Dear White People
Dear White People creator Justin Simien returns to the director’s chair for the final episode of the first season. He’s got a lot of ground to cover: the fallout from Troy and Coco’s breakup; the love triangle of Gabe, Sam, and Reggie; the possibility that Armstrong-Parker House will no longer be unapologetically black; and the town hall meeting and the protest that accompanies it. Simien has only a half-hour to do it, so expect some inventive editing and cross-cutting between stories.
Sliding split screens open “Chapter X.” Sam can’t stop thinking about Gabe, who slides into the right. Reggie can’t stop thinking about Sam, so his screen slides in on the left. Gabe won’t answer Sam’s calls, and Sam won’t answer Reggie’s calls. Oddly enough, the only person who gets to speak to another human being on the phone is Lionel. He calls Sam to confirm his interview with her. As they chat, we can hear Troy and Coco ending their relationship in the background. They too get their own onscreen panels. “What’s that?” asks Sam. “Drama,” says Lionel in the understatement of the year.
“Perhaps the only thing missing was unity,” says our narrator, in the last time we’ll hear his voice. Nobody gets the coveted spot on the Dear White People title screen because “Chapter X” is an episode about everybody.
It’s the day of the town hall and the protest. Reggie has come to Sam’s radio station to read his slam poem. But when Gabe enters the studio, Sam leaves Reggie high and dry. “Is there a button I’m supposed to push or something?” Reggie asks the empty room. From behind the glass, he can see Sam and Gabe, but cannot hear what they’re saying. Had Reggie been privy, he would have heard Gabe ask Sam why she slept with him. “I needed to know exactly what I wanted,” Sam says. “That’s a hell of a litmus test,” replies Gabe.
Despite telling Gabe he did the right thing by calling the cops and apologizing for not defending him, Sam can’t get a committed answer out of Gabe regarding their relationship. “I love you,” Sam confesses. “Do you want this?” Gabe asks, admitting he never should have come to the radio station.
Meanwhile, Joelle is on the Reggie side of the glass, telling him which buttons to press. Her entry line in this scene is too good not to mention: Barging in the door expecting to find Sam, Joelle blurts out, “Bitch, you got a SuperPro? Because Aunt Flo is in town and she brought all her kids!” (I sure hope that didn’t go out over the Winchester airwaves!) Reggie’s poem enters the listeners’ ears, and Joelle is as impressed with it as viewers were back in “Chapter VI.” Notice the way Simien intimately shoots the space between Reggie’s hand and Joelle’s while she works the radio board. I almost expected them to finally touch each other.
When Sam comes back, Reggie asks, “What was that?” “What do you think?” Sam replies. Seeking comfort after Reggie leaves, Sam asks Joelle to “say something funny and specific.” Joelle obliges. All I’ll say about that is … poor Drake.
Lionel’s interview with Sam quickly goes off the record when she accidentally alludes to what she learned from Coco and Troy about the Winchester fundraiser. She tells him Armstrong-Parker is being used as a bargaining chip to keep her from protesting the town hall. Lionel tells her yet again to speak her truth, and she reminds Lionel that he’s braver than he thinks.
Inspired by Sam’s words, Lionel heads to the internet to do some research on the Hancocks, the wealthy donors dangling $10 million in front of Winchester. What he finds would make a great story, but Silvio isn’t interested. “The Hancocks are into a whole lot of hooey!” Lionel tells Silvio. “They fund cases that are against affirmative action! Against voter rights for minorities!”
“Lionel, that wasn’t your assignment!” Silvio complains. “This is bigger!” Lionel says. “The administration is in bed with bigots!” Silvio tells Lionel the Hancocks are off-limits for articles. Turns out that the Winchester Independent gets to be “independent” of the university because it gets its funding from — you guessed it — the Hancocks. Silvio pulls out the inaugural edition of the Independent, which has the headline: “Negroes take over AP-House. What are they planning?”
The building where the town hall will take place is also named after the Hancocks. Sam tells Lionel these events are useless because of how staged they are, and she’s not kidding. Since Troy is late, Coco lays down the ground rules: “Try to identify students with likely harmless questions. Troy will make sure that these are the only ones who’ll get the mic. I’ll cut us off after 30 minutes and the dean will protest and I’ll say, ‘Just one more question.’”
Had the town hall allowed non-harmless questions, perhaps there’d be no protest. As it stands, just before the event begins, Dean Fairbanks and President Fletcher hear a ruckus outside. The dean sends Troy to investigate. To Troy’s surprise, it’s not Sam’s group that’s making all the noise. In honor of Thane Lockwood, it’s a protest against binge drinking. “This is the biggest problem on campus!” yells protest organizer, Clifton. “This isn’t what Thane would have wanted!” says Al, who suddenly arrives with the rest of Sam’s protesters. “That motherfucker loved binge drinking!” Sam’s group starts protesting as well, and they are soon joined by Kurt’s troll of a counter-protest, which sends Sam into an angry frenzy.
Back inside Hancock Hall, Coco locks Troy out and takes over the town hall herself. She’s a natural who lives up to her word when she tells Dean Fairbanks, “I got this!” Coco capably shuts down the lone person who responds with snark to President Fletcher’s answer about armed campus police. But when she gets to the “just one more question” part of the plan, Coco does something I have to read as intentional. Her pick for the last question is Lionel. “Here you are, Sweets,” she says, handing him the mic.
Here’s where all hell breaks loose, both inside and outside Hancock Hall. Lionel asks President Fletcher, “How much money are we worth to you?” When Fletcher plays dumb, Lionel sets him up for the knockout: “There are 234 black undergraduates on this campus. That’s roughly $55 million if they make it all four years. And yet, you are willing to disregard our right to safe spaces?”
Outside, Kurt and Sam are fighting amid the three factions of protesters trying to make themselves heard. Kurt blames Sam for all the unrest on campus, then asks if anything she’s done has gotten results. Gabe shows up, which distracts Sam from Kurt’s interrogation. She should have stayed with Kurt. Gabe tells her that he doesn’t think their relationship will work, then he runs off into the night before she can respond.
Back in Hancock Hall, the shit is hitting the fan. Lionel confidently struts, keeping Coco from snatching the mic from him (though it looks like she’s not trying THAT hard). “I wonder how many people here know how much power this administration is willing to give the Hancocks over a $10 million donation,” Lionel tells the audience. “Especially when this school’s endowment is $14 billion with a B.” He then swings the knockout punch: “Right about now, you should be receiving an alert from the Winchester Independent website. You can read all about this!”
People’s phones start blowing up with Lionel’s article, titled “A.P. House held ransom.” Even the folks outside stop fighting so they can read this blistering exposé. Silvio confronts Lionel for disobeying orders, but after Lionel cusses him out in defiance, Silvio passionately kisses him. A journalist — and a couple — is born.
In light of Lionel’s article, and all the memories of how he was used as a pawn by his father, Troy finally has his Mookie in Do the Right Thing moment. He smashes the locked door of Hancock Hall with a shovel and is immediately arrested. Dean Fairbanks arrives outside in time to see one of the cops pulling a gun on a struggling Troy. “Don’t shoot!” he cries. “That’s my son!” Thankfully, Troy is spared. As the cops drag him away, Sam stands next to the dean. It’s a chilling callback to the moment in “Chapter VI” when Dean Fairbanks denied Troy would ever face down a cop’s gun.
Dear White People ends on Defamation Wednesday at Armstrong-Parker. Silvio and Lionel attend. Reggie tells Joelle he’s available. Even Coco and Sam reconcile. But there are no concrete answers. We don’t know the fate of Armstrong-Parker, nor if Lionel’s article had any repercussions. All we know is that the silliness of Defamation continues to be a welcome distraction from all that concerns the black and brown denizens of Armstrong-Parker. In the final shot, they all look at us, hoping Dear White People has been a worthy distraction from all our troubles as well.