overnights

The Chi Recap: The Standoff

The Chi

Quaking Grass
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****

The Chi

Quaking Grass
Season 1 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
The Chi. Photo: Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME

“Quaking Grass” commences with the bark of a shotgun fired by unseen hands, as last week’s confrontation between Ronnie and Brandon (and precipitated by Kevin) reaches a fulcrum. Ronnie confesses to Coogie’s murder and an enraged Brandon charges, their tussle relayed via flashbacks. (The flashbacks are a little hokey, with each man or boy’s face briefly glowing bright to signal the time jump.) Brandon is the presumed gunman, but how did things get so violent so quickly?

The episode’s opening montage mostly consists of a bleeding Ronnie, the gunshot victim, stumbling around the city streets, seeking refuge and help that wouldn’t involve a police presence. The scene drags on for too long, the score used too freely; it would have been more stark and jarring, its violence more punctuated, if the moment were allowed to be silent. The camera repeatedly lingers on the image of Ronnie’s bloodied hands, a symbolic reminder that they aren’t clean — that he is not a perfect victim. At one point, Coogie’s voice comes from a mirror behind Ronnie as he washes the blood off his hands. “Hurts, don’t it?” the murdered teenager says. Ronnie’s wound rests in a similar place as Coogie’s fatal bullet, driving home the notion that this was his due karmic retribution.

It’s eventually revealed that Kevin — presumed to be a witness to the crime, but not a participant — was actually the gunman. There’s a moment when Kevin, delirious with fear after shooting Ronnie, cries in Brandon’s arms. It’s a nice moment of fraternal tenderness, the type that I wish The Chi would allow to exist without the constant trauma and dysfunction. Kevin makes it home, and his sister helps sneak him back into his bed without their mother’s knowledge.

This episode derives its title from a matcha-colored paint, which Brandon’s de facto stepfather is using to paint Coogie’s room. Brandon narrowly makes it home after a run-in with a couple of cops, but when he awakens, it’s Jerrika who he has to face: She found Kevin’s gun in his backpack.

Jerrika wakes up Brandon in tears, which quickly degenerate into punches. Her primary concern is his return to a way of life that threatens their relationship and life together, but it’s a show of such callous disregard that it’s impossible not to hate her just a little bit. The implication is that women like Jerrika simply do not understand a black man’s plight, or what he faces in the mean streets. So Brandon and his hangdog expression, along with the weapon, are banished to his mother’s house. His mother is mostly calm this week; it’s her boyfriend who’s the tyrant, insulting Brandon and making sure he knows he isn’t welcome. The dynamic between Brandon and his stepfather is so tense, you know that a confrontation of some sort is unavoidable.

Ronnie eventually makes it to his grandmother’s house, where he collapses on the old woman’s floors. She calls her nurse, out of fear of involving the authorities. Together, they stitch him up and save his life. The camaraderie between the two women is a reminder of how deeply The Chi has interrogated the inner lives, alliances, and networks of boys and men, while so far being unwilling to do so for their female counterparts. Why haven’t we seen more of this?

We soon learn that the gun Kevin used to shoot Ronnie actually belongs to his friend’s brother, who happens to be Reg. As a result, Reg’s role is expanded this week, though to dismal effect. Again, a possibly loving moment between him and his brother is perverted when Reg, ostensibly helping with his lining, threatens him with the clippers and demands his gun back. It’s a frustrating development, in my opinion: The Chi often feels overinvested in delineating its characters as either righteous or wicked. I wish that there was more middle ground for characters like Reg.

The most perplexing moment of this episode arrives when Brandon is told by Kevin and Reg’s little brother that the gun he lost belongs to Reg. The boys warn him of Reg’s quick temper; one of them even expresses fear that Reg would murder him. It felt like a display of childlike innocence — or foolhardy valor — to then have Brandon go and brazenly knock on Reg’s door and tell him the truth about the gun. It felt like a decision that would be very in line with what Kevin did last week in confronting Ronnie, but I just didn’t believe that Brandon would do the same thing. The show’s writers have overly invested in the “goodness” of Brandon; he’s a character who doesn’t just want to do the right thing, he does the right thing. He pummels Ronnie, but doesn’t kill him, then forgives Kevin a little too quickly for placing him in a situation that could have resulted in both of them being hurt. I’m hoping that future episodes will at least attempt to elide the stark barrier between “good” characters and those who the writers feel are beyond redemption.

The Chi Recap: The Standoff