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.