Wednesday, November 15, 2017

REVIEW: 'Queen Sugar' - Charley and Ralph Angel Make Bold Moves that Could Destroy Everything in 'Dream Variations'

OWN's Queen Sugar - Episode 2.16 "Dream Variations"

Charley's shocking plan to save her business puts her relationship with Remy in jeopardy. Ralph Angel decides if he can forgive Darla.

Queen Sugar is such a beautiful and moving show. The second season has improved on the foundation of the series in so many wonderful ways. The first season was strong. But it definitely had dips in quality as well. It opened and ended well with the middle being a bit more complicated and melodramatic. Of course, the show still embraces melodramatic plot beats as well. It's still a soap opera in some ways. But it's much more effective as a grounded story about human connection in a very specific community in the south. This world has changed the characters over the course of these two seasons. Their relationships with each other have either strengthened or broken apart. No one is a one-note stereotype. It's powerful to see sympathy within every single character even when they are making some horrible decisions. And yes, several of these characters have a tendency to be abusive and opinionated. They don't always react well to the changing circumstances of their lives. Secrets have almost destroyed the Bordolon family. They came together because of a secret. They came together in death. They've thrived by being open and honest with one another. But they've been forced to deal with the realities of their collective past as well as the decisions that each one has to make in order to survive. This season was a steady evolution of what the show was capable of being. Each episode built upon the one before. There were so many emotional revelations that threatened this family. But the best really was saved for last as everything seems on the verge of destruction at the end of the harvest season. This is a time where all of their hard work needs to pay off. Instead, they are all left as emotionally devastated and uncertain about their futures as they ever have. It's a brutal ending for the season. It's one that does provide several resolutions to the various stories. But it's also one that complicates the character relationships once more to ensure that life will remain constantly evolving for everyone in this family moving forward.

It should be very emotional to see the harvest season come to end after all of the hard work this family - especially Charley and Ralph Angel - have put into it. They should be proud of all that they've accomplished. And yet, the harvest is the time when it all comes to fruition in terms of who is truly a friend and who isn't. Yes, it's manipulative for every farmer to pull out of milling with Charley during the harvest. But it sets the stage for a brutal change in Charley as well. She has spent the entire series so far being a fierce protecter and defender of this community. She stood up against white male greed in the hopes of providing fair profits to all and not just a select few at the top. But in the end, she has lost all of that because of a few rumors. It's absolutely devastating. But that's all in the abstract as well. Yes, it's important whether or not this business is a success for her. But it doesn't define her entire life. She's letting it though. She's driven and passionate. She's ready to strike down the people who have been abusing this community for so long. But her tactics are becoming darker and darker with only the people who genuinely trust her willing to go along with all of it. It's surprising to see just how easily Ralph Angel supports Charley in this endeavor. He has no idea what she's planning at all because she's thinking 10 steps ahead regarding what could happen with Sam Landry and Jacob Boudreaux. He just supports her unconditionally. It took a lot of time for the two of them to get to that place in their relationship again. But they have. The same can't be said for Remy. He is a sweet, wholesome guy who cares about this community. He believes they can win back the farmers with an impassioned plea. But it's already too late for that. Charley has played this game his way and it didn't work out. Now, she needs to do things her way which will include sabotaging the Boudreaux-Landry relationship from the inside. But it's something that Remy just can't support at all. So, this is the end of their relationship. They ultimately are just two wildly different people who don't have the same appreciation for the right way to do things in business. They both have noble goals. Charley is just willing to utilize tactics that carry so many potential risks to them. It's easy to embrace them alongside Charley. But she's under a ton of pressure with it all potentially toppling down on her as well.

It was always sensible to believe that Ralph Angel and Darla would never work out as a couple in the long term. Their problems just seemed insurmountable. But that didn't mean they couldn't try to make a relationship work and try to overcome these issues in communication. They have awareness for their faults. They understand how they can improve in the hopes of making this a better relationship. But the writing was always on the wall. All it took was one more bombshell revelation to be outed to destroy this relationship for good. It seemed inevitable the moment they got engaged and Blue was so happy about the prospect of his parents being together for the rest of his life. And yet, the two of them really do love each other. They care about each other and know the other on a fundamental level. Ralph Angel is devastated by the news that Blue isn't his son. Of course, he truly believes the worst even though Darla continues to say that she doesn't know the truth herself. He doesn't want to see her or talk about what this means for their relationship moving forward. However, he's able to recognize just how triggering this whole experience may be for her addiction. Ralph Angel, Charley and Nova may all be responsible for a relapse. That's a tragic realization. Darla feels all alone in this world. All she can do is scream in her car all alone. That's so tragic. But there are also long stretches where Darla isn't seen at all. It's easy to think that the worst has happened to her.

As such, it's very sensible and moving to watch Ralph Angel search for Darla in all of the usual spots where she used to get high. It's a brutal sequence because it shows just how uncomfortable Ralph Angel is with all of this. He's wanted to leave the past behind. He never wants to talk about things that happened a long time ago. He doesn't want to linger on his incarceration or Darla's past with addiction and prostitution. He became very upset earlier this season when that past unexpectedly came back in his face. It wasn't Darla's fault. But he wasn't there to stand by and support her like a good boyfriend should. Here, it's clear that he's putting in the difficult work to be there for her during this strenuous time. That proves that he has evolved as a man. There's the hope that a relationship could still work because Ralph Angel understands the danger Darla could be in right now. Of course, she's perfectly fine. She's not ultimately spiraling at all. The warning signs are there. But it's all just setup to get Ralph Angel and Darla in a room together. Ralph Angel seeing the world that Darla escaped from and the headspace she was actually in when Blue was conceived could have been an eye-opening experience for him. And yet, the show doesn't take the easy way out either. It lingers in the uncomfortable nature of this relationship. Ralph Angel can understand and empathize more. But he's still at a lost for how Darla could keep this secret from him over the years.

It's also easy to understand why Darla is still so meek and uncertain with her actions even when her entire life is blowing up. She could easily say that she kept the truth from Ralph Angel because he wasn't emotionally prepared to handle this news. It's an explanation that could at least be understood based on everything he has done. Her lying isn't okay. But it's surprising how easy it is for the audience to still sympathize with Darla even as the rest of the family turns on her. Charley and Nova were cruel to her after learning this secret. Ralph Angel is cruel to her. He can no longer trust her. He can't understand why she did what she did. He's not talking about the action itself but the coverup for the past seven years. That's the more damning piece of this story. He doesn't view Darla the same way. He still clearly loves her. She loves him as well. But that love is no longer enough. It's so tragic to watch. The show managed to take a couple that didn't belong together and have them establish genuine love with it still being futile in the end. Of course, it opens the question of what Darla's place is in the show if she's going to be leaving for a little while to escape to her parent's house to figure her life out again. But it's so magical and empowering to see Ralph Angel still step up as the father to Blue he has always wanted to be. Blue is his son no matter what the biology says. There isn't a doubt in his mind about that. But this family has been destroyed once more. The audience can see that it is having an impact on Blue. He's not some innocent child who is ignorant to everything that's going on. The first and last scenes of this finale prove how perceptive he actually is. And yet, Ralph Angel is still able to make everything better with a stirring, emotional story about how Blue got his name. It's a fantastic monologue that shows Ralph Angel stepping up and giving his son exactly what he needs in that moment to make sense of the chaos that is swirling around him and his family. It's beautiful and the only genuine way this season could have ended.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dream Variations" was written by Ava DuVernay and directed by Kat Candler.
  • This finale is largely about Charley and Ralph Angel. They have the stories that are reaching their big emotional climaxes in this hour. They are the ones deciding the fates of their romantic relationships as they pursue their dreams. Meanwhile, Nova is in the background having already reached resolution in that regard a few episodes ago by breaking up with Robert and telling Calvin he wasn't right for her.
  • And yet, Nova is still passionate about the farm and the mill. She's working hard to ensure their success as well. She has to offer support in the only way she knows how. She writes an article about the corruption of this industry and gives it a splashy title. The show depicts the personal words she incorporates in this story. The show gives her immediate and unconditional praise from her editor. It will be the top story of the paper. But will this story sit well with her siblings? That's unclear.
  • There's also a very weird moment between Nova and Remy. It happens long before Remy and Charley break up. But it highlights how they both have an appreciation for their community and respect what the other is doing to strengthen and uphold the values and traditions of the places they love. It seemed almost romantic even. But that would be strange considering Nova doesn't want kids and Remy does.
  • It's not all bleak and tragic news in this finale either. Hollywood gets the settlement from the rig case and it's much more than he and Vi were expecting. It gives them the freedom to hold onto what they cherish the most in this life. It makes Hollywood propose to Vi in a way that is genuine and real. They never needed to get married. But now, they are willing to make that commitment to each other because they see this as the happy news this family needs right now. Plus, they love each other.
  • Charley really is playing with fire when it comes to getting into business with Jacob. There's the fear of just how far she's willing to go in order to destroy his business. It's clear that she's the one controlling their partnership. But it's also clear that he's showing a sexual interest in her. She's leading him on which could take such a toxic turn in the future. She's manipulating him to get what she wants for idealistic reasons. But the damage it could do to her would be so catastrophic as well.
  • The series has already been renewed for a third season, which will once again include 16 episodes. However, it's getting its third showrunner as well. That could be a troubling sign. And yet, Kat Chandler is the one promoted to that post. She served as producing director this season and did a phenomenal job in handling this finale alongside Ava DuVernay. So, I'm not especially worried about the future of Queen Sugar at all.