Wednesday, November 2, 2016

REVIEW: 'Queen Sugar' - Charley, Nova & Ralph Angel Deal with Lethal Consequences from the Storm in 'Next to Nothing'

OWN's Queen Sugar - Episode 1.09 "Next to Nothing"

Charley, Ralph Angel and Remy are shocked to discover two dead bodies on their property following the storm. When the police begin to investigate, Charley questions her own moral compass. The siblings later unite to tell the fellow workers about the tragedy. Aunt Violet objects to Darla's continued presence in their home, and when she refuses to relinquish guardianship of Blue, Hollywood encourages her to look at things in a different light.

Part of what made Queen Sugar so exciting and special to talk about when it began was its strong grasp on raw emotion. Those first few episodes were very powerful because it wasn't afraid to go deep into the complicated emotions of these characters' lives. That quality has still been present for the rest of the season. Like the artful cinematography and direction, that aspect has been maintained on a weekly basis with different directors. However, the middle stretch of the season has become more plot focused. It was all about Charley learning the truth about Davis' scandal, Ralph Angel struggling to meet the requirements of his parole, Hollywood's secret ex-wife and tension brewing between Nova and Charley because of their different views on a number of subjects. But "Next to Nothing" gets back to that core display of raw emotion that was so prevalent in the beginning. It opens on a particularly silly plot development with two dead bodies being discovered on the farm. And yet, the show really puts everything into that story and makes sure it has an impact on all of the characters. It ultimately works because of the emotions on display throughout the hour.

"Next to Nothing" makes sure to slow things down enough so that these deaths can have an impact. The audience didn't have any kind of attachment to these two dead people. Neither did the rest of the Bordelon family. These two men worked for them. Charley made all of the workers stay to finish planting the crop before the storm hit last week. And now, two of them are dead and no one in the family actually knows their names. That's such a horrifying realization for all of them. This venture into sugarcane farming is so personal to all of them. They need this to work in order to honor their father's legacy. Sure, they aren't planning for the future beyond this first season of crops. They hope a good harvest will be able to pull the family out of debt. Things will hopefully be better than the way Ernest left them. But it's still hard to watch as this becomes so impersonal to all of them. They have no connection to these workers at all. They paid them for their hard labor. But they didn't know either of them personally. They didn't know anything about their lives. The siblings are still getting used to the ins and outs of farming. This should be a huge wake up call for all of them. They've put in the work to make this crop a success. But it's clear there is still so much work that needs to be done.

It's honestly so moving to watch as the siblings sit the other workers down to tell them about the deaths of their two friends. Unlike the siblings, these people actually had a connection to the two guys. They worked side-by-side in the fields. They know the lives and ambitions of these two men. They know that one is happily married with three children while the other was expecting his first child. They were working on the farm in order to provide better lives for their families back home. It is a somewhat awkward sequence because things need to be translated back and forth from English to Spanish. But that only strengthens the clear divide between management and the workers. They don't even speak the same language. An interpreter needs to come in to help the siblings deliver the news. It's a powerful scene because it hits everyone in the room so hard. Charley, Nova and Ralph Angel have learned the names of the two workers. But they don't have any answers as to how or why they died. Plus, there's no guarantee that they'll ever have those answers. Right now, all they have is the grief that comes from this news and the desire to be better people in the future.

All of this hits Charley especially hard. She blames herself for their deaths because she kept them on the farm so late. She was so driven to get the crops planted that she didn't care about anything else. A hurricane was literally coming and she wasn't too concerned for the safety of her workers. She figured there was still enough time. She just casually ignored everyone's claims that weather in Louisiana can change quickly. And now, the deaths are weighing on her conscience. She wonders if she truly is a good person. She has always seen herself that way. But now, so much has changed for her and she no longer knows if that is the case. She wasn't able to help her father out of debt while he was still alive. She outed Davis' prostitute lover and exposed the rest of the team for rape just to make herself feel better. Plus, she's criticized Nova for wanting to put Micah in a potentially dangerous situation. Her life is spiraling out of control. She doesn't know what happened that made her this way. Nova is there to comfort her. She is a voice of reason throughout all of this madness. It does seem like things are on the mend between the two of them. Their disagreements haven't just disappeared because two bodies showed up at the farm. But they do have new perspective on their lives and a new willingness to embrace the people in their lives more willingly moving forward.

It also takes until the end of "Next to Nothing" for Charley and Remy to discuss the kiss that happened between them during the storm. Remy was there to comfort Charley in a moment where she needed it the most. He has been a rock for her throughout this entire season. The romantic sparks have been flying between the two of them ever since Remy first appeared. This is clearly something the show has been building towards. And yet, it's honestly refreshing to see them have a mature talk about their relationship at the end of the episode. Neither one of them knows what that kiss means. It means there is more going on between them than just friendship. They need each other in their lives. But they also recognize that Charley isn't in complete control of her life yet. She's still just making decisions day-by-day. She's making mistakes both on the farm and in her personal life. She's still just figuring out what she wants after the whole disaster with Davis. It's clear Remy is willing to wait for her. She accepts that this could be something great if she wants it. She just needs to make that decision while also making sure it doesn't complicate her life any further.

Additionally, Aunt Vi is still uncomfortable with Darla's continued presence at the house. She's happy that Nova is staying a little longer because the roads are still closed. But she's anxious about Darla still being around. Despite Darla's moving speech during the storm, Aunt Vi still views her the same. She doesn't want to sign away her guardianship of Blue just yet. She doesn't believe Ralph Angel and Darla have earned that trust yet. She sees things happening between them again and just wants to protect Blue. Hollywood and Nova kinda bend over backwards to get Aunt Vi to let go of these feelings. They want her to stop caring about Ralph Angel and Blue so much so that they can make their own decisions. They can succeed or fail on their own. They don't need Aunt Vi to be protecting and worrying about them all the time. That's a little difficult to accept. It's hard for Aunt Vi as well. She's the member of this family who makes sure everyone else is safe. She's the protecter. She doesn't know who she is if she doesn't have that. It's an interesting dynamic to introduce. It's just a little too forced throughout the rest of the hour though.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Next to Nothing" was written by Jason Wilborn and directed by Kat Candler.
  • The ambiguity of what happened to the two men in the field powered the emotions of the entire story. No one knew if they would ever learn the truth. They had to cope with that and move forward. But that is undercut a little bit by the show actually providing an answer. A meth addict was out there and killed them for their money. But that only prompts a number of questions. Mainly, why was a meth addict out at the farm in the first place?
  • Micah gets a new potential love interest when a neighbor comes over to Aunt Vi's house to help clean up. It's a fine dynamic that could be interesting. But again, Micah doesn't need that much screen time. Also, do people really refer to Instagram as "IG?" That was just weird and annoying.
  • Micah still wants to live with Nova once he starts going to that prep school. He makes those intentions known but Nova and Charley really don't have any time to give any more consideration to that idea.
  • Remy designed this crop to be able to resist the kind of flooding that comes from a storm like this. The siblings are very lucky that the storm didn't do a whole lot of damage to the crop. That's the good news in all of this. However, they aren't completely out of the woods yet as Remy explains.
  • It's been awhile since Ms. Velez has appeared on the show. That's strange considering Marycarmen Lopez is a series regular. Darla has been more important than Ms. Velez but Bianca Lawson isn't a regular. So, is some big twist about to happen that gives her more importance?
  • Ralph Angel tells Darla that they could start figuring things out so that Darla can see Blue on a more regular basis. He's starting to trust her again. He feels confident that she has changed. There hasn't been any evidence to suggest she hasn't. But knowing her past, things are still pretty tense with her.