The third episode of The Chi, “Ghosts,” takes its name from the looming specter of Coogie. The dead boy’s ghost visits Ronnie, shirtless and slurring in a smoky basement, reminding Ronnie of the loose ends he needs to tie up by way of Kevin. The hallucination incites him, and the rest of the episode is spent with Ronnie in pursuit of, and then in negotiation with, Kevin.
“Ghosts” is certainly a fitting title for such a shadowy hour: Under the direction of David Rodriguez, the vast majority of the action takes place at night, under train underpasses, in basements, and other darkened enclaves. Only a couple of scenes are set in the stark bright of day. Helmed by episode writers Ayanna Floyd Davis (Empire, Hannibal) and Adam Glass (Supernatural, Criminal Minds), the moniker alludes to the varied demons haunting each of the male leads, their ennui made visible via the darkened, moody atmosphere.
We begin as Brandon attempts to purchase a gun, an interaction that goes awry when he and his co-worker are instead robbed and assaulted. The contusion on Brandon’s forehead, present throughout the rest of the episode, serves as a scarlet reminder of his digression back to a way of life that he (and his girlfriend) thought he had escaped. When he makes it home to tell Jerrika of his antics with the gun — of his intentions to avenge his brother’s death — his head hangs, while Jerrika sighs and glares at him.
We’re seeing a pattern emerge with the treatment of Jerrika and the other female characters on this show, especially romantic interests: They often take the benign, authoritarian tone of a principal or well-intended teacher. It’s not quite maternal, but they do feel authoritative in a way that’s cloying, especially Jerrika. She reminds Brandon of their plans, of his responsibility to her and them. Later, Brandon sweet-talks Jerrika into meeting with his mother, Laverne, who is apparently planning to sell their family home. Like a teacher being wooed by her misbehaving favorite, Jerrika relents and agrees to meet with her.
Laverne’s abuses towards Jerrika have calmed, somewhat, in the scene that follows, to a comedic and only slightly acidic tenor, especially when she refers to Jerrika’s Hyde Park–dwelling parents as “probably some Jack and Jill types.” Later in the episode, that Laverne softens a little more, revealing her awareness of the fact that Brandon believed Coogie to be her favorite boy, the child she loved better. “He just needed me more,” she says to him before they embrace. It’s a disarmingly honest parental moment: Not just the admission of a favorite, but the revelation of the reasoning behind it, finally adds some dimension to the character and made me feel for her. I hope that Laverne’s efflorescence continues in future episodes.
Emmett begins this episode again in the midst of a sexual tryst with Keisha. He narrowly makes it out of her window before her mother enters. After three episodes, Emmett is the character that’s grown on me the most. I found his struggle to find an additional job relatable and a nice embodiment of the entrapped nature of working minimum-wage gigs. He eventually turns to Reggie, the drug dealer who, up until now, remained mostly silent and glowering on his assigned block. His proposition to Emmett, offering him a spot on the corner, if he’ll have it, is his first considerable speaking role, and he vacillates from a cool, prosaic threatening presence to welcoming, conversational with ease. Like Laverne, I hope this character is given more consideration in future episodes. I worry that he’ll be treated as disposable, but I hope I’m wrong.
This episode in general dedicates much more time to its perceived villains, a role that Ronnie is slowly slipping into. After encountering Coogie’s ghost — and after last week’s revelation that he’d had no involvement in Jason’s murder — Ronnie also has to contend with a disappointed Tracy. She storms off, reminding him that he stood her up for dinner the night prior, as he pleads and cries. Again, it’s telling that the majority of the men’s interactions with women in “Ghosts” take place in the light of day. She feels as much like a principal, as slyly bitchy as Jerrika. Left to his own devices, Ronnie pursues Kevin and his friends again, this time on the school grounds, though the trio manages to escape him.
Kevin, utilizing a child’s reasoning, deduces that if he just talks to Ronnie and convinces him that he doesn’t intend to snitch, their riff can be settled. So, Kevin seeks him out and seemingly makes a deal: He’ll lure an unsuspecting Brandon to Ronnie in return for his own safety. The episode ends with a stare-down between the two men, as Kevin looks on.
This episode has been my favorite so far. It’s a glimpse into the dark and interior lives of men, excelling when it focuses on the group dynamics between them, the ways they relate to each other, how they do and do not touch and trust each other. The brief flashes of comedic ingenuity are also most apparent when the men linger in groups or pairs with each other, like when Ronnie heads back to see Meldrick, the man who bought his gun. A moment of possible sexual tension is broken when Ronnie haltingly says, “I ain’t gon suck your dick or nothing like that.” It’s funny, but it’s also indicative of what the show has lacked to this point: any nontraditional, that is, non-straight or cisgender, representations of black masculinities. Kevin and Keisha’s household is helmed by two women, as revealed in the episode’s beginning. “Ghosts” presents them as a black Leave It to Beaver–esque family, with two working, well-intended parents. Given the absence of other queer characters, we’re left with a sort of implication on the matter: In order for queer parents to be represented on screen, must they be as loving and nearly flawless as Kevin’s moms, who have a swear jar and tout familial platitudes?
On the whole, though, this episode is languidly enjoyable, as it sidesteps lots of the blunt moral bludgeoning that left previous episodes sodden. Hopefully, the burden of humanization, combined with The Chi’s tendency to self-consciously announce its moral and philosophical themes, doesn’t continue to leave characters, especially female characters, a tertiary concern.