Wednesday, July 19, 2017

REVIEW: 'Queen Sugar' - The Opening of the Mill Causes the Family to Reflect on Ernest's Legacy in 'Line of Our Elders'

OWN's Queen Sugar - Episode 2.06 "Line of Our Elders"

Charley's opening celebration of the Queen Sugar mills suffers a setback. Nova learns something surprising about her late father. Ralph Angel has a run-in with someone he previously robbed, which inspires a huge confession to his family.

Ernest Bordelon has cast a long shadow over the rest of his family throughout Queen Sugar. He was only in one episode of the show. But his death forced everything else to happen. His influence was widespread throughout this family and the community. Everyone seemingly loved him but he was a complicated man whose actions his family are still dealing with. As a character, he hasn't been too important as of late. But his influence is still felt in everything that the family does. They've revitalized the farm and opened the mill in honor of him. They want to make him proud. They want him to know that they listened to his wishes and carried them out. They are finally getting the rewards for all of their hard work. Queen Sugar Mill is ready to open. Charley was determined to make this new business a success in order to ensure that the corporate structure of this business didn't disenfranchise people of color. She has success and is hoping to spread it to the other workers of color throughout this community. It's a bold and ambitious plan. One that has stirred up quite a bit of drama already. But one that she is proud to carry out because of the love she has for her father. This opening is so significant to her because it brings Ernest to the forefront of the story once more. And that's what makes it so devastating when the episode reveals that the mistakes and secrets he kept in life are slowly corrupting the success the family now has together.

Of course, this is a very manipulative episode. The audience can clearly see where it is all building towards. The story is personal to the characters while seeming like the basis for a good narrative for the outsiders who have no clue how much all of this has actually meant to them. The reporter character comes across in such a weird and broad way. Charley's perfectionism has been a consistent character trait. She needs this opening to go well in order to feel validated as a businesswoman. She needs everything to go off without a hitch because any error could potentially doom this business. That would make her feel like a failure to her father. She wants to succeed for him. And yet, her neurotic nature is compromising her ability to do that. She freaks out once the machine gets backed up and needs to be unclogged manually. It's an error that she panics over because there is a roomful of people listening to the disruptive alarm system going off. She breaks down in the factory because she needs it to be fixed as quickly as possible. It's a painful moment to watch. Some of that pain comes from the reporter likely finding a way to turn it against her in the story. But it's power comes from our understanding of Charley and how much this means to her. She gets knocked down but she is able to recover. She's still in control of the narrative. The reporter may not believe her story. But she is able to cut a deal with him in order to keep everything under control for the time being. That's powerful even though it's not the plan she had envisioned for all of this.

That's what "Line of Our Elders" is all about. It's accepting the unexpected surprises and learning how to move forward. Charley and Darla are still a fairly new character pairing. And yet, it's surprising but rewarding to see how much they actually have in common. They've just been given different opportunities and struggles in life. They connect because they are family. Charley gave Darla this job in order to help with her recovery. She's more than willing to do that. She's encouraging as well. But she's also forgetful about the substance abuse and doesn't always react well. She's still a good influence. Darla is still doing well in the program. But any kind of tension could send her spiraling. That's a precarious place for the characters at the moment. And similarly, Nova learns that her father was working as a janitor when he died. That's information that the audience has but the characters didn't. That's surprising. I just figured the characters already knew about that. It was something that could already be forgotten. But that wasn't the case. It has taken them a long time to actually learn the truth. It's Nova who discovers it and is completely thrown by it. That sets her up for the big reaction she has through everything that happens in this episode. She is surprised that her father kept this secret. He quit his dream job in order to afford a better life for his son and grandson. It was only in death when everyone started appreciating what he did.

Of course, the big moment of this hour comes at the very end when Ralph Angel decides to share the truth with his sisters about the new will he discovered where Ernest left the farm solely to him. That's a bombshell that the show has been patiently waiting to drop. It didn't introduce it in the first season finale only to never mention it again this year. It's been weighing heavily on Ralph Angel's mind - especially as he has clashed with Nova over the direction of the farm. Only a few other people in the family actually knew about it. Aunt Vi had the wise advice of telling Ralph Angel to be absolutely sure he could handle the consequences when he was ready to reveal the truth. His actions here prove that he didn't really listen to the advice. Instead, he is trying to set a good example for Blue by trying to be a better man. A man who doesn't rob convenience stores and lie to his family. He's sharing this news as a way to be open and honest with his family. It's him trying to be a genuine man. But the aftermath is incredibly destructive. He didn't think this through. He has spent so much time wallowing in the potential ramifications of the news. And yet, he still falls into them. He still causes pain for the rest of the family. He doesn't do a great job explaining his actions or what his intentions are for this will. He hasn't figured things out. So, it's a very selfish decision. One that doesn't even have the intended effect on Blue. Ralph Angel wants to be better but he's still making too many mistakes and not knowing what to do in the aftermath.

Now, both Charley and Nova's reactions to Ralph Angel's news are wildly over-the-top. They play as them have these vitriol reactions just in order to generate huge plot and conflict for the next stage of the narrative. And yet, their reactions are grounded in reality as well. Nova just got done making a huge display at Ernest's grave telling their father that they've done exactly what he wanted. They've thrived as a family and have worked together to make the farm a success. And now, it feels like a betrayal to learn that that wasn't what he actually wanted. He wanted a better life for Ralph Angel and Blue. He wanted that because things were already going well for Charley and Nova. But now, they are personally invested in this business. They've changed their whole lives because of it. They are proud of what they have accomplished. And now, they feel like Ralph Angel is attacking them with plans of taking it all away. None of them do a great job expressing how they feel. Aunt Vi has had the time to sit with this news and figure out what it could potentially mean for the family. She's the calm voice through this turbulent time. She needs the family to stay together and actually talk about what it means for them. Right now, the siblings don't really feel like talking though. So, Aunt Vi may not be able to fix things. This family came together for a huge celebration for Ernest. One that was going to enrich all of their lives by remembering the man who brought them all together. But it ends in disarray and leaves the future very uncertain because no one knows how to react to all of it. The uncertainty is very clear and ominous as the hour ends.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Line of Our Elders" was written by Mimi Won Techentin and directed by DeMane Davis.
  • There's a bit of weird plotting with Aunt Vi not wanting to go to the cemetery with the rest of the family to honor Ernest. It doesn't make much sense. Plus, it's largely resolved offscreen as well. There's just no reason for it to have been mentioned at all though. If it had more of an explanation, it could have been intriguing. But nothing was really made of it.
  • Ralph Angel seems worried that Darla wants to become more like Charley. Of course, he doesn't really understand or empathize with either of them. He's clueless even though he still wants to be the charming good guy for Darla and the respectful brother for Charley. It's just a balance he hasn't quite figured out yet.
  • Why does Micah need Darla to tie his tie for him if he has always attended fancy private schools with uniforms? That was an odd moment as well. Of course, the scene was about Darla instead of Micah. This was her doing something nice in order to feel important while also enjoying the fantasy of the dress.
  • As soon as it was revealed that the reporter wasn't the one Charley wanted, it was clear that he was going to be trouble. And yes, he did try to always pivot the conversation back to Davis and the sex scandal or Charley's potential new boyfriend in Remy. He's observant but meant to be seen as condescending as well. And yet, he still gets rewarded in the end with the exclusive story of Charley and Davis' divorce.
  • Of course, what are the odds that Charley and Davis' divorce announcement goes as planned? She's kept the news to herself and her family. No one she trusts would leak the story because of their love for her. But she carefully plans everything. So when things go awry, she panics and spirals which does create interesting drama for the show.