Monday, July 15, 2024

Our Boxes, Ourselves: The Chi’s Namaste Mothaf*cka is Full of Despair and Hope

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It’s the penultimate episode of Lena Waithe’s The Chi, and all I can really say is that this is very much a penultimate episode. The drama and emotion, always saturating the show, ratchets up to 11 this week, so I’m going to put a content warning here for discussions of rape.

Maybe it’s last week‘s episode title, “Wallets,” that has me fixated on the way this show uses objects as vectors of theme, but I kept noticing boxes in this episode. There were two separate boxes full of money; the box that is prison; the box of a car or a food truck; and more broadly, the boxes we as humans find ourselves in, that we try to create or destroy.

This strip of curb with Coogie’s memorial is also shaped like a box, and Ronnie’s very much in it

The opening scene of this episode is a gut-punch, but it finally lifts the shroud of mystery around Q…and what’s left is horrifying. We open on shots of wringing hands, strained faces, a board of photographs of children, and Tracy’s voice narrating her story to this support group for women who have lost their children to violence. Laverne is at the meeting too, and she and Tracy acknowledge each other, understanding that whatever happened, they both lost their kids for no reason and they’re both in pain. Laverne approaches Tracy after the meeting to say that Coogie didn’t kill Jason, for whatever it’s worth, and the women smile at each other sadly.


But back to Tracy’s story. She tells of how she was essentially sold by her father as a young girl, to a man who lived in a nice house where she had her own room and her own TV. But of course, he treated her like property and raped her multiple times. When she became pregnant, she wanted an abortion, but he didn’t want her to get one; she told him the only way she would keep the baby was if he let her go, and he did. That baby was Jason, the first life to be taken in episode one of this show. And the man, Jason’s biological father, was clearly Q.

This gets confirmed later in the episode, when Q lets himself into Wallace’s police car in order to strike a deal against Trice & co., and to finally learn who killed Jason. Q says he’s Jason’s father, and Wallace tells him it was Trice who killed Jason. Another mystery solved, and while not surprising, the exact circumstances are still unknown.

Speaking of Trice, this dude goes to yoga in order to be around young “hot” women, and then gets picked up by Reg because he’s too cool to drive anywhere by himself. Reg, for his part, is not exactly acting like Mentor of the Year for Jake. Jake has apparently dropped out of school to run with Reg. His reasons as to why are basically institutionalized racism and poverty: dealing is the only way he’ll make money. This is his reality, and while technically there are other ways to overcome poverty, they’re prohibitively difficult for most people and will only work for a small percentage. That’s not this little kid’s fault, but it is profoundly unfair. Jake also points out that if Reg were white he’d be called a doctor rather than a drug dealer, and I couldn’t help but think of last week’s white doctor addict.

Anyway, during school Kevin finds Papa in the locker room to apologize for not telling him about the fact that he shot Ronnie. Papa was angry that Kevin had kept such a big secret from him, but Kevin says it wasn’t about keeping it from Papa—he just wanted to forget. Papa understands this, and they make up, and it’s so cute. Shoutout to young boys talking honestly about their feelings with each other. More of this kind of representation, please.

Boys Allowed to Be Vulnerable 2k18

Kevin and Papa are still very worried about Jake, so they agree to go for a drive with him and Reg to get food. During the ride, Reg spouts some disgusting misogynistic bullshit while Jake nods along, Kevin looks confused and Papa looks incredibly dubious. Reg is in a weirdly hyper mood, and we’re about to find out why. In the parking lot of the fast food place, Jake spots Corey, who we last saw at the roller rink and who has supposedly been bullying Jake although we’ve never seen that happen. Reg tells Jake that the only way to show you have no fear is to fight back, which in this case means pick a fight with a kid who is not even looking in their direction.

Jake gets a determined look on his face, marches over and punches Corey in the face. As a fight ensues, Reg pushes Kevin and Papa to go have Jake’s back without doing anything himself, but before the two very scared-looking boys can get dragged into the fight, some cops pull up and break it up. Also a potentially very scary situation, but they let everyone go with a warning. Kevin and Papa refuse to get back in the car with Reg and Jake, saying they’ll walk or bus home, looking lost about how to keep their friend out of trouble, and how to keep him in general. Reg takes Jake somewhere that is not home, which confuses Jake, but Reg needs him for something. He pops the trunk and there is a bound, gagged, and bloody Trice. So, that will be interesting next week, and definitely not in a good way.

Nope, not good

Let’s talk about Emmett and Jada. Emmett is buckling down into responsibility mode, going so far as to SELL his SHOES and WEAR SANDALS. This impresses Tiffany, especially when he gives her extra money in order to make up for his parental absence and general self-centeredness. Then Tiffany’s boyfriend basically tells him if he doesn’t want problems, Emmett will have to pay him too, so that’s great. At work at Sonny’s, Emmett says he needs to make money quick, to which Sonny replies there’s no such thing as quick money. When Emmett broaches the subject of asking Q for help, Sonny reiterates how crucial it is to stay away from Q. Let’s hope Emmett listens.

Jada is still going to Ethel’s house even though it’s not her job anymore, but she does tell Ronnie what’s going on with her. She says she doesn’t mind coming over but that soon the agency will send another nurse and that nurse will likely send Ethel straight to a home. Ethel also figures out Jada’s situation, though, and gives her our first box full of money: a cigarette box she’s stashed cash in. Jada tries to refuse, but Ethel insists, even smiling, and it’s very sweet. Later, when she’s at home with Emmett and EJ, Jada drops the news that she’s landed a great job…in Seattle.

Runner-up for sweetest moment of the episode. Okay, tied.

Ronnie tries to get his friends on board to help cover Ethel’s care, but she points her gun at them and tells them to get out, so that’s not going to work. In the end, Ronnie, who has shaved his face clean (and looks v. different, much more confident and peaceful somehow), makes a really tough decision. He’s haunted by what he did, and he knows he can’t take care of Ethel anyway, so he calls 911 to report elder abuse at Ethel’s house (and says there’s a possible fire there? I hope he just said that so that they would go over there quickly and he didn’t actually set the house on fire) right before he walks into the police station to turn himself in to Detective Cruz for Coogie’s murder.

Boxed in

Cruz is on his own mission, namely to take down Wallace, using the wiped 911 call made from Jason’s phone as evidence in his case. But his girlfriend/wife/partner is apparently also pregnant, so. I don’t know what to make of this since Cruz is kind of insignificant as far as The Chi characters go, though still integral to the narrative as a whole.

Let’s end where we always do: with my guy Brandon, whose new taco truck is amazing but also is definitely about to get him in trouble. Our second box of money comes from Jerrika, who is giving Brandon her stashed cash to get the truck fixed up. Brandon goes through Luis’s cousin’s mechanic/auto body shop, where they definitely make the truck look nice but also insist he needs a counterfeit license in order to start right away (the real license will take weeks) and also warn him that food truck owners are extremely territorial so he needs to be careful. He finds this out the hard way when he sets up next to a couple of other food trucks at a curb, and ends up under a South Side bridge (the same one where Emmett sold his fake shoes that one time).

He gets adorably excited with his first customer, but some of Trice’s guys are watching, and decide they need to tell Trice for some reason? I don’t know why Brandon’s taco truck is a threat to Trice but that’s kind of the vibe I got from those guys—that there was a threat. Maybe that bridge is one of the places they sell drugs? Anyway Trice might die, so. We’ll see. Oh, and Sarah shows up to tell him that Jeff (his former boss, aka Chef) knows that they slept together. When Brandon gets home to Jerrika, he confesses this to her, and she says it’s okay because she slept with someone else too. Neither of them look particularly happy in this moment, but let’s hope they can both move past it.

I’d eat here for every meal of every day, license or not

Okay my friends, that’s it for this week! Come back next week if your hearts can handle it. Personally I’m a little scared but I’m all in on this show, and plus the school play is happening next week, so no one wants to miss that.

All images courtesy of Showtime

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