On American Crime, Even Ballet Might Not Be Safe
Or: 'You Can Dance If You Want To (See How Terrible Your Community Is).'
Color me impressed. Last week, American Crime seemed to be at a crossroads, poised either to turn its characters into people, or into caricatures. In particular, Taylor's sexuality and Anne's emotional confusion were right on the precipice of making them simplistic, and having been burned by network television so many times, I was nervous.
But it looks like I was worried for nothing! This week, the show complicates not only Anne and Taylor (not, of course, to be confused with Ann Taylor, the ladies' fashion brand), but also everyone around them. The question of the sexual assault, though still very much alive, has ballooned into a community-consuming investigation of what love and loyalty mean.
As Steph Sullivan tells her husband (the coach) while they're arguing about whether he should stay in his job, everyone's talk about trust and compassion is all well and good until it actually gets tested. Now that so many people have so much to lose, their natures are revealing themselves. And in wonderfully written, beautifully filmed scenes that allow them to talk for five to six minutes at a time! I swear to god, it's like ABC became AMC for a minute.
But I digress: the mounting stakes mostly play out this week in scenes between couples. Terry and Michael LaCroix, for instance, become a truly united front for the first time, refusing to accept a police officer's mealy-mouthed explanation that the case against Kevin has been dropped. Ferociously protective of their son, they immediately notice that the officer isn't exactly saying the police are leaving anything alone. They're just...taking a break. Possibly my favorite line delivery of the season comes when Andre Benjamin, as Michael, shuts the cop down after she looks to him to be calmer than his wife. "Terri...she's fierce," he says. "She really is." And there's a note of apology there. Like, "Hey, look. I get it. She's not always sunshine." Then, in the same gentle tone, he adds, "But please do not mistake me for being the reasonable one. Especially when it comes to our son." OHHHHHH! Take THAT, copper!
I love how clannish the LaCroixs are. We've been shown that's partly because their elitist snobs. But we've also seen indirect evidence of what it's like for them as one of the few black families in their social sphere. In a meeting with her board about how to shut down the crisis, Headmaster Leslie says that the school doesn't need to be as aggressive about defending young Kevin, since he's from one of only three black families that pays full tuition. Surely none of them will be overly defensive -- not like the parents of the poor, white, gay kid, who is a magnet for cries of oppression from the majority. It's a scary, ruthless argument that everyone accepts with sighs of relief, and it makes you think about why Terri is so relentless.
Speaking of Headmaster Leslie: she also forces that confrontation between Steph and Dan Sullivan, since she not-so-subtly tells Steph that Dan ought to convince his players to lie about shit. SO SHADY.
The resulting, lengthy debate between the Sullivans deserves a screenwriting Emmy of its own, because it tells us oceans about their marriage AND makes several deep arguments about the value of protecting people in an environment that won't protect you. It's so obvious Steph and Dan don't speak honestly very often and that they've developed all these reasons not to trust each other. ("She takes too many pills." "He never validates me." Etc.) Yet that the same time, they clearly love and care about each other, which leads to all sorts of messiness here. They're basically clawing through the cotton-wool of their own defensiveness, trying to show their true feelings. When the eventually give up and go to the school fundraiser, I feel so drained I could take a nap. Nothing is settled, but plenty has been said...and now it just hangs in the air.
Speaking of that fundraiser: this is where we see the dance performance Leslie's been monitoring for weeks. The LaCroixs are watching, and so are the Sullivans. And I hope the creative team behind Flesh And Bone is watching, because this shit is more effective than anything on that fright wig of a show. We stay with the dance for a long time, and we see moment after moment of single dancers being tossed to the side while others are supported by the group. Sometimes a female is cast down. Sometimes it's a male, and another guy caresses him. Without being too literal, the dancers keep showing us the series itself -- a changing constellation of outcasts and protected children. It's an incredibly poignant moment, and it strengthens my new belief that the back half of this season is going to be great.