Wednesday, November 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'Queen Sugar' - Charley Risks Everything in Order to Secure a Future for Her Family in 'Give Us This Day'

OWN's Queen Sugar - Episode 1.13 "Give Us This Day"

Charley continues to make calculated choices regarding Davis' basketball career and her desire to secure an investor. Nova and Calvin finally reunite, but their union causes controversy in the community. Davis attempts to repair his relationship with Micah but faces resistance. Aunt Vi learns of Hollywood's departure and tries to make amends. Ralph Angel makes a shocking discovery that changes everything.

This has been a very interesting debut season for Queen Sugar. In the beginning, it was so distinctive for its visual palette and command of raw emotion and intensity. The season was able to maintain both of those traits remarkably well across the entire season. However, the narrative did become more focused on the plot in some clunky ways as the season went along. That's not inherently a bad thing. Things need to happen to the main characters in order to force drama and tension. The plot devices used weren't that bad either. It was just a noticeable shift that made the show just a little less special than it was at the start. Heading into the season finale tonight, there wasn't really a clear indication of what this season was actually building towards. The last few episodes have made the mill deal the most important thing for the Bordelon siblings. It does give this finale a focus that is very much appreciated. But it is just the latest complication that comes out of the siblings now running a sugarcane farm. The show smartly decided not to fit an entire year of farming into one season of television. Yes, the struggles with the farm were always the most compelling parts of the plot. But it was also nice to see the show take its time with this endeavor while it got to know its characters as well. It still produces many twists to complicate their lives. Some are better than others. But the show has put the work in to make the audience care about the Bordelon family in some profound ways. As scattered as the narrative at times was, these are nuanced and multi-dimensional characters capable of having successes and making mistakes.

And again, the show never lost sight of the raw emotional intensity it had in the beginning. This season has tackled so many complicated themes so well. It has touched on class, race and gender in some phenomenal ways. It's addressed the faults of the criminal justice system and how the past of this community affects the way things are still done to this day. It has such a profound knowledge of its own past. These themes easily allow the show to overcome some silly plotting or one-dimensional characters. No one from the Landry family was ever more than a one-note antagonist for the family to deal with. But the reveal that they once owned the Bordelons and have abused and killed them for generations was so powerful and emotionally destructive. It united the family in some fantastic ways heading into this finale. This episode is never really about that rising conflict though. Yes, Charley is trying to buy this mill so that the Landry family doesn't own every single one in the county. She's hoping to make a change in this world that will impact more than just her own family. She's taking a huge risk and hopes it pays off for everyone. In the beginning, she was a businesswoman working for her family. And now, she's a businesswoman working for an entire community. That's quite a transformation for her this season. She has learned so much but she has so much more to learn as well.

However, Charley's cutthroat business instincts haven't gone away either. She is closer with her family now and wants to be in the sugarcane business. She wants to do whatever it takes to make her father's farm a success. He died trying to do that. And now, she and her siblings are doing their best to honor his legacy. And yet, Charley is risking all of it with this new deal and doesn't tell anyone about it. She's willing to hurt the people she loves if it means more financial reward in the long run. She's hurting Micah once again by using him to get Davis back in town. She's making up stories to feed into Davis' own guilt. Now, the details of this entire story are just a little too murky to work all that well. It's just important to see Charley do whatever it takes in order to get this money. She's committed to this plan and won't let anyone stop her. Nova is proud of the plan if Charley is able to pull it off. But Ralph Angel is upset that he was left in the dark when he put so much work into his own plan. He still feels immature to Charley. She hasn't seen how much work he has done on the farm this season. She sees what she wants to see. It's that determination that makes her an excellent businesswoman. Sure, it's too easy for her to get the support of the community with one rousing speech about honoring the people who have come before them. But it's still so empowering to watch her ultimately get what she wants and making sure the people who betrayed her and other women are paying for it. That feels satisfying no matter how manipulative and dark Charley may ultimately be as well.

Charley does get the mill. All of the money comes together for her. It's what she wanted and she got it. It will still take a lot of hard work for it to pay off. She needs to fix the place up in time for it take the crops at the end of the season. She still has a long road around of her. But there is a great personal cost to all of this as well. It jeopardizes her relationship with Remy. She has had to ignore him in order to get this deal together. She wants to be with him but she needs to run to Davis to make sure he doesn't back out. Davis is such a selfish and narcissistic man. It's great when Charley finally tells him off. She gave everything to him while he couldn't care less. All he wants is sex. To him, that's the symbol of things being good again. He wants Charley back but doesn't want to do any of the work to earn her trust once more. He wants to run away simply because Micah wants nothing to do with him. Charley's speech gets him to stay but it also causes problems with Remy. He is falling in love with her. She is as well. She wants to be with him. She is ready for that now. And yet, her life is still so complicated. She just can't go from Davis to Remy acting like it's not a big deal. Charley and Remy may be good for each other but they still haven't figured enough of their lives out to actually be good and healthy as a couple. That's devastating because it's clearly something that Charley wants.

Nova's story in the finale is largely about love as well. However, it's less effective than Charley's is. That's because Charley and Remy have been an important story this season. They both exist as characters beyond their romantic chemistry. With Calvin, that's his sole purpose on the show. He is the man who Nova desires. That was true in the series premiere and it's still true in the finale. But nothing has really happened to make him more nuanced as a character. Yes, it's a big deal that he leaves his wife in order to be with Nova. The finale is their big reunion where they are able to be together in public. It's great that their pasts still complicate them being together. Him being married wasn't the only issue they had. It was a big one but it wasn't the only one. They may be good together but there's just no way of knowing. Nova's story is much more satisfying when it comes to her sending Too Sweet off to a new life with a promising future. She fought for him this entire season. And now, he is a free man once more capable of doing anything in his life. That was because of her. That victory feels earned while the story with Calvin still just feels like plot setup.

And then, there's the big season ending twist that is sure to change everything in the second season. Charley, Nova and Ralph Angel reluctantly took over the farm when their father passed away. His will left it to all of them to continue the family legacy. At first, they just wanted to grow crops for one season to pull the family out of its debts and restore the farm's credibility. But now, everyone in the family is committed to staying in town and working on this farm. It is now their full-time focus. Everyone is committed to making it work. That's what makes it so surprising when Ralph Angel discovers a locked box of his father's with a more recent will that leaves the farm solely to him. That shows that his father really did believe in him and his potential as a farmer. Ralph Angel didn't have his life figured out when his father died but Ernest still believed in him. It's an emotional letter to read. That season ending moment is basically all about the emotion that Ralph Angel feels while reading it. But it also sets up a new conflict for next season. Ralph Angel has felt under-appreciated by Nova and Charley. He has put in the work to make the farm a success. He's actually living there seeing the progress day in and day out. And yet, they still see him as their immature brother. Those impulses are still there. He's grown but he's still one wrong move from everything being taken away from him. But him becoming the sole owner of the farm could make his sisters see him more seriously. It could cause tension that could affect everything they've worked so hard to achieve this season. So, it's a powerful tease on a number of levels and opens the door to many possibilities next season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Give Us This Day" was written by Ava DuVernay and directed by Tina Mabry.
  • Aunt Vi learns that Hollywood was getting a divorce. That's why he came back from the rig a couple of days before he said he would. That information is enough for her to want him back again. But now, he's unsure because of what he saw at the club.
  • Hollywood taking a bigger job at the rig seems pretty precarious. It means he'll be gone for six months and not just a few days or weeks. It's a more permanent move. But time moves slowly on this show. So, it seems unlikely he'll be gone for that long. And yet, how he returns should be very interesting.
  • Things have officially started back up with Ralph Angel and Darla. That always seemed to be the direction the show was heading in. Ralph Angel has come to trust Darla again and so far she hasn't done anything wrong to compromise that trust. 
  • Charley gets 10 million dollars in putting this deal together for Davis to play basketball in New Orleans. That means he'll probably be around more next season. But it's also enough money for Charley to buy the mill and give a sizable donation to charity in honor of the victim of Davis' sex scandal.
  • It cannot be understated just how amazing this show has looked all season. Plus, it's noteworthy that every episode was directed by a woman of color. They are the most underrepresented class in the director's chair. But this show proved there are some wonderful voices out there as well. They just need to be given the opportunity.
  • Queen Sugar was renewed for a second season before the first even began airing. So, it's clear OWN has big hopes for the show. This season was a strong introduction to this world. Hopefully, it will only continue to grow and get better next year.