Dear White People Recap: The Ballad of Coco and Sam

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Logan Browning as Sam, Antoinette Robertson as Coco. Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix
Dear White People

Dear White People

Chapter IV Season 1 Episode 4
Editor's Rating 5 stars

So far, each episode of Dear White People has ended with its subject looking directly into the camera, as if to say, “I’ve shown you my soul, now I’m gonna stare into yours.” Each final glance has meant something different. For Sam, it was accountability; for Lionel, it was acceptance; for Troy, it was shock. “Chapter IV” turns its focus to Colandrea, a.k.a. Coco, and her closing gaze is the most mysterious of all. Is it defiance? Is it the gleeful satisfaction of getting one over on her former-friend-turned-enemy? Is she daring us to judge her actions? Whatever it means, it’s the coda to an excellent performance by Antoinette Robertson.

Back in “Chapter I,” Coco was introduced as the “actual black person” pointed out at the blackface party. She is Troy’s girlfriend and Sam’s adversary, though, as “Chapter IV” shows us, neither of these things were originally the case. This is an episode about sisterhood rent asunder by various forces, past and present. Robertson has a co-MVP throughout in Logan Browning, who travels on this character-defining journey with her.

Additionally, Njeri Brown’s script weaves into the narrative the show’s most pointed commentary thus far. The vastly different coping methods employed by Sam and Coco to deal with the persistent images of police brutality offer incontrovertible proof that African-Americans are not monolithic in our approach. “Chapter IV” also gets serious mileage out of the notion that the lighter one is, the more beautiful she is perceived to be.

The episode flashes back to freshman year, but before it does, our narrator snidely eulogizes Thane Lockwood, Winchester University’s star running back and the student with the lowest GPA ever admitted. Thane was “known for his flight,” but clearly was great at sticking his landings. He literally falls into this episode, tumbling down the stairs at the blackface party. When he picks himself up, he runs into Coco. “How did you get the color so even?” Thane asks of what he thinks is blackface.

Coco next runs into Sam, who is recording the party. She unleashes her fury at the camera, summarizing her view of the events. “These people don’t give a fuck about no muthafuckin’ Harriet Tubman!” she yells. “They spend all their money on their lips, their tans, their ass, their Kanye tickets, because they wanna be us. And for one night, let ‘em! I am not gonna protest a damn Halloween party.”

Coco, we learn, was dragged to this party by her three white friends. (This crew of Beckys includes Muffy Tuttle, who ran for student-body president against Troy.) The four of them are sitting in the all-white Bechet House residence when someone turns the radio to Sam’s radio show. “The station put Baby in a corner for a minute,” begins Sam. “But I’m baaaack!” She then plays a disclaimer. “Trigger warning!” says a distinctly white male voice. “The following deals with race relations and is meant for entertainment purposes only.” The show is entertaining too! First, Sam rakes Troy over the coals for pardoning Kurt and the Pastiche staff. Then, she autotunes Coco’s speech, putting her on blast as well. I can’t wait for the autotuned Coco song to become the next U Name It Challenge.

Immediately, Coco and her crew storm down to the station to confront Ms. White. “It’s Coco and the marshmallows,” mutters Sam under her breath. After Coco cusses her out, pointing out that Sam’s “light-skinned privilege” allows her to get away with murder, one of the marshmallows says, “I thought she was gonna call Sam the N-word.”

From here, “Chapter IV” flashes back to Coco and Sam meeting in 2015. Freshman Sam has processed hair and immediately chats up Coco, addressing her with a surprised, “Hello, black person!” Coco has just been sent to Armstrong-Parker, which is where the university sends all the black kids to live, regardless of what housing choices they made on their applications. Sam tells Coco that Armstrong-Parker is like Hillman, the HBCU of A Different World. That’s why Coco, like Lionel before her, is hesitant to live there. Her dark skin has been the primary subject every time she’s been in the presence of anybody, black or white. And Coco finds the interactions among her own people to be far more intolerable.

Nevertheless, Sam and Coco become fast friends, primarily due to the fact that they’re both treated like outsiders by the Armstrong-Parker faithful. Coco has a brief, flirtatious run-in with Troy, who shields her from bad weather and leaves her with a signature come-on: “We can’t let that sweet dark chocolate melt in the rain.” Sam is rather relentlessly pursued by Reggie, which explains him lashing out at Gabe in “Chapter I.” Consider it an ironic punchline when, during a conversation with Coco and her Becky friends, Sam says, “Pink dicks look weird.”

“I have a dumb white-girl question,” says Muffy. Immediately, I imagined her falling through a trapdoor to spare her the searing shade she might endure. Apparently, the trapdoor was stuck. “If I said I only dated white guys, wouldn’t that’d be racist?” she asks. “I named my vibrator Idris,” another Becky says. Across the room, Sam and Coco exchange amused, knowing glances. “They mean well,” Coco tells her. Later, they’ll bond even further over a shiny, gold joint filled with a strain of weed named after Max Julien’s pimp in The Mack.

It even turns out that the concept for Sam’s radio show originated from a game she played with Coco. “Dear white people,” begins Coco, “Dating a black guy just to piss off your parents doesn’t make you down. It makes you an asshole.” (“Or a Kardashian!” I yelled at the screen.) “Dear white people,” counters Sam, “Having a black vibrator doesn’t count as having an interracial relationship.” I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the tragic fate of Idris the Sex Toy: His owner accidentally breaks him. Don’t cry for her, though — you can bet your money she replaced Idris with Trevante.

Two roads to activism open up for Sam and Coco, and their differences in choice beget the rift between them. The first is the Black Student Union, which coldly dismisses Sam. “Dear half-white person: You’re just not black enough for the Union,” Coco says. The other road runs through the Alpha Delta Rho sorority. For a $1,500 entry fee and a pledge week of torture at the hands of Big Brother All-Migh-TEE’s female counterpart Big Sister Too Fabbolous, you too can contribute to the underprivileged community!

I joke here, but Dear White People works the activism angle into “Chapter IV” with utmost seriousness. After an unarmed 15-year-old teen named Caleb is gunned down by a cop who won’t face any charges, Sam and Coco are both affected — but whereas Sam sees protest as a means of changing hearts and minds, Coco has succumbed to the jaded, hopeless point of view she espouses at the blackface party. Still, Njeri Brown’s script makes sure we don’t see Coco’s perspective as uncaring: When a TV newscaster trots out some “he was no angel” bullshit about the teenager, Coco mumbles sarcastically, “So, of course, he deserved to die.”

While Sam impresses the Black Student Union by making an awkward yet impassioned speech at an Armstrong-Parker protest meeting, Coco shoots for the fraternity. The two friends’ divergent paths are also echoed in their hairstyles: Coco gets a cruel reminder that a weave hurts like hell, and Sam’s familiar coif gets its own origin story. “I wanted an avant-garde look, like Solange,” she says. “Something that says I’m woke, but I’ll still kick your ass in an elevator.” Sam also wins Troy’s favor, which Coco sees as yet another dark-skinned brother dissing her similarly colored skin in favor of light-skinned privilege.

A meeting-room scheduling error between the Black Student Union and the Alpha Rhos ultimately severs the relationship between Sam and Coco. Even worse, Coco discovers her sorority sisters talking shit about her behind her back. Coco exacts a well-deserved revenge against the Alpha Rhos with a well-played dis at a swanky party, but she muddies the waters of her righteousness by hooking up with Troy afterwards. Even worse, their dalliance comes after Sam brings a peace offering of a Goldie joint to Coco’s place.

Coco smokes it while Troy goes down on her. Exhaling smoke, she looks directly at us in that final shot. For someone who’s felt judged her entire life, it’s fitting that Coco’s chapter ends with her forcing us to make another judgment.

Dear White People Recap: The Ballad of Coco and Sam