Selling your soul isn't cheap

By Sarene Leeds
April 23, 2017 at 11:00 PM EDT
Mitch Haaseth/ABC
S3 E7
B+
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  • TV Show
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Following last week’s soul-crushing episode of American Crime, which hit us with the double gut punch of Shae’s death and Gabrielle’s physical abuse, the penultimate episode of the season wound up being the closest we’ll likely get to a breather.

With the story lines now whittled down to a tight three narratives, we head into the season finale maybe not optimistic that there will be any sort of satisfying resolution (because that certainly didn’t happen last year), but at least now there’s a chance for a streamlined conclusion. However, I do hope the show will revisit the Hesby Farms subplot in its final episode — whether it’s an update on Coy, Luis, or the Hesby family — because even though it was shuffled aside to make way for the Coates family narrative, it’s never felt like that story has truly gone away. (And it hasn’t — the Jeanette subplot provides a chilling update in tonight’s episode.)

From where the main characters stand, there’s a lot riding on the finale, because it’s impossible to know where things are going for anyone. And as we learned last week from Shae’s story line, it’s wise to expect only one thing from American Crime: the unexpected.

In this week’s episode, many of the characters share a common theme: the selling of one’s soul to achieve purported happiness. Kimara tosses her morals aside to join Abby in her fraudulent nonprofit scheme; Jeanette learns her comfortable lifestyle comes at the expense of turning a blind eye to suffering; Clair’s drive to have a child not only destroys her family but turns her into an abuser; and Nicholas’ lone-wolf focus on his furniture business results in financial failure, a toxic marriage, and the emergence of his own cruel tendencies toward his wife and child.

Gabrielle, too, one could argue, is guilty of selling her soul for a cushy new life in the United States. But she remains more of a victim than any of the other characters and is in her current predicament through no fault of her own (although I do think she was foolish to surrender her passport to Clair). I realize it’s wishful thinking to expect a happy ending for her, especially from a show like American Crime, but out of all the characters this season, she is the one person whom I really hope is rescued in some fashion next week. We’ve had enough heartbreak with Shae and Teo — to send Gabrielle down that same path might be too much to ask of an audience.

Kimara

After weighing the pros and cons of Abby’s proposition from last week — and being sacked with even more budget cuts at her current job — Kimara ultimately chooses the deal with the devil tonight. She forges a logbook of fake names and rescues, and by the end of the episode, she is packing up her office, ostensibly with the intention of going to work with Abby. While that handwritten logbook of little white lies has resulted in better funding for Abby’s shelter and a better-paying job for Kimara, the social worker never really makes peace with her decision.

There’s a great scene where Kimara visits Reggie (the guy who turned down her request to father her child) to vent over her predicament, and even he pretty much tells her to do whatever it takes to get ahead in life, including fraud, because that’s the way the world works now: “The days of being appropriate are over,” he says matter of factly. Without getting into the myriad examples of how our new president’s administration is leading the charge regarding questionable practices, Kimara — via Regina King’s spot-on delivery — dejectedly sums up the new world order in one brilliant line: “I actually liked it when the guy in charge loved his daughters, was faithful to his wife, and paid his taxes.”

But there was no way American Crime was going to let Kimara slink off to her new gig this easily, which is why, despite Shae’s death last week, the show has still kept the webcam house story line going through the character of Dustin. After being forced to dispose of his friend’s dead body, Dustin now knows that his own life is in danger, and he makes a break for it during a late-night supplies run. Somehow he ends up at the doorstep of the assistant district attorney, who places an 11th-hour call to Kimara for help. Inevitably, the social worker is sucked back into the thankless system, and we last see her trying to pry information out of a tight-lipped Dustin. We’ve got to hope she keeps pressing him, because Dustin is her only link to finding out what became of Shae.

Jeanette

In comparison to the rest of the characters, Jeanette remains the least burdened, but given what transpires in tonight’s episode, her decision to meddle in the Hesby Farms business may have been the smartest move she’s ever made, though for a reason you wouldn’t expect.

Jeanette’s beleaguered and on-parole sister, Raelyn, fails a drug test — and Raelyn (in addition to the audience) totally knew it was going to happen. There’s something in the air with the way Janel Moloney’s character emotionally says goodbye to her two young daughters before heading to the correctional facility. Then, right before she’s called to provide her urine sample, she not-so-cryptically starts preparing Jeanette for the possibility of having to take care of the girls.

Over the entire season, Jeanette has been searching for a purpose in her life, and perhaps this is it: to be the mother her nieces never truly had (a neighbor mentions in passing that the kids had been spending a lot of time with her before Jeanette came to stay, suggesting that Raelyn was neglecting her daughters).

We don’t know how long Raelyn will be behind bars, or how Jeanette will even be able to support them given her unwillingness to take a job that pays minimum wage. But there is one solution staring Jeanette in the face, which would provide for both her and the girls, though at the expense of her soul. A tense meeting with JD reveals that he has been bullied into taking the fall for the fire that killed all those farm workers early in the season. He is going to prison, while his sister, Laurie Ann, gets to live another day exploiting field hands and reaping the benefits.

Infuriated and resentful that Jeanette’s “morality play” has resulted in his own impending jail time, JD paints a very clear picture for his sister-in-law: “You’ve got a good life — only thing wrong, you don’t want to pay what little it costs to live it!” She could go back to Carson, which would secure her nieces’ future (a worthwhile cause), but it would require keeping her mouth shut and letting the workers’ exploitation continue.

I can’t even begin to figure out what the right answer is here…

Gabrielle/Clair/Nicholas

As bad as things have gotten for Jeanette and Kimara, none of it even comes close to the level of wretchedness that has befallen Gabrielle. It doesn’t matter that Nicholas and Clair’s marriage is over by the end of the episode (he gets the tatters of his furniture business, 51 percent of which he imprudently sold off; she gets Nicky), because as I said in last week’s recap, these developments may explain their behavior toward Gabrielle, but they in no way excuse it.

Unable to endure her physical and mental abuse any longer (whatever “treatment” Clair provided last week has obviously stopped; the burn on the nanny’s arm is now visibly infected, and the only remedy she has is a stick of stolen butter from the kitchen), Gabrielle finally snaps tonight: After her attempt to crack open the safe only makes it look like she was trying to steal from the Coates family, the panicked immigrant — suitcase and young Nicky in tow — bolts from the house with nary a plan.

I have to hand it to Mickaëlle X. Bizet in these scenes, who manages to convey so much emotion via her eyes and facial expressions. It’s not an easy task, playing a character who is unable to communicate via language, but she succeeds with aplomb.

Eventually, Nicky gets hungry, so Gabrielle takes him to a local restaurant. With less than $10 in her wallet, she skips out on the bill and is picked up by the cops. And this is when things really start to get bad for her: Now she’s got a potential child endangerment charge hanging over her head. Compound that with her inability to plead her case with anyone due to the language barrier, and the Coateses’ rare unified front in presenting her to the detective as a troubled immigrant with a tendency to hurt herself, and Gabrielle is, in a word, screwed.

From the moment Gabrielle is taken into police custody, American Crime does away with English subtitles for her French dialogue, and it only makes her narrative that much more terrifying. Although I do understand what she is saying, it doesn’t take away from the effect of Bizet’s performance. (In both the police car and then in the hospital, she is frantically begging the officers and the nurse to listen to her, to understand her. You really don’t need a knowledge of high school French for that to come across.) With no one available to communicate with her, Gabrielle gets increasingly more agitated, which is a completely valid reaction to her situation. Our final glimpse of her is in the hospital, in restraints, preparing to undergo a psychiatric evaluation — a ludicrous decision made necessary only because of the language barrier.

Of course, none of this would be happening if Clair weren’t such a revolting person. Her desire to wield complete control over Gabrielle is the reason why the Haitian native cannot tell the authorities what has been going on in the Coates household. We have already seen Clair preventing the nanny from learning English, and now she’s feeding the detective more of her garbage-filled story that paints Gabrielle’s injuries as the result of self-harm.

However, I’m still wondering if it is at all possible that it’s Nicholas, and not Clair, who is physically hurting Gabrielle. There was that one scene where the nanny put her arm up as if to shield Nicky because she feared that Nicholas was going to assault the boy. Also, during the detective’s interrogation of the Coateses, Nicholas looks at Clair askance while she talks about Gabrielle hurting herself. I got the sense that Clair might be protecting his abusive nature, and it surprised him.

Please let there be a sympathetic French-speaking staffer at that hospital, because that letter Gabrielle sent to her son may not be enough to save her at this point. Or, perhaps it will be Nicky, now a student of French thanks to Clair’s insistence on hiring a Haitian nanny, who will be the one to expose the truth about his parents. Karma doesn’t get any better than that.

2015 abc series
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