The season-five premiere of Snowfall begins with the fall of a star on the rise. Opening up to a scene at the University of Maryland, a group of young college athletes is doing lines of cocaine. One of the bunch is identified to be none other than Len Bias — the first-team All-American college-basketball player who the Boston Celtics selected as the second overall NBA draft pick in 1986. A bright future ahead of him, a 22-year-old Bias holds his green jersey up to his chest and saunters before his teammates with pride. After a few more lines, he grows quiet and grabs his chest. Panic washes over the scene as his friends scramble for help. Soon it is announced: Len Bias has died of cocaine-induced tachycardia on June 19, 1986, just two days after his draft selection. Snowfall pulls from this cultural archive of the ’80s and situates the death of Bias within a larger story of shifting geopolitics, crime syndicates, and the War on Drugs as they facilitate the increased accessibility of cocaine within the U.S. The tragedy of Bias’s premature death reveals the tensions that heighten the season’s stakes: Last season’s drug game is not this season’s drug game.
The entire landscape for the drug trade has changed. With the opening of the southern border, the price of cocaine has decreased drastically. What the show argues once began as an operation intended to fund the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government is at risk of jeopardizing its viability. The flow of arms to Nicaragua has slowed, and as a result, the Sandinistas, also known as El Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, have been holding their own against the U.S.-backed Contras rebel group. In the first two episodes of the season, “Comet” and “Commitment,” we see how the show’s most beloved (and loathed) characters have been holding up under these circumstances and across a varied spectrum of allegiances to the state and one another.
First things first, we have to talk about Franklin Saint. At the end of season four, Franklin must stand on his own two feet, literally and figuratively. For starters, he begins to walk without his cane, an accessory and aid that he acquired after being shot back in season three. And once his parents, Cissy and Alton, flee to Cuba to avoid retaliation for Alton’s whistleblowing, Franklin ends season four without a stable support system in place. And yet, as he has done time and time again, Franklin rebounds. At the start of season five, we see that our boy Franklin has moved up in the world, having established a few “legitimate” shell companies in real estate, bought a new home, and earned his pilot’s license. The infamous “Family” man has even begun to build a family of his own thanks to a new addition to the cast(!): his current boo, Veronique, a charismatic woman with a law degree who runs the real-estate operations for Franklin’s company and is revealed to be pregnant with their first child.
Now, we know that Franklin hasn’t had much luck in the past with lovers. If there was ever a Franklin Saint edition of Ghost of Girlfriends Past, I would be tuned in but also very afraid (Melody shot him in the back, so she’d undoubtedly be the final boss he’d have to face at the end). Still, I am hopeful that Veronique will break the curse. What we know about her so far is promising: She’s a planner (Veronique has meticulously organized their lives in preparation for the baby, even color-coding their calendar!), and she’s got a strong sense of self. When discussing Franklin’s fidelity to the promises he makes, she states that “a man worth his word is a man worth me.” Bonus points: She’s pretty funny. “They just canceled Diff’rent Strokes; I’m really sensitive right now,” she exclaims when Franklin springs some big news on her. Overall, Veronique seems like a safe bet. Fingers crossed Franklin will do right by her and I won’t have to eat my words.
As for the state of the most stable couple on the show, Aunt Louie and Jerome, things seem to be going strong. In “Comet,” Jerome buys himself and Louie their own personal horses to support her growing passion for equestrianism. Flirtatious as ever, throughout the premier episodes we see moments of tenderness and desire between them, which suggests that the flame between them is still lit. Their love has survived a lot throughout the show’s run, and chances are it will endure whatever comes to pass this season as well. Still, it’s hard not to worry, given Franklin’s assessment that “nothing tears a family apart like money.”
Speaking of family: In the premiere we also reconnect with Wanda, Leon’s ex, who finally got clean after being shot and hospitalized in season four. Despite the odds, she has maintained her sobriety and is still following the rules of her recovery. Though committed to honesty, she has found transparency with employers to be an obstacle to employment. Wanda’s saving grace, as it turns out, is a gig as a phone-sex operator. Forced to manage her financial frustrations and the sexual frustrations of her clientele, Wanda spends her days fielding horny calls that end too quickly and managing kinky requests that shock her (one caller asks her to step on his balls!). Her boss offers her a word of advice on teasing callers to keep them on the line: “Hold the cream to make the green” (OMG!). Later, when he cuts her checks to cover FCC fines and attempts to coerce her into a sexual relationship for her missing pay, she quits, frustrated by the way her life has become increasingly vulnerable to the judgments, grace, and desires of others.
Among the many recurring characters who returned for season five, a few familiar faces from Franklin’s past show up unexpectedly. Rob Volpe, a former classmate of Franklin’s who introduced him to Avi and helped his crew move product, reemerges this season in crisis. Rob witnesses a mutual friend of theirs, Thad Brenner, shoot and kill a teenager at a party in North Hollywood after the kid tries their cocaine without asking. As a statewide search for the young murderer ensues, Peaches and Franklin set out looking for Thad and pick up Rob to aid in the manhunt. Their reunion is cut short by Franklin’s realization that Rob has been using. Unwilling to trust him going forward, Franklin and Peaches go with Rob to confront (read kill) Thad, who is hiding in Palm Springs and knows more about their CIA affiliations than they previously thought. In the end, after Rob smokes from a crack pipe during Thad’s burial, Franklin decides to kill his old friend, who has become a liability. In a scene reminiscent of the “look at the flowers” moment in The Walking Dead, Franklin urges Rob to look up at the sky to see Halley’s comet (which last appeared in 1986) before he shoots him. R.I.P. Rob!
This season also sees the return of Teddy/Reed, the show’s resident CIA operative and “the guy that almost went down with the ship” at the end of season four. After having his identity revealed by Alton, Teddy walks away from the agency only to be promptly replaced, leaving behind Franklin and Gustavo to interface with a new supplier. However, once new agent Grady Williamson is brought in to replace him, Teddy becomes restless and eager to get his job back. Armed with a bad wig and a new alias, Teddy goes back to L.A. disguised as a worker for the city’s Water and Power Department (LADWP) so that he can check out his replacement’s new digs without arousing suspicion. As he discovers, Grady has been skimming money off the sales, causing discrepancies in supply and profit which have had major geopolitical consequences. Making matters worse, Teddy learns that Grady has been crossing boundaries with Franklin and his team, immersing himself in inappropriate ways. Teddy goes as far as to declare Grady has “gone native” (Note: this phrase carries weight and must be situated within the broader history of U.S. settler colonialism and Indigenous sovereignty).
Amongst the many breaches of conduct that characterize Grady’s lax approach to engaging with assets, there is perhaps none quite as staggering as his relationship with Black Diamond — one part of the duo “Black Diamond and Dallas,” the strippers turned mercenaries who switched sides (remember when they set up Khadijah after Franklin offered them more money and job security?) last season. If Black Diamond’s relationship with Grady suggests anything, it is that the girls have been wholly integrated into Franklin’s affairs. As promised, the pair are now gainfully employed and find themselves interwoven into the well-oiled machine of Franklin’s crew. Ultimately, this intimacy proves deadly for Grady, who, upon being confronted by Teddy, is killed for his “extravagance” and poor judgment so that Teddy can resume his role.
Throughout the premier episodes, the issue of drug pricing is a crucial one. As the market has become oversaturated, the need to stay competitive has intensified. Franklin negotiates with Grady to get the price down and increase the buy, which Grady agrees to in exchange for a joyride in Franklin’s private plane. However, in his first act of duty as the returning supplier, Teddy visits Franklin and lays out the new stakes, overturning Grady’s agreement: Now that there is no more Grady, there will be no more price cuts and no more tolerance for loose ends. Franklin has no choice but to abide. “It’s your world, man; I just sell dope in it,” Franklin retorts. Will there be any limits to Teddy’s flexing this season?
Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Casualty
•Drip Alert: Shoutout to one of Big Deon and Leon’s low-level runners who stole a pair of sneakers from them and, even after they teach him a lesson by bludgeoning one of his feet, boldly opts to wear the shoe opposite his cast-bound foot. He had to get his fit off by any means necessary!!!
• Sunny in Suburbia: Even though he finally received that long-awaited file on Lucia in season four, Gustavo a.k.a. “El Oso” is certainly not out searching for his lost love. Apparently, he’s been hanging out in the L.A. suburbs and cozying up with Xiamara, the sister-in-law of his deceased brother, and their nephews Carlo, Ernesto, and Cedro. I guess Franklin ain’t the only one “playing house” this season. (“El Oso for PTA President” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?)
• Storms Ahead: At Louie’s club, we see her talk to a cop who explains that the police are in a frenzy these days. He agrees to protect Louie and her girls from the barrage in exchange for a scapegoat to serve up to the cops who are hungry for fresh meat. “More busts, more arrests, more headlines,” he explains is the new LAPD motto. Who will Louie sacrifice for safety?
• Cold Front: At the end of season four, we see Teddy follow Alton and Cissy to Cuba despite agreeing to leave them be if they left the country. It has not yet been confirmed if he killed Alton or not. Franklin has had a difficult time communicating with his mom internationally, so he may not know the situation just yet. Did Teddy kill Alton? How will Franklin react if he finds out Teddy killed his father? Can he even afford to retaliate with so much at stake?