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The Chi: Who You Know Is What You Know

The following recap contains spoilers from season one of The Chi. Proceed at your own risk.

In Lena Waithe’s The Chi, relationships are the primary currency.  We watch them grow, invert, and blow up. We suck our teeth, laugh, and get straight up pissed at the results of each bond, as the most seemingly inconsequential interactions have such permanent results.  At its start, a relationship is forged between us, the viewers, and the cute and clever, Coogie. We follow the witty, brightly dressed teenager as he rides his bike around Chicago ushering us into his neighborhood.  So when Coogie is abruptly murdered over a misunderstanding disguised as revenge, despite only just meeting the kid, we miss him; we feel cheated out of the chance to continue seeing life through his vibrant eyes.

Thus ultimately, the season begins with two murders. The first is that of hood famous basketball star Jason who lays lifeless in the street as Coogie, who did not commit the murder, takes his chain and sneakers.  Coogie’s thieving costs him his life as he is gunned down by Jason’s father-figure, Ronnie, as middle schooler Kevin inadvertently witnesses the shooting. This dynamic prepares us for the intersection of the multiple characters and their storylines, all the while hoping that no one else we have taking a liking to gets hurt.

While death is the backdrop, it the fullness of the lives of characters that keeps us watching.  We watch as they grow beyond their circumstances. We watch as they navigate what life throws at them.  And we watch as relationships are developed, transformed, and severed.

My Favorite Relationships

Ms. Ethel and Jada

We are first introduced to this pair when Ms. Ethel flings a dirty diaper at her nurse, Jada’s head, and accuses her of stealing.  Initially, I wondered how Jada put up with the wonderfully foulmouthed, and stubborn old woman. Soon we come to understand Ms. Ethel as a woman desperately trying to hold onto her independence as her body begins to betray her.  Once Ms. Ethel and Jada bond over the fears of raising sons and grandsons in their neighborhood, their relationship is transformed into a mutual respect, accompanied with unsolicited dating advice from a Ms. Ethel who wants to see the kind, young woman happy.  Even after Jada is fired from her job for taking supplies to help patch up Ronnie’s gunshot wound, she still checks on the old woman; Ms. Ethel, a woman with very little, shows her appreciation by giving her a wad of cash to hold her over until she finds another job.  What makes this relationship remarkable to me is that it is actually one of the very few ones between women that is given the screen time to unfold. I hope the second season offers more opportunities for female relationships to be explored.

Emmett and EJ

The little baby that plays EJ should win some form of award this season.  The way that kid cries and cries, really helps us the experience fatherhood from the immature Emmett’s point-of-view.  In other words, his screams get on my last nerve; I can hear somebody’s grandma’s voice getting ready to come through me and say, “Shut that baby up!” But in all seriousness, watching Emmett grow into a caring father and more responsible adult is one of the highlights of the season.  

Brandon and Kevin

These two actually feel like younger and older versions of one another.  Both are nice guys, committed to doing what they feel is right, even when it comes at their own expense.  Little Kev got heart and so does Brandon. At one point I pounded my fist on the table in exasperation, “How many secrets is this little boy gonna have to keep?”  I felt a similar anxiety when I had to sit and watch Brandon on the brink of making one bad decision after another – like fooling around with the boss’s “wife?” as he moves through his season of grief.  Unsurprisingly, these are the same two I am gnawing my nails down to the bone, worried about for the upcoming season.

Ones that Grew On Me

Greevy and LaVerne

At first, I thought Greevy was a no-good bum.  Not only was he seemingly a little too eager to reap the benefits of the sale of LaVerne’s house, but the trifling negro didn’t even go with his woman to her son’s funeral.  While I still haven’t forgiven him for not being by his woman’s side during one of the most difficult times of her life, it is clear that he actually does care for her. I am definitely rooting for these two.

Brandon and LaVerne

When we first see this mother-son duo interact, LaVerne is drunk and hostile.  Judging by Brandon’s girlfriend, Jerica’s, response to LaVerne, I initially thought she was an angry drunk.  But as the season develops we witness tender moments between the two that make it evident that behind her rhetorical roughness is a mother’s love.

Ones That Frustrate Me

Ronnie and Tracy

While like she says Ronnie is a grown man and she can’t make him do anything, I still hold Tracy partly responsible for what happened to Coogie, and ultimately Ronnie. Perhaps it is my affection for Ms. Ethel, Ronnie’s grandmother, that has me looking at Tracy like a siren.  While Ronnie murders Coogie partly out of love for the child he called his son, it feels like he does it (and generally will do anything) to get back into the warm embrace of Tracy. Granted, we do not know the history between Tracy and Ronnie, as Ronnie is at the very least a drunk, and Tracy a survivor of rape.  I am hoping that we will learn more about this with the upcoming season.

Brandon and Jerica

My allegiance to LaVerne and Brandon could very well be coloring my perspective of Jerica, but presently she annoys me.  It is obvious that she loves Brandon and supports his dreams, but sometimes I feel like she secretly wants him to be from somewhere he isn’t.  Instead of trying to understand him during his moments of intense grief she jumps to conclusions and that rubs me the wrong way. On the other hand, one could see her as a strong black woman who loves her man but not at the expense of herself.  The verdict is still out on this one. I will have to see what happens with these two next season.

Ones That Frighten Me

Jake and Reggie

This one is pretty obvious.  Older brother, Reg is a dangerous drug dealer who is grooming his brother for the family business.  It is so disheartening to watch Jake follow in his footsteps and become more and more distant from his friends Kevin and Papa.  Jake seems like a nice person who could have gone in any direction, but because of what he is exposed to, has been pushed towards a life of violence and crime

Reggie and Brandon

Reg’s profession simply makes him a scary dude.  Brandon just got his food truck up and running and then experiences a financial set back with his mother delaying the sale of the house to attend Ronnie, her son’s murderer, trial.  Brandon’s morals, his drive to stand up to Reg and admit that he lost the gun that little brother Jake stole is admirable; however, in this landscape it makes him vulnerable. We already know he is gonna be using his truck to move weight and that he is gonna be conflicted about it, because in all reality he needs money.  

Quentin, “Q,” aka Old Man and Pretty Much Everybody

This relationship as currency is what makes a mofo like Old Man aka Q so goddamn scary.  His affiliations are not immediate, thus his character and his motivations are not apparent.  If you don’t know someone then it’s tricky trying to figure out how to orient yourself to him, a person who seems to slither up to you in your moments of weakness, but at the same time weirdly reflects familial values.  But hey, if his own brother tells you to stay away from him, even if he dont explain fully why, then dammit, that’s reason enough to run.

General Reactions

  • Let me find out Ronnie pre-drunk days is handsome.
  • How much time has passed – i am confused, this is on me, not the show.  Like 6 months? A year?
  • Loving the inclusion of music from chicago based artists
  • Nice twist with Tiffany beating up the boyfriend instead of Emmett having to save her
  • The murder scene of the basketball star, Jason, was especially difficult to watch
  • What does it mean that the man who actually stayed with Tracy and helped her raise Jason was charged with the tasks of taking care of it, but couldn’t and the man who raped and held her captive was the one who got the job done, how do we read that?
  • I wish Kevin could just escape this!

What to Expect Next Season

Everyone will be pushed into new situations that will force them to reorient themselves.  Brandon will have to honor his favor to Reg and use his new found independence as a food truck owner to sell drugs; he will keep this a secret from Jerica, who will sense there is something going on and this will cause a strain.  Kevin will be called to, at the very least, speak to the police about the murder he witnessed which will cause him to deal with the internal and external repercussions of “snitching” in his community. Jake will descend deeper into the criminal life with his brother as his guide.  Ronnie now unburdened with his secret, will have to navigate life in prison. Emmett will have to figure out how to get custody of his son and learn to live without the support of his mother, as career opportunities will move her outside of the state. Old Man “Q” will restructure the game.  And Papa, well he will continue to be the same, sweet, renaissance man whose example we hope will challenge others to redefine how they inhabit/express their identity.

MJ VanDevere

MJ VanDevere is a doctoral candidate at a predominately white elite institution in the South who uses humor to combat racism, sexism, and all the other –isms that seek to diminish her greatness. She is a self-proclaimed “stand-up snob” who does not have a favorite comedian, so please don't ask unless you have several hours to spare. Some of her favorite movies include, Life, Dead Presidents, and Happy Feet. If, she could only do one thing for the rest of her life, it would definitely be laugh, and maybe write. Adulting is her greatest work in progress.

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