Queen Sugar Recap: Generational Curses

Queen Sugar

Where With All
Season 1 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****
Tina Lifford as Violet.
Tina Lifford as Violet. Photo: Skip Bolen/OWN

If there’s a major weather event on a television show, you can be sure it’ll be paired with big revelations. “Where With All” is no exception to this trend: As a hurricane approaches the Gulf Coast, another storm is brewing among the Bordelon family. Reunions and new beginnings form, while a particular relationship grows more distant.

Tropical Storm Peter gathers strength, quickly becoming Hurricane Peter, and Violet focuses on getting the family all together for safety. Nova keeps ignoring her calls as she takes her neighbor to a shelter, and Violet can’t help but think the worst. During Hurricane Katrina, Nova had to chop through her roof to escape the flooding waters; she was stranded for a day before being rescued. In the present, Nova tries to remain calm but she’s clearly nervous about the possibility of reliving that terror. Violet’s worries make her a jittery mess, and it’s a reminder that the trauma of Hurricane Katrina lives on.

Charley goes to the farm and refuses to let the workers leave early. She wants them to finish planting the remaining ten acres of seed cane, despite their obvious disapproval. Even Remy and Ralph Angel tell her to let everyone go home for their own safety, but Charley seems to think she knows better than the men who’ve been doing farm work all their lives. It doesn’t endear her to the workers and it’s sure to come back to haunt her later. She doesn’t trust the people who make a living tending the land, but because she’s the money, they have to do as she says. I wouldn’t be surprised if the workers don’t come back after the storm, giving the Bordelon farm yet another setback.

Darla arrives with a late birthday present for Blue, feeling hopeful about the chance to seek shelter with Ralph Angel. The family, including Remy, Hollywood, and Darla, all end up at Violet’s, who is not pleased with the latter two guests. She hasn’t forgiven Hollywood or Darla for their respective betrayals. Meanwhile, Charley and Nova are still snapping at each other. After a spades game full of liquor and laughs, tensions explode between the two sisters. They trade ugly names before the fight boils down to its essence: Charley hates that Nova had an affair with a married man and she thinks she’s the only one who knows how to keep promises and fidelity.

Now that’s all well and good, but Charley has been crushing on Remy since the moment she laid eyes on him, even before she knew the extent of Davis’s infidelity. She hangs on Remy’s every word and laughs at all his jokes. Charley may be shaming Nova (and Hollywood), but she’s not as perfect as her high horse would indicate. She never even let Nova explain her situation with Calvin; she just assumes that her sister is still seeing him. It would be nice if she had given Nova the same benefit of the doubt she gave her husband, but the wound is too fresh for Charley to be compassionate to anyone else. And so, Charley and Nova remain distant.

At the end of the night, Charley hides her wedding rings in a sock and searches for Remy, and the two share a kiss. Her marriage is just a technicality now, much like Hollywood’s marriage to LeeAnne was. The only difference is Remy is fully aware of her situation. And what does it say about Remy that he’s willing to kiss a married woman? Will Charley’s judgment rain down on him or is it okay since this is about her needs? Charley has a right to be an emotional mess, but it’s not okay for her to cast judgment on others without knowing their stories. (Remember how she didn’t know the full story with Melina?) She keeps making the same mistake and it’s an annoying character flaw.

Violet talks to Nova about her affair, and we learn that Ernest had an affair with Charley’s mother. Infidelity keeps moving through the Bordelon family. Ernest cheated. Nova was Calvin’s mistress. Charley was the betrayed wife; Violet, a betrayed lover. Even Micah felt the sting in his own teenage relationship when his girlfriend exchanged racy pictures with someone else. The idea of generational curses may be too biblical, but maybe all this cheating exists to reveal how common and painful it is.

As Violet and Hollywood start talking out their issues, Violet says his betrayal reminded her of her ex-husband, Jimmy Dale. Hollywood can’t stand the comparison, though: Jimmy Dale was physically abusive and Ernest ran him out of town. Hollywood assures Violet he’d never lay a hand on her, but she tells him, “You never hit me, but you sure knocked the hell out of me.” Violet’s plain language is southern poetry. After LeeAnne’s miscarriage, her bipolar disorder began to present itself more fully and Hollywood didn’t have the heart to walk away. His Big Mama didn’t raise him to leave someone in such pain behind. The ice thaws between Violet and Hollywood. He still ends the night sleeping on the couch and not sharing Violet’s bed, but the mending has begun.

Meanwhile, Darla works to heal her relationship with Ralph Angel and Violet. Ralph Angel tries to remain cautious, but he sees how much Blue loves having Darla around. She certainly looks better, and says she’s been clean for 18 months. When the power goes out, Violet pulls Ralph Angel into the dining area, with just a lantern lighting their conversation. She warns him against trusting Darla, who overhears and approaches her. Hollywood soon joins them, and Darla thanks Violet and him for saving Blue. She wants to make amends for the discord she brought to the family, and says she’s grateful for everything Violet and Hollywood did to protect Blue from her self-destructive ways. It’s a powerful, emotional scene that leaves Violet with a rare case of speechlessness. Expressing gratitude goes a long way in helping people move past rifts, and it’s obvious Violet wasn’t expecting this. After Violet leaves, Hollywood walks over to Darla and smiles at her, a sign that he’s willing to give her a chance and more proof of the big heart that refused to let LeeAnne suffer.

When Hollywood leaves, that single lantern shines on Darla, throwing a large shadow against the wall behind her. It symbolizes her past, how it looms over her, never far away. Despite that past, though, Ralph Angel and Darla share Blue’s bed, united by a desire to protect their son.

Blue’s sensitivity is marked by his love for Kenya, his Barbie doll. The detail is unusual enough, but it’s not the only thing that makes Blue such a unique character. Most small children on television shows crack wise well beyond their years, their smart-aleck comments supposedly cute in a “kids say the darndest things” kind of way. Think of Olivia on The Cosby Show, Michelle on Full House, or Nicky on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Blue is not like that. He’s a very sweet child who doesn’t say adult sentences to make himself seem precocious. It’s very clear that Blue is allowed to be a child, not a plot device. If he says something that brings a laugh, it’s from joy, not scandalized surprise. Blue is the purest character on Queen Sugar and it makes him shine all the more.

Queen Sugar reminds me of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf. Shange’s poetic monologues exposed overlooked issues of being a black woman in America, like domestic abuse, lost love, abortion, learning how to love yourself, and so much more. Shange calls the piece a “choreopoem” because a large portion of the production relies on the physical movement of each character. Eight episodes in, it’s old hat to keep mentioning the obvious beauty of Queen Sugar, but the all-female directorial staff has worked to create something truly stunning. At this point, the audience should know to pay attention to each character’s presence onscreen. Who is lurking in the shadows? Who is hidden in the corner of the frame? Just like watching the women move across the stage in for colored girls, the big fight between Nova and Charley, the uncomfortable discussions about cheating, and Violet’s ex-husband all expose family ugliness in ways black television dramas tend to avoid.  For quite some time, many of those shows have indulged the idea that black Americans don’t want white people to see anything bad for fear of being called a stereotype. Queen Sugar reveals the error of that approach, exposing its characters’ flaws in remarkably compelling ways. The Bordelon family secrets can be anyone’s family secrets. And these issues aren’t resolved neatly. They rise to the surface, make a gigantic mess, and everyone has to participate in the clean-up.

We’re past the halfway mark of the first season, and now we’re left to wonder which of the Bordelons’ messy issues will leave a permanent stain.

Queen Sugar Recap: Generational Curses