American Rust Episode 1 Recap and Ending, Explained

Image Credit: Dennis Mong/Showtime

Based on the 2009 namesake novel by Philipp Meyer, ‘American Rust’ is a crime drama series set against the backdrop of the disintegrating American Rust Belt. Del Harris (Jeff Daniels) is the police chief of the fictional town of Buell, where the unemployment rate is high, and people’s dreams hardly ever come true. A steadfast upholder of the law, Harris is forced to make some questionable decisions after Billy Poe (Alex Neustaedter), a local former football prodigy, is accused of murder. Here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘American Rust’ episode 1. SPOILERS AHEAD.

American Rust Episode 1 Recap

The pilot episode, titled ‘The Mill,’ begins with Harris as he crushes and grinds some of his morning pills and takes a portion of the drug with coffee. He is later seen sitting in his police cruiser and watching Grace (Maura Tierney) — the woman he loves — leave work. Grace is Billy’s mother, and like many others in the Rust Belt, is struggling with financial difficulties. Elsewhere in the town, Isaac English (David Alvarez) gives his ailing, wheelchair-ridden father a sleeping pill. When Isaac is sure that his father is sleeping, he steals a bundle of money and leaves.

Image Credit: Dennis Mong, Showtime

Isaac meets up with Billy at the latter’s home. It is revealed that they have made plans to leave the town together. However, in a closed mill, Billy spots Pete Novick, a former police officer who had his boot on Billy’s back the night the latter was arrested. Billy follows Novick inside, and Isaac has no choice but to go after him. Harris later receives a call from his partner, Steve Park (Rob Yang), who informs him that they have received an anonymous call about a possible homicide. As Harris reaches the mill, the narrative shifts back to six months earlier.

The bank is set to auction off Grace’s property, but her former husband Virgil (Mark Pellegrino) and their neighbors show up with guns in their hands, prompting the prospective buyers to leave and the auction to be shut down. Later, Harris visits Grace’s house for a date. Just when they are about to be intimate, Harris gets a call about a barfight. When he reaches the scene, he sees Novick standing over Billy. Earlier that evening, Billy beat up another disgruntled and disillusioned young man while defending himself. Harris ensures that Billy only gets probation. But when he goes to Grace’s house to celebrate, he discovers that Virgil is already there.

American Rust Episode 1 Ending: What Does Harris Find in the Mill? Why Does He Hide the Jacket?

In the present timeline, after Harris reaches the mill, he discovers Novick’s body. Novick was a police officer and a poor one at that. On the night of the barfight, after seeing him with his boot on Billy’s back, Harris fired him. He had since seemed to have dropped from Harris’ radar. The first time Harris sees Novick in months is when he sees the other man’s body in the mill.

He then sees Billy’s football jacket. Billy really was a young and gifted football player, bound for a much better future than a man coming from his circumstances could ever think of. Scouts representing colleges came to watch his games. There was even a scholarship offer, which he declined. He was employed at his old school as an assistant to the coach six months earlier, but after the bar fight and his subsequent arrest, he was fired. When Harris sees Billy’s Jacket, he presumes that the younger man is responsible for Novick’s death. Harris still seems to harbor strong romantic feelings for Grace. So before his own subordinates show up, Harris grabs the jacket and hides it. He only realizes afterward that he has left his fingerprints on it.

Does Isaac Try to Commit Suicide?

Yes, Isaac tries to commit suicide. Isaac and Billy are best friends, but they are polar opposites, except in one important aspect — they both are trapped in Buell. Isaac is academically gifted and wants to attend university. But he doesn’t have money, and his father is sick. His sister, Lee (Julia Mayorga), who was Billy’s girlfriend at one point, has moved to New York and married someone wealthy, making both Isaac and Billy realize that she is never coming back.

Isaac feels that he is now stuck taking care of his father. In a culmination of disappointment, with a sense of betrayal, failure, anger, and grief, Isaac walks onto a frozen lake, just like his mother did when she died. The ice breaks, and Isaac nearly drowns, but fortunately for him, Billy has been there with him, and his friend saves him.

Read More: Is American Rust a True Story?