Queen Sugar Recap: California Girl

Rutina Wesley as Nova, Dawn-Lyen Gardner as Charley. Photo: OWN
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If the first episode of Queen Sugar left you wondering whether Nova was a force to be reckoned with, Evergreen will remove any lingering doubt. Although this episode focuses on Charley being a fish out of water, we also get a clearer picture of Novas ethics, both as a journalist and as a southern woman.

At Ernests house, Charley finds several letters from a man named Remy Newell (Dondre Whitfield). He and Ernest were close, so Charley wants to reach out to him to learn how her fathers farm wound up in such trouble. Before she leaves, a group of white men arrive and begin inspecting the land uninvited. The very sketchy Samuel Landry (David Jensen) approaches, calling her “Ernest’s California Girl,” to talk about potentially selling the farm. When Charley finally meets with Remy and recovers from the shock of finding him both young and good-looking, she tries to ask him about Landry, but he gently shuts her down. He doesn’t want to talk about that man in public. Landry looks shadier and shadier by the moment.

When it comes to funeral planning, however, Charley is a little out of her depth. When the siblings go to the funeral home to make arrangements, Nova negotiates a more economical package, which Charley insists on paying for. The three argue about how to cover the costs. Even though Ralph Angel doesn’t have any money, he resents them for acting like he can’t contribute. They settle on a compromise: Charley will pay half, and they’ll pick a white casket for Ernest because Nova wants to “let light send him back to the light.” It’s the first thing they all agree on instantly.

When Nova moves to sew a mysterious pouch in the lining of the casket, the funeral home director steps in, insisting it’s a floor model and his is a Christian establishment. Both sisters shoot him a death glare. Ralph Angel walks forward, the muscle of the crew, and the funeral director backs down.

The Bordelon siblings are still learning how to come together as a family, but they don’t hesitate to unite when an outsider stands in their way. We see this when Nova’s editor pushes her to abandon an exposé about environmental racism and lead poisoning so she can write about Davis West’s alleged rape scandal. Nova refuses to be a source. She will not break her family’s trust to score eyes for the local paper. This type of unity will serve them well, especially as people like Landry try to sink their claws into Bordelon land.

Charley and Nova pick out fresh seafood for the repast, and Nova is surprised that her sister can’t remember how to pick the best fish. Back at Violet’s, a group of servers arrive; Charley hired them to pass out food, and it’s all too much for Nova to handle. She’s tired of Charley throwing money around to soothe grief. Beyond the accents, the slang, and the show’s geographical location, Nova’s rant encapsulates a significant part of black southern life:

“We don’t honor our father by serving friends and family outside at fancy tables. We don’t honor our father by having strangers serve those grieving. We serve comfort food for those who need comfort and we do it with our own hands.”

In other words, grief is personal and intimate. Inviting strangers to witness the homegoing of someone they never knew in life is almost insulting. Charley thinks she’s being helpful by removing the burden of service from Ernest’s loved ones, but she’s also taking away their chance to honor his life, an opportunity for the bereaved to be of service.

While Charley struggles to find her place in this southern home, Ralph Angel argues with Violet about letting his son attend the funeral. He thinks Blue is too young; he wants Blue to remain a child as long as he can. In a world where 12-year-old black boys are shot in the park for playing with toy guns and teenage black girls are wrestled to the ground for attending pool parties, it’s hard for black children to remain innocent. Ralph Angel knows this. And Blue is the sweetest thing. Whenever he appears onscreen, you instantly want to cuddle him.

In its premiere episode, Queen Sugar showed us that black women can be loved tenderly, and now “Evergreen” turns its focus to sensitive young black boys. These boys have fathers in their lives; they have women who surround them with care. Ernest held on until he could say good-bye to his grandson. Davis shows up to make sure Micah knows he’s still there, despite the trouble he’s in. Ralph Angel is trying his best to protect Blue, a boy who plays with a Barbie doll. These details, along with Nova’s investigation of police brutality, speak to issues that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and the Civil Rights Movement before it. Crucially, Queen Sugar works to show that black lives exist before they are being mourned. Before young black men are painted as thugs, they are little boys who blow out birthday candles just like anyone else.

The Bordelon family wears all white to Ernest’s funeral. Calvin stands quietly in the back, offering Nova silent support. It appears that Ernest was a member of the Prince Hall Affiliated Free and Accepted Masons, a predominantly black fraternal organization with a history that stretches back to the 18th century. Prince Hall, a prominent black abolitionist, was attracted to Freemasonry because of its pledge to liberty, equality, and peace. When he was denied entry into American lodges because of racism, he sought membership from an Irish lodge in Boston, which spawned the organizations that bear his name today. Queen Sugar’s commitment to bringing slices of black life and history to the screen is incredible.

At Ernest’s funeral, his Masonic brothers honor the immortality of his soul by placing a sprig of evergreen on his casket. There is no rain to symbolize grief, but clouds linger in the distance. Nova, Charley, and Ralph Angel hold hands, connected, a promise to their father to respect his legacy and face whatever is coming together.