If you’re still reeling from the devastating final scene of Netflix’s newest release, American Son, you’re definitely not alone. Kerry Washington herself can’t stop apologizing for reducing you to tears with her signature lip quiver and heartbroken sobs. Based on the 2018 Broadway production of the same name and starring the same talented cast, American Son follows an estranged married couple trying to uncover the fate of their missing teenage son. The former Scandal star plays Kendra Ellis-Connor, the frustrated mother of 18-year-old Jamal, and Steven Pasquale stars as her husband Scott.
Long before they even appear on screen together, the audience is made to understand that the relationship between this couple is fractured. A terse phone call reveals that Scott has moved out of their family home and is with another woman now. The tension builds further when Scott finally arrives at the police station and attempts to make nice with the same officer that has spent more time unloading his racist microaggressions onto Kendra than actually investigating Jamal's disappearance.
As they await more details from the police, the pair are confronted by a harsh truth hidden in plain sight: Their relationship has always been problematic. Despite this obvious reality, the actors bring such emotional vulnerability to these roles that one can’t help but imagine a heartfelt reunion for Mr. and Mrs. Connor. “We really wanted audience members to root for them,” Washington told Refinery29 of the couple on a recent call. “To want them to be together even through all the pain.”
There are glimpses into what makes Kendra and Scott work as a married couple; their playful banter about what they almost named their son (because of Scott’s Irish roots, Seamus was a frontrunner) provides a short but sweet respite from the usual verbal sparring. Even sweeter is the emotional retelling of their meet-cute at a friend's party years ago, when Scott won Kendra over with a cheesy pickup line.
Despite their history, Washington understands that Kendra and Scott likely passed the point of no return even before Jamal went missing. The chasm separating the couple has existed for a long time, and it’s grown wider due to their failure to recognize and reconcile their blatant cultural differences. “I think it’s a real indication of how this couple has operated for way too long,” Washington said, continuing,. “They’re not fully honest with each other. They’re sweeping stuff under the rug without dealing with it. Whether it comes to Jamal’s culture to his schooling to their feelings about each other — they have a hard time communicating and being fully honest with each other.”
Right before they are presented with news that no parent ever wants to hear, Kendra and Scott share a brief moment of tenderness. Weighed down by guilt, she tearfully confesses that she and Jamal fought right before he stormed out of the house, and Scott does his best to comfort her. The moment is fleeting, but it’s almost enough to make you wonder if there could be a light at the end of the tunnel for the Connors after all.
Let Washington extinguish that flame: There isn’t. If it’s any consolation, you can rest assured that Scott and his new girlfriend won’t be getting a happy ending either. “Even if we don’t end up together, I don’t think they end up together,” Washington said ominously. “Oh no.”