Dear White People
In my “Chapter I” recap, I asked, “Is Gabe really this naïve, or is there a bit of vindictiveness at play here?” Well, “Chapter VII” attempts to shine some light on the question. The first episode’s Defamation hate-watch at Armstrong-Parker was a precursor for this episode’s climactic confrontation, but before we get there, our old reliable narrator sets the stage:
“Gabe Mitchell didn’t always love being a white face in a mostly black part of an overwhelmingly white place. He checked his privilege. He would never presume his voice was more important than anyone else around him. Gabe didn’t always love dodging the landmines of identity politics until he met her.”
The “her” in question is Samantha White. “When these two film majors got together,” our narrator tells us, “it was like Godard in color.” I assume the comparisons to Godard would make Gabe put up with all the complaints about the white man that Sam and the others toss about on a daily basis. However, we learn that deep inside, Gabe wants to occasionally yell out, “Just because I’m a white male doesn’t automatically mean I’m some asshole!” You forgot the “straight” part, Gabe. Let’s cover all our bases here.
So Gabe loves Sam, but is the feeling truly mutual? As “Chapter VII” opens, Gabe is standing outside the pep rally trying to call her. She’s missing in action, and no, the show is not about to give up the reason why. Joelle, sensing the obvious scenario that Sam’s banging Reggie, tells Gabe they should just join the protest.
The protest doesn’t go well. For starters, nobody in Reggie’s crew has a ticket. Adding insult to injury, everyone is thrown out after Al starts yelling angry monologues from the Denzel Washington versus King Kong classic, Training Day.
After the botched protest, Gabe shows up at Sam’s dorm. Surprisingly, she’s home. He’s brought her some vanilla ice cream; she’s brought him something that could be read as extreme guilt, though again, we don’t know for sure. Sam brushes off Gabe’s advances in favor of a shower. “I won’t be long,” she tells him. Gabe is suspicious, and his suspicions only get worse during the next day’s meeting at Armstrong-Parker, where Reggie keeps shooting him the “I did your girl” look. Not even Troy’s outrageous announcement of a town hall meeting to “facilitate a discussion on racial tensions here at Winchester” can shake Gabe out of his potentially cuckolded panic.
Director Nisha Ganatra lets us peek into Gabe’s paranoid film-student mind, and what we see is a series of film homages starring Reggie and Sam in flagrante delicto or damn close to it. We’re treated to a spoof of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, blaxploitation, and two of the films of Spike Lee. The choice of Lee is especially meta when you realize that one homage re-creates a scene that featured Giancarlo Esposito’s School Daze character, Big Brother All-Migh-TEE.
Sam does little to soothe Gabe’s fears. She’s in charge of doling out protest assignments to everyone, and she’s pairing people up. The rationale is to unite every marginalized group on campus to protest Troy’s town hall. It’s a good Martin–bad Malcolm kind of tactic. “You need me to be me,” Sam tells Troy. “The more radical she looks, the more logical you become,” Gabe adds.
On Scooby Doo, remember how Fred used to send Velma off with Shaggy and Scooby so he could be alone with Daphne? Well, Sam sends Gabe off with Joelle so she can work with Reggie on the protest. From here, “Chapter VII” becomes a road trip starring Sam’s White Bae and her brown BFF, two soldiers on a quest to round up the usual marginalized suspects. Of course, Gabe’s not going to stop pestering Joelle for information.
“You do know I am not with Sam 24 hours a day!” Joelle says when Gabe first broaches the Reggie subject. He swears he’s not concerned, but he can’t stop talking. Eventually he blurts out, “This is not me, really. I’m not worried.” In response, Joelle looks at him with look that screams, “This white boy can’t handle what I’m about to say.” Gabe catches it immediately and demands more information. Joelle is surprised he read her glance correctly, but keeps her mouth shut.
Their first stop is the Asian Student Alliance, whose leader Annie is so excited about the idea that she’s willing to move the group’s screening of Bowling for Columbine to another day. When Joelle asks what the documentary has to do with being Asian, Annie gets REAL salty. “What, just cuz we’re Asians doesn’t mean we can’t care about gun violence?” she asks incredulously. “We can only get together to watch Rashomon and have conversations about the need for sword control?!”
“At least she’s still onboard after you low-key hate-crimed her,” Gabe says after they leave. Then he brings up Reggie and Sam again. A frustrated Joelle tells him to “fight for your relationship.”
The next stop is to the Young Democrats. Unfortunately, they’ve already agreed to join Troy’s town hall. The leader of that crew flirts with Joelle, who shoots him down with extreme prejudice. “What was wrong with him?” Gabe asks. “Not my type,” Joelle says. When Gabe presses her on what her type might actually be, going so far as to offer to hook her up, she playfully yells out, “Stop following me, crazy man!”
Speaking of crazy, the leader of the LGBTQIA group has some insane gossip about Annie from Asian Students Alliance. Seems that the ASA stole the idea of showing Bowling for Columbine from the LGBTQIA group as some sort of romance-based revenge. “You tell Annie to cut it out,” says the group’s leader, “or I’ll tell her boyfriend where she really goes when she says she’s at the library!” Gabe drags Joelle away before she can get all up in this Kool-Aid.
Soon after, Gabe finally gets Joelle to open up about her type of man — and immediately deduces she’s talking about Reggie. “Why hasn’t this happened yet?!” he asks. “Why do you think?” Joelle responds, letting the insinuation hang in the air. Joelle tells Gabe she doesn’t know if Reggie and Sam slept together. “But what I do know is that she smiles with you. It’s head to toe. With you, she smiles from her socks.”
That’s when Gabe drops a huge bombshell, the one that led me back to my original question about naïveté and vindictiveness. “Joelle, I called the cops the other night,” he says. “I thought I was protecting everybody. I thought it would keep things from getting out of control. I thought I was doing the right thing.” Joelle looks as if she’s been sucker punched. She demands that Gabe never tell Sam before walking off in disgust.
I find it hard to believe that Gabe is innocent here. After all the time he’s spent around black folks, you’d think he’d be aware of what might happen when the cops show up to investigate an altercation involving someone who looks like Reggie. Even if I were to concede that Gabe didn’t know the campus police had guns, I think he’d know they might arrest Reggie or beat his ass. That’s one sure way to get your rival out of the picture.
Later that evening, Gabe picks a fight with Sam. When she asks if something is wrong, he tells her she’s a study in extremes: Either she wants him all the time or flat-out denies his existence. “You’re like a dude,” he says. “You’re right,” Sam agrees before apologizing. Gabe then professes his love, and the way John Patrick Amedori handles writer Jack Moore’s wacky though sincere dialogue is a thing of beauty. Gabe lists all the things he loves about her, ending with “I love … you.” To his surprise, Sam echoes the sentiment.
Cut to the duo in bed discussing the logistics of their relationship. “As long as we’re honest with each other,” Sam says. You just know that line’s going to come back to bite Gabe in the ass — and sure enough, he gets chomped the next morning. Sam gets a text of Lionel’s latest article. “Lionel is so goddamn good!” she says. “He found the 9-1-1 call that proves the cops overreacted.” After Sam listens to it, Gabe says, “That could be anybody.” But Sam knows her lover’s voice. Wounded and angry, she leaves.
When Gabe shows up at Armstrong-Parker, he’s met by a roomful of angry black men and women. “I can explain,” Gabe says. “Why did you call the cops?” Al asks. “What the fuck did you think would happen? Why are you even here?” Reggie asks. Gabe motions toward Sam and says, “For her.” Sam’s not having it. As Reggie puts his arm around her, Gabe looks at us and utters the only appropriate word he can say: “Fuck.”