American Crime Stages A Clash Of The Titans
In an episode full of confrontations, Terri LaCroix and Anne Blaine face off. It's brief but so explosive that Paul Quinn's not sure the universe can handle it.
What we've seen so far this season on American Crime is a masterpiece. It's the best show on network TV in recent memory. I've said that we'll need to invent awards to give it, and at the very least I would hope that the Peabody committee is paying attention. I certainly expect this season to be heavily rewarded come Emmy time, but will that be enough? I've often thought we should have a Nobel Prize for acting, something more prestigious than an Emmy or an Oscar for work that just knocks our socks off. This year I'm awarding it to Regina King, Lili Taylor, and Felicity Huffman, because I have no words for what they are doing on this show. I've admired them all for years, but it's remarkable that they make me forget the acting and only see the characters. Bow down, everyone, because it doesn't get better than this.
Let's get to this episode, which is defined by its pivotal moments of confrontation.
Anne's declared war. She's suing the school for negligence and wants retribution for the end of her American Dream; everything she wanted for Taylor -- go to a good school, get into a good college -- is gone. Her lawyer advises her to settle. But she wants to do whatever it takes to make Leyland pay in public. Leslie is activated and goes into full on PR mode, and in the first confrontation scene of the episode throws down with the school lawyer. This is no longer about the behaviour of the students but rather "a hysterical mother taking some last stab at civil restitution." Ouch. This is so cold the bottle of gin in my apartment froze. She's told to deal with the situation and "end it now." Leslie's weathered many storms, and she's not about to go down without a fight, but I just wonder if she's in over her head here.
Taylor's hanging out at Luke's house. And if you're hoping Taylor can find some solace and understanding here, hope again. All season he's tried to articulate what happened to him and how he feels about it, and every time he's asked, his answers are always the same: "I don't want to talk about it"; "I just want it to be over." Now that he gets to talk openly with someone, what happens? It gets thrown back in his face. He tells Luke that he needs to have a session with his shrink to make sense of everything, but Luke laughs it off in a really nasty way: "For real? The only thing that happened to you is you had a 3 AM hookup." He insists that he got what he was looking for, and then initiates a rough makeout session that Taylor ends by saying, "I don't like it." He goes straight from that confrontation to his therapy session, where his therapist encourages him to confront his feelings and write them down on paper because he just can't get them out verbally. Later, on that advice, he goes over to Nate's house and calls bullshit on Nate's insistence that no one is judging him for "being how you are." Oh well then how about the Colts/Packers game where you yelled: "Stop playing like queers"? What Connor Jessup is doing here is extraordinary, and I can't think of anyone else who could play the role as suitably intense and injured as this -- a youthful Hutton would have been perfect, and it may not be intentional, but I see traces of Conrad Jarrett in Taylor. Watching him here is like living at the foot of a volcanic mountain waiting for the inevitable eruption. It's the most gut-wrenching depiction of gay teenagers I have seen on screen.
It's no walk in the park for Eric either. He's paraded out as the gay poster boy for acceptance and tolerance, which is a huge burden to place on a young man coming to terms with his sexuality, especially when the catalyst for that announcement is his being accused of sexual assault, followed by a suicide attempt. He gives the speech written for him -- and Joey Pollari is amazing here, stumbling over words, but the team is having none of it. Leslie's pushing him into a role he's not ready for and wants him to meet with a gay writer to talk about his experience "as an openly gay athlete." He's seventeen. When that meeting does happen, it also explodes into a fight: when pressed by the writer -- powerfully played here by former NFL player Wade Davis -- on what it means to be a role model, he snaps, "I'm gay, but I'm not a faggot." Leslie tries to do damage control, but this is the first sign that the situation is moving beyond her.
Eric's dad sits down with his estranged wife to discuss their son, and says that if she were to move back in or be around more, it would bring some stability to the home. She lays into him: "That one" -- she can't even say his name -- "he tried to kill himself. He's gay. He raped some other boy." It gets worse. She wonders out loud how things would be different if Eric had killed himself: "We could have at least buried him as our son," whereas now they can't even bring him to church. Throughout all this, her eyes are dead, and this is phenomenal work by an unrecognisable Emily Bergl. I had to watch this scene four times before I could even begin to process it. Fortunately for Eric, there's some semblance of humanity in Curt Tanner (a brilliant Brent Anderson) who wants to protect his son, get him into therapy, help him get better. In response, she spits, "They don't get better." The shouting match starts, but there's no real resolution. To be honest, I don't know how the actors got through that intact. I sure as shit didn't.
A meeting at the LaCroix house between Kevin's parents and their lawyer (who informs them that because Kevin is eighteen, he could be named in Anne's suit) is a lead-in for the scene we've been waiting for: the confrontation between Terri and Anne; and my stomach feels the way when you're about to crest the hill on a rollercoaster. Terri comes storming through the diner and opens ferociously: "Your son is a whore!...Admit it, he got drunk and had sex with another boy. And you don't even care about what you're doing to MY SON." I'm sitting here watching this in Ontario protected by the Great Lakes and even I'm petrified. Anne responds: "You need to go right now." It's all very fast, expertly edited and mercifully brief. It's still an astonishing scene about class and the American Dream, with both mothers trying to protect their sons, while causing more damage than they ever thought possible. They're seeing that dream disintegrate, but do they even know that yet?
Taylor gets a call from Eric, who wants to meet up and talk, and Taylor goes along because after all Eric's the only one who ever made him feel safe. But of course it's a setup, and as soon as he arrives at the designated meeting place, several members of the basketball team jump him.
While the students try to handle the situation in their own misguided, violent way, Leslie calls the lawyer to start thinking about an offer for settlement, and Michael LaCroix trying to call in favors from the family cop friend to get Anne to back off and let her know that "she's messed with the wrong family." But it's too late for agreements: we've moved beyond all of that and are now venturing into territory from which no one will recover.