Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

American Crime continues its trend of brilliant but brutal episodes

Illustration for article titled American Crime continues its trend of brilliant but brutal episodes

American Crime feels as if it’s simultaneously skipping time and moving at a snail’s pace. Tonight’s episode doesn’t make clear how much time has passed since last week but plenty has developed: Eric is out of the hospital and returning to school, Taylor is seeing another (male) student at his new school, Anne is forging ahead with suing the school (and also naming Kevin in the suit), and the protests at Marshall High School have grown bigger and louder. Yet at the same time, it feels as if we’re still as clueless as we were in the season’s first episode because we still have no idea what the hell actually went down during the party between Taylor and Eric.

Throughout the last six episodes, it’s been obvious that there’s a lot of low-key homophobia in the community and “Episode Six” really ramps it up, putting everyone’s frustrating bigotry on full display—and making for some incredibly depressing and heartbreaking moments. When Coach informs the team that Eric is coming back (and tellingly stumbling over his words while discussing Eric’s sexuality: “he became—”), one teammate responds, “He’s gonna be taking showers with us? That’s messed up, man.” The episode piles it on as it continues, with multiple characters describing Eric and Taylor as being “confused,” Taylor recounting a story of when Nate yelled homophobic epithets while with Taylor at a football game—instilling harmful beliefs in Taylor at a young age—which blends with the later high school basketball game where the crowd chants “Gayland High School” and yells “fags” at the court while Eric’s teammates refuse to pass him the ball. Yet this all pales in comparison to a particularly harrowing discussion between Eric’s parents.

Television shows depicting religious families as homophobic isn’t a new development but there’s still so much hurt in this conversation, especially when Eric’s mother admits that she often thinks about how if Eric did kill himself, “We could have at least buried him as our son,” meaning that he’d still be pure in their eyes, and in the eyes of the church. (Never mind that suicide is also a sin but, as someone with a deep background in Catholicism, I’m well aware of the ways people can pick and choose, bend and mend rules to fit religious narratives.) She doesn’t explicitly say that she’d rather have a son who is dead and straight than alive and gay but, well. She goes through the motions of trying to find excuses for Eric’s sexuality—maybe if they had attended church more, or if his father was around more (“You should have taught him how to be a man,” she tells her husband, as I closed my eyes and grimaced so hard it was almost painful). She even goes so far as to ask if he sexually abused his son because he had to “get this from somewhere.” American Crime is often hard to watch but seeing parents discuss trying to “fix” their gay child and saying things like “It doesn’t go away. They don’t get better” was damn near impossible to get through.

But this peek into Eric’s home life is necessary for evoking sympathy and explaining where a lot of Eric’s self-hatred and internalized homophobia comes from. (And no, don’t take any of this as excusing the alleged assault.) He was raised—by his parents and the church—to believe that his very existence is wrong; it’s no wonder why he was so insistent on keeping it a secret. It’s no wonder that the mounting pressure to be an Openly Gay Athlete/Role Model/Suicide Survivor when he returns to school, instead of just Eric the basketball player, quickly takes a toll him. It doesn’t help that the headmaster is still in complete damage control mode and has an assembly to promote Leyland’s ”commitment to inclusiveness” (I know I haven’t been in high school in a while but uh, I can’t imagine ever having an assembly to welcome back an alleged rapist? Or to have someone publicly remark on his suicide attempt and/or sexuality? What?) where Eric reads out loud a pre-written statement (written by Leslie, I’m assuming). Later, she enlists an openly gay writer to pen a piece about Eric’s life as an openly gay athlete (he hasn’t even played a game since coming out) but Eric bristles throughout the interview, visibly uncomfortable and unwilling to talk about being gay because he doesn’t want to just be “that gay athlete.” His self-loathing really comes out when he finally blurts out, “I’m gay but I’m not a faggot.” But, of course, Leslie works her magic to make sure that doesn’t make it to print.

It was a packed episode. Besides all of the aforementioned plots, there is still the protest at the other high school and a school meeting with angry parents—the comparison of problems between these two schools makes sense but it still keeps taking me out of the major narrative. There is Eric’s new boyfriend telling him “nothing happened at that party that you didn’t want to happen” and there’s Terri bursting into Anne’s work to yell “Your son is a whore.” “Episode Six” was a rough watch from beginning to end; final scenes include Eric baiting Taylor into a meeting where Taylor gets ambushed by members of the basketball team and Kevin’s father planning … something to try and get Anne to back down. This certainly isn’t going to end well.

Stray observations

  • So, what’s up with geeky single father bullying bullies? I found myself way more excited about that being further developed than about the contintuation of the racial tensions at Marshall High.
  • I’m also still impatiently waiting a much-needed discussion between Taylor and Anne about how he wants everything to go away and she can’t let the case go. Both make good points; I can’t choose a side.
  • Leslie is certainly perceptive—she knows that Anne isn’t going to take a settlement (Anne needs the case to go to court because she needs to expose the school’s secrets) but she’s also confident: “This can be handled. It just … it can.”
  • Regina King yelling “You’re gonna get what’s yours” scares the hell out of me.
  • Extra of the week award goes to that girl lazily waving a tiny pride flag at the assembly.