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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Some Thoughts on American Crime, Season 2

The last episode of season 2 of American Crime finished about an hour ago and I must admit to a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the ending for a bit.   I watched the show last season and was very underwhelmed.  While I think it was good, it wasn't particularly captivating.  Well, not in the specifics anyway.  I must admit that I do remember some of the characters and my reactions to them, so it wasn't awful either.

This season of the show has been miles ahead of last season.  It might be that I can better relate to the characters or it just might be that they found their footing, but this season has been nothing less than absolutely captivating.  To recap:

At a private school in Indianapolis, a boy named Taylor (Connor Jessup, Falling Skies) has picture put on social media that are embarrassing to say the least.  He says that he was raped by the co-captain of the school basketball team at the Captains party.  It turns out that he and the co-captain Eric (Joey Pollari, The Inbetweeners) had been texting back and forth and there were some suggestions that Taylor wanted to have some rough sex.  The headmaster of the school (Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives) and the basketball coach (Timothy Hutton, Leverage) try and protect the team and shove the whole thing under the rug.  A chance comment by the other co-captain Kevin (Trevor Jackson, Eureka) persuades several members of the team to beat Taylor up and he retaliates by going to the school with a gun and killing one of them while he is high on drugs bought from the daughter of the basketball coach (Sky Azure Van Vliet, The Roundball).  Meanwhile Eric faces some vicious homophobia from his family and people around him while the school tries to use him to prop up their image.  Taylor's mom Anne (Lili Taylor, Almost Human) gets help from a hacktavist (Richard Cabral, Southland) to change the narrative only to have his cause hijacked by another hacker who gets really personal.  In the end, the headmaster is fired, the basketball coach's daughter goes to jail, the hacktavist leaves town, and Kevin's parents (Regina King and Andre Benjamin) are faced with the prospect of being forced to move because of the actions they took to protect him.  Also, Taylor is offered a plea deal (but we don't know if he accepts it) and Eric seems to be trying to get away from his family and hooking up with a guy.  Meanwhile, at a local public school, there is a lot of racial tension which comes to a head when Taylor's former girlfriend (Angelique Rivera), who is Hispanic, is attacked (felt up, not actually raped) by an African-American boy who is assaulted by two other Hispanic boys.  They are suspended by the African-American principal (Elvis Nolasco), who didn't see what the one boy did, and the students start protesting.  Ultimately, the principal leaves the school.

Ok, so that was a lot.  The question of whether or not the sexual encounter between Taylor and Eric was consensual or not was never answered and that lay at the core of my dissatisfaction.  Then I took the opportunity to think about it and realized that the show was never really about the encounter (consensual or not), it was about how people reacted to what happened.  Taylor's mom went all out to protect her son, the headmaster schemed to protect her school, Kevin's mom denied that one boy could even rape another boy, and Eric tried to kill himself when the fact that he is gay came out.

While knowing what exactly happened would have been more satisfying emotionally, I think that the choice to not reveal exactly what happened was the better one.  By taking the focus off of the event itself, the show allowed us to see ourselves and our society and how people from different backgrounds (race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc.) can perceive the same event in very different ways and how events take on a life of their own that is completely separate from the event that spawned them.  As Evy, Taylor's former girlfriend, said tonight, people cared less about her as a person and more about her as a symbol.  When we turn real, living people into symbols and stop seeing them as the people they are, we lose sight of what is really important.

The headmaster of Leyland School is the perfect example.  Her goal throughout the entire season was to protect the school and its funding.  To that end, she manipulated and used people regardless of their feelings.  When Eric got out of the hospital after his suicide attempt, she paraded him in front of the school at an assembly to show how accepting the school is and then had him interviewed by a LGBT publication.  Here is a boy who was forced out of the closet, accused of rape, and then attempted suicide, and somehow she thinks that it's ok to more or less force him into an interview like that?  Like I said, he became a symbol to her and stopped being a person.

Almost every character became something similar.  They were all stripped of their humanity by other people and held up as symbols, whether the symbol was good or bad.  Taylor saw his mother being humiliated by someone releasing her medical records and was bullied so much that he took drugs and then killed someone.  Ultimately, he decided to take his humanity back and make his own decisions to put the whole thing behind him.  Or at least, I assume he did, given the fact that he was talking about taking the plea deal.

As for the public school, we already saw how Evy felt about being turned into a symbol.  The principal didn't talk to her about what happened and her attacker wasn't punished at all.  Should the other boys have been punished?  Absolutely.  They attacked him, even if it was provoked.  Fortunately, the principal was honest enough to admit to his mistakes and he took responsibility for what he did and didn't do.  I do think Evy was wrong when she said that Taylor didn't care for her.  I got the feeling that he did care for her, but because of the rampant homophobia in the community, he did what he had to do to stay closeted and ended up using her himself as a shield to protect his true identity from the world.

This show tackled coming out, homophobia, sexual assault (male on male and male on female), racism, classism, and so many other issues head on this season.  While answers might have been nice, I think that the lack of answers was even better because that allows us to focus on the message and to give ourselves a long, hard look.  Satisfying?  No.  Better?  Absolutely.