The Chi fails to cover new ground in its repetitive third episode

“Ghosts” is an odd episode of television. There’s not a lot of action, but it continues to use the same broad characterizations and stereotypes that haunted the pilot. The episode does create connections between the show’s more disparate characters, but these moments mostly feel forced. Bad luck haunts these characters and the script only makes sense of it with a shrug that seems to suggest this is just the way it is. There are important subtleties that make up this South Side reality, but “Ghosts” doesn’t feature them.

Brandon and Jerrika’s storyline is still the most compelling. His brother’s death is obvious motivation for Brandon’s erratic behavior, but Jerrika remains a mystery. When Brandon confesses that he tried to buy a gun, she calmly tells him he should just go to the police (also, kudos to Jerrika for being the world’s chillest wife). Brandon already knows the police are not an option and it’s strange that Jerrika would even make such a suggestion. There are hints that Jerrika might not be from the neighborhood or she might come from a wealthier family, so how’d she end up with Brandon? How did she get involved with this world that seems so out of touch to her? Without those details, Jerrika feels like a plot device. She’s a sounding board for her husband, a punching bag for his mom and a deus ex machina when it comes to quick, shady real estate deals with possible drug dealers.

Laverne gets more to do this episode. This is the first time we’ve really seen how Coogi’s death has impacted her Sadly, a lot of her agency this episode is lost to her boyfriend. He’s the one who realizes Brandon figured out who killed Coogi. He decides they should sell the house and move to Tennessee. Laverne is only allowed to react. Mostly, she reacts as the same bitter drunk woman she was before Coogi’s death. Sonja Sohn absolutely sells the love Laverne has for her boys. She admits to Brandon that it seemed like she loved Coogi more, but really, he just needed more protection from the world. However, this isn’t a dynamic that the show really hinted at or portrayed prior to this moment. We only saw a few moments of Coogi, Brandon and Laverne together, so we never really saw Laverne’s bias or if Brandon even noticed it. It’s a moment that’s meant to be moving, but it mimics an all too familiar template.

It doesn’t help that the most compelling moment of last week’s episode had a horrible outcome: Ghost Coogi. When Detective Cruz tells Ronnie that Coogi was innocent, it’s a brutal reveal for a character who isn’t grounded in any sympathy. It seemed as though it would trigger some sort of fight-or-flight instinct, revealing a deeper understanding of Ronnie. Instead, we get weed-ghost-Coogi, whose appearance is so comical, it almost removes any ability to feel sympathy for Coogi as a realistic character. Weed-ghost-Coogi says things like, “Hey man, I had plans and shit.” While that is more than we knew about the real Coogi, since this specter exists entirely in Ronnie’s mind, nothing he says particularly matters. If the moment is supposed to tell us that Ronnie is being haunted by his actions, well, good. He should be.

It’s not like anyone has sympathy for Ronnie. Tracy tells him to beat it after he missed their dinner. Meldrick knows that Ronnie sold him a dirty gun and threatens his life. So, when Kevin decides the best plan of action is to confront Ronnie directly, it almost seems like they’ll be able to reach some kind of détente. Kevin is a kid and Ronnie is racked with guilt over killing a kid. Instead, Ronnie immediately tells him that he’ll be the one who decides if they have a problem. Apparently, Ronnie is going to figure that out by having Kevin arrange a surprise meeting with Brandon. What an absolutely horrible idea. What good could possibly come from this conversation? I cannot speak to all the realities of living on the South Side of Chicago, but this meet-up seems like an entirely unnecessary function of drama.

Then, there’s Emmett. Emmett continues to sneak around with girls and hustle to support his son. He’s offered an opportunity running drugs, but he declines for now. Emmett isn’t meant for this life, but his involvement is inevitable. Rather than get to the point, The Chi just seems interested in tracing the outlines of another common story. Hopefully, Emmett lands the corner store job and this plot offers more than the typical “smart kid starts selling drugs” narrative.

“Ghosts” starts with Brandon trying to buy a gun and getting robbed. The scene is so over-the-top it almost makes you wonder how anyone in Chicago buys an illegal gun if even this exchange only ends with more brutality. The moment feels like the sort of story you hear someone from the suburbs tell about someone they knew who lived in Chicago. It’s The Chi mimicking the inner-city dramas and police procedurals that came before it. There are cycles to the issues the South Side faces, but the show runs the danger of getting trapped in these cycles. It’ll be interesting to see where the series goes from here, but it almost seems like we already know where things are headed.

Stray Observations

  • Kevin has gay moms! Wow, I hope they get the chance to become actual characters.
  • Has Kevin’s sister done anything but hook-up with Emmett and get mad at Emmett?
  • The cop drama seems like a bit of a distraction at this point. Detective Cruz made a mistake, but Ronnie is the one who killed Coogi. I’m not sure why this other cop is trying to take Cruz down or why I should care. Cruz has been designated as the “good cop,” but I’m not really sure why.
  • Quentin also seems like a distraction. He buys an apartment right next to the stash house where Jason was shot. He’s clearly up to something and has connections. I’m not sure the reveal will be worth all this mystery.
  • Seriously, why did Ronnie think it would be a good idea to set up a meeting with Brandon? Ronnie is the worst. He’s an idiot. Just send him to jail.
  • I hope we get an episode dedicated to the kids in order to really explore this coming-of-age crush storyline. There’s a lot of promise in the show’s younger cast, but their narratives need room to grow.

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