It takes a village to raise a child, as that old nugget of Clintonian wisdom goes. But on American Crime, it takes a congregation to raise bail—$100,000 to be exact—scraped together by Aliyah and the followers at her mosque, securing a million-dollar bond for Carter’s release as the district attorney’s murder rap against him continues to disapparate like so many Harry Potter villains.
And in Episode 5, less than 24 hours from the moment Carter sheds his ridiculous red and white prison jumpsuit to return to a prescribed civilian life (no drugs, no “consorting with persons engaged in criminal activity,” and no barbecue pork ribs, thanks to his sister’s conditional rescue), pretty much every element of his meager existence shatters into a million shards of pain. But more on that in a minute.
The episode is bisected in distinct ways by three characters’ before and after reactions to incarceration: their respective ways of adjusting to life on outside jail or, in Hector’s case, his redoubled efforts to achieve some measure of justice with manacled hands.
We catch up to Hector back in the prison hospital ward, still on crutches, but recuperating from the horrible face-slashing he suffered thanks to his old gang Los Cuetes. Now sporting a gruesome scar rippling with metal staples down the left side of his face, he meets with a prosecutor who reminds the character he will be deported back to Sinaloa on prior murder charges. But, oh, would Hector mind providing more testimony about Matt Skokie’s murder before he goes?
Tattooed on his neck and arms, shot by cops and knifed by gangs, Hector wears a litany of uniquely American immigrant pain etched across the canvas of his body. But he knows well enough that cops have a weak case without him, so he starts trading horses. “It’s not deportation; it’s extradition,” Hector hisses at the prosecutor. “And if I’m facing charges here, you don’t have to send me anywhere. I’m not dumb. Don’t act like I am.”
With his butter soft features and smiling eyes, Tony continues his inexorable slide into good-boy-gone-bad-dom. Sprung from juvie on parole, he’s hardly immune to the side-eye glances he receives from Sunday parishioners at his church who suspect the worst of him. And when Alonzo suggests he and Tony fix up the old car down at the garage—the very same one in which Tony was arrested—the teenager explodes at his father in an uncharacteristic rage. “I don’t want to see that again!” Tony tells Alonzo, wild-eyed. “God, you’re so stupid!”
Later in the episode, when Tony calls Luis (Joseph Julian Soria), a smilingly thugged-out friend of his sole friend in juvenile hall, it’s hardly a surprise that the more worldly gangster character makes a strong impression that can literally and figuratively lead to no good. “You want a piece of my action?” Luis asks.
The viewer finally meets Matt—grey, unmoving, laid out on a morgue gurney, the impact wound from his slug to the temple visibly undiminished by two months passing since the murder. And we follow him to his final resting place: the dreaded Oakland cemetery Barb railed so valiantly against for the past three American Crime installments. There is a deeply awkward conversation between Mark and Barb in which he tells her—surprise!—he’s engaged to be married. Why hadn’t he told his mother earlier? “Mom, she’s a woman of color.”
Mark calls B.S. on the way Barb talks about “black and illegals, those people,” and reminds her, “You don’t know how that messed me and Matt up!”
Barb initially balks at the accusation—“You sound like you’re under the influence. Did your girlfriend give you a little study guide of what to say?”—before a certain motherly override kicks in: “Can I meet her?” It’s the first incremental dose of compassionate behavior Felicity Huffman’s character has demonstrated since the show began.
Which brings us to the neo-Shakespearean tragedy of Carter and Aubry’s reunion, an upside-down love story that hammers home the old saw about being careful what you wish for.
Outwardly sober, her skin noticeably brightened, with a shy, intermittent smile affixing her face, Aubry appears to be on the road to recovery. Even the gnarly scar on her forehead from Episode 1’s nightclub bathroom brawl seems to be fading into the past. So much so, her adoptive father agrees to rent her a car and volunteers (with a halting, paternal grin) to kick in pocket money.
We in the audience quickly register the road to hell is paved with good intentions, though. And it’s not long before she’s knocking on the door of Carter’s domicile where Aliyah has rather unwisely left him to his own devices for a couple of days to recuperate from prison.
NEXT: Carter and Aubry reunite