The season may be closed, but the stories remain open ended
Anyone who watched last season of American Crime likely got a sense of déjà vu when the screen cut to black at the start of a courtroom case in tonight’s finale.
However, unlike season 2, which ended on a frustratingly ambiguous note, I have to credit showrunner John Ridley and his crew for not taking that route this time around. True, we don’t get to see the resolution of each of the three court cases in question, but despite the final words from the judge (Emily Bergl, who had a small role in season 2) about making sure “justice is done,” it’s not what happens to Dustin, Raelyn, and Clair that matters at this point. You know who’s still not getting justice? The three dead people standing in the back of the room: Isaac, Shae, and Teo.
What’s the most difficult to accept about this season — and the entire series — is that there shouldn’t be a grand resolution for all of these stories. That would completely negate the message Ridley is trying to express with American Crime, so as sad as it was to see those three individuals reappear as a reminder of what wasn’t accomplished, I’d argue that was exactly Ridley’s point.
Sure, it would have been nice to find out how each of the three court cases concluded, but they were ultimately secondary to the story lines that made the most impact this season. Whatever sentence the judge bestows upon Raelyn for her parole violation, it’s irrelevant given Jeanette and Carson’s decision to pursue permanent legal guardianship of her two daughters. Clair’s trial for physically assaulting Gabrielle is also a formality: What is more important is (a) that Gabrielle is finally rescued from her American nightmare and (b) how Clair insists on going before a judge instead of letting Nicholas settle out of court. She knows she’s done wrong, and she is willing to accept the punishment. Plus, this decision forces Nicholas to not only acknowledge Nicky as his son, but to take care of him for as long as Clair is in prison.
The third case concerns Dustin, who ends up arrested as an accessory to Shae’s murder, with Kimara serving as his courtroom advocate. Although it’s infuriating to see the teen’s decision to finally tell the truth about what happened in the webcam house result in potential jail time, we just haven’t spent enough time with Dustin this season to care as deeply about him as we do for the other characters. It’s really the conclusion of Kimara’s narrative that will linger in our subconscious: By the end of this season, she’s abandoned her principles in order to look out for No. 1 — herself.
Now that the season is over, it’s time to take a hard look at what the real “American crime” was here. It’s always been human exploitation, but tonight’s finale makes you realize that while this issue is rampant — from the agricultural industry to sex work to domestic employees — there’s another layer to it. As I discussed last week, many of the characters sold their souls for what they thought was a better life. What we’re left to do after this finale is question whether or not it was worth it.
The tireless advocate for exploited teens comes to the conclusion in tonight’s finale that there’s no escaping her life’s work. It sounds noble enough, but she also realizes that she deserves at least a little happiness, and in order to do that, she’s gotta game the system, even if it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. After all, as Reggie said last week, “The days of being appropriate are over.”
After Dustin’s SOS pulls her back in to her old job one more time, Kimara learns once and for all what became of Shae. (And if you thought her death scene was graphic, try comparing that to the overhead shot of the teenager’s rotted corpse dredged from the river.) Compound that with Dustin’s post-confession arrest, and suddenly Kimara is sitting opposite a table from Abby Tanaka in a wine bar, armed with an extortion proposal that makes that little logbook fraud look like child’s play: Kimara accepts Abby’s offer to come work for her (I was incorrect in last week’s recap — Kimara initially quit her nonprofit job with the intention of leaving social work behind), at double the salary increase her colleague initially proposed.
The dialogue is veiled, but you get the sense (at least I did) that if Abby doesn’t meet her demands, Kimara will blow the whistle on her questionable practices. And Abby somehow makes it happen, because the next scene is of Kimara back at her fertility doctor’s office, suddenly free of the monetary constraints that once plagued her.