Before you do anything else, American Crime fans, you might want to breathe a sigh of relief.
Over the course of the last 10 weeks, the ABC drama hasn’t given viewers many moments of levity, as its sophomore season tackled the heavy issues of sexual assault, social class and mental health, among others.
But in Wednesday’s season finale, Taylor Blaine, Eric Tanner and a number of other characters came to the end of this particularly harrowing chapter — even if the outcome wasn’t ideal or, in some cases, even shown to the audience at home. (And we should all be a little glad that the series has released us from its weekly emotional death grip.)
To briefly recap, the Season 2 closer found quite a few key players taking responsibility for their recent unsavory actions. Having had her personal e-mails hacked (which included unbecoming jokes about white people), Terri LaCroix was given an ultimatum at work: Relocate to another state, or leave the company. Dan and Steph Sullivan watched as their drug-dealing daughter was put in handcuffs and taken to a juvenile detention center. And Sebastian, feeling confident enough to go toe-to-toe with hacker Evans Webb, was deeply shaken after realizing Evans had been watching him and his daughters via manipulated webcam.
But the most intriguing character resolutions may have been those we didn’t learn. Just as Taylor was about to either accept or reject a plea bargain, and Eric contemplated getting into the car with his on-again-off-again hook-up, the credits rolled, leaving us to fill in the blanks on how the show’s protagonists moved forward.
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For insight into that episode-ending cliffhanger, we chatted with series creator John Ridley, who also opened up about some of the season’s most poignant storylines and whether he’d be up for a third season.
TVLINE | Let’s jump right in with those final seconds of the finale. Why the cliffhanger?
We had started this season with a couple accusations that were flying back and forth. And every step of the way, we allowed for [Eric and Taylor’s] truths to be their truths. Michael McDonald, the other producer of the show, came to me early on and he said, “You’re a novelist, John. You’ve got to complete this story the way one would complete a novel.” And the audience for novels have different expectations. They do expect a sense of expanse, that the characters are going to live beyond the last page of the book.
It would have been, in my opinion, very easy to indict one of these characters and have an ending that is very narrow-focused. What’s more difficult is to say to an audience, “What do you believe? What do you want?” If you want hope, if you want something better, that ending is there. It’s very much like life. We have two individuals who are going to live with suspicion and accusation for the rest of their lives, but are they going to allow themselves to be defined by that? Going into those final moments, that’s what Eric and Taylor’s parents are telling them. Don’t be defined by this moment. You are young. You have your whole life. What is that choice that they are going to make? Personally, it would have been too easy to make that choice for them, because in life, I can’t make choices for other people. You can talk to people up and down, but you can’t make those choices. And as a writer, for me personally, it’s the easiest thing to say, “That kid did it, that kid was lying, let’s move on.”
TVLINE | When you were breaking the finale in the writers’ room, was there ever a version of the episode where we did learn Taylor and Eric’s final decisions?
We certainly wanted to continue to build resolution, and the ending itself would go through different iterations. But there was never a version of this where it was very didactic in saying, “This person did or didn’t do that.” That was never a consideration, but we certainly worked and worked on the ending to give it a sense that was appropriate and, emotionally, had heft to it. It was down to the wire, even in little ways. When we were getting close to [wrapping], we had versions of what was going on, but how we got there and those last couple of lines [changed]. In fact, we had wrapped, and there was one little thing I went off and had to shoot to make that ending. It was effort every step of the way. Hopefully it was worthwhile.
TVLINE | I’d love to break down a few specific plot points with you. First, there’s the issue of Anne Blaine’s medical records. I had interpreted the situation as though Michael LaCroix was responsible for those going online, but the finale points a finger at some other characters. Why was there such mystery surrounding that plot?
First of all, because the reality is a lot of things get posted online and we don’t know where they come from. That’s one of the issues — social space can be great to connect, but it can also be negative when people put anything up there. It’s become a bit of a cliche to say, “It must be true, because I saw it online.” It was one of those elements where there were people who were invested in bringing Anne Blaine down. Who was culpable in it, though? Was it Michael? I personally thought Michael was a good misdirect, and he never says no when his wife asks him. He says, “I wish I was,” but he doesn’t say, “No, dear, I didn’t do it under any circumstances.” Dan and Leslie have their versions of it. It could have come from somewhere else, too. For me, it was meant to be about suspicion more than about having certainty in who did the act.
TVLINE | Sebastian’s hacking story was really interesting, particularly when he loses the upper hand and realizes that he and his daughters are being watched. Are we to assume that incident will drive Sebastian away from the hacker lifestyle for good?
That’s a really good question. The Sebastian story landed really well, and I’m happy just because [actor] Richard [Cabral] is so brilliant. To see him evolve from his Hector character last year to playing Sebastian has been great. But nobody’s really asked me whether he’s going to have a life-changing moment.
Hacking, and being a white hat, is so much of who he was and really defined him. To be humiliated like that — if anything, it’s less about putting his family in danger, because as my wife said to me, “He left his kids alone with a camera!” And I said, “That’s how he thinks. Digital is safe.” I don’t know that it’s so much about exposing his family that would change him, but that there’s somebody out there who is smarter and sharper who he couldn’t control. There is a level — with all kinds of people who do wrong, but certainly with people who do wrong in the name of good — of self-aggrandizing. That’s part of his nature. I think he’d stay in hacking and try to get even with this Evans Webb, the guy who found him.
TVLINE | This finale brought some resolution to the Evy Dominguez harassment case, as well. Were you trying to approach her case a little differently, because she was a female victim, as opposed to a male assault victim like Taylor?
Most importantly, I didn’t want Evy — well, any character, but especially Evy — to be the sidekick. The fact that she’s a young girl that everyone was essentially trying to use — she says in Episode 9 or 10, “Everybody tried to use me.” The kids who were protesting didn’t really care about her, Taylor didn’t care about her, the guy who groped her cared about the sex of that and was just being abusive. At some point, she says, “I’ve got to stop worrying about other people and think about myself. I need to think about my family.” She needs to grow up in a certain sense, and I really wanted to see that. She wasn’t just iconography for other people. In making sure that all of the characters feel complete, it was very important for me to make sure that Evy as a character, and Angelique [Rivera] as an actor, weren’t just there to service the guys. Even in a story about male sexual assault, she had to be a fully rounded character.
TVLINE | I have to be honest: I was a little bummed that we never got a scene between Eric and Taylor, if only because Joey Pollari and Connor Jessup are such talented actors. Was it a conscious decision not to have them share screen time?
Largely yes, in the sense that when people find themselves on opposite sides of a legal divide like that, they don’t normally interact. We didn’t have a lot of interaction last year between the Hanlins and the Skokies and Carter and Aubrey. Their families interacted a little bit, but the central characters didn’t interact, and I didn’t feel like there was a way to really get these two characters — who are so adamant in their beliefs — to share space, other than if they were forced to in a court setting. And we wanted to stay out of the courtroom.
And when you talk about [Joey and Connor] as people, they were the best of friends down in Austin [where Season 2 was filmed]. They shared a love of cinema and were always hanging out, and at the end of it, they’re like, “Uh, can we do one scene with each other? Just for fun? Just to say we did?” And I was like, “Sorry, guys. Nothing I can do.” [Laughs] But it was one of those things where [Eric and Taylor] weren’t too close of friends, and we could never, just for the heck of it, say, “All right, what would happen if we put these two together?” There’d be a little bit of contortion to make that happen.
TVLINE | Throughout the season, I was really struck by the directing decisions, in that we rarely saw the faces of authority figures. When a rape kit is being performed on Taylor, we don’t see the nurse. We rarely saw his therapist. We almost never saw the faces of cops who were questioning students. Can you explain the intention behind those choices?
We were definitely trying to build on what we did in the first season, but the focus is the focus. I would try to [compare it with] that moment when your flight is delayed, and you go to the person at the ticket booth, and they don’t interact with you emotionally the way you want. You get frustrated or furious or what-have-you, and they’re just there. In that moment, this is the most important thing to you. You need to make a wedding or you need to see your brother or something, and then 10 minutes later, you can’t remember what that person looked like. They didn’t have any impact on you.
I really wanted to give the sense that the rest of the world — for our main individuals —is sometimes anonymous. They are so engulfed in their moment and what happened to them that other people don’t really register. We did do that in the first season, but we expanded on that in the second season. And we were in a space at ABC where they were gracious enough to never freak out about things like that. We did things in long shots, with one close-up, and that was it. It’s just economy of storytelling, and I don’t believe that it works in every circumstance, but it certainly worked for American Crime.
TVLINE | Speaking of ABC, I had spoken to you at a red-carpet event long before Season 2 premiered, and you weren’t sure if you’d say yes to a third season, even if the network offered, given how exhausting the show is. With Season 2 now wrapped, do you still feel that way?
I will maintain that it’s still exhausting. [Laughs] I’ve got amazing partners, and it still takes every ounce of me, and I’m sure any showrunner would tell you that. I don’t know what’s going to happen. ABC has picked up some shows, and we have a really devoted audience. Whether that translates into what is necessary to stay on broadcast television, I don’t know. I just finished shooting a pilot for ABC, and I’m getting ready to go to London to do another show for ABC Studios. I remain exhausted. [Laughs] What ABC has allowed us to do has been absolutely special, in front of and behind the camera. In my opinion, there’s just nothing like it — not just specifically in what I’m doing, but in the totality of the show. This has been one of the most special moments of my career. It’s pretty much been defining, and this is after three years that have really defined me as a person and as a storyteller. If this is the last thing I did, people would mention American Crime when they think of me, and that’s pretty special. It really is.
What did you think of American Crime‘s season ender? Grade the episode in our poll below, then hit the comments with your reactions to the finale.