In last week’s episode, Hollywood told Violet, “We’ve seen what secrets do to this family.” Those words prove to be a portent for heartbreak to come. “Copper Sun” considers how secrets and lies can destroy even the strongest of familial bonds when Ralph Angel reveals the truth about Blue.
“Everything is gone,” a bleary Ralph Angel admits to Hollywood before requesting that he gather the family. He can only reveal what Darla told him once. Repeating the question surrounding Blue’s paternity would make this even more harrowing. It isn’t a coincidence that Ralph Angel is avoiding Blue and has chosen not to talk to Darla further. He’s going to throw his soul into his work in order to soften the pain — ignore it, even. With Violet, Hollywood, Charley, and Nova gathered, Ralph Angel admits the truth about Blue that has been gnawing at him: “He isn’t mine.”
Ralph Angel is a ghost of himself. This isn’t a mask of stoicism; he’s hollowed out. He moves through the episode with a cloud of melancholy pervading him. Of course, his family rallies around him. The scene ends with a beautiful, evocative shot of Nova and Charley holding Ralph Angel. But here’s the thing about the “truth” Ralph Angel has told them. It isn’t quite the truth, is it? Darla introduced the possibility that Blue may not be his child. It was never definitive, but apparently that’s what Ralph Angel heard, which makes it all too easy for him to call off the wedding and harden himself.
The problem I have with the introduction of Blue’s contentious paternity crystallized as I watched this episode. It allows the Queen Sugar writers to never fully question Ralph Angel’s toxic masculinity and how coldly he acts toward Darla when faced with the faults of her past (or when events don’t go his way). I don’t think credited writers Monica Macer and Dana Greenblatt or director DeMane Davis make Darla out to be a villain. But it is heartbreaking to watch her tearfully navigate the aftermath of Ralph Angel’s revelation to his family.
The fallout is swift for Darla. When working at the Queen Sugar Mill, she locks eyes with Charley, whose face wavers between anger and shock. It’s clear there is going to be a reckoning. “You’ve been bold-face lying to my whole family for nearly seven years,” Charley says after Darla admits her loyalty to Charley and the job. But loyalty doesn’t matter in the face of this line being crossed. Charley fires Darla without hesitation. I can’t help but wonder what will happen if they find out Ralph Angel is in fact Blue’s biological father. Will Darla be forgiven? Will they try to forget this all ever happened? But Darla makes no protest.
There’s something exceedingly delicate about the way Bianca Lawson moves in the episode. When Darla gently picks up her sweater and purse lightly walking out of the office, it’s almost as if she’s trying to will herself to be invisible. Darla has framed her decision to tell Ralph Angel about her uncertainty regarding Blue’s father as a need to to tell the truth, believing it would be wrong to go into the marriage without complete transparency. But I believe there’s something even more devastating happening here: Darla has yet to forgive herself. She had to know on some level that Ralph Angel would react this way. Does she believe she doesn’t deserve happiness despite all the gains she’s made recently? Darla also decides to move in with her sponsor. But how long can that last? What about Blue’s future? When Darla sees Hollywood as she’s taking a suitcase out of the house, she can’t help but unload.
Darla: “Nothing has to change.”
Hollywood: “With all due respect, Darla, you’re smarter than that.”
Darla only wants to spend her life with Ralph Angel, but perhaps she shouldn’t have revealed her concerns about Blue’s paternity unless she was absolutely certain. I wouldn’t be surprised if either Blue ends up actually being his biological son, or if Ralph Angel decides that biology doesn’t matter in the face of his great love for the child, which is Violet’s reaction. Even though I have issues with this story line, which frankly feels a bit out of step for the series, I understand Ralph Angel’s actions. As Violet says to Nova, it is “like Blue made up for all the wrong Ralph Angel did in the past.” Blue has been the most pure thing about Ralph Angel and one of the only good things he put into the world. The possibility that Blue isn’t his child wrecks his sense of self in dramatic ways. Given that it’s harvest time, Ralph Angel at least has an important task to pour his energy into, giving him the ability to ignore, at least briefly, how his personal life is now in tatters.
Harvesting the sugar cane on the land Ralph Angel has inherited from his father should be a momentous occasion. But Ralph Angel is notably muted and distant when speaking to the farmers who will help out with the harvest. As Nova mentions, at least he’s present. Furthermore, he has everyone on his side, willing to provide the strength he doesn’t have for himself. For the Bordelon siblings, though, the harvest feels full circle. Despite the gravity of this endeavor and Charley’s pride with her mill, the event begins on a somewhat sour note thanks to the venomous intrusion of the Landrys.
The writers foreshadow this when Jacob Boudreaux shows up at the mill, demanding a private conversation with Charley although she originally insists Remy stay. Their one-on-one isn’t what you’d expect: Jacob talks sweetly to Charley, complimenting her work and marveling at how she was able to take 40 percent of his St. Josephine farmers out from under him. It’s actually 50 percent, which Charley quickly corrects him on. “I’ve never known a woman quite like you before …” Jacob says. (You haven’t met a black woman who wasn’t intimidated by your racism and underhanded machinations?) Of course, Jacob isn’t here to just flirt. He wants to partner up with Charley. Unsurprisingly, Charley firmly says no.
After getting spurned, it isn’t surprising that Jacob and Sam Landry go back to their typical bullying tactics. Soon enough, rumors are snaking their way through St. Josephine about problems with the mill. Charley then has to deal with black farmers doubting her, and one who decides not to mill with her at all. That Nova finds out her paper is going to write a story about these rumors, makes matters even worse for Charley. At least the article will be written by a colleague Nova trusts. For a moment, Charley is crestfallen. She talks to Nova and Remy about her options mitigating this mess. “I miscalculated their greed,” Charley mentions. But the Landrys miscalculated just how steely and intelligent Charley is as a woman. I can’t wait to see her confront them. But it won’t be easy. As Ralph Angel notes, the Landrys’ campaign to ruin Charley and her mill is personal. They feel Ralph Angel’s land and anything the Bordelons touch should be theirs.
With the season finale coming next week, I am left wondering what’s next for the Bordelons, particularly Ralph Angel and Darla. This episode ends with Ralph Angel in his empty home. He tearfully looks at Blue’s bedroom before slipping into the bed. Blue was Ralph Angel’s guiding light, and this is only the beginning of the fallout. I’m ultimately left with one question with regards to Ralph Angel: What comes after the hurt, forgiveness or vengeance?
• The scene toward the end in which Nova casually mentions she knows about Violet’s lupus diagnosis is so touching. Violet is truly the heart and soul of the Bordelon family.
• After Ralph mentions he’s gathered the family because of something dealing with Blue, there’s a fleeting moment when Violet gets angry, suspecting that Darla put him in danger as she did during the worst of her addiction. It’s interesting to consider that maybe the family hasn’t forgiven Darla for her past.
• Can I just say that Rutina Wesley is astoundingly gorgeous? Her look at the High Yellow with the boat-neck top was great.
• So, Micah decides on his tactic to protest the school’s Confederate artifacts: He tapes an open letter to the administration on the lockers. It has the desired effect. The principal, Dr. Shore, tells Micah that given the call from the school trustees, they’ve made the decision to take the artifacts down. But Micah’s protest also has fallout. He’s suspended for a month as his protest was considered “vandalism.” Really?