AMERICAN CRIME started its third season with a gripping yet quiet first episode, boasting top notch performances from the entire cast. It’s hard to say exactly what this season’s main thread will be at this point. We have a lot of characters here and a number of different crimes. It seems that among the focuses of this season are forced labor, particularly that of illegal immigrants and how they are treated, as well as sex work, potentially with minors. If there is a central mystery that the story will tell this season, it was very light this episode.
It began with a 911 call, over black. Somebody, in Spanish, was reporting a dead body. “Es un muerto.” We don’t know who it is calling or who it is that is dead, and that’s more or less the last of this plot thread we get for the episode. We’re then taken to the United States/Mexican border. There we see an American man leading a large group of Mexicans over the border, even through a wall. We meet Luis here, traveling by himself and always looking solemn. He wants to go to North Carolina, even though the man helping him out said he could hook him up with a job in California, Texas, or Florida. When he’s asked if he has family there, he just looks down. And the next thing we know, he’s on a bus, headed for North Carolina.
We then meet Kamara Walters, played by the fantastic Regina King. She’s trying to pay her cable bill, but her account had been inactive for greater than thirty days and so she couldn’t renew it at her old rate–it’s now doubling. So she’s struggling. But she does work. We next see her at a police station where she’s talking to a young man named Ishmael who had been picked up for prostitution. She tells him she works for Project Open Road, that assists victims of sex work, although Ishmael immediately rejects that he is a victim at all, and doesn’t admit to anything. She convinces him to let her help him find a place to stay, at least for the night, but to their dismay there are no beds open anywhere. She’s at a diner, telling him all she can do is try to help, when he gets up and walks out on her. It’s the last we see of him in the episode.
The next storyline introduced is that of the Hesby family, long time owners of a large family farm. We meet the siblings JD, Laurie Ann, and Carson, who are getting the bad news that their farms just can’t compete numbers wise with others. They are taking it hard, as they are watching the business their father built crumble, as their father is actually dying himself. It’s a little hard to feel bad for them here after we saw Luis, Kamara, and Ishmael’s struggle. The bottom line is that they need more workers to do more work for less money. And so the hunt is on.
The Hesbys instruct their people to look for trabajadoros. If they can pick, bring them in. This is where we meet Isaac, a farm crew chief looking to recruit anybody who can hustle. He’s literally driving through the streets of rough areas looking for people he can sign up. Coy Henson is a young drug addict who is walking to Patterson, wherever that is, when Isaac buys him a couple beers and some food, tells him that if he really wants to earn some money he should come pick tomatoes on the farm he works for. He can make $200 a day, he’ll have a place to live, and if he needs “other stuff” he can get that for him, too. Connor turns him down but I have a feeling we’ll soon be seeing him picking tomatoes after all.
When we meet Shae, a pretty young girl, she is getting her makeup done at a makeup store. We know something is up when a gruff looking man comes up and asks if she’s almost done in an annoyed tone. Shae tells the makeup artist that she’s going to a nice dinner with her boyfriend and needs to look good. We know better. Her “boyfriend” is her pimp and we soon see him dropping her off at a hotel with a customer, who makes her take off the makeup anyway.
Jeanette, Carson Hesby’s wife, visits her sister Raelyn, who is quite down on her luck. She’s living alone with a few kids trying to make ends meet, since her man just up and left them without a word three weeks ago. Jeanette and Raelyn seem estranged, like they haven’t been close, but Jeanette wants to change that. Later, talking to her husband, she asks him to see about getting Raelyn a job on the farm, but Carson isn’t having it. Turns out Raelyn stole money from his dad when she was employed by them before. Raelyn has struggled with drugs but is clean now. It’s not enough to convince Carson to help Jeanette get her a steady, good paying job.
We catch back up with Luis, arriving on the farm in a blue bus, where he meets Matias, a farm crew chief who gives him the run down on how things work. Luis won’t even be making any money until he pays off what he owes to the people who helped him cross the border and get hooked up with a job. Matias shows him to Luis’ new home–a dumpy little trailer he’ll be sharing with God knows how many other workers at a time. Is this the life Luis pictured when he illegally crossed into America?
The episode ends with poor Shae with yet another gross sweaty john when the motel door is kicked in and police raid the room. Next thing we know she’s meeting Kamara, who’s giving her the same exact explanation of what she does as the one she gave Ishmael to start the episode.
Overall, the stories were simple and I’m not quite sure it clearly set up the promise of what the season will contain. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it and was glued to the screen. I particularly appreciated the style in which the director told these stories. About 90% of the episode is a close up on a character’s face and the action goes on in the background behind them in long, static shots. It makes things feel intimate with this large cast of characters, who already feel very real.
Season 3, Episode 1 (S03E01)
American Crime airs Sunday at 10PM on ABC
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Paul Gulyas | Contributor