We have made it to the penultimate episode, and I must say, while the entire cast has been firing on all cylinders throughout this season, “Boiling Point” is true television excellence — a culmination of a fully realized universe that understands not just the characters and the motivations that have been developed over the previous eight episodes, but providing real stakes and texture to conversations that are often had in very esoteric terms via social-media discourse and often dismissed as “woke posturing.” Within all of the humor lies genuine pain and tragedy, largely due to a writers’ room that continuously proves that it understands the community it’s speaking to and about. And in case there was any doubt, that was all removed when Desmond loses his temper and calls Zayna (who spends the bulk of the episode with her hair decked out in a bedazzled doobie wrap) a “dayroom-ass bitch” after their first time having sex, which is such a situationally specific part of NYC lingo and hits about as hard as when a L.A. person calls someone else a “weirdo.”
What makes this episode so potent is that, akin to a well-made stew, all the flavors have been simmering throughout the season so that the final dance on our taste buds is this ultimate explosion that, while in many ways expected, is still breathtaking in how it finally unravels and interacts with our palate; the anticipation enhances the experience. It was inevitable that Drew would find out that Dan was responsible for his current spate of misfortunes; what really drives the wound deeper is that he is forced to rely on him after Sydney, clearly amid a chaotic relapse, flakes on him. Drew and Dan briefly bond, Dan not only having to bear the guilt of understanding the series of unfortunate events that could lead Drew to have a 20-year résumé gap as a “freelance entrepreneur managing customer service and products on a citywide scale” but also showcasing the entire farce that is diversity and inclusion work in the corporate world in one fell swoop, which really drives home the point that in both Drew’s world and the corporate one, the performance of legitimacy is of paramount concern, even if they are to serve different goals. But it is easy to see why his last legitimate job was when Times Square was still referred to as Forty Deuce and the Grand Pussycat Cinemas was still standing; once you fall into the cycle of having to maintain a specific life, it is hard to escape that trap, and American capitalism makes class mobility pretty much impossible for people who aren’t Dan. For Drew, his immediate need is to avoid Rikers Island and keep his family intact as much as possible; in the corporate one, it’s to maintain a sheen of progressive politics and make sure that access to dollars that are earmarked for Black communities can be accessed free and clear. The rigamarole of 60 hours a week and Microsoft Excel skills are more than Drew is willing to take on, understandably forsaking 12-hour workdays at Jimmy Jazz (where I used to get my all-white Air Force Ones, or as New Yorkers call them, Uptowns or Ups) for a photo in front of Kareem’s bike shop and a trip for some Palo Azul tea in hopes to beat an upcoming drug test.
Unfortunately for Dan, however, his attempt at showing concern for Sydney would not go unrewarded. Her injured back from their rendezvous earlier in the season prompted an ugly backslide that Drew enabled, much to Dan’s chagrin. It’s also a fascinatingly tragic position for Dan to be in. He has spent the entire season idolizing Sydney and placing her on a pedestal, but she is ultimately an addict, and now here she is, naked, cornered, lashing out, and as ugly as possible. She chooses this moment to weaponize Dan’s biggest secret against him: He was responsible for Drew’s arrest and current legal fight. It’s hard to empathize with Dan for something that he should have long revealed to Drew, but knowing that moment was one of pure cruelty that Sydney and Dan would likely never come back from is also a bit melancholy.
Kevin managed to survive a performance of his own, but it came at a cost. In his attempt to help Drew with his bag of codeine, he was nearly removed from his art fellowship due to the burgling tendencies of art fellow, sycophant, and drug abuser Sharif. Sharif’s inquiry to Nancy, “Who’re you gonna believe, a thief or a liar,” was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment in the episode, as was Nancy chastising Kevin by saying, “We don’t use the N-word at ‘no negro left behind.’” Ultimately, Arsema hid the bag of evidence and saved Kevin’s spot. Still, at the cost of their budding romance — Kevin will be finishing the fellowship from the four corners of the bike shop, just as Dan tries to go into witness protection to hide from Drew’s justifiable rage. Hopefully, the powerful musk of Erykah Badu’s incense will give him the inspiration he needs to get the grand prize.