Dear White People
It’s election day at Winchester University. Running for student body president are Aidan Calloway, a “natural born leader”; Colin Maxwell, whose slogan is “leadership matters”; and Muffy Tuttle, a “leader who listens.” “With candidates like these, voter turnout tends to be rather anemic,” our narrator tells us. “That is, until this year.” Eagle-eyed viewers of “Chapter II” may have noticed the campaign poster of the fourth candidate, Troy Fairbanks, hanging on Lionel’s wall. Troy’s the only person of color on the ballot, which means he’s the only one dabbing when Dear White People announces him onscreen.
“Chapter III” is all about Troy, from his troubled relationship with his father, Dean Fairbanks (the great Obba Babatundé) to his uncanny ability to be the quintessential politician. Troy is so good at being a politician that he makes the standard mistake that many politicians before him have also made: He lets his dick get him into trouble.
With one day left before the election, the campaign of “Trobama” (as he’s called by dumb jock Thane Lockwood) is gaining traction due to fallout from the blackface party. Our narrator surmises the reason: “With students of color needing an advocate and white students needing to assuage their guilt, Troy became the man of the hour.”
As the episode opens, we see Troy schmoozing at the lily-white fundraiser party thrown by his father and Winchester University’s President Fletcher (John Rubinstein). After politely sidestepping stereotypical comments disguised as compliments, Troy gets texted a picture of the blackface party from Lionel. Immediately, Troy tries to inform his father, who cruelly dismisses him. “Perpetually in the shadow of his father, Troy has never had success standing up to him,” we’re told, as a montage of examples floods the screen. One particular example is gasp-worthy — it reveals that Troy and Sam were once an item! We’ll have to wait for more information on that, unfortunately.
Outrage over the party causes Troy to grow a spine. He yells at his father before calling the cops and running to the blackface event. “Thanks for the heads-up,” he tells Lionel upon arriving. “Just make sure they don’t arrest the black kids!” Lionel responds as the police swarm Garmin House. The university president’s son (and head of Pastiche) Kurt Fletcher is confused as to why there’s even a party, because at this moment, nobody knows Sam sent out the invites. We learn that Kurt and Troy have a history that dates back to their childhood: Whenever Kurt makes a mess, Troy bails him out. So this feels like business as usual, that is, until it interferes with Troy’s political ascent.
“Chapter III” replays the scenes leading to Lionel’s haircut from Troy’s perspective. We see Troy finishing a bout of energetic sex with Colandrea, a.k.a. Coco (Antoinette Robertson), just before Lionel knocks on his door. Back in “Chapter I,” we saw a bit of the antagonistic relationship between Coco and Sam, so Troy must have had a role in this feud. Before meeting Lionel, Troy bids goodbye to Coco, who is putting on an outfit that’s not the same as the one she took off the night before. Of the wardrobe change, Coco points out that “walks of shame are for the ratchet!”
As he’s switching to music on his laptop, Troy gets a text from his father ordering him to his office. (Aside: Did you notice the song is different than it was in “Chapter II?” Perhaps the Softones song that played during the haircut was a figment of Lionel’s imagination.) Troy arrives in time to hear Dean Fairbanks dressing down Sam White.
“You’re going to cause a race riot on my campus!” the dean yells. “You don’t accuse your doctor of infecting you because she diagnosed your problem,” Sam retorts. The dean puts her on probation and demands she find a better outlet for her “misplaced rage,” which he thinks might sink his son’s chance to become the first black student body president in Winchester University history. The show hasn’t mentioned this yet, but in the film version, Dean Fairbanks and President Fletcher were schoolmates, with the latter being a lousy student compared to the former’s multi-degree-earning brilliance. And yet, Fletcher wound up being the boss despite Fairbanks being much more qualified for the top job. That had to sting, no matter how well Fairbanks plays it off in public.
Anyway, the dean doesn’t think his son is shucking and jiving — I mean campaigning — hard enough to become the Obama of Winchester. In frustration, he drops his prim and proper act, code switching to address his son: “Look, nigga, you gonna hit these ivy-lined streets and you will leave neither hand unshaken nor baby unkissed.” Troy embraces his inner Bill Clinton and sets out to show every type of student he feels their pain. The newly shorn Lionel suggests that he tag along on Troy’s quest. “So this is for the newspaper?” Troy asks. “Um, yeah,” Lionel lies, doing his best to hide the puppy-dog eyes he’s making at Troy.
On the campaign trail, Troy nerds it up with the computer-science majors (“number one on my agenda is to get better Wi-Fi”); gets outraged alongside the feminists (”number one on my agenda is to make every social club open to all genders”); speaks Spanish with the Latinx students (the gardener behind them says in Spanish, “It’s a pity we can’t vote”); and makes perfect dumplings for the Asian Student Caucus. Hell, he even plays tug-of-war with the football players after sweet-talking star linebacker Thane Lockwood (“getting you all the pussy is number one on my agenda”). From an agenda perspective, Troy has more number ones than Mariah Carey.
Everybody swoons at Troy’s stirring rhetoric — except for Sam. “So we should vote for you because your father’s the HNIC?” she asks at the Black Student Caucus. When Troy asks what he can do to earn her vote, Sam tosses the current issue of Pastiche at him. The cover is a picture of a lawn jockey, the racist darky ornament that represents the magazine’s latest attempt at satire. Troy promises to go after Kurt and shame the magazine if he’s elected. “Am I the only one who can see this emperor is bare-ass naked?” Sam asks. “Well, you can vote for one of the other candidates,” Troy says, “if you can tell them apart.” Later, in the voting booth, Troy takes his own advice and votes for Aidan.
Meanwhile, President Fletcher issues Troy a demand disguised as a request: He wants Troy to look out for Kurt politically. Unfortunately, Kurt is a privileged asshole whose racist agenda clashes with the core tenets of Troy’s Black Student Caucus. When Troy confronts Kurt over the Pastiche cover and the blackface party, he correctly assumes that the only reason Kurt canceled the event was due to Mr. Fletcher’s interference. “You are tiptoeing toward a piece of shit,” Troy warns when Kurt demands to be part of his administration. Unbeknownst to Troy, Kurt is about to turn that tiptoe into a sprint.
On election night, Dear White People throws a very sexy monkey wrench into Troy’s political machine. Veteran actress Nia Long guest-stars as Nika Hobbs, an African-American Studies professor and student body liaison. While I’d never kick the multitalented Nia Long out of my TV, her role in “Chapter III” is an unsatisfying and convoluted deus ex machina. She’s introduced at Troy’s campaign party with her lesbian partner, Monique, but it’s immediately evident that her romantic loyalties lie elsewhere.
“Your father always introduces us whenever I see you,” Professor Hobbs says later to Troy, her secret lover. They’re at their rendezvous point, the boathouse where Troy practices his crew duties. Troy says the dean has the “eye of the tiger, memory of the goldfish.” He also tells her that he’s starting to believe all the political woof tickets he’s been selling to potential voters. There might be an honest politician in him after all! As their chat turns into a sexual encounter, director Tina Mabry shoots it from the point of view of someone recording the event. That someone turns out to be Kurt.
A text from Dean Fairbanks awakens the lovers in the boathouse. “Congratulations, son!” it reads. Troy is the first black student body president of Winchester University — and his reign is immediately rocked by tragedy. While Troy was acting out R. Kelly’s “Bump N’ Grind” with Professor Hobbs, Thane Lockwood was reenacting “I Believe I Can Fly.” “He couldn’t fly,” says the student who informs Troy of Thane’s deadly leap.
While smoking weed to cope with this news, Troy receives a text from Kurt. Attached is the blackmail video of his tryst with Professor Hobbs. “Let’s talk about social pardons,” Kurt’s message says. Compared to this brewing scandal, the political shenanigans of Defamation don’t look so far-fetched.