeanette continue to butt heads with her dismissive in-laws and husband over the Hesby farms’ inhumane business practices. Each of those story lines provided enough material on its own, but in addition to those ongoing narratives, the fourth episode of American Crime‘s best season to date introduced a brand-new subplot featuring the return of series regulars Timothy Hutton and Lili Taylor as the wealthy Nicholas and Clair Coates. Nicholas’ furniture business is suffering in a similar fashion to that of the Hesby farms — he needs to cut costs without sacrificing the quality of his merchandise. Also suffering? The Coates’ marriage. So Clair’s decision to fly in a French-speaking nanny from Haiti (a giant added expense) will in all likelihood sow further seeds of discontent as the season continues, not to mention shine a light on an entirely different facet of the ongoing immigration issue.
As if all of that weren’t enough for us to absorb, tonight’s episode also ostensibly featured the conclusion of the Luis/Coy/Isaac plotline (I could be wrong, but that’s what it looks like), and it wasn’t for the faint of heart. Needless to say, there is a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started.
Whether following Luis’ border-crossing journey into American agricultural enslavement or Jeanette’s tireless campaign to incite change when it comes to farm workers’ basic human rights, American Crime is willing to make one thing perfectly clear: The United States is filled with countless faceless individuals who, even in death, remain that way.
By now, there is no need to tread carefully when it comes to Teo’s fate. In tonight’s pre-credits scene, Luis is tearfully identifying his son’s body at a local police station, leaving the rest of the episode to deal with the more pressing issue, which is the anger and frustration toward a system that would allow this to happen in the first place.
I do have one criticism of how American Crime handled the reveal of Teo’s killer, though. In last week’s episode, the jump-cut of Luis’ conversation with Teo’s friend, Itzel, to Diego Castillo, heavily suggested that he was the one who murdered Teo. And at the end of the episode, Luis watched in agony as Isaac brutally beat Coy in the fields, placing Diego’s brother in the pool of potential suspects as well. However, at the start of tonight’s episode, the “Previously on American Crime” montage featured Itzel naming Isaac as the one who beat Teo to death. This is something we did not see last week, so while it might have been a creative decision to include that admission just so we could start off the episode with the knowledge that Isaac killed Teo, it was still confusing.
If this is the last we see of Benito Martinez and his nuanced portrayal of Luis, it will undoubtedly be one of those gone-too-soon performances. We don’t even need to see more than a slanted profile of his cheek and his shaking hand to feel Luis’ anguish as the police log binder falls onto the page containing Teo’s dead face. Martinez also, pardon the expression, kills it in the two scenes where Luis is on the phone with his wife, Anna, and in both instances is unable to tell her the truth about their son — even when Anna berates Teo for being “silly” and needing to “learn a lesson.”
The bottom line is: Teo was an undocumented worker from Mexico, and Luis has no legal recourse against the fiends who snuffed out his life at the tender age of 17. There is no doubt that people like Diego and Isaac are monsters, but, as I said last week, it’s the result of the awful trickle-down effect that starts with the white farm owners like the Hesbys. And ultimately, all of the Hispanic characters of this narrative, even Isaac, who does admit to Luis that he killed Teo, are the victims. The white ones are still the ones who get saved, as illustrated by Coy’s denouement.
By the end of the episode, America’s broken system has turned a mild-mannered Mexican accountant into a murderer, because other than returning home with his tail between his legs (which he still did), that was Luis’ only available option for justice. After begging Coy to lure Isaac via text, Luis implores the Oxy-addicted kid — who is still suffering from the physical effects of last week’s beating — to walk away from his enslavement, which he does, though not before swallowing an entire bottle of pills.
Once Isaac arrives at the designated location, he’s shocked to see Luis brandishing a gun and demanding to know about Teo (the refrain of, “Tell me about Teo” throughout the episode is a great way to reinforce how so many people who come to the U.S. are lost and forgotten about). As images of what really happened to Luis’ son flash before us — Isaac strangled him before throwing his body in the river — Isaac shows little remorse, blaming Teo’s death on his refusal to be subjugated (“he did it to himself”). Luis then empties his gun into Isaac, who, like Teo, becomes yet another nameless, faceless casualty of the United States’ destructive agricultural system.
American Crime also takes this moment to highlight how Isaac’s (and Teo’s) minority status ensures that they are the forgotten victims, whereas Coy’s white skin likely saved his life for the sixth time: There’s a brilliant, identical shot of both Isaac’s and Coy’s faces on the ground, each facing the camera, seemingly dead. But Coy is the one who receives the overdose-revival injection up his nose that he bragged about to Isaac last week. (It’s unlikely Isaac could’ve been revived after being shot multiple times, but that’s not the point American Crime is trying to make here.)
I’m not upset Luis killed Isaac, but you cannot deny that Coy being allowed to live another day after cheating death so many times is at least partially due to unspoken white privilege.
Apparently Shae’s shattering group therapy confession last week was just a warm-up for the heartrending uphill battle she valiantly fought tonight. Admitting that life as a prostitute was better than her home life was the easy part. Now Shae, a 17-year-old girl, has to convince a North Carolina court representative that going before a judge to beg for an abortion is the better choice than asking her parents’ permission. Once again, Ana Mulvoy Ten conveys a delicate balance of steel and vulnerability as she argues her case against an unseen, unsympathetic court representative who informs her “not wanting a child is an insufficient reason” to be granted an abortion. With Kimara by her side, Shae expands on what she started in last week’s therapy session: “I shouldn’t have to ask the person who made me want to screw guys in alleys if I can have an abortion,” she says. The person in question is her father, and given that Shae was “forced” to have an abortion by her dad’s jealous girlfriend, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the teen’s first pregnancy was a result of incest.
But even when Shae succeeds in convincing the judge to grant her the abortion, she is still subjected to North Carolina’s controversial ultrasound law, requiring her to submit to an ultrasound in order to determine that she’s less than 20 weeks along (she is). It’s a painful moment for both Shae and Kimara, who has steadfastly remained by the girl’s side throughout this ordeal. Shae, who feels she has no control over the choices being made about her own body, complains that she’s being coerced into reconsidering her decision when asked if she wants to hear the heartbeat. Kimara encourages her to do so only because “the more boxes we tick, the better.” But there’s a reason why the camera stays on Kimara’s face, rather than Shae’s, when the technician turns the sound on: The tears welling up in Kimara’s eyes barely make it possible for the social worker to maintain her composure. So does this mean she will offer to raise Shae’s baby as her own — if she can persuade the teen to not go through with the procedure?
Finally, there’s Jeanette, who certainly doesn’t deserve to be left out of this recap, but given the overstuffed nature of the episode, it is easy to let her story line fall to the wayside, at least for now. Let’s just say the Hesbys’ contemptible treatment of other human beings doesn’t stop at their employees. It extends to Jeanette, too, with the bored housewife now experiencing firsthand the lengths of her in-laws’ vindictive behavior. After she and her brother-in-law, JD, attended the workers’ rally last week, Jeanette apparently made a donation to their cause — and Carson secretly put a stop on the check. Jeanette learns about her husband’s deception during a heated meeting with Laurie Ann, who now has no qualms about openly treating the woman blowing the whistle on her family like garbage.
Not that I’m excusing Laurie Ann’s attitude, but Jeanette is in an awkward position here: The Hesbys have never forgiven her sister, Raelyn, for stealing from the business. Regardless, it is obvious now that Jeanette should no longer consider the Hesbys her family, because they certainly don’t feel that way about her. The way Jeanette’s face falls as she’s told Carson put a stop on the check, and then the way the camera slowly pulls away from her while she looks at her husband askance? That is a clear-cut sign of marital betrayal. We almost don’t need the following scene, in which Jeanette and Carson have a straight-up fight, because between what he did and Laurie Ann’s searing verbal condemnation of Jeanette’s actions, it may be time for Jeanette to strike out on her own.