Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched episode seven of “American Crime.”
The episode opens with another revelation: Anne Blaine’s (Lili Taylor) medical records have come out, making public her history of mental illness. “Are you asking me because you care, or are you asking because you want something to write about?” she asks a reporter.
Tensions are mounting between Leyland headmaster Leslie Graham (Felicity Huffman) and basketball coach Dan Sullivan (Tim Hutton). Whatever bond they once had has clearly fractured; Dan suspects her of leaking Anne’s medical records, and accuses her not doing enough to defend his basketball players.
Eric (Joey Pollari) is spiraling, cruising for a hookup, while Principal Chris Dixon (Elvis Nolasco) is still dealing with the racial tensions at his own school.
But this hour is all about Taylor (Connor Jessup), who’s beaten and bruised at the hands of the basketball team. But the psychological pain is almost harder to bear than the physical pain, and he’s ever-more alone, having pushed everyone away. He turns to drugs for help, buying Oxycontin from the coach’s daughter (even she turns down his plea for companionship). In desperation, he steals a gun and bullets — and heads into the woods. At first it seems he’s going to kill himself, but then after a drug-induced hallucination, he scribbles a list of names — Eric, Kevin (Trevor Jackson), Wes (Michael Seitz), Dr. Graham — into his notebook, and heads back to Leyland.
But with Leslie off-campus at a seminar, Taylor runs into Wes outside the school, who confronts him, the gun goes off, and Wes crumples to the ground. And those all-too-familiar headlines unfold.
“Mom, I think I’m in trouble” confesses Taylor, as he finally reunites, tragically, with Anne.
Here, Jessup tells Variety about filming the pivotal hour.
This episode rests on your shoulders. How did executive producer John Ridley prepare you for it?
John is simultaneously incredibly supportive and incredibly nurturing. He’s there for you. You can email him at 3am and he gets back to you in five minutes. You can call and ask him any question and he replies extensively and carefully. You do feel like you have a life raft with John. On the other hand, he’s bringing his best constantly as a writer, director, producer. He expects the entire cast to do the same. He expects his entire crew to do the same. He doesn’t coddle you. That combination of support and expectation was incredibly healthy for me. It made things very scary, and I created a lot of anxiety around it. But ultimately it was good for me.
What was the experience of filming it?
John came back and directed it, and a lot of the episode is me alone, or me interacting sporadically with different people. A lot of it felt like on the day, it was just me and John there together. You feel like you’re in good hands. You ask a question, and he explains it at length. He’ll tell you everything he’s thinking and has thought about. All the angles on it. You leave feeling everything’s completely clear now. A path has opened for you. At the same time, you feel completely muddled and it’s so much more complicated than when the conversation started. He has a weird way of doing two totally different things to you at the same time. There’s something wonderful about that.
Where does Taylor go from here, after shooting Wes?
I felt like the character’s clinging on, episode by episode. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. By the time we got to episode 6, 7, 8, 9 the scripts were redacted. So we all only read our own sections of the scripts. We really have no idea what’s going on still with other characters. I don’t know how they tie back into what I’m doing. I stopped thinking about that. I stopped thinking about where it was going and where it was coming from. I just had to focus. I’m still coming down from that feeling. The ending, anyone who’s watched season one, can probably have a good sense of what sort of ending the show will have — what things are tied up, what things aren’t. I think anyone expecting everyone to have an emotional catharsis or leave much better than where they started is probably in for a trip. But there are moments of that and slivers of joy and hope and opportunity. I think that’s what life is like, and I think that’s what John is trying to reflect.
At least there’s some catharsis in that Taylor reunites with his mother.
In that moment, he’s really reduced to feeling like a kid. And when you’re a kid and you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t know what the world is doing, you want your mom. We all know that feeling. There’s a point where all the specifics of “she said this” and “I said that” and “this happened,” that all feels irrelevant. He really does want in that moment, in his bones and in his heart, his mom. And that’s what’s so fascinating to me about their relationship. Over the course of the whole season, and maybe it’s just this example of it, no matter what happens, no matter how far apart they are, they love each other so much. They both only want to protect each other. They both only want the best for each other. They sometimes have weird ways of showing it and acting on it. That’s what’s motivating them. And in that moment. You really feel that. I really felt that.
“American Crime” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
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