Winchester University needed a palate cleanser after the Pastiche party, and so did Dear White People, which has been frozen in that moment since the pilot. Instead, in “Chapter V,” the campus gets a mouthful of poison in the form of a harrowing confrontation between an armed officer and a black student. It’s a tragic incident at the absolute worst possible time for Winchester’s black community. After all, there’s a straight line between the attitudes that made Kurt and the Pastiche kids think the “Dear Black People” party was a reasonable idea and the ones that land Reggie on the business end of a work-issued pistol. Once you’ve regarded an entire group of people as an abstract concept, treating them inhumanely is not a leap.
What’s so important about “Chapter V” is its depiction of the heartbreak that occurs when you find out the world works exactly the way you thought it did. Reggie’s experience is not like the stories we see so often in the media, the ones that breathe life into the “Not all cops” cliche. His is not a feelgood story in which his fear of anti-black policing is counteracted by a police officer who pulls him over to hand him an ice cream cone or challenges him to a breakdance battle. Reggie believes police officers are naturally biased against people who look like him, and while there’s a certain red-pill satisfaction to being “woke,” finding out how right you are first-hand doesn’t inspire feelings of vindication. It just hurts.
Reggie’s story is terrifying to watch for a black person because it shows how quickly a situation involving an aggressive cop can spiral out of control. One minute you’re having a carefree day, and the next, you’re having your fragility and mortality thrown in your face. Reggie understands intellectually how that kind of sudden hard left can happen. The cold open is all about the microaggressions he faces every day as a black man, the unwarranted fear he inspires in white women at ATMs, the confusion he inspires in coaches he doesn’t play for. Reggie’s very aware of the racism going on around him, but it’s also easy to become complacent in a somewhat insulating environment like a liberal arts college. Of all the characters we’ve met, Reggie’s probably the least in need of a rude awakening, but he gets one anyway.
The day starts out pleasant enough, although Reggie is still in a funk about Sam’s steadily intensifying relationship with Gabe. The prologue does a nice job of providing a foundation for Reggie’s feelings of unrequited love. He’s not just attracted to Sam, he sees her as a kindred spirit. She’s one of the few people who can make him feel like the problem might be that he’s not militant enough. So yeah, he takes it hard when he learns Sam has completely disregarded the central argument of her Medium piece. But Joelle refuses to let him sulk and insists they try to salvage a perfectly good Saturday. “Sometimes being carefree and black is an act of revolution,” she says. Amen, sister.
Reggie hits the campus with Joelle and Al and picks up a couple of strays along the way, including Rashid, Lionel, and Ikumi, an Asian girl with enough charisma to walk up, announce herself, and immediately help herself to their weed. After following an underwhelming itinerary including the AASU cook-in, a tailgate party, and a Sanaa Lathan movie called Oh No She Didn’t, the group makes it to a campus party where Reggie hopes to douse his sorrows with alcohol. Addison, a classmate of Reggie’s, enlists Reggie as his partner for tipsy trivia, leading to a triumph almost sweet enough to dull the pain of Sam’s rejection. Then Addison gets a little too comfortable and casually drops the “n-word” while singing along to a rap song, and all hell breaks loose.
The campus police show up to address the commotion—and was that Lionel slyly calling the po-po?—and the situation escalates quickly. The scene exemplifies the importance of law enforcement or security personnel knowing how to deescalate conflicts. Reggie isn’t as nearly as cooperative as he should be, and he probably violated every rule of engagement his father drilled into his head as a child with regard to dealing with anybody with a badge and a weapon. But the officer is the professional, the one who voluntarily applied for a job in which one of the chief responsibilities is defusing highly charged situations. Rather than do that, the officer pulls his gun on Reggie and only holsters it once he’s gotten a look at Reggie’s school ID.
There have been a lot of television takes on anti-black police violence and its aftermath, but the stories invariably start with a loss of life. “Chapter V” is more potent because it explores what it’s like to be one of the “lucky ones” who escapes a situation like that relatively unscathed. The episode, directed by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, is disciplined, allowing the weight of the moment to sink in before moving on. And it gives Reggie the chance to weep and mourn his loss of safety and security even though he didn’t lose his life. It’s a bold episode and the strongest of the season so far.
- Apologies y’all, I fell ill and got behind on these, so I’m posting one every day until the season is through. Join me, won’t you?
- I’m already kind of ‘shipping Reggie and Joelle, and I find it interesting that Joelle doesn’t have the same insecurity around colorism that plagues Coco. Not that she should (nor should Coco) because she’s gorgeous, but I think a lot of women would draw the conclusion that Reggie’s hung up on Sam because he’s color struck. His claim to want to marry the darkest woman he can find doesn’t quite bear out.
- Now, in addition to Defamation, we have Dereca: Set Me Straight, a spoof of Iyanla: Fix My Life. But it actually name-checks Iyanla, so that’s something.
- I loved how Al was carrying the two-liter of grape soda as if it was a precious newborn.
- So it looks like Lionel is effectively out to everyone on campus? Good for him.
- Joelle on Tarantino: “Just because he let Jamie Foxx kill some racists in Django, he thinks he can parade around every painful historical black stereotype in the book.” I’m inclined to agree. The Hateful Eight is…weird.
- At the risk of blaming the victim, I gotta say, the “My [small portion of a collective whole] pays your salary” line will always, always backfire. Not even white privilege makes that pill go down easy for the person on the receiving end.
- The condescending professor in the cold open is played by Cornelius Peter, who recurs as an equally condescending focus group leader on Silicon Valley.