Wednesday, June 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'Queen Sugar' - Micah Finds Understanding at Nova's Community Fundraiser in 'To Usward'

OWN's Queen Sugar - Episode 2.02 "To Usward"

Ralph Angel has an idea for the farm. Charley is blindsided during her divorce mediation with Davis. Nova holds a community fundraiser. Aunt Vi learns that Hollywood might have been involved in a life-threatening accident.

Queen Sugar has been very topical in exploring what it means to be black in America in 2017. It's an entry point for all of these characters. They aren't always defined by the color of their skin. But it's never something they can just ignore either. They live in a world that sees them differently because they are black. They have to put up with that on a day-to-day basis. The narrative explores what it means to be active in one's community. Nova is the main voice in all of this. She's the one always rallying for change and organizing protests to expose the failings of the system. Last season, it was all about getting Too Sweet out of prison for his false imprisonment. And now, she's tackling the much larger issue of people being held in jail because they are too poor to pay their bail. That issue has the possibility of destroying entire lives. It's a serious concern that plagues communities. It's the show taking a firm stand against a failing of the criminal justice system. Nova is passionate about it. The show explores the difficult stories about how imprisonment like this can change a person and their life. But it's also so compelling to watch as it reflects on the personal lives of the main cast. Nova is passionate about this because she cares about the betterment of her community. Meanwhile, others in her family haven't had the same experience and don't feel the same desire to speak up about all of the injustices.

It's fascinating to see Ralph Angel's reaction to all of this. He's the character where this issue actually hits home. It's embedded into his backstory. He was in jail. He knows how difficult it can be to navigate life as an ex-con. But he doesn't really care about the community at large or speaking out about his story and making sure things improve in the future. Instead, he's all about his own life and struggles. He has enough to juggle with getting the crops on the farm and his family responsibilities with Darla and Blue. Those are the things that make him happy. They keep him business enough. They have their own challenges that he has to deal with as well. He continues to see himself as a traditional man who needs to provide for his family. He's firm in those traditional gender roles. And yet, that makes it so compelling that he's completely okay with his son playing with dolls and standing up for him in public when others question that decision. Ralph Angel is still fundamentally a good guy. He would just rather be in his own world and caring about the things that affect him the most. He doesn't have the time to fight the system. He doesn't see the point in that. He's not like Nova. They are siblings but see this issue very differently. He's choosing to move beyond his past and not address it at all except for when he has to for professional reasons. He wants to completely forget about it and not have it define him or his family. That's honorable. It also clashes with Nova who is proud to be outspoken because she believes things will only change if people speak up and force things to.

The community activism doesn't speak to Ralph Angel but it does for Micah. He just went through a brutal experience of being pulled over by a cop. It wasn't as bad as it could have been. His story pales in comparison to others at the rally and what Nova has seen in the world. But that doesn't mean his experience is nothing and he shouldn't be having such a big reaction to it. It was still traumatizing because it was his first wake-up call to the true realities of the world. He is now just kinda wandering through his life. He's shutting himself off from the rest of his family and not going to school. He's just roaming the city not knowing how public transportation works. He somehow makes it to the rally and listens to Nova. That relationship has proven to be so key on this show. She comes across as the only character who actually gets what Micah is going through. She's there for him in a genuine way. She's not projecting her own feelings onto the situation either. That's what keeps Charley and Davis from being effective parents in this moment. They are too caught up in their own divorce to actually be there for their son. Nova is busy putting on this fundraiser for a community bail collection. And yet, she still races to be with Micah when she sees him in the crowd. He's the only member of the family to come to the event. That's important. Some chose not to because of other obligations while some were kept away by new plot developments. It just continues to show the developing bond between Nova and Micah. That's so special and makes this entire story work very well.

Now, Charley and Davis aren't absentee parents throughout all of this with Micah either. They are giving him space and trust that he'll come to them when the time is right. Their actions are in reaction to everything that happened to him in the premiere as well. They are nearing the end of their divorce. They are ready for it to be done. But now, Davis wants joint custody because he wants to be a responsible and present parent for his son. He wants to have an influence on him moving forward. That seems like a crazy suggestion. But it's only building to the bombshell of Micah being okay with it. That's surprising. It's probably because Micah is in such a daze right now. He could be susceptible to any kind of suggestion. Even knowing that, it's still absolutely devastating for Charley. She can't even be frustrated with Micah because that wouldn't be healthy for him either. She calls him in a rage. But she has to keep all of those emotions inside. She just needs to be a comforting and accepting parent in that moment even though it's so difficult for her to do so. Her breaking down outside the school is so moving and powerful. This messy divorce just keeps doing a number on her in some truly unexpected and challenging ways.

Plus, Charley doesn't have the right person to confide to about all of this. The rest of the family is out dealing with their own problems or living their own lives. She can't inconvenience them with her latest setback. She calls her mother but she's not there to pick up on the other end. That's a tease that likely means a visit from her sooner or later this season. It sets up that Charley still feels comforted by her mother. She believes that she always knows the right thing to say after a difficult day. But she's not here to help. Instead, that burden falls onto Remy. He had just told Charley that they should keep things professional until her divorce is finalized. But things shift into better perspective for the two of them as well. She's looking for comfort and actually walks in on him in the middle of his own grief. This day also happens to be the anniversary of his wife's death. He tells Charley the story of what happened to her. It's horrifying to listen to. But it helps Charley find some comfort and clarity in the moment. This is the relationship that she wants to be exploring. Things are already so deep and personal between them. And yet, they both have their own issues that they need to deal with as well. Charley rushed into things before properly dealing with her divorce. That's still affecting her in some profound ways. She can't move forward towards a better and happier life until she does so. Knowing that makes Remy seem very wise and a good fit for her. But it may be easier said than done for Charley as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "To Usward" was written by Jason Wilborn and directed by Cheryl Dunye.
  • The premiere made it clear that sexuality is going to be a huge part of Nova's story this season. But this one presents her with a more traditional love interest in D'Andre. He's supportive of her cause at the local barbershop. It seems that they've already slept together and he's interested in more. He's okay with her calling at any time. That's a tease of something more as well.
  • Charley still doesn't totally trust Ralph Angel when it comes to making financial decisions for the farm. She has now made it so her signature is necessary for every transaction that comes out of the business account. That's a power play that proves a little devastating to Ralph Angel. But he also knows not to bring it up with Charley because of the day she's been having.
  • Of course, Ralph Angel is also finding a way to work around the new rule that Charley has put into place for the business. He's applied for a loan and hopes to get it despite his criminal record. Remy is very encouraging of it as well. That dynamic could be intriguing to watch since they have vastly different opinions of Charley.
  • There is some kind of explosion on the rig that Hollywood was working on. It's all just alleged speculation though. Aunt Vi hears about it and worries about him. And then, he shows up again perfectly fine. It makes the reunion between the two even sweeter and more emotional. But it's very manipulative of the show - especially if it doesn't explore more of Hollywood's job in the future.
  • It's a little odd that Ralph Angel and Darla bring Blue out on their date. It makes it more of a family outing to a nice restaurant instead of a romantic date. It has its purpose too in showing that Darla can be a good influence on both of them. But it's not what the audience was probably expecting at the top of the hour when Ralph Angel first asked Darla out and wanted Aunt Vi to watch Blue. It was missing the scene where Aunt Vi needed to bail.
  • There is a bit of a logistic problem near the end of the episode. Ralph Angel and Darla's date, Charley showing up at Remy's house and Aunt Vi waiting for Hollywood are intercut together. They seem to be happening at the same time. But Charley and Ralph Angel's stories are happening at night while Aunt Vi's is in full daylight.