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

An uncomfortable but necessary episode of American Crime

Illustration for article titled An uncomfortable but necessary episode of American Crime

The first thing I want to talk about is the scene that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw the screener a few weeks ago: Taylor getting a rape kit done by a forensic nurse. See, over the summer I watched every episode of Law & Order: SVU to date, for the simple reason that it was on Hulu, and it started to have something of a numbing effect. When you watch an episode of SVU, which is not necessarily a good show but not exactly a bad one, either, there are occasionally scenes that can be devastating or even triggering. When you watch 366 episodes of SVU in rapid sucession, sometimes up to 12 in a single sitting, it begins to lose its bite and becomes almost banal. It’s certainly a strange feeling to realize that you have sort of become numb to rape storylines on television (and it doesn’t help that they were seemingly everywhere last year) but man, was I blown away by the intensity of tonight’s American Crime episode.

In the hospital, a nurse plainly (almost sing-songy) details everything she’s doing, and everything she’s going to do. She reels off the rape kit ritual: antibiotics for possible STDs, swabbing for DNA, looking at delicate, invasive areas for possible signs of injury and trauma, testing the blood for drugs and diseases, and so on. What’s so jarring is how routine this is for her, how it’s clear how often she’s recited this spiel, and how calmly and patiently—partly for the sake of the victim—she explains the process. What’s more jarring, and even viscerally upsetting, is the way the scene is shot.

Directing and cinematography is something that often goes overlooked in TV shows (and doubly so for broadcast networks, I suspect) but both are elements that must be commended on American Crime. “Season Two: Episode Two“ is directed by Clement Virgo. In the aforementioned scene, the camera never gives more than auditory attention to the nurse in the room but instead keeps its focus solely on Taylor. Featuring multiple shades of blue—his shirt, the walls, the overall tint—the scene becomes claustrophobic as it closes in on Taylor’s face: his expression (confused, nervous, uncomfortable, and in disbelief that this is currently happening), the tears in the corners of his eyes, the flashback of the photos racing through his mind. Combined with the sound design—the woman’s voice fades; other noise increases—it all works together to create a necessary intense (and informative) scene of television, one that’s sure to stick around in your brain for a little while.

But that was the good in the episode. Let’s talk about the less-than-good (because nothing is outright bad in this season so far). It’s hard not to zone out a bit during the school adminstration subplots. Not the ones in which the Leslie discusses the rape (or, as she puts it, “an issue”) because it’s definitely interesting to see the ways in which she tries so hard to sweep this under the rug without explicitly saying that she doesn’t believe (or want to believe) Taylor, and because she wants to make sure nothing will stop her quest for more donations from parents. But the talks of donations independently of the rape case, as well as some admin stuff at Evy’s school (which is a touch more interesting, at least). It’s not that any of this is boring but it seems like it might take a while to get invested in these plots, particularly because the main plot, the titular crime, is inherently more enthralling than everything else that’s occuring.

Because I’m familiar with the first season of American Crime, it’s a little easier to be patient with the scenes that seem to be a bit unconnected in terms of the greater narrative, such as Terri confronting Kevin about the $900 bracelet he bought for his girlfriend (though I did like that it was another instance of a bait-and-switch scene; I expected her to confront him about the photos of Taylor.) That said, I would watch and love any scene of anything featuring Regina King, so at least there’s that! I’m also still not sure what to make of Evy and Taylor’s relationship, nor am I sure what to make of Eric.

The episode confirmed that Eric is gay (or bi, or at least questioning; specifics aren’t at play here) through a scene where he hooks up with a man in a car. There are a lot of layers to unpack, especially that moment where Eric stops to explain he just wants to kiss which could possibly have to do with him not ready for another sexual encounter if the last (and possibly first ever) encounter he had with the same sex was him horrifically raping someone.(And it’s made clear that Eric is involved, and so is Kevin, though the extent of what they did won’t be revealed for a while, I’m sure.) This is the wariness I mentioned last week: the whole plot takes a strange, potentially disastrous, turn when it’s a rape motivated by a boy coming to terms with his sexuality rather than a rape that’s say, a power-play or hazing ritual between male teammates. Neither of which are at all acceptable, of course, but the former is particularly worrisome — specifically in terms of doing harm to depictions of queer characters on television. But it’s only the second episode and patience is a virtue in American Crime.


Stray observations

  • The cold open was also pretty great, though more for the frustration of witnessing a police office react to the news that the victim’s a male. This is a common theme in the episode and, I’m sure, the rest of the season as well.
  • Lili Taylor continues to do great work, this time in her therapy session.
  • A good point in that scene: her therapist saying that it’s up to the victim to “decide if they want to pursue their case.”