Finally! Black-ish is back on track. I was honestly dreading this episode after a week’s hiatus because I had become frustrated with how off the show had been lately, but “The Purge” pulled me back on board. Once again, the show tackles Dre’s fragile masculinity, this time via his relationship with Junior. Meanwhile, Diane just needs a head-spin to complete her descent into full evil. I’m honestly not sure how to feel about that yet.
Whenever a man starts spouting nonsense about alpha and beta males, you may as well attach a diaper to his mouth to catch all the nonsense spilling out. Dre compares the father-son relationship to that of the animal kingdom. Alphas rule the pack; betas are the cute ones who get walked over. There’s a montage of Dre doing stuff like knocking a bowl of chips out of Junior’s hands, then stepping on the spilled food to make the clean-up worse. I suppose that kind of behavior is supposed to be male bonding, but it feels like Dre is one swirly away from bullying his own son. Dre wants to make sure Junior knows he can never be better than him, which doesn’t seem particularly loving. Dre is like a fairytale’s evil stepmother figure to his own son.
During a basketball game between Dre and Junior, Dre keeps talking trash so Junior dunks on him, complete with his crotch on Dre’s forehead. Dre would’ve been okay, but Jack was recording on his phone and uploaded the footage. The clip is so popular that it’s trending on Twitter, the real one, Connor notes at work, not the one Empire owns. Charlie can’t even recognize Dre without Junior’s testicles in his face. To make matters worse, Junior sends Dre a package of with a note that reads “Dear Dad, I know how much you like to eat nuts.” The gang at work revels in Dre’s humiliation and he can’t stand it. He vows to get revenge on Junior for trying to “man up.”
Dre is seriously pouting about getting owned by his son, and Junior keeps rubbing it in by mocking Dre’s shorter height. Unwilling to tolerate such humiliation, Dre decides to prank Junior by making him think his gift of nuts sent Charlie into fatal anaphylactic shock. He fakes a funeral that Josh pays for, thinking Charlie’s death is real. The family is in on the prank, but it doesn’t stop Diane from smiling as she imagines Charlie’s real death. Diane’s beef with Charlie has become a little alarming, even if it’s still a treat to watch. Bow is not all the way on board with Dre’s prank, but he tells her it’s his “Sixteen Chapel” and he has to see it through.
Dre has Charlie “haunt” Junior. Charlie whispers, “You killed me,” from the casket and shows up on Junior’s television screen like a poltergeist. Adding a nice wrinkle to the story, Charlie’s scared he might be dead for real. He keeps asking Dre for reassurance and it’s hilarious.
Dre’s final prank is to hang Charlie above the hallway to give Junior the biggest scare. Junior tumbles down the stairs and breaks both legs. The family ends up at the hospital and the doctor reports Dre for possible child abuse. After listening to Dre’s side of the story, the doctor tells Dre he’s not abusive — just a short, petty man. Junior goes home in a wheelchair and Dre apologizes, but of course, it’s not enough. Junior calls Dre out on his inability to let him grow up. Junior tells Dre he doesn’t love him; Dre just sees him as his punching bag and will always try to keep him down.
Dre looks devastated, but he gets no sympathy because Junior is telling the truth. Dre’s code of masculinity has him constantly belittling his son so he can remain top dog and it’s petty, childish, and damaging. Fortunately for him, Junior has another trick up his sleeve. The broken legs were another prank, which Junior reveals when he dunks on Dre yet again. (It turns out Junior had seen Ghost Charlie eating a Luna bar and asked Bow to help him plan the ultimate revenge.) The family comes out to witness Dre’s humiliation. Dre gives Junior his props and asks him to help him prank Bow next year, and I guess all’s well there. Dre realizes he needs to embrace the idea of Junior surpassing him. It’s all a part of the circle of life Dre cherry-picks life lessons from.
While Junior was being haunted for being better than his dad at one little thing, neighbor Janine planned a mischief night for the neighborhood as a way to keep any urban outsiders (a.k.a. the Johnson cousins) out. Ruby takes over and makes it into a real life "purge," which Diane is immediately attracted to. Jack and Diane join the purge against Bow’s wishes, and she finds them just as Diane is about to send a Molotov cocktail into someone’s house. Diane is way too excited at the prospect of making a family homeless; I know it’s supposed to be funny, but that’s too far! Bow expresses her concern, but as she’s about to take them back home, a group of masked people fire paintballs at her. She takes all the shots to protect the twins, then launches off a string of profanity so wild, Jack is scandalized and Diane’s skin dances.
Fittingly, Ruby’s logic for the purge is if everyone works out their aggression in one night, they can be brand new people the next day. She goes overboard and knocks Janine’s mailbox off so Janine takes an ax to Ruby’s Benz. There’s no such thing as purge insurance, so Ruby will have to pay for any damage. Maybe she was onto something, though: The twins are really nice to each other the following morning. But if we’re being totally honest, Super Nice Diane is even creepier than Potential Arsonist Diane.
After a few disappointing episodes, Charlie pulled Black-ish out of its rut. I guess Dre being intimidated by his 16-year-old is better than Charlie constantly forgetting to provide any type of care or nurturing to his son. Poor Eustace. I’m glad Black-ish seems to have found its rhythm again and I'm looking forward to what’s next.