Monday, March 27, 2017

REVIEW: 'American Crime' - Luis Learns More About His Son's Whereabouts in 'Episode Three'

ABC's American Crime - Episode 3.03 "Episode Three"

Luis arrives at the Hesby Farm and receives important information about his missing son. Coy witnesses a horrific incident that changes his entire perception about life in the field and confirms his dark new reality. Shae begins to reconsider her decision to stay in a shelter. Kimara receives difficult personal news. After a deep and revealing conversation, Jeanette and JD attend the workers' rally.

American Crime started this season with a sprawling narrative of characters who seemingly had nothing to do with one another but were destined to collide in interesting ways. It promised to deconstruct the life of rural America in 2017. Through three episodes so far, the show has allowed its stories to breathe. It's in no rush to move the story forward or reveal how everything connects. Yes, some characters have run into each other. But it's not done in overt ways. It's just a complicated narrative where the actions of one person can ripple out and affect so many lives. With that kind of pressure that ripples throughout the generations, it creates an environment like the one the audience is seeing on the Hesby farm. It's a brutal story to watch. One that still hasn't totally identified the central crime of the season. But one that is forcing the characters to address their own guilt or ignorance in compelling ways.

The journey of Luis this season has been particularly engaging to watch. It's a mystery of sorts. First, it was a question of why this man was so intent on traveling to North Carolina. And now, he's simply trying to find answers as to what happened to his son, Teo. It's a mystery that does lead him back to the Hesby farm and the cruel working conditions there. But it's also a fascinating journey getting to that point. Luis is just going from farm to farm looking for anyone who can provide a clue on Teo's whereabouts. He is pointed in several different directions. Some of them are helpful. Others not so much. Plus, he has to work on the farms as well. It's a job he's not particularly good at - especially since he's actually an accountant. It's a journey that eventually leads to the women Teo was nice to and stood up for against the oppressive bosses at the farm. It's brutal to watch as Luis' spirit is broken down as the women goes deeper into her story. He's seen firsthand just how greedy and corrupt this profession can be. The plight of the migrant worker is tough enough. But now, it carries so much more abuse knowing they live in poor housing and are physically abused by the bosses. Teo was the victim of such treatment.

All of this leads Luis to Diego and Isaac. They are the bosses on the Hesby farm. This hour opens with the shot of Diego raping one of the farm hands. It's a brutal scene that Coy witnesses as well. But this whole story takes a devastating turn near the end of the hour when the conflict between Diego and Coy finally comes to ahead. Isaac and Coy's closeness has been a major definer of this story. It's an open and honest dynamic but also one of cruelty to each other. It's heartbreaking to listen to Coy talk about his many death experiences like it's nothing. It's not nothing though. Isaac knows better but still gives drugs to Coy. Meanwhile, when Diego is trying to put Coy in his place, Isaac is just standing idly by. Coy believes Isaac isn't willing to stand up to his brother. He lacks the courage to stand opposed to him. But this moment does inspire Isaac into action. It's just beating up Coy instead. It's a rough sequence to watch. One that proves to Luis just how abusive and cruel this world can be. It's in this moment that he shows up at the farm. It confirms just how dark and tragic these working conditions are capable of being. When Diego is beating up Coy, it's likely to silence him for what he saw. When Isaac does it, it's to prove a point. He loves his brother and job more than Coy.

And of course, these people can justify their actions simply because it's the way that things have always been done. That's what Jeannette comes to learn as she tries to do more in the family business. She was blissfully unaware as to what was going on. She sees the devastation from the fire and recoils in horror. She sees a responsibility to those workers that Laurie Ann, Carson and JD are not upholding. It's causing real friction in her marriage. Carson tries to ease that by saying Laurie Ann and JD plan on reviewing their subcontractors and seeing where improvements can be made. But that obviously wasn't true as JD is shocked to hear about it when Jeannette actually shows up. This is something that Jeannette is passionate about. It's likely her white guilt motivating her into action. She's lived a privileged life of ignorance. And now that she knows better, she can't just be a part of the cover up. She needs to do something. Anything is better than the life she has been living. So, she and JD attend a workers meeting. Hopefully, she'll learn more about what it's like to work on the farm. But that probably will only open her eyes even more to just how destructive this environment can be.

All of these storylines connect to the Hesby farm somehow. But elsewhere, there is Kimara and Shae who are still in their own completely separated story. It's completely different as well. It's unclear how their stories will develop especially since they hit their big moments early in the season. The premiere freed Shae from her pimp. And now, she is trying to figure out how to move forward with her life. It's heartbreaking to listen to her speak in group therapy about "a little family being nice." The reveal that her father's girlfriend forced her to get an abortion shows just how complicated her relationship to family is. And yet, it's still something she aspires to. That builds a connection to Kimara as well. She has an equally devastating moment when she pleads her case to her ex-boyfriend to be her sperm donor. She wants to feel the unconditional love of a child. It's something that she's missed out on in life. She wants it before her time is up for good. This story still feels like it will head in the predictable direction of Shae giving Kimara her baby. However, it continues to work because of the strong performances from Regina King and Ana Mulvoy-Ten. They allow the audience to have patience until the narrative reveals just how they may be connected to all the wrongdoing on the Hesby farm.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode Three" was written by Janine Salinas Schoenberg & Moisés Zamora and directed by Victoria Mahoney.
  • It's looking more and more likely that Teo is dead. He could have been a victim from the fire. Or he could be the body in the river teased in the opening of the season. Of course, the show still has time to zig instead of zag. It's built up this expectation for a tragic ending. So maybe it'll be even better to see a happy reunion between father and son.
  • The fact that workers have been killed many times over the years largely proves that Laurie Ann may be covering up the fire to avoid any bad publicity at the farm. It's certainly something that is affecting Jeannette and JD more than the rest of the family.
  • Speaking of JD, he may be an alcoholic. Jeannette is by no means an expert on the subject. She thinks she just knows what it looks like. And yet, knowledge of every horrible thing the business has covered up could be enough explanation for why JD drinks so much.
  • Shae is feeling very isolated at her new group home. Yes, she shares in group therapy. But she's not into the work she's forced to do or the religious gathering that starts her day. Instead, she gets into trouble for having a phone. But that just shows how she sees the world and just wants to look at something beautiful. That's a desire that Kimara encourages even though it technically breaks the rules.
  • There are a number of really fantastic shots in this episode. The final fight between Coy and Isaac is terrific because it happens from afar. That allows Luis and Diego's reactions to be seen as well. But it also highlights just how isolating and crippling this experience can be. The same can also be said of Shae's share in group. It starts with someone else, then it pans to her and pushes in as it shows how much power she gets from these feelings despite how emotionally draining they are.