Saturday, September 23, 2023

When Things Fall Apart: The Stakes are Raised in The Chi’s “Quaking Grass”

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So, last week The Chi ended with a bit of a cliffhanger: Brandon, Kevin, and Ronnie in a park at night, with all the pain, loss, and fear among them about to boil over. This week, we open on Ronnie, who is stumbling around town close to death, bleeding from a bullet wound to the gut, having been beaten as well as shot. He stumbles past the mural memorial to Jason and up to a small storefront mosque, where Common is inside leading prayers. He comes out to help the dying man on the street, but as cop cars whiz by, Ronnie manages to shake off Common and head to Ethel’s house, where he leaves a trail of blood and sees Coogie’s ghost one more time as he collapses on the bathroom floor.

Watching Ronnie disappear into the night.

Meanwhile, Kevin and Brandon are running and Kevin is hyperventilating. Alex Hibbert (who was also in Moonlight) does some first-class acting in this scene, bringing the visceral fear of a kid who has just been involved in something horrible and violent and who just wants to go home. They have a gun, but we don’t yet know where it came from. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that a grief-fueled Brandon beat Ronnie up, then went to walk away. When Ronnie got up and tried to come toward Kevin, Kevin shot him. So not only did Kevin witness yet another shooting, he was actually the one behind the trigger this time, so it makes sense that he’s quaking. Brandon cleans off the gun and Kevin’s shirt and sends him home. He then heads back to his place with the gun in his backpack.

As he walks down the dark street alone, though, a cop car pulls over and two officers jump out to stop him. To be clear, they have no reason to do this. But the vulnerability of Black people to abuse by police in this country is laid out plainly in this scene. Brandon tells the officers that he’s walking home from work, giving them the name of the fancy restaurant he works at. The white officer says he’s been trying to get a reservation there for months for him and his wife. Brandon offers to call his boss and get the officer a reservation, and when he does so, they let him go. It’s a relief they didn’t find the gun, but a pretty disgusting display of power dynamics.

The next morning, Brandon is woken up by an irate Jerrika, who did find the gun in his bag and kicks him out. So Brandon goes to crash at his mom’s house. He stashes the gun under the mattress in Coogie’s room, where he’ll be sleeping. Laverne and Sonny are in full swing with updating the house to put it on the market, painting the walls brighter colors. When Sonny paints Coogie’s room green one day while Brandon is at work, he finds the gun and somehow gets rid of it. Brandon realizes this he gets angry, and we see a different set of power dynamics play out for Brandon. Sonny has more sway in Laverne’s house than Brandon does. It’s an effective way to show just how powerless Brandon feels since Coogie’s death, and how much things are falling apart for him.

But that’s not the worst of it. Turns out that gun came from Jake, who stole it from his brother, who turns out to be Reg—the ruthless drug kingpin. When he finds out Jake took his gun to give to Kevin for protection, he is less than kind about it. Jake promises to get it back, but of course Kevin needs to get it from Brandon, who now no longer has it because of Sonny. So Brandon and Jake tell Kevin they’ll deal with Reg. “I’m his brother, so he won’t kill me,” Jake says. When they go to his house, Brandon offers all the money he has ($150), which makes Reg laugh. When Brandon insists he can get more money, Reg says he’d rather Brandon owed him, and asks if he has good credit. When Brandon says yes, Reg smiles, and honestly I am ready for Brandon to have a win at something because damn. Things are not easy for him right now.

The smile of someone who is going to find the most effective way to ruin your life, probably.

When Jake comes in, Reg is in a weird hot tub/kiddie pool in his living room with a woman on each side and another one massaging his shoulders (I throw up in my mouth a little). Reg insists it’s time for Jake to be in on the business. Jake seems at once excited and terrified by this prospect.

Meanwhile, Ethel wakes up in the morning to find Ronnie bleeding out on the floor but still alive. She calls Jada, who takes one look at Ronnie and says he needs to go to the hospital. Ethel refuses this option, reasoning that if he goes to a hospital with a gunshot wound, cops will show up and ask him questions, and then he’ll be put in jail and that will be the end. She says, “Our boys are all we got,” which made me cringe a little because what about the girls and women? But the sentiment and reasoning behind not going to a hospital still came through, for me and for Jada, who agrees to stay and patch Ronnie up herself. When he wakes up later and asks for painkillers, Jada holds some in front of him and asks, “Like these?” He nods, then she pops one herself, and informs him that he can use Tylenol. I love Jada.

In another world, Detective Cruz is still trying to figure out how to fix the issue of him basically being responsible for Coogie’s death (which he can’t do, but okay). After a demoralizing softball game after which his terrible-person partner continues to make veiled threats about knowing and spilling all of Cruz’s secrets, Cruz decides to go to Ethel’s house to look for Ronnie. He barges in and looks everywhere but doesn’t find him; he only leaves when Ethel points a shotgun at him and tells him that he’s breaking and entering.

Ronnie’s gone to crash with his friends and lay low, but first he has to go to Meldrick, who apparently sent someone to look for him. Meldrick has found Jason’s phone, and despite his current state, Ronnie gets a glimmer of hope that something good could come of it.

This was a heavy episode, probably the most dramatic and heart-wrenching since the premiere. But one thing this show does really well is paint a nuanced picture of life. Not everything was dark. My favorite moment was when Kevin, Jake, and Papa went to Andrea’s house for a party. It was an awkward bunch of middle schoolers standing around eating chips, until Papa changed the music and started dancing. Everyone followed him until they were all just doing the Papa. It was so pure and childlike and joyful, just as it was when Papa explained he had learned it from YouTube along with how to whittle wood and make keychains.

And that’s the thing: this neighborhood may be filled with troubles, and those troubles stem from the broken system that oppresses people who are not rich white men. But the joyful moments are important to hold onto, because they make us human, and they lift us up.


Whew! I hope you’re doing okay out there in TV land, it was a tough one this week. Can’t wait to see what happens as this story continues to unfold. See you next week!

Images Courtesy of Showtime


  • Sarah

    Sarah divides her mental energy between analyzing/crushing on queer characters, training for marathons and sometimes on her day job.

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