We have now come to the half way point of Queen Sugar’s sophomore season, and the midseason finale certainly knew how pack a punch.
Nova’s at the Atlanta airport. She left New Orleans in the wake of the gutting Bordelon family blow up and is now looking to find comfort in the arms of her new love interest, Dr. Robert DuBois. Clearly, Dr. DuBois has heard that I have taken to calling him The Good DoctorTM because he greets Nova at baggage claim with a name placard that’s hand-written with the word “Queen.” Nova thanks him by having sex in the backseat of his parked car, and I ain’t mad at her for it.
Unfortunately, things between them make a turn for the worse when The Good Doctor takes Nova to a dinner party with his friends and former colleagues. I will not mince words: This party is W-H-I-T-E. And Old. And Mostly Men. Holding court in at this swanky affair is DuBois’ old work acquaintance, Timothy North.
What is absolutely stunning about North is that he is the perfect characterization of Stephen Miller, the xenophobic Trump aide whose hate-filled immigration “debate” with CNN’s Jim Acosta was covered wall-to-wall by U.S. news media on Tuesday. There was no way for the Queen Sugar writers to know that the eventual timing would be so perfect. But, they did know a pure truth: In 2017 racist white nationalism doesn’t look like hooded figures and burned crosses, it looks like luxury three-piece suits and a microphone.
Nova drains her wine glass in a single gulp, and cuts his racist ass down to size. She says what no one else at the dinner party will dare, that his rhetoric “are all code words that turn immigrant into criminal and inner city into disease.” This is how the world gets picked over and syphoned off, by “people like you, with power, talking in rooms like this.” But little did she know, as Tim North’s smile grows until he resembles the Cheshire Cat, that her new boyfriend The Good Doctor was once on the record as agreeing with him.
The music turns into a throbbing pulse; Nova looks at DuBois horrified. She storms out, and he follows, apologizing. He once thought, a long time ago, that the best way he could help black people was by playing along with “the game.” Nova is rightfully incredulous. The liberation of black people is not a game to her. Later, when she is back home in Louisiana and lovingly massaging her Aunt Vi’s feet, she gets reminded that no one is perfect.
Few things are as complicated as black women’s relationship to our hair. When Charley decides early in the episode to forego her straightener and embrace her soft, natural curls, it felt like a culmination of her self-discovery. For many in St. Josephine, Charley remains an outsider. Even when she visited as a kid, she felt kept at a distance. She was Ernest’s “other child,” bi-racial, and eventually wealthy. However, the mill has changed things for her. For the first time, as she simply states to the black farmers collective, “it’s home.”
And we have Micah. The midseason finale brings us full circle to the trauma that opened the second season, Micah’s arrest. Nicholas Ashe has been nothing short of a marvel this summer as he committed to walking us through all the levels of Micah’s pain, and this week he tore me apart.
First, Micah and his girlfriend Keke are hanging outside of his private school when they see police stopping and handcuffing three black men on the street. The teenagers stop dead in their tracks, deciding to sit together on a bench and watch guard. Keke’s friend pulls out her cellphone to record what’s happening, just in case. I love Keke’s friend, but if you ever decide to record police in your real life, please be safe and smart and know your legal rights first!
Later, Micah and Davis have a fight that ends in Micah finally breaking his own silence. The night of his arrest, the police officer didn’t take him straight to the jail. Instead, they drove pass the building and into a nearby alley. The officer called him explicative after explicative, eventually repeating over and over that Micah had been raised “with a silver spoon in his mouth.” He pulled him out of the car and onto his knees in the alley, before forcing his gun into the young teenager’s mouth. And then he pulled the trigger.
Micah breaks down into tears telling Davis, “He didn’t have to do that Dad. He didn’t have to do that.”
I’m still shaking as I type this. I’ve tried, and deleted, writing about it. I can’t find the words to describe the feeling. The scene is exquisitely powerful in part because of director Amanda Marsalis’ restraint. She trusted Ashe’s breaking voice to relay the memory, as opposed to a gratuitous violent flashback. If you haven’t seen it already, I implore you to watch it here:
We’ve been talking a lot recently about pop culture that has engaged in torture porn, exploiting black pain and the Black Lives Matter movement to suit their own agenda. I continue to be thankful for the direction that Queen Sugar has chosen instead. They allowed Micah tell his own story. In his own time. And on his own terms.
The episode ends with a turn towards romance. The Good Doctor returns to New Orleans to apologize again. He has a plan to get funding into redevelopment for the 9th Ward. Nova points out that he could’ve told her all of this on the phone. That’s true, but telephones don’t kiss back, so I guess he wins. Charley and Remy also reconcile, but after his cruelty over the last two episodes I don’t think I can trust Remy. He fundamentally doesn’t understand or respect the choices that Charley has to make in order to best survive. And, in the biggest sweeping romantic gesture of the evening, Ralph Angel proposes to Darla with a candle lit and flower filled declaration of love. She says yes, and this is 100% certainly too soon for them given their rocky past, but I can’t help from rooting for them to work it out anyway.
Since its first breath, Queen Sugar has presented its female characters as full human beings; they are as fearless and brave as they are vulnerable. Nova, Charley, Violet, and Darla continue to be written and portrayed with unflinching honesty. They are the backbone of their family. That said, I am struck that in its second season Queen Sugar has broken open the myth, often accepted as truth, that black women must endure all of their community’s burdens.
Perhaps more than any one else in their family, the Bordelon sisters have had to find themselves anew this season. Charley’s discovered the hard way that she can no longer hold on to the facade that has thus far been her armor. Nova has given all of herself to New Orleans, to her neighbors, to the young people she advocates for. This season we’ve watched as she struggled through deep-seeded, painful, feelings of abandonment and inadequacy.
Then there’s Aunt Vi. On her best days, Violet is vibrant and the spark that catalyzes her entire family. On her worst days, Vi cannot get out of bed. And the show tells us that is also OK. Being depressed doesn’t make you broken. I’ve discussed this before, but it’s worth repeating again that between Charley and Aunt Vi, Queen Sugar has done so much important work this summer to normalize and dismantle the stigma surrounding black women’s mental health.
With her raw-nerve vulnerability, Bianca Larson uses every episode to turn the ugly stereotype of a black, drug-addicted mother inside out. Two years sober this week, Darla wakes up every morning and chooses to keep walking down the hard path. She’s chosen herself, and to keep loving her son, no matter what obstacles are placed in front of her.
The Bordelon women have been allowed the space to stumble, learn from their faults, and realize that they do not have to be everything to everybody, except to their own selves. It’s a lesson I think we can all use. Life has so much more to give when we aren’t preoccupying our energies trying to be Superwomen.
When Queen Sugar returns in October, there will be a lot on our plates left to explore. Michael Michele and Roger Guenveur Smith have been cast as Darla’s parents, Sharon Lawrence is set to play Charley’s estranged mother, and filmmaker Julie Dash (!!!!!!!!) is slated to direct. If you, on any level, loved Beyoncé’s Lemonade, immediately fire up your Netflix and watch Dash’s 1991 black feminist magnum opus Daughters of the Dust. And then thank the universe for providing us all with such a deeply talented soul.
I’d like to end our summer together by quoting my dear Nova:
May you never be thirsty.
May no enemy slow your growth.
May your life not be ordinary, but fulfilled with flavor, happiness, and substance.
Like salt, you will preserve all that is good.
May you live a long, sweet, and happy life.
May you be kept warm, and protected, as you were warm and protected in your mother’s belly.
I wish you all warmth, until we are together again.