Tragedy strikes, and no one saw it coming.

By Sarene Leeds
April 16, 2017 at 11:00 PM EDT
Nicole Wilder/ABC
S3 E6
B+
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Whatever faint glimmer of hope Kimara’s late-night sex-trafficking rescue gave us last week is now a distant memory after tonight’s episode of American Crime.

The bleakness has reached critical levels, once again raising the same question posed at the start of the season: Is this series just too disturbing to make it worthwhile? As much as American Crime and John Ridley should be praised for turning the spotlight onto the sad truths about human exploitation, I’ll admit that even I am starting to reach my breaking point with this show. To that end, I’m glad that season three is an abbreviated one (there are only two episodes left), because I don’t think I can handle much more of this.

For all our wondering about what would become of Shae and her baby — was she going to give it to Kimara? Was this child going to grow up in an online sex den? — well, it turns out that was all a red herring. The answer turns out to be far, far more tragic than anything we could have ever imagined. In the final minutes of this episode, Shae became the latest victim to vanish into the ether, à la Teo. With her realization that she was barely making enough money to support herself, let alone the life in her growing belly, Shae got into a heated altercation with a more successful “colleague.” And this fellow sex worker, Tracy, decided that Shae poking around in her room and aggressively shoving her was worthy of a knife to the back of the neck.

Shae’s grisly death — accelerated by her idiot friend Dustin, who, in a panic, pulls the knife out of her neck, causing a geyser-like overflow of blood — isn’t even the most upsetting moment of her now-concluded story line. Nope; since Everett, the guy who runs the online sex house, still has a business to run, Dustin is given his orders: Make Shae disappear. Her clothes, her personal items, and ultimately her own body are disposed of (Dustin has a tearful moment over her single sonogram photo — I’m not even going to get into the tragedy of Shae’s unborn baby). And where does her body end up? In that same deadly river where Teo met his fate.

Not that any of us wanted this to be the eventual outcome for Shae, but from a storytelling point of view, as callous as it sounds, this probably was the best route to take. The way the ominous story line is building between Gabrielle, Clair, and Nicholas, it’s going to be nearly impossible for viewers to devote much energy to any of the other characters anymore. Even now, the Jeanette and Kimara subplots are taking a back seat to the Coates family drama.

Jeanette

In short, Jeanette is still directionless and having no luck seeking purpose in her life. Now she just has to do it with no money, living in constricting quarters with her single-mom sister, Raelyn. Raelyn, who is struggling to make ends meet at a minimum-wage job (unable to do better for herself due to a prior conviction), thinks Jeanette should swallow her pride and return to her comfortable marriage. According to her, as long as Carson isn’t abusing Jeanette, then what’s the problem? Obviously we know it’s more complicated than that, though going back to her upscale lifestyle may be Jeanette’s only choice at this point. Upon meeting with a career counselor, Felicity Huffman’s character learns that having spent more than two decades as a housewife only leaves her qualified to work as a waitress or in the fast-food industry (any career-related courses cost money and time she doesn’t have). While Jeanette’s story line is hardly as depressing as the ones concerning the other main characters, you do feel for her; she’s paying way too high a price for the simple act of doing the right thing.

Kimara

Speaking of doing the right thing, in Kimara’s case this week, it appears the only way that can happen is if you commit a little fraud.

After an awkward visit from a potential benefactor, Kimara discovers her colleague, Abby, who runs a home for exploited teens, has been padding the numbers when it comes to how many kids the social worker has been placing at the shelter. Now Kimara is put into a serious moral quandary, one that really makes her consider joining Abby in her deception — the intent, after all, is for the greater good of the kids in question (and Kimara’s career).

Basically, if Abby can provide high enough numbers (even if they’re phony), she will receive a huge amount of funding that will not only allow her to actually help these teens (rather than turning them away) but also hire Kimara to fill a position that will finally pay her what she’s worth. We’ve seen how much Kimara has struggled both personally and professionally this season, so she’d be crazy to not at least consider the offer, even though it’s technically a bribe. The scene between these two characters, in which they hash out the pros and cons of this scheme, is another excellent one for the season, because you can see in Abby’s eyes how much she hates the levels she has to sink to in order to help people. Between Jeanette, Abby, and Kimara, it is hard to know if any sort of outreach is worth it in the end.

So it’s a tough decision for Kimara, requiring the self-professed technophobe to fake handwritten log books for this plan to work. We’ll find out what her choice is next week…

Gabrielle/Clair/Nicholas

All I know is that I cannot remember an episode of television in recent history in which I wanted to reach through the screen and rescue a character the way I do Gabrielle (Shae, too, but that ship has sailed, sadly). It doesn’t matter that we got an excess of backstory into why Nicholas and Clair have turned into such loathsome, noxious people — the reasons explain their behavior, but they in no way excuse it. The non-English-speaking Gabrielle is in deep trouble, and unless that letter she managed to send to her estranged son prompts him to somehow come find her, I shudder to think what the outcome of her story will be.

It’s not even worth getting into the Coates’ super-uncomfortable night out at the bar with their friends and Nicholas’ passive-aggressive comments to his wife about how she’s become a lazy lady of leisure. The bottom line is that there are several layers to the Coates’ toxic marriage: One, as discussed last week, is Nicholas’ floundering company. We get the sense that Clair may have a better head for business than her husband does, so her decision to stop working did have a significantly adverse effect on their lives and the future of the furniture company. Nicholas also feels like an emasculated failure because we learn that the Coates’ son, Nicky, was the result of a sperm donor. We don’t know the details, other than that Nicholas was unable to biologically father Clair’s baby.

This friction between Nicholas and Clair has now been unloaded onto Gabrielle in several sickening, terrifying ways. Namely, Clair has begun demonstrating some seriously abusive and sociopathic tendencies: Verbally, she is manipulating the nanny through her lack of English skills, keeping her under her control at all costs. Whenever friends are over, Clair makes a show about how everyone should speak English in order to help Gabrielle learn. But behind closed doors, the housewife chastises the nanny for daring to speak in any language other than French.

This is all secondary to the physical abuse Gabrielle is also beginning to endure. First, she’s hastily moved out of her luxurious room and into a cramped sewing room, all under Clair’s hooey-filled explanation that she’s going to turn Gabrielle’s former bedroom into an office. Then, Gabrielle starts showing up with two large cuts on her hand and, later in the episode, a severe burn on her arm. The way this episode is shot, all signs point to Clair as the abuser. But because we don’t witness the injuries firsthand, it leaves a tiny room for doubt, which only adds to the tension of the narrative.

However, that doesn’t mean for one second that I buy Clair’s story to her friend Helen that Gabrielle hurts herself, or that I view the scene in which Clair dresses Gabrielle’s cuts and makes it seem like the Haitian immigrant is the one causing all the trouble as anything less than total subjugation. If anything, this scene makes it pointedly clear that Clair is the abuser (there is a slight chance that it’s Nicholas, but I’m putting money on his wife): “You need to watch yourself,” Clair warns Gabrielle in English. “You’re doing this to yourself.” Clair also drenches her manipulative act in claims that she’s been doing everything to make Gabrielle a part of the family, even going so far as to say, “We love you.”

Since we all know that is complete and utter balderdash, we don’t need more than a shot of Clair putting a kettle on the stove to boil, and a later scene of Gabrielle putting ice on her burned arm, to figure out who is really the one inflicting violence here.

And it would be so easy for Gabrielle to just pick up and leave — if only she hadn’t agreed to let Clair lock her passport in the family safe.

2015 abc series
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