Sunday, August 21, 2016

REVIEW: 'Survivor's Remorse' - No One Seems to Know What to Do With Uncle Julius' Gun in 'No Child Left Behind'

Starz's Survivor's Remorse - Episode 3.06 "No Child Left Behind"

Cassie has her DNA tested to discover more about about her roots. After doing so, she meets a new family who helps her understand and experience the traditions of the culture. Reggie and Cam try to get rid of Uncle Julius' gun.

It's nice that Survivor's Remorse hasn't completely forgotten about Uncle Julius this season. His death was a very dramatic moment for the series. His exit left quite a hole for the show's comedic sensibilities and rhythms. Squeeze has somewhat filled that void. But he's still not completely there as a character yet. It's still surprising whenever he just randomly pops up at the Calloway house. He largely exists to say an expositional line that sets up a hilarious reaction from the rest of the cast. Uncle Julius is a hard character to replace. His lasting memory is still fueling so many of the character arcs. Cam and Cassie do things in "No Child Left Behind" because of Uncle Julius. Cam wants to get rid of his gun because he doesn't want it while Cassie learns more about her roots as a way to honor her brother. Those are very different reactions that create very different stories. Uncle Julius is really the only thing that thematically connects them together. That's a solid and earned setup for the show. It just feels like one too many elements are a little too disjointed throughout this episode.

Cam and Reggie offer some fantastic commentary about the image of two black men carrying around a gun in Atlanta. They know what that image looks like and just how dangerous it can be for both of them. That's why neither of them wants Uncle Julius' gun. Cam only went into his uncle's room to feel close to him again. He's moved that the combination to Julius' safe is Cam's jersey number. There are a number of cool things in that safe too - a collection of Susan B. Anthony coins and a ton of weed. But the gun still throws Cam off. The family knew that Uncle Julius had a gun. He did kill that deer when they first moved into the new house at the start of Season 2. But it's not anything that anyone in the family has thought about since he dead. It makes so much sense that it would cause friction within the family. Uncle Julius wanted it but no one else did. And yet, Cam is finding out just how difficult it can actually be to get rid of a gun. He wants to do the responsible thing. But that's so much more complicated than he ever thought.

Of course, Cam's big plan for the gun is to go over to Reggie who'll know what to do with it. He's just as surprised and unsure as Cam. It leads to a fun game of tag where the characters bounce from one idea to another. Reggie suggests going to Jimmy who doesn't know what to do. He then brings in team lawyer Clay who has so much love for the firearm. When he's playing around with it, everyone else in the office is on edge. And yet, he confidently knows what he's doing and doesn't know why Cam would want to get rid of it. That's what he wants to do but he doesn't know how to do it. He doesn't believe a black man can just walk into a police precinct with a gun intending to turn it over. In fact, it's pretty funny when he eventually goes to the precinct and wants to get on the floor right away. That's an insightful moment that shows just how systemic these issues of racism actually are. The police officer they interact with is more than willing to help with this situation. But she ultimately proves to be no help either. She too can't believe that a celebrity would want to part with a gun especially when he can openly carry one in the state. So, it's a story with no good answers. That shows just how complex this issue can really be. And yet, the resolution is just pretty lame with Cam putting it back in the safe, setting a new password and Reggie taking it to an undisclosed location. That ensures it will never be used in a crime. But it's hardly a simple or effective way to end the story. It just feels like a makeshift answer Cam and Reggie create in the moment in order to feel better about themselves.

The Cassie story is a little weird too. It's a little awkward because it continues to prop up M-Chuck's desire to know more about her father. It's starting to get a little frustrating too. Why doesn't Cassie want to say anything about him? She always just changes the subject. No matter how hard M-Chuck presses, Cassie refuses to say anything. It's become clear that it's an important plot thread this season. But it's also clear that M-Chuck won't get any definitive answers until the end of the season. That wait is going to be particularly agonizing. It's the source of M-Chuck's character arc this season. She has other things going on as well including her desire to go to college and improve herself in therapy. But her wanting to know more about her father is the thing that best defines her relationship to her family right now. So, the stalling techniques used to delay those answers are starting to wear a little thin. They are especially notable when Cassie spends the entire episode connecting to her Nigerian heritage. It's apparently something Uncle Julius wanted to do but never got around to actually doing it. So, Cassie is doing it to feel closer to her. That's the exact same reasoning M-Chuck has for knowing about her father. But Cassie just does not want to hear it.

The story then gets a little too distracted with Cassie, M-Chuck and Missy becoming friends with a woman from Nigerian. At first, it's fun. She has a sense of humor and is very welcoming to Cassie and the family. But that niceness quickly turns into a debate over a moral issue. That's something that the show has always done extremely well - just look at last week's phenomenal episode. But the discussion about ritualistic genital mutilation feels a little too tacked on here to feel all that important. It's something to show that this heritage isn't all that it's cracked up to be. It presents a moral dilemma for Cassie. The show even draws a parallel to circumcision as well. In that comparison, the topic becomes much more of a joke to connect the two main stories together. At first, it shows the hypocrisy of Missy's moral superiority. She doesn't believe anyone has the right to mutilate a woman in this way. She supports it being illegal throughout the entire world. She gets Cassie on her side too. And then, the action cuts to Cam, Reggie and Jimmy being at a circumcision ceremony. They don't know what's going on and only really care about the free food. That shows how these characters can react to similar things in profoundly different ways. But the final scene with Cam, Reggie and Jimmy just feels like a light-hearted moment to bring levity and connectivity to the overall stories. It's just a little too forced to be all that effective. There simply wasn't enough physical interactions between the family throughout the overall episode for that moment to work.

Some more thoughts:
  • "No Child Left Behind" was written by Victor Levin and directed by Bill Johnson.
  • Splitting the stories along gender lines has worked phenomenally well in the past. This is a cast that can be funny no matter what characters are paired. That has been such a strength for the show. But this episode highlights that the specifics of the story have to be good as well.
  • Cam was carrying around all of Uncle Julius' weed too. He and Reggie were freaking out about a gun being in the car. And yet, the drugs could have caused just as many problems too. But it's something they enjoy so they don't freak out about it like they do with the gun.
  • Jimmy reveals that he is from Boston and that was part of the reasoning behind him signing Cam to his team. He was looking forward to a fellow die-hard Patriots fan in town. And yet, this is the first Cam and Reggie have heard of it and they are firmly against Tom Brady in deflate-gate.
  • A gun is the reason why Jimmy's assistant is in a wheelchair. And yet, she holds no animosity towards her sister for shooting her. In fact, she's very supportive of anyone carrying a gun and using it when they need to.
  • How is Missy surprised that no one else in the family really reads the articles or books she tells them to? She's proud of being well-informed about many issues but that's simply not who the rest of the family is.
  • Everyone jokes that they were able to get a gun through security at a basketball stadium because they had a gun. That's just a really solid, funny and twisted joke. 
  • Cam mentions that he has taken and passed his last drug test for the season. So that means he'll be reaching the end of his first year in Atlanta soon. And remember, Reggie negotiated an opt out deal after one year for Cam. So things could be getting very interesting in that corner of Cam's life pretty soon.