Few Will Return From The Waste Land After Season 2 Of American Crime
Many questions are left unanswered, but there's no question that the bar has been reset for network TV dramas.
I'm so grateful it's over. Not that what we saw was bad, obviously -- this season will stand as one of the great cultural achievements of the decade -- but, because as so many have said, it was like watching the last episodes of Breaking Bad: genius, but stressful. This season of American Crime proves Anselm Kiefer's assertion: "Art is difficult; it's not entertainment."
But I'm so thankful that we viewers and the show's creators took this journey together. How do you start every week with a blank page and finish with a masterpiece? With the combined efforts of these writers and directors, this casting director, this editor, and above all, this cast. I don't know the last time I saw a company as uniformly excellent as this. All the major bodies better recognize the shit out of this show come awards time.
I'm also grateful these episodes came out one at a time each week; I don't think it would have been as powerful had I mainlined it on Netflix, and I needed the time between episodes to recover.
This season affected me profoundly. I can't remember the last time a piece of television spoke to me so directly that I felt I was being personally addressed -- reminding me of my own experiences as a gay teenager, and later in life dealing with bullies in positions of power, how they look down on people with little or no power. I've also had my own issues managing my mental health, and even though I've gone through all the appropriate steps -- working with a therapist; taking the appropriate medications; managing my not inconsiderable fondness for a pint or five of Guinness -- I never really owned up to my disability until some recent events in my life coincided with this show. At the scene in which Anne owns her past without apologizing or being ashamed of it, a light finally went on: I understood that I have a condition, which makes me who I am in all my giddiness and sadness and hyperactivity and rage, and I love that it is part of me because I cannot imagine myself being this any other way. So thank you, show; thank you, Anne; and thank you, Lili Taylor.
So, to the finale. How do things play out? As many predicted, we don't find out what happened with Taylor and Eric; both repeat their versions adamantly, and the show doesn’t take one viewpoint over the other. Eric may always believe what he told closet case/asshole Todd: "I knew this kid at my school, the same thing, said he was all curious and whatever. Turned him out. He started screaming about how he really didn't want it. That bitch."
But it's impossible not to take a side, and I feel that Taylor is telling the truth because the reality is that anyone who has sex with men will inevitably have an encounter that goes awry at some point in his or her life. The tragedy here is that it happened to Taylor at such an early age, and set in motion all these terrible events, and leads to him pleading to a sentence that will keep him in jail until he's nearly thirty. He's right that his rapist shouldn't be the one who gets him a reduced sentence: "I got attacked, I got beat up, I go into that room one more time, and I play the victim. How do you think it makes me feel to have my future depend on the guy who raped me?" He takes the power back, and I just dissolve when he tells Anne, "None of this is your fault, Mom." It goes without saying that Lili Taylor and Connor Jessup are powerhouses here. I'm all out when it comes to her -- there's nothing left to say except put her on our currency. We can invent a denomination -- the $25 bill -- and put her on it. She's a genius. It's not fair to single out one performer from the three deities -- Huffman, King, and Taylor -- but Anne Blaine is a superlative performance and one that will stay with me for a long time.
As for Eric, I hope he can process what he did and begins living a different, less angry life -- and I'm not passing judgment, but cruising for hookups isn’t a great way to spend your teenage years -- although where else is there for these kids to go? And where is Eric headed? Most likely some form of sentencing. I would like to think his last plaintive look at the camera is a sign of remorse and acceptance.
Many have contemplated on what the American Crime is; I'm convinced it’s the broken school system. How do you achieve the American dream? Education. And what we've seen here is that whether you're in the public or private streams, you're still going to get screwed over. Everything that's happened could have (and would have, were Taylor a rich kid) been avoided had Coach and Leslie advocated for Taylor and not rushed to judgment, suspending the working-class student for "violating school standards." Even though it's on serve at five-all in the fifth (with no tiebreak) between these two, neither of them will win. Sullivan has his daughter in detention for dealing drugs tangentially tied to a homicide; Leslie finally receives her marching orders for possibly leaking Anne's medical records. Let them both fuck off. In the public system, the schools are so overcrowded that it's impossible to give students the attention they need, and one bad decision can cause your downfall, because it's all about profit and loss. As is explained to Dixon, "Do you understand what is going on here? You're just costing the district money."
While Sebastian is usurped and forced to flee, his initial actions set up the bigger hack of information leading to the downfall of everyone involved -- and that, at least, is some restitution for Anne. But Terri pays a heavy price -- she loses her job because of a "business decision" ensuing from the leaked emails, and yet I feel she's regained a part of her soul that may have been missing. In the end, Terri did the right thing by her family and her son, and it may not be an accident that when we last see her, she is with Kevin and not Michael and "what it was isn't how it is." And since we've rewarded Lili Taylor with her face on currency, let's also invent a new language when we talk about Regina King; to steal a line that's been used many times: television was invented to bring her into our homes.
We conclude with Taylor's sentencing, the judge advising him that if he pleads out -- and she seems to be strongly telling him not to -- he will get no less than ten years. We're left wondering whether he acquiesced to the deal.
Whatever his decision, he'll never be the same. He'll never be this age again.