Sunday, January 14, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Chi' - Brandon Struggles to Make a Decision as Kevin Runs from Ronnie in 'Alee'

Showtime's The Chi - Episode 1.02 "Alee"

Brandon reels from a loss as Ronnie realizes he's made a grave mistake. Emmett's carefree life is upended. Best friends Papa and Jake taunt Kevin over his school crush Andrea. Detective Cruz is shaken by conflicting clues in the investigation.

At times, it feels like there are five shows happening at once within The Chi. The show implements such a storytelling approach in order to show that even though these characters all come from the same neighborhood and have a tendency of running into each other they have completely different lives as well. Kevin is simply a student with a crush on a girl. Emmett is struggling with newfound responsibility caring for his son. Ronnie is the veteran who isn't about to change his behavior now. Cruz is the police officer not yet cynical about the high level of crime in this area. And Brandon is the aspirational chef reeling from the sudden death of his brother. There is an overarching narrative that connects these characters together. In fact, it's quite interesting to see those connections form. Even more are introduced in "Alee" - like Emmett's mother caring for Ronnie's grandmother or new addition Q showing an interest in both Emmett and Jason. But it's much more important to be a part of these characters' individual lives. Those are the moments of pure emotion. Those are the moments that make or break these characters. Yes, the narrative wants things to be building in a genuine and twisted way to ensure that payback comes from the central crimes committed. But it's also just as amusing to get a glimpse into the personal lives of these characters and how they are informed by the choices they've made based on where they are from.

The premiere basically ended with Kevin pointing Ronnie out to Brandon as his brother's killer. That hour was such an all-consuming premiere that did a solid job in establishing this world and these characters. "Alee" is a bit slower and less effective. It just wants to live with these characters while ensuring that they don't suddenly figure out what has actually been going on lately. And so, Brandon knows what happened to Coogie. He was killed simply because he was on that corner when Jason was killed. He was killed as retribution for that act. Brandon knows nothing about why Coogie was out in that area of town. He doesn't know everything about his brother's personal life. But he did care. He's so distraught by this tragedy. He continues to go to work. He's still an effective chef who continues to impress his bosses. But he's also just the man wallowing in sorrow knowing the truth but not knowing what to do with it. He's torn up for this entire episode trying to make a decision. The world around him is telling him to kill the man who killed his brother. That's the environment and mentality he was raised with. The police are so ineffective at their jobs because they don't ultimately care. He doesn't believe he can go to the police to ensure that justice is done. He feels the pressure himself. Others are putting that pressure on him as well. Kevin questions why he hasn't killed Ronnie yet while Jerrika is making him promise that he won't do anything that will jeopardize his future. And in the end, he does come to a decision. It's just a choice that is bound to have some major consequences moving forward as he seems willing to kill Ronnie now.

Meanwhile, Ronnie spends the majority of the episode truly believing that he has gotten justice for Jason's murder. He believes he killed the man who killed his son. He's high on life believing that this may tragically be the thing to reunite him with Jason's mother. The two of them have sex. They enjoy each other's company. She is making plans to cook for Ronnie. It's the reunion that Ronnie has long wanted. He got peace from doing something to avenge Jason's death. He did what he thought he needed to do in order to honor his legacy and protect the family. And so, he just spends the episode largely trying to come up with the money to pay for this dinner. He so wants to make a good impression. He doesn't want to risk losing her again. This episode does reveal that Ronnie can be compassionate. He is the only one truly looking after his grandmother because she keeps forcing the nurses away with her blunt personality. But his entire world comes crashing down to reality at the end of the episode. It wouldn't be right for him to keep walking away believing that he was justified in his decision to kill Coogie. He needs to wallow in the fact that he killed an innocent boy. That realization only happens once Cruz pulls him aside to tell him the truth. It takes awhile for Cruz to do a lot of things here. That's strange. He's not quick to talk with Brandon or Ronnie - even though he's suppose to be competent enough to put the pieces together. This realization hits Ronnie right away. It's enough to completely destroy his happy perspective which may make him an even more precarious figure moving forward.

That's potentially worrisome for Kevin. He spends this episode worrying that Ronnie is going to track him down and kill him for what he saw. He doesn't want to be a witness to that crime. He believes he did the right thing in telling Brandon about Ronnie. He becomes incredibly frustrated once it becomes clear that Brandon hasn't done anything. And Ronnie doesn't know Brandon. He doesn't know anything about the family he has destroyed because he went after the wrong guy. But he does know Kevin. He knows what he looks like and what he saw. In the middle of this episode, the two do meet again. Kevin is quick to run away because he fears for his life. Ronnie has every indication of just wanting to talk. He wants to ensure that Kevin will remain silent. But Kevin is afraid for his life. That's much more traumatizing than his problems at school with Andrea and her cousin. Right now, his friends are joking about his crush on Andrea and the idea that Ronnie will want to kill him. But those feelings and fears are real for Kevin and completely justified too. And now, Ronnie may have more incentive to come after Kevin because he's the one witness who could completely change his life. Brandon may be ready to take action now. But Kevin is going to remain an interesting complication throughout all of this as well.

And then, there is Emmett who continues to seem like he is off in his own world separate from everyone else. That's perfectly fine. Not everyone and everything needs to be connected right away. There just needs to be that level of trust that everything will ultimately come together in the end. That basically allows Emmett's story to feel a bit more personal. Sure, it's so destructive and blunt. But it really has quite an effective conclusion here as well. He is just really struggling as a father. He doesn't want to change his behavior at all. He still wants to be the young troublemaker having fun and partying with girls. That behavior led to his son. And now, he needs to step up and realize he can't just focus on himself anymore. His mother may be showing him some tough love by choosing not to help him raise his son. But it's that precise reason why he seems to come to a major realization by the end of the episode. He is completely willing to just leave his son behind on the playground in order to go live his life and earn money at his job. He doesn't want this responsibility. And yet, he still feels the pull back to his child. That's a bond that means something and completely changes his life in an instant. It's a brutal sequence to watch. But it ensures that Emmett won't be the same guy he has always been. Yes, he'll continue to struggle. But the reality of this new life will be compelling to see him navigate as well - especially once he becomes more involved with what's going on with Brandon, Kevin and Ronnie.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Alee" was written by Elwood Reid & Lena Waithe and directed by David Rodriguez.
  • The show is being a little too vague about what's going on with Emmett's baby mamma. In the premiere, she showed up begging for Emmett to take responsibility. And then, she left their child on Emmett's doorstep offscreen. She hasn't been seen since. So, it's unclear if she still wants to be a parent or if Emmett has to raise this child all by himself now. Clarity in that regard will be very beneficial.
  • Similarly, what exactly does Jerrika do for work again? She continues to be the character who seems important and will probably bump into other characters at some point but is only defined through her relationship with Brandon at the moment. She's right for saying that Brandon is on the verge of making a devastating mistake and forcing him to promise her he won't. But he's not going to keep that promise.
  • On one hand, Kevin's story with the play and Andrea just feels like such a simple life he wants to be living compared to the tragedy he is caught up in with Ronnie and Brandon. On the other hand though, it's so horrifying to listen to these three kids largely just objectify women. That too feels like a natural part of this environment. And of course, they are rightfully called out for it too.
  • As was probably obvious throughout the review, I didn't catch the name of Jason's mother whom Ronnie is trying to get back together with. It's just more important that Ronnie isn't able to enjoy that happiness for very long. He's not going to make their dinner. In fact, it seems much more likely that he's so distraught that he might walk straight into oncoming traffic. That's an intriguing final visual. 
  • The official police investigation storyline is just moving at such a slow and boring pace. It's defined mostly through information being kept from Cruz for vague reasons by obnoxious people on the force. That's lame and annoying without really offering anything that can make it compelling to watch. As such, those scenes have already started to drag.