Monday, April 17, 2017

REVIEW: 'American Crime' - Shae's Life Takes Another Bleak and Depressing Turn in 'Episode Six'

ABC's American Crime - Episode 3.06 "Episode Six"

Nicholas is distraught with the reality of his failing business and takes his frustration out on Clair. Upset about her deteriorating marriage, Clair becomes increasingly controlling over Gabrielle. Jeanette attempts to find a job while continuing to live with her sister. Kimara is faced with a difficult decision that will test her morals. Shae begins to feel as though she's being shortchanged for her work, which leads to a tragic confrontation.

American Crime has always been a bleak show. It's been a consistent tone as the show has explored different social issues in each season. This may be the bleakest season of the show so far though for a number of reason. It's entirely because there is no common thread that is connecting all of these characters together. It's simply a story about people who live in the same corner of the world but live vastly different lives and how they are all oppressed in different ways. This season is ultimately about the crushing weight of reality and the cruel way the systems of this world can destroy people. It's hard to be optimistic because the realities of the world are so soul-crushing. They force people to bend the rules or make morally questionable choices. The only potential reward is a life that maybe just a little bit better. And yet, there's no guarantee that will actually happen. Perhaps the next stage in life is just as bleak and depressing as the previous one. That certainly seems to be the mentality of the show at this point in the season. It was important that the characters made these decisions that ultimately changed their lives. But now, it's clear that they really aren't better off because of it. In fact, some are even worse than they were before.

It's not surprising that Shae's story ends in tragedy. She always seemed like that kind of character in this story. It's just surprising how it all ends for her. It confirms that her life is so depressing and dark. Even the hope of a baby isn't enough to save her in the end. It's a shocking turn of events that shows the season doesn't want to follow a linear or predictable pattern. It didn't have Shae get pregnant just so her life and the lives of the people around her would change once she had it. Instead, it shows just how tragic and unfortunate her life became because she was so desperate to get the resources to care for the baby. It's something that she wants to do. She seemingly had a good thing going with Kimara. And yet, that ultimately wasn't helping her when it came to the baby. She decided she wanted something better. Something that had the potential for a better life for both her and the baby. Life in the webcam house was filled with a lot of promises in the beginning. It seemed very enticing. It's a world filled with familiar work but without the devastation that came from trading sex for money.

Of course, what ultimately happens to Shae is incredibly random as well. The rest of the characters at the webcam house are very one-note and broad. There's the guy who owns the place and may be taking too much of Shae's cut. There's the guy who introduced her to this world and says she simply needs to be less picky with her clients. And finally, there's the girl who is jealous and territorial. She's the one who ultimately kills Shae. It's a shocking moment because it's not abundantly clear what has happened right away. Shae is simply curious to see what other girls are doing that makes them so successful as performers. What she gets is a nail file to the back of the neck. It's random violence that is absolutely horrifying to watch. The audience literally sees the life go out of her eyes because one of the guys is stupid enough to pull the object out of her neck. It's a little frustrating because her death is seemingly just motivating a man into action. It's just important to see what his reaction to all of this is. That's not that great because he really hasn't been important so far. Her body being left in the river is a chilling final sight. But hopefully, this isn't the end of her story. It will be absolutely devastating once Kimara learns the truth and tries to get Shae the justice she truly deserved.

Meanwhile, Kimara is caught in a moral quandary as well. Her friend, Abby, is asking her to lie to a guy from a charitable foundation in order to get more money from them. On the surface, it seems like fraud. And yet, the show explores the complexity of the situation. It's easy to understand Abby's point-of-view in all of this. She outlines that the shelter doesn't have the resources to help more people because they don't have enough money. Meanwhile, they only have enough money for the quotas they are hitting each year. It's a vicious cycle where people are only generous up to a point. It's simply never enough to truly make a difference. That's what Abby wants to do. She's not asking this of Kimara because she wants more money for herself. She simply wants more and better resources to help more people who need it the most. The system is failing her. And now, it's up to Kimara to decide if it'll continue or not. Kimara has to decide if she is okay with all of this because of the good it might do. If not, it will only further highlight how the actions of one person can have devastating consequences on many others.

Elsewhere, the Coates storyline is probably the least effective story going on at the moment. It's taking up a lot of time when the show could be focusing on other characters who haven't been seen in awhile. But it fits into the narrative themes of the season as well. It would be easy to single Nicholas out as the true problem of this story. He is a horrible and selfish person. His problems at work are legitimate. The way he takes them out on his wife and the people around him is deplorable though. His mentality is destructive. He doesn't deserve to succeed. And yet, Clair is no saint either. Her marriage suffers from a lack of clear communication. Even in their big fight in the end about Clair not being able to get pregnant with Nicholas' baby, it's still not the two of them getting to the root of their problems. It's still them avoiding anything real and just focusing on the fantasies that they want from their lives. Nicholas wants a successful business while Clair wants a happy family. The abuses they endure on others is extremely damaging though. Gabrielle came into this world already broken. And now, Clair and Nicholas are only making things worse. It's unclear just how tragic this story is going to get. Gabrielle hurting herself is a potent and ominous tease. But it's clear that things aren't suddenly going to get better this season.

And finally, Jeanette is finding it difficult to find a job that comes with a living wage. It's her once again getting a wake up call to the realities of the world around her. She had no idea how much her identity was connected to Carson until she tried to leave. And now, she has nothing that is inherently her own. Leaving him is the right thing to do because they have different philosophical ideas about good and bad. But the show is examining whether or not she'll be able to stay away from him. The real world is tough for her because it's her falling down into a depressing situation where minimum wage won't cover her living expenses while any program to learn the necessary skills will take months and lots of money to complete. She's trapped just like so many other characters on the show this season. She's trapped by her circumstances. She wants to leave but may ultimately return to Carson because of the financial security it may bring. That's a horrifying thing to behind. And yet, it also seems completely realistic, relevant and genuine. It plays as something that can truly happen. Financial abuse is keeping her in a potentially dangerous situation. No one seems to understand it but herself. She may finally open up to her sister. But will that ultimately change anything? It seems unlikely.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode Six" was written by Steve Harper and directed by Ramsey Nickell.
  • The one scene that depicts Shae as a webcam performer is very awkward and weird. It shows that she inherently has a good heart despite all the trauma she has endured in life. Of course, she would want to chat with people and form meaningful conversations with them. It's just a scene that goes on for way longer than it should. The introduction of the other woman wasn't all that necessary.
  • Clair is so abusive to Gabrielle because she keeps going back-and-forth on whether people speak to her in English or French and which language Gabrielle is able to respond in. It shows that she holds all the power in this situation. That's also true of her moving Gabrielle to a cluttered sewing room just so she feels like she's doing work by having an office at home.
  • The show very purposefully did not provide subtitles for that scene where Clair spoke French to her friend and Nicholas demanded to know what she said. It set up a mystery for the hour. A mystery that ultimately had to be solved because the audience wanted to know just as much as Nicholas largely out of repetition of it being a crucial and shocking thing to say.
  • Raelyn sees Carson as a great guy and is surprised by Jeanette leaving him. She sees their life as perfect and this crisis Jeanette is going through as not a big deal at all. She's not the supportive sister. And yet, Jeanette is not really opening up about everything that has happened as of late either.
  • Abby paints a nice picture of the shelter getting enough money to truly make a difference in the world. It would include opening a new facility and hiring Kimara to help run it. It's a nice dream for the future. Another glimpse at potential happiness for the characters. And yet, this season has conditioned the audience into believing that it's hopeless to believe it'll be any better than the present.