With its second episode of if its third season, AMERICAN CRIME continued to paint a pretty grim picture of life in America for those among us who are easily exploitable or in need. Whether you’re a migrant worker, a teen sex worker, or a destitute drug addict, those in power are going to take advantage of you and constrain you, and only an elite few may even have the moral convictions to make a point to notice.
The episode began where we left off, with young prostitute Shae in the custody of social worker Kimara. Kimara is feeling pressure from the DA to get Shae to testify against her pimp Billy, who, as she is seventeen, they can snag on underage prostitution charges and put him away and off the streets for a good amoutn of time. But the problem Shae sees is that if she agrees to talk, there will be nine months before now and the trial, and where will she go? How will she be safe? She has relied on Billy to provide for her, and while Shae has led a hard life, going out on calls on a moments notice and facing the presumably violent wrath of Billy if she ever balked,she still hesitates, when Kimara proposes she put her in a shelter where she can be safe, and work on herself, even getting her GED. Finally, she agrees, but it’s not a clear choice for her.
One reason that may have swayed Shae to agreeing to go to the group home is that, as it is revealed this episode, she is pregnant, and not for the first time. I’m willing to guess that Kimara’s group home will offer some much needed pre-natal care Shae wouldn’t be getting from Billy and her five fellow teen sex workers she shares one room with. It’s important to note that even without the care for her unborn baby she needs, Shae would likely prefer to be with Billy. In the group home, she has seven roommates, no electronics are allowed, and she must attend church every morning. We shall see if she lasts here.
It’s interesting to pair Shae’s pregnancy storyline with Kimara’s, who we know from the first episode has been trying and failing to become pregnant. At forty years old with no husband or child to speak of, Kimara is feeling desperate to become a mother. After another cold and clinical meeting with a fertility doctor, Kimara confides in a friend that starting a family “shouldn’t be so lonely” and your heart breaks for her. Kimara is at a crossroads where she has become jaded with her job, knowing that so few people can be saved and even fewer WANT her help to begin with. Her alternative to this is to have her own child she can help and nurture, but even that isn’t working out. Late in the episode, we see her visit her brother-in-law Reggie, who she shared a brief short spark with. Kimara asks if he would be the sperm donor for her child. He is taken aback but doesn’t dismiss it right away. He says he needs to discuss it with his wife.
We got some interesting developments in Luis’s storyline this episode, which may be my favorite of the series thus far. Luis as we know is working as an illegal immigrant on the Hesby’s farm, but we also know he specifically wanted to go to North Carolina. Why? Well it is revealed he is searching for his missing son, Teo, he came here before him. This is such an interesting angle to a mystery. A father after his son in a foreign land where he must blend in with the rest of the illegal workers in order to lay low and find information. It is also revealed that Luis, who we previously had only seen speak Spanish, is in fact bilingual. When Luis leaves the farm to look for information he is tracked down by his boss and ordered to return to the farm or else he’ll be reported to the police. Luis, in a triumphant moment, tells his boss in English that he knows they can’t go to the police because that would reveal the Hesby’s are employing illegal immigrants, which would put them in hot water as well. Luis is able to continue his search for his son outside the farm, and after paying a man $20, acquires the information that Teo had a smart mouth and was often in trouble with the bosses; not the ideal worker. Did the bosses have a hand in his murder? (And is it Teo’s body floating in the river we keep seeing flashes of?)
We’ve followed the storylines of the exploited, but what about the Hesby’s themselves? In the most depressing element of this episode full of depressing things, fifteen migrant workers were killed in a fire when trapped in a trailer on one of the Hesby’s farms. And the sad thing is, the Hesby’s could care less. Except for Jeanette, Carson’s wife. At a lavish party we meet the matriarch of the Hesby family, Laurie Ann Hesby, who is exactly the rich white woman lacking in empathy you expect her to be. When Jeanette gets word that some workers were tragically killed, she asks if there is anything she can do. Laurie Anne’s response: “These folks have our prayers.” PRAYERS. Thank you, Laurie Anne. Jeanette isn’t going to take that as an answer. She begins to investigate what actually happened at the farm, and in the final minutes of the episode, she goes there to see the charred remains of the trailer where up to twenty men were living. Jeanette is realizing what her family is complicit in. What will she do?
Overall, the episode seemed a little more focused than the first, which is understandable as the premiere episode had a lot of characters to introduce and storylines to set up. I hope the season continues down the path, and I look forward to the intertwining of all these interesting storylines.
Season 3, Episode 2 (S03E02)
American Crime airs Sunday at 10PM on ABC
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Paul Gulyas | Contributor