In tonight’s episode, Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs begins his guest run as Bow’s younger brother Johan. He’s a welcome addition to the cast, as his terrific scenes throughout “God” demonstrate. And thank goodness for that: The great chemistry between Anderson, Ross, and Diggs keeps Black-ish afloat as it continues looking for the rhythm that made season two so compelling.
We start off with Zoey, who admits she isn’t sure she believes in God anymore. There’s so much that’s wrong with the world, she argues. Why would a benevolent god let all those bad things happen? Dre and Ruby freak out accordingly. Of course, Dre makes it about him, thinking he’s failed as a father. Ruby, in turn, makes it about her, and tries to save Zoey from hell so she can add another notch on her halo. At work, Dre tells the team that Zoey doesn’t believe in God and Charlie becomes terrified that the Johnson family has another evil daughter. Charlie even confesses he’s been sending anonymous letters to Dre about Diane, but he hasn’t been getting them. Now Charlie’s more worried than ever — does Diane have his letters? What is she planning? The callback to Charlie and Diane’s beef is great. More like it, please!
After Dre realizes that the entitled white people at work don’t believe in God, he goes home and begins throwing away all the “white-people stuff” in the house: No more hummus, no more radicchio, no more almond milk, and no more trips to Whole Foods! Johan reminds Dre that black atheists exist, too — they even have a bowling league — but Dre’s not amused by his brother-in-law’s interruption. Neither is Ruby, who prays to Black Jesus to work the miracle of aneurysm on Bow. Obviously, Bow is somehow to blame for this mess.
Ruby’s wish aside, Dre keeps blaming himself and his lack of a proper prayer life. Ruby tells him he hasn’t set a good example for the kids, so he tries to ask God for help. What can he do to help Zoey understand that she has to believe in a higher power? Unfortunately, Dre gets distracted by everything from the duvet that their black nanny didn’t clean properly to the smell of kettle corn wafting into the room. This is one of the realest moments of the episode. It’s hard to turn off your thoughts for strong prayer or meditation, regardless of belief system. The pressure to perform an act you don’t fully understand can be frustrating, so kudos to Black-ish for illustrating that experience.
Bow tells Dre they have to let Zoey work through her questions on her own. They can’t bully religion into her, but Bow agrees with Dre that they’ll go extra hard on the God stuff with the new baby. She also agrees that they have to keep Diane away from the baby as long as possible. Evil Diane has everyone shook!
As the episode continues, the whole family attends Bow’s sonogram appointment to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. The doctor remarks that the baby must be playing hide and seek. Uh-oh, she can’t find the heartbeat. Bow and Dre silently hold hands as the doctor keeps searching. This may be the longest minute in the show’s history. The simulated whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound of a fetal heartbeat is such a familiar part of family TV, so this scene is jarring to say the least. What happens if there isn’t a baby after all? Would Black-ish go that far? We’ve seen how the Johnsons bonded when dealing with heavy subjects like police brutality. How would they handle the loss of a child?
When the doctor found the heartbeat — a very strong one — I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. Zoey thanks God and Dre turns to her in surprise. Bow tells him to let it go, and Zoey looks sheepish. Tracee Ellis Ross is perfect in this scene, wiping away a tear as she smiled in relief. Ross has really grown in her role as Bow. When she gets these serious moments, you can see how strong of an actor she is. I hope she’ll get even more room to show off her skills.
The episode ends with everyone sending up their genie prayers, as Ruby calls them. Diane doesn’t want Jack to die, but if that’s how she has to get her own room, she’s okay with it. Junior’s, uh, “personal habits” don’t affect anyone but him, so he doesn’t think he should feel guilty. Bow prays she doesn’t get any stretch marks with the new baby. Zoey’s on the phone, thankful that some guy stopped following her on Instagram. Johan enjoys a peaceful, quiet glass of wine.
“God” certainly isn’t the strongest episode, but it does a solid job of showing that not all black people are Christians. Dre points out that many black people who experienced slavery or the intense racism and poverty of the South turned to Christianity because they needed to believe life would get better. They needed faith in a better future, whether on Earth or after death. However, a significant number of black people reject outright all types of religion, and that subject doesn’t get explored nearly as often on mainstream television. Props to Black-ish for tackling it in a thoughtful and humorous way, and without a prescriptive lesson. “God” simply reminds us that religious belief is an intimate, personal choice. What works for one person may not work for another, and that’s perfectly fine. Like the Johnson family, we can all co-exist.