Tuesday, June 20, 2017

REVIEW: 'Queen Sugar' - Charley Struggles with the Power of Celebrity in 'After the Winter'

OWN's Queen Sugar - Episode 2.01 "After the Winter"

Charley and Davis remain entangled. Ralph Angel tries to find his footing on the family farm. Aunt Vi confronts her feelings for Hollywood. Micah has a dangerous encounter with a police officer. Nova deals with the loss of her relationship with Calvin.

"After the Winter" features a fair amount of refocusing for Queen Sugar. It plays as the creative team taking stock of what worked and what didn't last season. As such, it continues the stories that have been engaging and compelling while cutting bait on the stuff that didn't as quickly as possible. It's interesting to see what those decisions ultimately were. Nova and Calvin are officially done. The breakup came between seasons. And now, she's just running around town sleeping with a bunch of random guys. Similarly, things are slowing down for two more couples: Charley & Remy and Ralph Angel & Darla. Sure, Remy and Darla are still major characters on the show. This premiere even shows more things from Darla's perspective and how Ralph Angel may not be able to understand her world. But it's a conscious decision to slow things down to focus on other things for the two leads as well. For Charley, that includes her messy situation with Davis where she still gets a lot of stuff done through her association with him even though he's still so infuriating to her. For Ralph Angel, it's the uncertainty of when to tell his sisters about the new will he found of their father's. Both of those stories are fascinating and seem to be getting more importance in the early going. And finally, things are starting to heat up with Aunt Vi and Hollywood again. It's still slow going. But they are actually talking once more. That's an encouraging sign.

All of this does seem necessary. It's not all that surprising either. The series hired a new showrunner this season in Monica Macer as Ava DuVernay is juggling both this and her $100 million film A Wrinkle in Time. The first season was good. It started and ended in strong emotional ways. But it did get lost in the melodrama of it all in the middle of its series. This series is important because it depicts characters in a way that they've never been shown on television before. It provides opportunities to female directors that the rest of the industry doesn't do. Perhaps, things will be heading in that creative direction moving forward. It's interesting. This is very much a table-setting premiere. It's largely just setting up the stories and character dynamics that will be important in the immediate future. Most of them are pretty strong and fascinating as well. It's interesting to see the show tackle serious subject matter and have it reflected through this very specific but loving family. That core story engine still works for what this show is trying to accomplish.

The big thing that happens in "After the Winter" is Micah getting pulled over by a police officer and being arrested. In that moment, it's easy to feel the fear that is coming off of Micah and the uncertainty over what will happen. The camera reveals that the officer is white before showing the audience his face. He's a man far removed from understanding Micah's world. Micah is just a teenager in the middle of an ugly divorce. He has a girlfriend and he's happy. But none of that is important in this scene. Instead, it's just about how this black kid may try to do harm to a man of the law. It's terrifying to watch. It goes exactly as one might expect. Micah's rationalizations for his actions seem like typical teenager stuff. But they carry more weight because he's black and the law looks unkindly to him in this situation. He's arrested even though he does nothing wrong. The show doesn't even set out to try to explain the officer's actions. His reasoning for the arrest isn't made clear. That adds to the tragedy of the situation. All of this can happen and it has no explanation whatsoever. It transforms Micah from a teenager going through some angst with his family to a man deeply traumatized by the world. It's a key character shift from the first season. Last year, he wasn't all that important in the ongoing story. But this action makes it clear that he's going to have more significant this season.

Plus, the only reason Micah gets out of this situation without further harm is because his father is a celebrity. There's a new appreciation for Davis West in town as well because he's signed on to lead the local basketball team to victory. He made that decision to be closer to his family. But everyone is still understandably upset with him over everything that happened. And yet, he and Charley are still technically married. The outside world still sees them as a packaged deal. Charley is refocusing all of her creative energy on the farm and making it a profitable business. She's done managing Davis' career. And yet, she can only get a loan to get the mill up and running as soon as possible if Davis signs the paperwork as well. It's still clear that these two hate each other. In the immediate aftermath of Micah being released, Nova is the one who is comforting him as he re-enters the world as a changed man. Charley and Davis are off fighting over the entire situation. That shows that they both still struggle to drop their selfish mentalities when it comes to their son. They are making all of this about themselves instead of being there for Micah when he needs it the most. He essentially shuts down in the aftermath. Meanwhile, Charley is just forging Davis' signature to get the loan she wants. It's a decision that is bound to have major consequences for her. Consequences that could affect everyone in her life should the truth be revealed. She's risking it all. And for what? Why does she do that? Is it her giving in to the power of celebrity while still choosing to be a strong, independent woman? Or is she doing it just to avoid Davis for as long as possible until they can finally separate for good?

It's also fascinating to dig deeper into Ralph Angel's decision not to bring up the new will with his sisters. He continues to avoid the subject. Only Darla knows the truth. She's pushing for him to have that difficult conversation. But the tension between the siblings is only growing. Ralph Angel has proven that he's gotten better at running the farm. His ideas have value too. He can make decisions that turn a profit as well. Charley likes being included in all of those decisions because she's equal parts owner of the business. She believes her opinion needs to be heard in the decision-making progress. She's not wrong to believe that. Nor is the rest of the family wrong to tell her to be more encouraging to Ralph Angel so that approaching those conversations is easier in the future. All of this is also happening under the knowledge that the farm is actually Ralph Angel's. He has yet to act on that information. Is he doing that because he loves his sisters? Or because he's scared of how they'll react? The information will probably come out sooner or later. That's especially true once Darla says they should take a step back and slow down in their relationship. That's absolutely the right decision to make because she feels herself slipping with the possibility of a relapse. Ralph Angel doesn't understand her disease. He doesn't comprehend how she can't just leave all that past trauma in the past like he did with his stint in jail. The two situations are completely different and he doesn't fully understand that. That makes him a complicated character. One who may be bound to destroy the lives of the people he cares about. That's fascinating and should lead to some great drama to watch this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "After the Winter" was written by Monica Macer and directed by Kat Candler.
  • Things are running smoothly for Aunt Vi at the diner. She has taken charge as manager and has improved the business. Plus, she's helping people from the local halfway house by giving them jobs. That shows that she has grown so much through the interactions with her family last season. She now believes in second chances.
  • Of course, the greatest second chance for Aunt Vi will come from Hollywood. They both have to decide that they are willing to start dating again. Lots happened between them last season. They've both needed space to figure things out. They may have some clarity. Right now, it's so comforting for them just to hear the other's voice. Sure, Hollywood is wrong about Micah being okay. But the sentiment is right.
  • It's also fun to see Aunt Vi get drunk at a club and yell at Davis. That sequence was so much fun before Davis appeared. It was three women going out to enjoy life. Then, it came crushing back to reality. Aunt Vi made a scene but Nova and Charley were still responsible adults and made sure she was okay afterwards.
  • Everyone seems to be aware that Nova is flaunting her sexuality at the moment. She's not hiding it either. In fact, she's encouraging everyone to go out and be with a variety of people because it could expand one's horizons. She does that and mentions a rally she's organizing as well. That's a tease for a future plot I'm sure.
  • Who exactly called Nova to tell her that Micah had been arrested? It's important for the plot because the family needed to know the truth at that point. But the logistics seem off. Yes, she has contacts at the precinct who could pass the information along. But Micah wasn't even in the system. So, did someone recognize him and call Nova?
  • Micah getting pulled over by the cops the day after his birthday may be a little too much. It shows that something like this can happen at any point in time. It also explains why he has such a nice car. But all of the birthday talk was a little unnecessary too.