American Rust is based on Philipp Meyer’s titular novel. This is a Showtime’s original series in which we watch police chief Del Harris (Jeff Daniels), struggle with his past. He is an Army combat veteran with PTSD, investigating the murder of a fellow police officer. Billy Poe, son of the woman he loves , Grace (Maura Tierney), is suspected of the murder.
The camera, in the open scene, pans the waste and decay in Buell, Pennsylvania–a “flyover” town outside Pittsburgh. The residents and community are on the margins of life. Two teenagers, Billy Poe and his best friend, Isaac English, are seen running from the murder scene, the abandoned steel mill. Isaac flees and Billy is left to maneuver the police and prison system.
Del is no fool, yet he cannot seem to have a strategy that will exonerate Billy, whom he is certain did not commit the murder. And if he doesn’t find a way to save Billy–who is the most important person in Grace’s life– he will lose her.
Gradually we see Del’s honor and integrity start to deflate. How far is he willing to go for the woman he loves? Would he kill to save his relationship? Does he set up crimes and pretend that these crimes were perpetrated by other people? After all he has the experience and skill set to do just that. While we witness the genuine connection Del and Grace have for each other, is there manipulation too? Is there a neediness in Del because of a past he cannot escape? Will Del and Grace break up, if they don’t save Grace’s son?
And then there is a powerful and moving subplot: between Billy and Isaac. They share a traumatic experience. One is charged with murder while the other escapes. Isaac’s sister, Lee (whom Billy loves) and their father (Bill Camp) have wounds that, if left unhealed, will damage their family further. Isaac shouldered the caregiving burden for his ailing, wheel-chair-bound father while Lee escaped to New York and law school. eventually marrying a wealthy businessman. She pursued her dreams while knowing Isaac couldn’t afford to have any.
As the stakes increase, we see Del devise the perfect crime. But will it change him into a person he no longer recognizes?
In the finale–the ninth episode–the cliffhanger has many plot points and character arcs left hanging, loose ends that beg for a second season. Actions have consequences, or do they? How is Del going to deal with what he has done? And Grace–is Del the man in her life or is Billy? Does she have to choose between them? Can each of these characters wiggle out of the snares that entrap them?
So many unresolved issues! Sibling rivalry between Lee and Isaac remain. How do brother and sister recover from their past? And we see the father in the penultimate scene and wonder will he reappear in a second season?
Images of cold and barren land, withered industry, broken residents, a town acting against its own best interests: I’ve never watched a mini-series with so many hanging chads. The main characters’ futures are anyone’s guess. No resolution. No moral clues as to outcome.
Highly original, well portrayed with superb acting and writing that deliver in almost every scene. Only a few sagging scenes–in the middle episodes–but all is forgiven. Please, please release a second season of American Rust soon!
Availability: Showtime streaming