Monday, March 20, 2017

REVIEW: 'American Crime' - A Fire Forces Jeanette to See the Family Business Differently in 'Episode Two'

ABC's American Crime - Episode 3.02 "Episode Two"

While Luis finds himself sinking further into servitude on the farm, Isaac tries to protect Coy from abusive conditions in the fields. Jeanette begins to wonder if her family is down-playing a trailer fire, which killed a number of their undocumented workers. Kimara tries to transition Shae from being an underage victimized prostitute to sustaining herself as she tries to convince Shae to testify against her former pimp.

The third season premiere set out to tell a sprawling tale of rural America in 2017 and the new challenges the people face. It was a complex and busy episode that introduced a number of rich and nuanced themes. It was a mesmerizing episode. "Episode Two" is able to relax a little bit. It's still addressing all of these serious issues. But it's also taking its time telling this story. It's in no rush to move the plot along or tell the audience how all of these characters are going to be connected. Some stories are more effective than others. This hour also reveals what the central crime of the season may be. A fire breaks out in the trailer park that houses some of the migrant workers who work on the farm. That action could be the thing that sets so many things into motion and really make this whole system come tumbling down. But the hour is very slow and deliberate with that reveal. It doesn't rush into it. It takes the time to tell the other stories of the additional characters who may not seem connected but will factor into the narrative somehow later on.

However, this is one impressive episode for Felicity Huffman. This is such a different role for her to play in comparison to the first two seasons. Previously in this anthology series, she has played these cold and distant characters who were hard to like and connect with. She still delivered powerful performances but they were unlikable characters. And now, she's playing a woman, Jeanette, who is blissfully ignorant of how corrupt and complicated her husband's business really is. She's simply shopping for custom-made furniture while Carson gets a call saying some workers have died. Her exploration of that incident is really powerful because it's such an eye-opening experience for her. She believed her husband and his family were good people who ran a nice, legal business. She didn't believe they could even be involved with anything illegal. She sees them as people who do the right thing whenever possible. This story proves that's not the case at all. In fact, it rips open the many different opinions and emotions of this family and how they clash with one another. That's such a fascinating story told in some subtle ways.

Jeanette can't believe that there is no news coverage at all of this tragedy. Fifteen people died in a fire and she can't find any mention of it online. She's not trying to be morbid but she finds that hard to believe. It's not like she can do anything to change it. She lives a privileged life. But she still wants to do better and understand that more could be done to help these people. Meanwhile, the Hesby siblings' reactions show just who is really in charge. JD feels like the emotional one of the family. The one who cares just as deeply as Jeanette. But instead of trying to do more for these people, he drinks his sorrows away. And then, Carson sympathizes with the tragedy that has just happened but is also able to rationalize not taking any action because it didn't happen on the farm. That fight that he has with Jeanette is wonderful to watch because it shows that he can just bring up her sister Raelyn whenever he wants to deflect from his own emotions in regards to the family. And finally, there is Laurie Ann who is in charge of this business and has probably seen more incidents like this than either JD or Carson. It's her reaction that is very telling of what their father is probably like as well. Her simple line reading of "those folks are in our prayers" is chilling. She simply puts on a face for Jeanette and says these people are strong and will be able to survive this horrifying ordeal. She's putting the spin out there. But perhaps something more sinister is going on as well. Jeanette may not be well-equipped to handle the truth but she's searching for it nevertheless.

Elsewhere, Kimara is being pressured by the DA to get Shae to testify against her pimp for underage trafficking of girls. She's feeling the pressure because someone read a news article somewhere giving voice to this issue. It's sad that it takes an article being written and seen for people to know that there is a serious problem like this out there. Kimara interacts with abused children all of the time. Their stories rarely have happy endings. Most of the time they just head back into the despair. That's what makes this work so draining. She feels like she's burning out. And yet, she persists and continues to do the work. Shae seems to be going along with the plan even though Kimara doesn't provide her with much hope for the future. In fact, the group home she now resides in could be seen as more of a prison than her previous living arrangement. It's powerful when Kimara is able to give voice to the abuse Shae endured. And yet, the future she provides isn't much better. It's mandatory meetings in chapels and no electronic devices at all. This story also reveals that Shae is pregnant for the second time. That adds to the overall tragedy of this story while also making it seem like it is heading in a very soapy direction moving forward with Kimara's own struggles getting pregnant.

And then, Luis reveals why he has really come to North Carolina for work. He came here with a purpose. He needs to find his son, Teo, who worked on these farms but stopped sending money back home to his parents. It's a powerful story because it paints a strong picture of this 17-year-old kid. He's a guy who loves to talk and share a good story. Someone with big dreams and optimism for his future and respect for his family and the past. That may have been beaten out of him because of these harsh working conditions. That's unclear. Luis just learns that Teo was forced off this farm to work elsewhere. He's determined to be reunited with his son. Of course, there's a looming sense of dread running through this mystery as well. Perhaps Teo was one of the people who was killed in the fire? Or maybe he was the body in the river that opened the season? Or maybe he could still be alive and reunite with his father somehow? All of those remain distinct possibilities. Luis won't stop until he gets some answers. The only awkward beat of this story is the reveal that Luis does speak English. That feels necessary to the overall narrative because it will allow him to interact with more characters. And yet, it's also perfunctory as to why he needed a translator all this time in the first place.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode Two" was written by John Ridley and directed by Julie Hébert.
  • Is it too predictable to assume that Shae will give her baby to Kimara after she fails to get pregnant through IVF treatments yet again? It feels like a safe, generic direction to take this story in. And yet, I have trust in the creative team and the actors to make the journey interesting to watch if that would be the case.
  • However, Kimara's quest to get pregnant really is the one story that feels unnecessary throughout this overall narrative. It shows that she has a life and ambitions outside of work. She's also willing to bring a kid into this world knowing how challenging and depressing it can be. But it's hard to really connect with the scene where she asks a close friend to be her sperm donor.
  • Kimara also has a great friend in Abby. She seems to be aware of all of the issues happening on the show at the moment - sex trafficking, abuse, forced labor, etc. Perhaps she's the character who will connect all the stories together. Or maybe she'll just continue to be a confidante for Kimara as the narrative gets more complicated.
  • Coy decides he's not too good to work at the farm. However, his addiction problem is affecting his ability to do the job. Isaac sympathizes with his situation and even provides him with drugs. And yet, Isaac's brother is also telling him to hold a firm stance because of the amount of work they need to get done each day.
  • There is sexual tension between Coy and Isaac, right? I'm not just projecting that onto their scenes, am I? It seems like Isaac is drawn to Coy for some reason. He wants to help him out. Or would it be too similar to the character Connor Jessup played last season? Of course, just because two characters played by the same actor are gay doesn't mean they are anything alike.
  • Is Laurie Ann actually covering up the fire that killed fifteen people? If so, that would be a dark twist in the story. It would help explain why there is no news coverage of it anywhere. It seems unlikely that it would have managed to avoid local news at least. But if that's the case, then how could Jeanette see the damage firsthand so easily?