“On These I Stand” wastes no time addressing the question looming over everything: What lies ahead for Darla and Ralph Angel?
The episode begins moments after last week’s ended. Ralph Angel is crouched to the ground, his face wavering between devastation and deep confusion. Darla out of focus behind him saying, “I wish I didn’t have to say this to you … I never wanted to hurt anyone.” But I’m not sure he’s listening. This week, the actors bring their A-game as their characters navigate emotional wreckage and new beginnings. The direction by Christina Voros is exemplary, adding to my belief that Queen Sugar is the most evocatively directed series currently on television. But there is something about the writing of the episode that feels off, almost like filler until the real drama and lingering questions are addressed.
In light of Darla’s startling confession, Ralph Angel drives off as if in a trance. After his tearful confusion and shock, Ralph Angel hardens himself, driving with steely determination to a destination that is never made clear. He and Darla don’t interact for the majority of the episode, beyond the opening scene and the one time he picks up Darla’s call.
Darla: “Ralph Angel, please come home.”
Ralph Angel: “What home?”
The lack of interaction and refusal to give audiences an answer about their future makes sense. You don’t come back from such a confession quickly. Emotions are too intense and scattered to consider any course for your future in a practical sense. But it’s frustrating how Ralph Angel has a minimal presence, leaving me yearning to understand his current mental state. Where is Ralph Angel going? What other questions does he have? How does he feel about Blue? Beyond the shock and devastation that actor Kofi Siriboe beautifully portrays, the immediate aftermath feels a bit poorly sketched out. But at the end of the episode, Hollywood drags a drunk Ralph Angel into Violet’s home, so we have an idea of how he spent his time at least. Ultimately, my larger issue is the revelation itself.
Let’s be honest: Ralph Angel’s stoicism belies his emotional immaturity and the vulnerability he handles so poorly. This is a man who has a lot of growing up to do, but when asked to do more than he’s willing, he lashes out at Darla. She has a messy past that Ralph Angel often can’t see beyond. Remember, just a few episodes ago, how coldly he acted when Darla was confronted by a figure from her past making lewd comments in the parking lot? A few therapy sessions won’t fix such issues. Just when he was learning to respect Darla, this confession disrupts that growth. Now Ralph Angel has a reason to be cruel, rather than wholly and thoroughly dissecting his toxic masculinity. I can’t see their relationship surviving after this.
The episode does give Bianca Lawson a lot of material, which she handles wonderfully. Some of my favorite scenes involve Darla alone, her body shuddering with utter sorrow as she struggles to reckon with the fact that she may have wrecked her life. There is a moving scene in which Darla and her mother, Darlene, sit on the porch reconnecting after she’s picked up Blue from school. Darlene further illuminates everything she and Quincy went through in recent years: They came down to Louisiana nine times looking for Darla, seeing more than they could handle as they searched halfway houses in the process. They increasingly worried about Darla’s fate, which became a burden they couldn’t bear. Then Darlene makes an admission that cracks the scene in two, opening up a new dimension in their relationship: “I started drinking again.”
Darlene was sober for 23 years, but coming down to search for Darla (who was of course dealing with her own addiction) caused something to unravel in her. This admission makes her parents’ need for distance and the stress on their marriage all the more clear. It also gives new context to Darla’s addiction. Darlene proves to be great support for Darla, but what happens when she leaves? Violet, who finally reveals her lupus diagnosis to Hollywood, would usually be the salve for whatever problems plague the Bordelon siblings. But she’s worried about being a burden and hesitates to admit her diagnosis to them. The tender dynamic between Hollywood and Violet is probably my favorite aspect of this episode. When he says, “We’ll get through this … all of us,” I believed him.
Meanwhile, Charley’s issues are professional in nature. Her story line this week begins with bad news: Two farmers are forced to stop using her mill because the Landrys have threatened their leases, which could cause them to lose their land. (Sam Landry’s animosity at this point shows how threatened he is by Charley. But is he an unstoppable force?) Although Charley encourages the farmers to fight against this injustice, they don’t think this is a fight worth having or one Charley can win. So she calls up Martin Bennington, the man who owns hundreds of acres and is distantly related to the Landrys, whom his mother introduced a few episodes ago when they were golfing. Landing Martin would push Charley’s business to new heights. He says all the right things, complimenting her business plan and acknowledging his privilege. “Blood is blood but business is business,” Charley says to him at one point. Nevertheless, it’s obvious Martin has much more than business on his mind. He’s downright flirtatious until finally asking Charley out for dinner. When Charley admits she’s in a relationship, he’s undeterred, acting surprised she’d fall into something serious so soon after her divorce. He insists they go to dinner, saying they’ll discuss business if that means she’ll agree. (Take a hint, Martin. Does this man understand boundaries?)
When Remy sees the gift basket Martin sent full of very expensive alcohol, he seems a bit jealous. Earlier in the episode, Remy remarks that they’re both too old to play games. But he also makes some odd remarks about Charley’s willingness to do what it takes to meet her goals and that she should play this game with Martin carefully. I’m not sure I like what he’s inferring about Charley.
Nova is also dealing with professional dilemmas. After the heartbreaking good-bye with Calvin last week, her story line returns to its more blunt approach to political identity. She finds out that the Ninth Ward is getting a grant, something her journalism and activism deserves credit for. But Nova hesitates to join the board responsible for allocating the funds. The decision grows even more complicated when she’s invited by her old friend, Red, to a party. Although several people are happy to see Nova, the newly introduced Mia looks at her with pure venom the moment she walks in. Mia accuses her of spreading “alternative facts” and being a publicity hound whose activism is empty-hearted. She also pointedly remarks that Nova can be in the boardroom or a part of the community, not both. That’s a limited way to view things. Considering Nova’s sincerity and efforts, I don’t think Mia’s accusations hold up. (Although I question the worth of Nova’s Zika story.) Honestly, I’m less interested in the political ramifications of people like Mia being unhappy with Nova’s increasing profile than the personal ones. Nova’s story line, much like Queen Sugar as a whole, is always at its best when uncovering emotional contradictions and the impact of familial legacies.
• Where is Darla’s father during this episode? Quincy’s distance from this week’s narrative feels less like a remark on his current feelings toward Darla than an oversight.
• Nova pawns off the pearl necklace Robert gave her. That was quick!
• The moment when Charley calls Martin and almost mentions her former last name (“West”) is telling about where she is in life.
• This week, Micah notices that his private school has the belongings and pictures of a Confederate soldier on display as a way to honor a brutal, racist history. His discomfort with this display and his friends’ nonchalance — one white peer says, “My take on it is if we pretend the Confederacy never existed, we forget how far we’ve come” — is positioned as a political awakening. In the wake of Micah’s harrowing run-in with the cop, his perspective has deeply changed. This story line has a lot of potential, even though some of the dialogue is a bit too blunt. I hope Micah turns to Nova for help with protesting his school’s display.