"American Crime"—an Addiction Tragedy

American Crime is a gritty TV crime series. What does it say about addiction?

Posted Jan 30, 2018

"American Crime" is an ABC anthology crime series that aired 2015-2017.  The first season, with memorable performances by Felicity Huffman, Regina King, and Timothy Hutton, was critically acclaimed for its nitty-gritty focus on race and crime, and the relationship of drugs and addiction to two couples'—and their families'—lives.

The central couple are Aubry Taylor (Caitlin Gerard) and Carter Nix (Elvis Nolasco), interracial lovers who are involved in the murder of their drug dealer (the son of estranged husband and wife played by Hutton and Huffman) and the near-death of his wife. Carter is at first blamed for the killing and maiming; eventually Aubry confesses and is charged with the crimes.

Much of the series focuses on Aubry and Carter's drug and alcohol use, on their extremely addictive relationship, and on Hutton's former gambling addiction.  Here is some of what is unique and informative about the series' handling of these things.

Love and other non-drug addictions 

If there was ever an addictive relationship, it was Aubry's and Carter's, which is explored repeatedly and at great length. Aubry and Carter can't live without one another; but their time together is filled with drug use and drinking and always ends disastrously.

Both are portrayed (portray themselves) as isolates and victims.  Carter was a loner who couldn't fit in with either other African-Americans or whites. Aubry was a foster child who was sexually abused and tossed around before being adopted by a seemingly wholesome family at the age of 8.  Nonetheless, she never fit in with her adoptive family.  Aubry also lodges the claim that her brother — the family into which she was adopted's biological child — sexually used her.

But reality is never clear with Aubry.  Indeed, the basis of her addiction is her seeking a fantasy relationship with a black man in a tropical climate, symbolized by a magazine ad cut out that she and Carter carry and exchange.  

Carter spotted Aubry one night when both were drinking, and they immediately slotted into one another's neediness, after which they could never be separated, no matter how much trouble they caused themselves when together.

The couple are shown clinging to one another whenever they are alone — and desperately seeking each other when apart.  They aren't depicted as actively having sex, but more like physical and emotional extensions of one another's existences.

Aubry avidly pursues drugs; Carter does so less ardently, but he procures for Aubry as a way of cementing their relationship.  Aubry's most lurid withdrawal episodes — worse than her craving for drugs — occurs when she is deprived of Carter.

This imagery of interpersonal addiction, to which substances are simply accoutrements, is a remarkable conceptual breakthrough, unique in dramatic portrayals of addiction.

The addiction experience

American Crime is likewise unique for offering a rich explanation, not only of the backgrounds to the characters' addictions, but also of the nature of these addictions.  The two key addicts in the series, Aubry and Hutton's character (who sacrificed his family to his gambling addiction) each offers an intimate description of why they pursue their addictions and how they experience their addictive involvements.

For each their addiction is a magical life solution that provides them with essential emotional satisfactions that real life denies them.  Each graphically describes what engagement with their addiction feels like and how it works for them.

Yes, the addiction satisfy their needs. Addictions are real because, at some level, they are effective for their emotional purpose.  But, for each, their addiction is disastrous, destroying their families and their own lives.

American Crime is an addiction tragedy.

Brains and 12 steps are only tangentially referenced in American Crime.  Rather the series is a human portrait of the addiction experience, once again a unique contribution to a graphic fictional portrait of addicted lives.