Yes, that’s right. Black-ish wants you to think about your parents “banging it out,” and that’s evident from the very beginning of the episode. Dre’s opening voiceover is absolutely right when he says that no one actually wants to think about the sausage being made—the sausage being all of us—but that doesn’t mean that’s the end of that. After all, he makes it very clear with the sexual imagery in the cold open and, well, having an entire plot about parents “banging it out.” (It’s an upsetting turn of phrase, but it’s also the most applicable.) Plus, as a child of divorce, things become especially complicated when you have to think about your parent going forward and being intimate with other people who didn’t have a hand in creating you. It’s a simple concept, and it’s an honest one, which is something that Black-ish excels at even in weaker episodes. Luckily, this isn’t a weaker episode, which makes such an uncomfortable core concept so much easier to take in.
Above all else, “Old Digger” is a necessary episode for the Ruby character; as great as Jenifer Lewis is, Ruby’s presence in season two has hit a bit of a wall, especially as a character who only exists to take down Bow. This isn’t an episode of comeuppance for that behavior, but it is one of the character having so much more to do than the same old verbal abuse, and it’s so much better for it. As “Old Digger” shows us, being in an actual relationship doesn’t necessarily change Ruby as a character and person—she’s still cutting down Bow and praying for Satan to leave anyone and anything—but it does give her more of a purpose than just to exist and hang around. It finally fixes the key difference (and problem) between Pops and Ruby as characters, as Pops has always felt like a fully-fleshed character who exists even when he’s not onscreen, while Ruby most definitely has not. This one episode provides the most character development the character has ever had. Finally.
Plus, Jenifer Lewis knocks the entire episode out of the park with her line delivery, whether it’s ordering fast food through a pole, telling her likes or dislikes, or explaining the dating site as Ratch:
“RatchOnly.com. It’s for women of that certain ratchet lifestyle.”
And all of this happens in an episode with as terrible of a title as “Old Digger.” In fact, there’s very little expectations when going into the episode with a title like that and a general plot like this, but leave it to Black-ish to completely flip the script, even in an episode that also has Pops’ creepy dating habits on full display. The much older woman dating a younger man episode plot basically exists just to reveal that the latter is trying to use the former for something. After all, Ruby’s boyfriend Davis (LaMonica Garrett, who played Adonis on the latest season of Hotwives) is the epitome of suave, which basically translates to “too smooth,” the key characteristic in that type of plot. So when the final Dre and Davis scene comes along, there’s a momentarily feat that Dre will catch Davis with another woman.
Dre catching Davis with Ruby is so much better. Plus, it’s the cherry on top of back-to-back episodes with characters’ new boyfriends questioning the strangeness of Dre (and the entire Johnson clan as a result). Black-ish never needs to zig where people expect it to zig, because no one within the show finds the Johnsons normal anyway. (And because it’s a show that’s so much more than just tropes.)
As for the rest of the episode, this is probably best kids’ subplot since season two’s work in “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Gun,” which is a perfect way to bounce back from last episode’s weak making the band plot. Junior’s nerd rants are definitely up there with him hacking into the mainframe while drinking Red Bulls. Plus, there’s little things like Zoey’s slow, continued descent into madness in her finding the idea of someone wearing a white denim jacket as the ultimate embarrassment and Junior questioning whether or not The Incredible Hulk is actually the best Marvel movie. Unlike the A-plot, this is a more obvious plot with regards to the final beats (which are relegated to the end tag), but it all still works.
What brings it down, however, is the very concept of both Junior and Kiersten—children—being on the same dating site as Ruby. Especially when you think about the fact that Kiersten’s profile includes the answer “not yet” for things like smoker, drinks, and drugs.
As I mentioned in the What’s On Tonight entry for this episode, there’s certainly a large double-standard within this episode, and thankfully the episode addresses it, albeit without directly saying “this is bad.” No, the episode doesn’t make a “Very Special Episode” out of calling out the double-standard of parental dating and the lecherousness of Pops. But it does make it it very clear that Dre ignoring his father’s propensity for both cheating and bedding 25-year-old women while also weighing the option of pushing his mother’s boyfriends stairs (and punctuating it all with a patented Dikembe Mutombo “not in my house”) is absolutely ridiculous. Pops is almost a cartoon character in this episode just to prove that point.
Bow being the character to address the fact that this is a double-standard and a strangely outdated way of thinking is really all the plot needs in order to move on with what it actually wants and needs to do. In fact, Bow is the one character in this episode who just get right down to the truth: Pointing out that Pops still has real feelings for Ruby is a big moment for the series, because despite the fact that Pops was a cheating husband (and a Cheaters-inspired Cheating Husband), the show often feels like it takes Pops’ “side” when it comes to him versus Ruby. Here, with his hair dye and intense need to ruin Ruby’s relationship, the tables have turned, and it’s really interesting to see. It’s all so good. Even if it’s in an episode titled “Old Digger.”
- Here’s another way in which the A-plot subverts expectations: Bow liking Davis could have easily been a comically inappropriate attraction to him. Instead, it’s all because she knows he wants to take Ruby far, far away, on a trip around the world. That makes sense and is funny.
- I swear that Pops’ actual name, Earl, has never been said as much as it was in this episode.
- The conference room scene in this episode is a beautiful one, as Dre’s idea that his male co-workers would be on his side blow up spectacularly in his face due to their attraction to his his mom. I would not be surprised if any of them were on Ratch, especially his boss.
- Junior: “Maybe she’s a big Ed Norton fans. Or maybe I was wrong. Maybe [The Incredible] Hulk is the best one.” Junior, this girl was clearly wrong, and let’s be happy she bailed.