Last week’s episode felt like the first time The Chi really knew what kind of show it wanted to be. The world within the show came into focus as Brandon, Emmett, Ronnie and Kevin were contained to one intersecting story. “Penetrate A Fraud” maintains that momentum and moves the show forward without overwhelming the episode’s plot. While last week’s episode succeeded because it put Detective Cruz on the backburner, the kids sit this week’s episode out. Kevin, Jake and Papa aren’t missed this week , which speaks to the strength of “Penetrate A Fraud.” The Chi has finally figured out how to juggle its complex plots and characters.
The Chi has invited viewers to understand the cycle of violence that makes up this neighborhood by drawing parallels. For example, it’s easier to sympathize with Reg or Ronnie if we see how similar they are to characters like Emmett or Brandon. In the end, they’re all men who want to do right by people they care about, even if they are gun dealers or they shoot kids. It hasn’t always been the most successful device for the show, but it works in “Penetrate A Fraud.” Casallina Kisakye’s script finally lets the show’s characters settle into roles that have often only seemed like stereotypes at this point.
Sonja Sohn’s Laverne is finally given a moment that moves her character beyond “sad alcoholic.” While Laverne has been fairly isolated from the rest of the show’s narrative, Roxann Dawson’s direction brings her to life. Her sudden marriage may not be a great choice and it would be easy for us to jump to the same conclusion as Brandon–that this isn’t going to end well. But, the script asks us to root for her, rather than see this as another inevitable tragedy. Her kitchen is brightly painted. We finally see her in bright clothes; her hair is down. Laverne finally feels like a piece of the puzzle, rather than a plot device for Brandon.
Emmett’s plot also does a great job of bringing Amir and the corner store into the fold. Amir and Emmett decide to work together after they realize they’re both just trying to provide for their families. They both see a positive alternative to the illegal activities around them. It was obvious from the start that their scheme wasn’t going to work out, but I was holding my breath the entire time Emmett was selling the shoes. The Chi has done a great job of creating tension so I expected to see Emmett get attacked or harassed by cops. I thought he or EJ might get hurt with the heightened dangers of The Chi’s world.
While Emmett does get robbed, the show thankfully takes a light, comedic tone with the entire plot. Not every Chicago hustle is as dangerous as gun running, sometimes it’s just bitter wives, selling their cheating husbands’ shoes. Unlike Ronnie, Kevin and Brandon, Emmett hasn’t really had a character he connects with as a friend. We’ve seen him engage with his mom, his boss, one of his kids and girls, but his relationship with Amir brings some much needed levity to the show.
“Penetrate A Fraud” is The Chi’s funniest episode, but Ronnie, Quentin and Brandon provide plenty of conflict. Brandon is still separated from Jerrika and he is keen on making some mistakes. Brandon’s affair isn’t going to end well. It seems like Sarah is just using Brandon for a thrill, rather than being genuinely interested in him. He’ll eventually realize that, but he could lose Jerrika, his job or both in the process. Brandon’s plot isn’t complicated this week, but it doesn’t need to be. It works in opposition to the show’s most violent episode so far.
Last week, I said we didn’t know what Quentin was capable of, but now we do. Quentin and his crew not only steal the guns from Reg’s crew, they also slaughter everyone in the house. It isn’t clear if Reg is there or not, but we know these men–like Ronnie, Brandon, and Emmett–matter to someone. Quentin alludes to the “rules” of the old days, but he displays a disregard for human life that’s truly terrifying. It’s a level of violence that Reg’s crew didn’t seem to expect and it will most likely shock the neighborhood in a way that Jason and Coogi’s deaths didn’t. Quentin is now a viable villain and his connections to Ronnie, Kevin, Jason and Emmett are now all too important.
Then, there’s Ronnie. Ronnie is still recovering from his gunshot and seems to be slowly dying. His friends say as much and Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine sells Ronnie’s constant pain. Much like the neighborhood he exists within, Ronnie is being killed by a dangerous problem that cannot be ignored anymore. Watching Ronnie in police custody with his injuries adds an interesting element of terror. We still don’t know Detective Cruz’s motive. He is trying to protect himself, but he does seem to genuinely want justice for Coogi and Jason. Still, I worried that we would see Ronnie die in the interrogation room because of a stubborn Detective Cruz refusing to take him to the hospital or release him. Ronnie is reluctant to trust him and we, as viewers, should be too. I’m still not willing to believe that Detective Cruz is The Chi’s “good cop,” but it’s exciting waiting to see if or how he eventually breaks bad. With only four episodes left, The Chi has navigated a lot of the issues that slowed down the start of the season.
- Emmett’s mom and Ronnie’s grandmother also get a cute moment this episode. This is an improvement, but I’m not ready to say the show is doing right by its female characters just yet.
- We also find out that Jason left behind a pregnant girlfriend and Tracy knows about her. While this could’ve been a major twist, there’s just a soft sympathy in the interaction.
- Seriously, Brandon, what are you doing? Stop it.