LaDonna Tittle (left) and Armando Riesco. Photo: Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME

Now that we’re four episodes into the season, there’s a clear pattern developing within The Chi: One small decision can ruin everything. Brandon gets kicked out of his house and now owes a favor to a drug dealer because he decided to help Kevin. Emmett is also in debt to another (maybe) drug dealer because he decided to take money from Quentin. And then there’s Ronnie, who makes horrifically dumb decisions that don’t seem motivated by any logic or reason. The children of the show aren’t safe either, as Kevin and Jake have their lives altered. The first three episodes of The Chi focused on the “eye for an eye” aspect of inner-city violence. “Quaking Grass” feels like the first time the show has really looked at the ripple effects of this violence.

Jason’s death has caused the death of Coogi and the death of Kevin’s innocence. Through an altogether useless flashback, it’s revealed that Kevin is the one who actually shot Ronnie. It’s an odd narrative choice, since there’s really no mystery to the reveal. We know that Brandon doesn’t have a gun and Kevin has access to one. The final flashback at the end of the episode should have more gravity, but it just seems obvious. The flashback device does a disservice to Alex Hibbert’s brilliant performance as Kevin.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Hibbert perfectly captures the childlike fear that made him to agree to the meeting. He’s visibly shaken as he begs his sister to help him sneak in without his mother noticing. And then...that’s it. Kevin hangs out with his friends, he goes to a party, and he tries to get Jake’s gun back. Since we don’t entirely know that Kevin shot a man during these scenes, they lack tension. They don’t represent the disconnect between this new reality Kevin must face and the childhood joy he should be experiencing, “Quaking Grass” seems to think the more interesting story is just revealing that he shot Ronnie. Perhaps next week we’ll see Kevin grapple with the emotional wreckage of his actions, but since Ronnie didn’t die, that may not be the biggest issue he has to face.

Yolonda Ross (left) and LaDonna Tittle. Photo: Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME

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And honestly, why couldn’t Ronnie die? The show doesn’t give us any reason to root for his desire to “squash this” with Brandon. In a show with so many interesting female characters who remain caricatures, Ronnie is a disappointing lead. The lack of character development and world building has impacted his character. We don’t know why he thought meeting with Brandon would work. We don’t know how he became an informant for the police. We do know that he killed a kid and has horrifically uninspired hallucinations of ghosts. (Ghost Coogi saying, “Hurts, doesn’t it?” as Ronnie bled out shouldn’t have been hilarious...but it was.)

Ronnie only seems to take center stage because the show has decided men are the driving force behind this narrative. As Ronnie’s grandmother begs Emmett’s mom to “nurse, girl,” she tells her, “Our boys are all we got.” The line is read with a gravitas it doesn’t deserve. We’ve seen single mothers, sisters, wives, and young black women exist within the show, but they aren’t presented as role models or active agents within The Chi. They simply exist to aid the men in their lives.

So, it’s nice to see Jerrika have some agency when she throws Brandon. The scene with Jerrika and her gal pals is the closest we’ve come to seeing who she is outside of her relationship with Brandon, but it still doesn’t tell us much. Why is she so comfortable snitching to her friends about Brandon having a gun and a shirt covered in blood? She seems disconnected from the gravity of the situation and Brandon’s upbringing if she thinks this is just classic brunch gossip.

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Jason Mitchell. Photo: Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME

Brandon is still the most compelling figure on the show. Despite being a target for the police harassment black men typically face, Brandon is able to get out of the situation when he tells them he can get one of the officers reservations at his restaurant. The show wants to make it clear that Brandon has been given a ticket out of the hood (and...police discrimination, I guess...the scene is a little messy), but his decisions are holding him back. Despite The Chi being a mostly male-focused show, Brandon is the only true male role model within the series. He calms Kevin down after the shooting. He faces Reg so Jake and Kevin aren’t punished. Brandon is the only adult figure we actively see in these kids’ lives and it’s unclear if the lessons he has to teach them will help or hurt.

Jake, for example, admits his mistake to his abusive brother. This leads to him being physically harmed and inducted into Reg’s gang as a shooter. Jake and Kevin are now balancing the desires of young adulthood with responsibilities most adults don’t even have to manage. This balance is one of the most interesting stories The Chi has to tell, but their narrative gets lost with so many secondary characters being pushed into the storyline. The Chi isn’t showing us how Jake and Kevin deal with this violence, it’s only focused on the inevitable consequences that will come for them down the line. Those consequences make for great drama, but only skims the surface of what these characters are capable of portraying.

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Stray Observations

  • I feel like the show would have a much better focus if it cut out Quentin and the dirty cop stuff. Those elements haven’t been tied back to Jason’s death or any major characters yet, so they just feel distracting. I don’t know what Quentin is up to, but I also don’t see why I should care about what he’s doing yet.
  • That brunch scene with Jerrika was weird. I can’t imagine a friend of mine telling me her husband had a gun and a bloody shirt and I’m just like, “haha, men! So hood. Mimosas!!!” I’d have questions like, “Was he wounded? Where was he coming from? Do you know what happened? Do you need to talk to a lawyer?” But that’s just me.
  • Seriously, give me a reason to like Ronnie.
  • We didn’t see Emmett this week, but this still felt like a dense episode.
  • Shout out to Lay’s BBQ chips. I hope Papa gets to be more than a fat joke next week.

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