Queen Sugar has established its deliberate rhythm, so the drama of Charley’s confrontation on the basketball court or Nova’s passionate scolding before Ernest’s funeral can’t be expected in every episode. Even as audiences flock to the unpredictable flash and bang of Shondaland dramas, though, the quiet action and slower pacing of shows like Queen Sugar and Atlanta can also drive storytelling from week to week. In “The Darker Sooner,” the Bordelon family learns how to live without Ernest, although old wounds between siblings threaten their growing bonds.
Nova continues her investigation into for-profit prison systems, highlighting how many black minors are given excessive sentences based on plea bargains. During an interview with one former prisoner who faced 25 years to life for possession, Nova shares that her brother used to be in jail. She won’t hesitate to use Ralph Angel’s past to aid her investigation, but it turns out she barely showed any compassion toward her brother when he was locked up. Charley pressures Nova into calling Ralph Angel to check on his progress buying seed cane for the farm, but he resents his sisters looking over his shoulder. Ralph Angel reminds Nova that she manages to make more time for her sources in jail than she did when he was imprisoned. She has nothing to counter that claim, and his pain drives a wedge between them.
After being stood up at the DA’s office for a meeting, Nova turns to an ACLU rep to find out how she can crack her story. Plea bargains lead to convictions, which keep the prisons full, which keep the for-profit prisons operable and making money. Throughout her filmmaking career, Ava DuVernay has been committed to exposing injustice in the prison industrial complex. Her movie Middle of Nowhere highlights how the prison industry takes advantage of prisoners’ families. The 13th examines the mass incarceration of black Americans and its connection to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Queen Sugar picks up the mantle of exposing the prison industry, broadcasting its message to audiences who may not have access to film festivals or cannot afford trips to the movie theater. Ralph Angel and Nova are vehicles to keep the conversation going.
Of course, Ralph Angel is also trying his best to manage the farm. He knows everyone is watching him — especially Charley, who recruits Nova and Remy to make sure he’s doing everything he’s supposed to do. At first, things seem to be going his way. He gets access to the farm’s financial accounts. A co-worker lets him have a few hours off so he can buy seed cane. By the time Ralph Angel gets to the plant, though, the owner is closing up. And, it turns out, there’s no seed cane left to buy. You’re supposed to order in advance, but Ralph Angel wasn’t aware of that. His old co-worker mentions that he has family with a sugarcane farm they’re shutting down, so they sell Ralph Angel enough seed cane for 70 acres. Unfortunately, even that small glimmer of hope dies out: When Remy examines the product, he concludes that it’s infected with fungus. “Dead cane don’t produce sugar,” Remy says. And now the farm is out $15,000.
The family is already more than a month behind where they need to be to turn a profitable harvest. They can’t afford this kind of setback, but nevertheless, the sisters work to keep their faith in Ralph Angel. Nova eventually apologizes for not being there when he needed her, and he compliments her investigative report. It’s clear the Bordelons will face bumpy moments as brother and sisters work together in ways they never have, but it’s also obvious that they’re committed to each other.
In the midst of all this, Violet still feels out of sorts with her grieving process, unclear how her nieces and nephew were able to get over Ernest’s death so quickly. Nova assures her they’re over nothing; they’re just pushing through, echoing advice she gave to Charley earlier in the episode. They all have to get back to the living.
With that mantra in mind, Charley tries to restore order to her life in Los Angeles by managing Davis’s career. She thinks she can compartmentalize, but truthfully, she’s put the role of dutiful wife on pause. Charley hires a cutthroat criminal lawyer named Estelle Peterson, who uses a P.I. to track down Goldie, the sex worker accusing Davis of rape. Charley tells Estelle to use whatever means she can to make the accusations go away, but Goldie isn’t interested in a big payout. Next week’s episode will presumably reveal what Goldie wants, but in the meantime, Micah is feeling the effects of his dad’s accusations.
At school, Micah finds out someone has built a Tumblr page about him and his girlfriend, Stella, accusing him of being like his father. Stella’s mother gives Charley the cold shoulder and no longer wants Micah to come to the house without explicit permission. But the biggest blow to Micah’s high-school life comes when he’s expelled for texting Stella a lewd picture. He tells Charley the picture isn’t his, and he’s heartbroken that Stella has been cheating. How else would she get a picture like that?
Poor Micah. The early scenes of Micah and Stella being sickly sweet are pretty cringe-worthy, if only because teenagers slow things down too much on adult dramas. From the moment Stella appeared on Micah’s FaceTime, making fun of the names in the Bordelon family, it was easy to see she was trouble. And there was no way those tender moments between them weren’t going to end with Micah in tears. But again, props to “The Darker Sooner” for allowing its male characters to be emotionally vulnerable. Men get frustrated and have their feelings hurt, too. It’s no small thing that Queen Sugar lets us see black men express a full range of emotions.
Charley also reveals a bit more of herself, as she tells Micah how Davis’s case may play out because he is a black man. She even shows some of her southern roots when he doesn’t immediately answer her questions about the picture on Stella’s phone. We’ve seen Charley play up her role as the upper-class Bordelon with ice in her veins, but she’s all fire when it comes to family. She’s certainly warming up to Remy, too, laughing at all of his jokes over the phone. Something is building there, and as Charley deals with the fallout from Davis and Goldie, it’s only a matter of time before she turns to Remy for more than farming advice.