Nicole Wilder/ABC

Everyone is trapped

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April 09, 2017 at 11:00 PM EDT

When a full hour of television is devoted to the theme of feeling trapped, a dead-of-night rescue of a frightened teenage prostitute can feel like the most liberating moment of the entire season so far.

But that’s American Crime for you, so we’ll take whatever so-called “happy ending” (at least for now) this show can give us, because it’s not like we’re getting any sort of breathers otherwise. As mentioned last week, the conclusion of the Luis/Isaac/Coy story line has opened up space in the narrative for an equally harrowing subplot featuring a Haitian nanny whose seemingly idyllic new gig belies dark truths about her employers, Nicholas and Clair Coates, played by Timothy Hutton and Lili Taylor.

However, American Crime is making sure to not ignore the farm workers’ subplot — because the whole point of this season is to keep the forgotten ones in the spotlight. The standoff between Luis and Isaac from last week has now reached the attention of the district attorney’s office: In the pre-credits opening scene, Diego Castillo is questioned about what happened with Isaac (who is confirmed dead, in case anyone thought there was a possibility he survived after having a gun emptied into him) and Luis’ son, Teo. While Diego is careful not to incriminate himself, he opens up about how terribly he and his fellow workers are treated by the Hesbys, admitting that rapes and deaths run rampant: “People die all the time on that farm,” he tells an investigator. “Nobody cares.” Yet he has no remorse over what he has done, or what his brother did to Teo: “We put a lot of bodies in that river,” he says matter of factly. He has been so destroyed by the inhumane culture of farm life that he has no empathy left.

Diego, like the other characters, is trapped in a vicious cycle: He hates how he’s treated, yet he is no better than those who exploit him, because his misery turned him into a bully and a rapist as a means to survive. Shae has now become a textbook example of exploitation recidivism: The teen has slipped back into prostitution by becoming an online sex worker, because to her, it’s the only way she can feel free. Jeanette is trapped in a gilded cage, only to find that when she tries to escape, she has zero resources available to her. Nicholas and Clair are trapped in a marriage fraught with tension, and they in turn are trapping Gabrielle, the immigrant nanny, in what is building to be a potentially dangerous situation. Only Kimara gets any sort of glory tonight, though even she is trapped in a thankless job, rescuing that girl to whom she slipped her card at a convenience store.


Maybe it’s just because we’re already used to seeing the other characters in traumatic situations by now, but the newest story of the season made for the most disturbing moments this episode.

On the outside, Nicholas and Clair Coates have the perfect existence: Nicholas is the wealthy scion of a furniture business, while Clair is the typical Southern stay-at-home wife and mother who thinks nothing of handing over a $5,000 donation to Kimara’s non-profit so she can feel like she’s contributing to the greater good. But in reality, Nicholas’ business is failing, which has forced him to work 24/7 and subsequently turn into an absentee father. Clair’s decision to stop working in order to raise their “miracle baby,” Nicky, has put a further strain on the marriage — though that’s mainly because Nicholas hasn’t been keeping his wife abreast of their financial struggles. Perhaps if Clair knew that they weren’t as well off as she thought, she wouldn’t have flown in a live-in nanny from another country. Needless to say, Nicholas is infuriated by Gabrielle’s presence because she is a constant reminder that money they don’t have is being flushed down the toilet.

Nicholas and Clair’s troubles are typical of many marriages, but their loathsome natures come to a head during a snazzy, expensive fundraiser for, surprise, surprise, Kimara’s non-profit, which, as we know, specializes in human exploitation. Nicholas just uses the event to get drunk and to complain about how his wife no longer contributes financially to their existence. But this is when we really get to see Clair’s true colors: As she listens intently to the event’s guest speaker — yep, it’s Kimara — Clair remains completely clueless to the fact that she is (or is about to be) guilty of the “modern-day slavery” Regina King’s character is talking about.  This fundraiser sequence is a microcosm of the entire episode — and of this season’s theme. All of the ignorant rich, white people are there to pay their guilt bill with a hefty charity check while still looking down their noses at the exploited people they’re supposedly trying to help.

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