“Elder. Scam.” is the second straight episode of Black-ish to deal with the issue of brain health in the African-American community. While “Mother Nature” delved into Rainbow’s postpartum depression, “Elder. Scam.” gets into neurological degeneration, in this case Dre’s anxiety over his aging mother’s cognitive functions. The subjects are slightly different, but the argument underlying both of them is both nuanced and radical: Black women carry a ton of weight and responsibility on their shoulders, often without complaining or doing anything to betray the stress they’re under. Although they might look like they’re keeping it together, it’s up to their loved ones to check in. It’s true that “black don’t crack,” but sometimes the damage is internal.
Dre learns that Ruby might be losing a step when he discovers that she sent money to online scammers who claimed to have kidnapped Junior. (The biggest surprise here might be that Ruby shelled out money to get Junior back, since he is as much a punching bag for the Johnsons as Family Guy’s Meg is to the Griffins.) He’s immediately concerned because not only did Ruby used to be immune to being flimflammed, but because she used to do the flimflamming. Growing up, Dre watched his mother hatch all manner of schemes, and now he’s having to watch her swallow a bitter taste of her own medicine. Ruby was hesitant to believe that Rainbow was dealing with postpartum depression, so naturally she’s stubborn when Dre starts hinting about the possibility of dementia. But aging takes its toll, even when your outward appearance doesn’t let on.
Ruby is still a scammer at heart, so rather than trying to quell her son’s concerns about her mental state, she amplifies them to weasel Dre out of a new car. Ruby provides increasingly alarming proof of her cognitive decline, which culminates in her driving her car straight through the garage door. Eventually, Ruby admits that she might not have fallen for the kidnapping scheme in her younger days, but she doesn’t want to be treated like an invalid. Especially when she’s still so gorgeous, a point even Dre has to concede. The story doesn’t have quite as much dramatic impact as Bow and Ruby’s conflict in “Mother Nature,” but it does drive home the point that looking okay isn’t the same thing as being okay.
There’s a weird lack of continuity from the last episode, though, an obvious consequence of Black-ish airing its episodes out of their production order in season four. In “Mother Nature,” Bow demanded that Ruby move out of the Johnson house immediately, and Dre is seen peering into his mother’s empty room. A week later, Ruby is back in the house as if nothing ever happened, and as if they’ve never had a conversation about Ruby’s constant insults. Black-ish is at the point where it should be ready to handle some lightly serialized stories, but in order to make them work, ABC needs to air the episodes in some kind of logical order.
That said, the show has done an interesting and impressive job of bridging Zoey’s life at home with her new life on the forthcoming Black-ish spinoff. Trevor Jackson returns as Aaron, the impossibly cute student Zoey met during her freshman orientation. He’s in town for a music festival, so Zoey offers to let him crash with the Johnsons. (She apparently didn’t clear the invitation with Bow, who’s alarmed to find out a man “born in the ’90s” is with her daughter behind a closed door.) Zoey doesn’t see Aaron as a potential romantic interest — gotta watch the spinoff for that — but Diane certainly does. The most treacherous Johnson child retracts her fangs in a bid to woo Aaron away from Zoey. In addition to giving Aaron deeper roots in the Black-ish universe, the story line gives the episode some of its biggest laughs. So, when will we finally get a Diane spinoff?