Black-ish Recap: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

BLACK-ISH - "Charlie in Charge”. Photo: John Fleenor/ABC
Episode Title
Charlie in Charge
Editor’s Rating

I really missed Charlie during the Halloween episode, so I was excited to see how much attention he’d get after Black-ish returned from last week’s CMA-induced hiatus. Despite my enthusiasm, though, guest star Amber Rose had me a little worried. There’s nothing wrong with her, of course, but when a show begins to trot out celebrity cameos, there’s always a risk that stunt casting could overwhelm the cast an audience has grown to love.

Fortunately, Amber Rose had just the right amount of screen time as Charlie’s ex Dominique, the only woman he’s ever loved. But we’ll get to that soon enough.

First, Dre and Bow take Zoey on a trip to Bow’s alma mater, Brown University. (Tracee Ellis Ross graduated from Brown as well.) Bow is a lovable dork about the college tour — she’s delighted to share this part of her life with her daughter — but Dre is a nervous wreck. He’s worried about two things: the idea of Zoey living far away, and flying. He ends up getting so doped up on tranquilizers that he accidentally calls Charlie instead of the family’s usual babysitter, Charlotte. Charlie abandons his own child to go see to Junior, Jack, and Diane.

By that point, Diane is already in fine form — she tells Junior that he’s a joke of a man and incapable of babysitting — so when her eyes narrowed at the sight of Charlie on their doorstep, I practically rubbed hands together with glee. Charlie clearly knows he needs to be cautious around Diane, who he declares a witch and refers to as “Girl Twin.”

It’s interesting to watch how Diane reacts as the only girl in a house filled with men. While the boys play video games, she’s left alone in the kitchen, clearly disgusted with all of that male-bonding. She’s also the only one who opposes the Nancy Meyers–inspired romcom plot to help Charlie woo Dominique back into his life. Junior labels her a dream-crusher and cynic, but let’s be honest: Diane simply can't tolerate “the salty tears of foolish men.”

Dominique shows up, leaving all the men in the house dumbstruck. Charlie introduces the kids as his — he pretends that he owns the Johnsons’ house, too — and effectively prevents Diane from sabotaging his plan by claiming she’s been mute ever since her fictitious mother died in a flat-screen TV accident. Charlie sweats so much during this charade, he wonders if he's been cursed by a witch. (And, of course, he shoots an accusing glance at Girl Twin.) He eventually regrets his lies and confesses to Dominique, which drives her away. Bye, Amber!

If we’ve learned one thing about Diane, it’s that she is usually calculating and knows how to get under people’s skin. She seems like an adorable, dimpled girl — wearing a pink shirt that proclaims her as precious, no less — but then she laughs in the face of an adult as he tries to impress his long-lost love. Diane is not totally heartless, though. When she sees how disappointed Junior is about the failed seduction plot, she makes amends, crafting a wise metaphor from his pitiful attempt to make lavender honey–flavored It's Complicated ice cream. One day, she tells him, someone will love his soupy mess.

As much as I love Diane’s stinging wit, it was sweet to see her empathize with her sensitive older brother. It’s refreshing to see that she’s skilled at more than just the art of war. Let’s hope that Black-ish shows us more of that. I’ve been waiting to learn about what makes her tick.

Meanwhile, the visit to Brown University was the weakest point of the episode — especially compared to Charlie’s shenanigans back at the house. I still found myself dream-casting Ross as Lucille Ball in some alternate universe’s biopic, though. And yes, I'm taking suggestions for actors who can play Desi Arnaz.

One last thought: Yet again, an episode of Black-ish has proven timely with the news. Dre went to Howard University, a historically black college, and there is a brief moment where he and Bow tease each other about their respective schools. A crucial element of the protests at the University of Missouri and Yale University is the question of where black college students can get an education without fear of racial injustice. Are HBCUs a better option? Are predominantly white institutions doing enough to ensure safe campuses? If the warm resolution of this episode is any indication, the decision ultimately lies with prospective students, not with those who have already made their choices.