One Dollar doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves, and proved as much with “Carol Seerveld”, which suggests the show has a lot on its mind.
The “Carol Seerveld” of the title is an elementary school teacher played by Deirdre O’Connell – for 38 years, she has taught the children of Braden, a small rust-belt town in post-recession Pennsylvania. She’s beloved by all of them, including the hyperactive African-American boy who, in a misguided moment of frustration, she spanked in class.
Last week, Carol was handed the mysterious dollar bill that somehow connects seven local murders, but it never really came up in her namesake episode. (That investigation was pursued elsewhere, but we’ll get to that soon.) Instead, “Carol Seerveld” dealt mainly with the personal fallout of Carol’s professional overreaction; how she and her peers considered her and her career in its aftermath. In some ways, it was no big deal. What she did wasn’t illegal – and is apparently common in Braden. But it was a betrayal of her values, and the first time she had ever lost control in almost four decades of teaching. And what’s more, her “victim”, so to speak, was a child who, by her own admission, was most deserving of her patience.
This sub-plot was handled exceptionally well, if you ask me. O’Connell was totally believable as a beloved figure in the local community and, latterly, a broken woman who felt she had thoroughly breached the confidence of that community’s parents and children. “Carol Seerveld” did an impeccable job of demonstrating what a tortuous, thankless duty teaching can be, and the child’s behaviour was smartly calibrated to be annoying, and tedious, but never lazily aggressive or unpleasant. He’s a kid with behavioural issues who clearly isn’t being provided the tailored support he likely needs, and it’s telling that the incident that set him off was a dispute over paint – the school can’t afford enough of the popular colours, and so they have to be shared.
Also telling, and a recurring theme in “Carol Seerveld”, was the suggestion that the kid being African-American might have factored into Carol’s outburst; a suggestion that she treats with the disdain it deserves. But that isn’t to say that Braden doesn’t have a race problem, which was brought up again and again – sometimes a little heavy-handedly – throughout the hour.
For the most part it was expressed through the local police force, where Rook (Níke Uche Kadri) worked the murder case alongside Chewy (Joshua Bitton), whose repeated complaints about “affirmative action” in reference to both Rook and ex-cop-turned-PI Jake (Nathaniel Martello-White) made the department’s politics pretty clear. But his grievances were given enough credibility that you could at least consider his perspective; when Jake was on the force, he was promoted ahead of Chewy despite having several years less experience, and he’s sceptical of Rook being present in situations she’s unequipped for. That latter anxiety turned out to be prescient in “Carol Seerveld”, as Rook made a mistake during a raid which allowed a suspect to temporarily escape, and later took a bullet during a pursuit.
On two occasions, Rook discussed the department’s – and, I suppose, the town’s – inherent racism with Jake, who left the force after calling the chief a racist when he dropped the case of a missing black girl. It’s Jake’s pragmatism which is most compelling about “Carol Seerveld”, and also what makes him the most intriguing of One Dollar’s many characters. The way he sees it, Rook being constantly paired up with Chewy isn’t a punishment, but proof that the chief, for all his own faults, is trying to protect her. Chewy might have problems working with black people and women, but he’ll still put her well-being first if he needs to. This is proved when Rook takes that bullet; Chewy’s concern for her safety is obvious, and it’s only when she insists that they pursue the suspect that he agrees not to take her to the hospital.
There can be no doubt that Chewy is a racist and a sexist. But the implication is that his resentment of women and people of colour – at least in the context of law enforcement – comes from a belief that so-called “affirmative action” promotes bad, dangerous policing; Chief Trask (Christopher Denham), meanwhile, might not be as vocal about his prejudices, but as Jake puts it, a missing black girl doesn’t bother him quite as much as a missing white girl would. The further into bureaucracy you climb, the less obvious and more insidious bigotry becomes.
The suspect, by the way, is a conspiracy-theorist gun-enthusiast who believes that Mexicans were living in the woods behind his house (which is, naturally, draped with Confederate flags and adorned with tacky Americana). The latest line of thought is that Braden’s seven dead people might have been undocumented immigrants, but it’s a line of thought posited by Rook, whose discovery of the suspect’s ties to a white supremacist organisation was treated predictably by Chewy: “So that’s why you care.”
This doesn’t relate directly to the idea that Carol Seerveld is a racist because she smacked a black kid, but it is all part of Braden’s stratified social makeup; the idea that the town is divided severely between haves and have-nots, the worthy and the unworthy, even as the whole place buckles under the weight of financial strife.
This division is best expressed through Dannie (Kirrilee Berger) and Garrett (Philip Ettinger). The former lives in a house which has an austere family portrait adorning the wall, and whose father is developing a ludicrous amount of property in the local area. (“You have them surrounded,” quips Jake, as Dannie’s father shows off his colour-coded model of planned developments.) But Garrett is living hand-to-mouth, trying to care for a two-year-old while making enough money to keep the lights on. On some level, Dannie is attracted to him for reasons beyond the physical, or her personal suspicion that he might have been involved in the murders. She’s compelled, I suspect, by the sheer differences in their backgrounds; when she accidentally starts a grease fire, Garrett eventually forgives her because he knows that when he was her age – 17, almost 18 – he had a drinking problem and would have probably torched the whole house. You can tell by Dannie’s reaction that the idea of having a drinking problem at 17 is completely alien to her.
Ettinger plays Garrett’s emotional toing and froing a bit over-the-top, but the character is relatable as a strung-out single parent, and One Dollar captures the simple reality that children are elite-level trolls. It captures a lot of other simple realities, too: that struggling people need someone to blame for their struggles, that prejudice isn’t the preserve of the individual but the deeply-ingrained rot in the systems those individuals establish to govern themselves, and that even the nicest, most caring person is only when day away from being who they hate the most.