After a weeklong break, The Chi returns with “Today Was a Good Day,” an episode titled in homage to Ice Cube’s sleepy 1992 banger. Beyond that shout out, though, this is an episode that focuses on the quotidian dealings of its characters and their interactions both mundane and perverse.
“Today Was a Good Day” opens with Emmett parkour-ing his way through the streets on his way to work. The Chi has shown itself to have a Spike Lee–esque nostalgia for the arcane play of children outdoors. (Remember how an earlier episode featured children tumbling on abandoned mattresses?) Here, a group of girls is jumping rope, which ensnares Emmett as he races by. Perhaps it’s meant as commentary on the ways that children are rendered homebound by violence in the streets. It feels a little anachronistic to see children playing outside like this, which is probably more telling of my own character than that of the show.
We quickly learn that Reg keeps good on his promise from the previous episode, which was ultimately a warning delivered to his younger brother, Jake: Sitting in an inflatable hot tub, surrounded by hotties and a cornucopia of other vices, Reg informed Jake that he would have to pay for the gun he stole. This week, Reg puts his brother to work in his crew as they steal an impressive fleet of semi-automatic weapons from an empty train yard — an endeavor so routine that the gang does not even wait for nightfall. Jake steals away with a gun of his own, which, considering the nigh-sadism of his older brother, honestly feels like a sensible decision. Last week, when Reg ordered one of the female hot-tub-ettes over to his brother, I felt more than a little queasy about what the half-naked woman planned to do with him. But instead of seducing Jake, she kicked him in the groin. If I had an older brother who was prone to spontaneous hot-tub parties, threatened me with clippers, and instructed a woman to physically assault me, I would probably feel safer with a gun too. The first thing Jake does with the weapon is take a photo and presumably post it. I’m sure this will come back to bite him, and soon.
I’m incredibly frustrated by the show’s handling of Jake and Reg’s relationship. Brandon was capable of fraternal protectiveness and empathy for Kevin, even after the youngster almost got him killed. Why does Brandon have more empathy for a boy that tried to kill him than Reg does for his own brother? It seems indicative of The Chi’s refusal to allow its characters to veer outside of their assigned “good” or “evil” boxes. It felt more likely to me that Reg, who is himself ensnared in street life, would instead work to protect his brother from it. The pair is also conspicuously parent-less. If Reg is raising his brother, why does he have so little impulse to protect him?
From Reg and Jake, the episode moves on to Brandon and his cousin as they attempt relaxation and serenity in a backyard. It’s a nice moment of quietude. I most enjoy this show when the comedy is moved to the fore, and scenes like this one that focus on non-dysfunctional interactions between the men.
Until Brandon and the boys visit the corner store, which allows Maisha time and opportunity to steal Kevin’s bike. The handling of Maisha’s character so far is among the show’s worst impulses. There are so many situations that could have been drawn out for their comedic potential, but Maisha is not one of them. When Kevin later winds up at her home, he has a little bit of sympathy and offers her a quick hand-hold session as well as the bike. He only does so after viewing the relatively bare apartment that Maisha calls home. It’s not enough to allow the briefest glimpse into her home life, however. When she opened to door to greet Kevin, I wasn’t sure whether the child on her hip was her own or a younger sibling. The character has been mishandled in a way that felt wholly irresponsible to me: It seems like the show’s approach to Maisha is predicated on the notion that her romantic urges — which The Chi makes sexual, especially in comparison to the relatively innocent crushes and antics of the other kids — are comedic. We are supposed to understand that as a bigger girl, she is undesirable and deserves to be treated as such.
Elsewhere, Ronnie reminds Tracy that it is her fault that he murdered Coogie and was subsequently shot. She responds with textbook coldness and flippancy, returning her dead son’s cell phone and kicking Ronnie out on the streets as he bleeds from his shotgun wound. It’s such a callous and almost emotionless moment for this woman, who has very recently lost a child. Tracy indirectly demanded that Ronnie avenge her son’s death, then put him out of her home while he was bleeding. This show has very little empathy to extend to its black female characters and it’s becoming more than a little tiresome.
This week’s episode also brings a block party, finally drawing all of the characters to one location. The Chi has previously fumbled its attempts at realistic party scenarios, but this one succeeds. The block party feels lively and pleasant, playing the old-school songs I’ve come to think of as synonymous with these types of gatherings. Of course, it’s Reg who threatens the fun, yanking Jake away from his friends and nearly pounding a DJ if he doesn’t play King L or other, more contemporary bops. I don’t know how to feel about a character who threatens the physical well-being of a DJ at a public, family-friendly gathering, except to kind of hate him. Is that what The Chi wants us to think? How many more indiscretions until he’s truly beyond redemption? It’s only Q, the soigné old timer, perennially dressed for a Cuban vacation, who ousts Reg and prevents a dustup.
Meanwhile, Jerrika, dressed like an extra from The Women of Brewster Place, runs into Brandon. He spent earlier parts of the episode stressing over the plight of their relationship, so the idea that she already has a new man is a little inconceivable. Plot twist: The new man is, seemingly, her real man. When Jerrika’s beau says, “So you must be the guy who keeps calling,” a teary Brandon asks in response, “How long have I been ‘the guy?’”
If Jerrika has moved on from their relationship in a week’s time, she’s kind of an unscrupulous bitch, but the show has already established most of its female characters as such. But if she had been playing Brandon all along, does that mean his flirtations with his boss get a pass? He’s not really an almost-adulterer, because Jerrika had already stepped out on the relationship. If Jerrika does indeed have another man, I need details. She lived with Brandon! Where did her real man think she was going every night? She’s also a working woman, so how did she find the time for two full-time relationships? Jerrika’s extraneous love affair is the plot point I wanted to see more of here.
I am, however, bored of the show’s deep investment in the innate goodness of Brandon. Reg nearly assaults a DJ for spinning songs that aren’t suited to his tastes, yet Brandon confronts his younger brother’s killer and his two-timing girlfriend within a half-hour’s time and barely raises his voice. Still, I enjoyed this episode — especially the block party and the revelation of Jerrika’s real boyfriend. The interactions between the men were well-crafted, and that’s what the show has proven to be its strong point. The groupings of younger boys (Kevin, Poppa, and Jake) as well as the older ones (Brandon and his cousin) show a knack for understanding and recreating the inner lives of men. If The Chi isn’t going to do its female characters justice, it might as well just focus more on those group dynamics instead.