[Caution! Don't read this if you haven't watched the most recent episode of American Crime!]
American Crime killed its second big character of the season Sunday — three, if you count Teo, the almost-unseen boy whose death kicked off the season — adding another level of heartbreak and devastation to the captivating season.
We'd been warned by Richard Cabral, who played the cruel, abusive overseer on Hesby farm, that John Ridley's drama would be zipping up another bodybag with the ABC logo on it by the end of the season but, boy, what a sucker punch Shae's (Ana Mulvoy Ten) murder was. Besides the sudden, stunning randomness of it — seeing Shae literally stabbed in the back by one of her young housemates over Shae's benign trespass of "messing with her stuff" in her room — Shae's death was crushing to the few of us who watch this excellent series because she was maybe, improbably, about to turn her life around.
This felt like the episode in which the underage teen prostitute could maybe begin some kind of upward trajectory. She'd exerted power over her own life and choices before, running away from that suffocating shelter and deciding not to abort the baby she's carrying fathered by a John. Though still selling her body, albeit in a 21st century digital brothel, she's a little bit better off than before. And when she confronts her boss on her paltry pay, the outrage she directs at her (male, obviously) boss hinted to us that one day, this girl would do better for herself and right by her baby.
That day ain't coming, as we know now, because she bled to death on the floor of an Internet whorehouse. Then the men in charge began figuring out what to do with her body because they knew no one would notice her gone. And that's just one storyline: in this episode alone, we saw Clair (Lili Taylor) escalate her dehumanization of her suburban slave Gabrielle (Mickaëlle X. Bizet) and Kimara Walters (Regina King) encouraged to commit fraud... in order to help women in shelters who've fled their abusive partners. It makes The Walking Dead sound like a comedy!
But that's just par for the course for American Crime, which, in its might-be-last season, is simply one strong kick to the emotional groin after the next. A teenaged pregnant prostitute is but one of the screwed-up people in Mr. Ridley's neighborhood; let's not forget Coy (Connor Jessup), the homeless addict sold into slavery on the farm, or Luis (Benito Martinez) who made the grueling trek from Mexico to the U.S. to find his son, only to learn his boy had been dumped in a river. Then he shot the man who did it and vanished on a bus, the official mode of transportation for the All Hope is Lost demographic. Even the patina on the show is somber.
American Crime is easily the most bleak, depressing, effed-up, morose, crawl-in-a-blanket-and-cry show on TV right now (that includes all the Housewives shows) and either in spite of, or because of it, it's network TV's best. No other program rolls around in despair and dirt like this; especially in this season's exploration of immigration, labor and women's issues, no other show distills the complex, serious issues of our day into wrenching, compassionate stories about people that we are better off for seeing and understanding. You know how it is in this life: you can't have one thing without the other. And if getting television this gripping and good means having to call a shrink or watch puppy videos after, so be it. It's worth it.
American Crime airs Sundays at 10/9c on ABC.