Van Redin/ABC
Chris Lee
April 10, 2015 AT 03:00 AM EDT

It is an absence so glaring as to become a kind of presence in its own right. In Episode Six, Carter Nix is a no-show: the guy everybody’s talking about and scheming against; the person whose perceived criminality is blanketing the local airwaves and inspiring renewed prosecutorial vigor inside Modesto’s corridors of power. The eye of the American Crime hurricane of dysfunction and misery, he’s someone who does not appear onscreen for even a minute.

Carter is the spectral presence that greets Gwen just days out of her three-month coma. Over the initial protests of Eve and Tom, a police detective insists upon interrogating Gwen as the only eyewitness to Matt’s murder. But when the cop lays out a cluster of perp photos for her to choose from—including Carter’s—and asks what she can recall of the Sunday morning her home ran red with blood, the assault victim draws a blank. “Do you know Carter Nix?” the detective demands. “Can you remember what happened?”

Gwen: child-like, fragile as bone china, borderline amnesiac, propped up on a hospital bed in or somewhere near the Intensive Care Unit. She’s definitely not the person you’d want to make any kind of positive ID—and won’t. “I don’t know people named Carter,” Gwen says, a question masquerading as an assertion.

In another quadrant of the city’s medical universe, Aubry is tied down with physical restraints to her hospital bed, convulsing and puking and sweating toxins from every pore while going through acute withdrawal. “Told ya you’d be back,” says the jailer from Episode Two. Having miraculously survived her heroin overdose, the character must now confront her increasingly limited options. She can continue to cling to the belief that love will conquer all—that Carter’s oft-professed innocence will be established simply because she believes it to be so. Or she can do what Daddy advises: testify against Carter to avoid an all but inevitable prison sentence for “helping” him escape.

Aubry’s “help,” of course, is what brought on most of his late-inning run of horrible luck. She’s the one who sawed off Carter’s ankle monitoring device while he slept, concocted (in a fit of junkie pique) a scheme for them to flee 1,000 miles to the Canadian border and viciously attacked their drug dealer with a straight razor to the face. Of course, cops and prosecutors trying to make sense of the crime spree’s aftermath don’t see Carter as a victim of circumstance. They only see a bread crumb trail leading to confirmation of his guilt.

More surprisingly, so does Russ. Although Timothy Hutton’s character has reached the 11-episode show’s half-way mark with his composure intact—his grief over Matt’s brutal slaughter never bubbling over into irrational finger pointing à la Barb—and has until now continued to press forward with a wounded but gallant sense of purpose, the news of Carter’s attempted bail jump and re-arrest effectively darkens Russ’ worldview. “I have to say it: Your mom was right,” he tells Mark. It’s a small sentence marking a pretty serious about-face for someone who sued his ex in order to bury their son.

For her part, Aaliyah has retreated from an earlier position, too. Over the course of watching Carter’s apartment being ransacked by cops with a search warrant and discovering the $100,000 bail she fundraised at her mosque will be forfeited thanks to her brother’s attempted escape, Aaliyah comes to a realization about how she has been treating Carter. That is, more as a symbol—a walking test case for her faith and political consciousness—than a blood relation, let alone the last person to still call her Doreen, the name she repudiated eight years earlier after her conversion to Islam.

It’s one of American Crime‘s rare instances of a character seeing things as they really are. More to the point, Aaliyah reconsiders her earlier choice to deny Carter the barbecue ribs he so poignantly asked for upon getting out on parole. “All I had to do was be family for him,” she says. “And I couldn’t even acknowledge that.”

NEXT: Barb takes her story to primetime

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