“Lions sometimes eat their young,” says Franklin Saint to his team when they ask about agent Grady Williamson’s sudden disappearance and Teddy’s unexpected return during a meeting at the club in episode three, “Lions.” Turning to the animal kingdom for metaphor, Franklin tries to calm the crew by explaining the unsentimental nature of the CIA’s operations. As it goes in the wild, a lion or lioness is most compelled to slaughter, consume, or abandon their young when the infant becomes a liability to the precarious work of survival and sociality. Franklin might have “the Family” believe that Grady was, in Teddy’s eyes, nothing but a sickly unfit cub with no hope for recovery, but true fans of the show know better than to confuse the violence of intelligence agents with the intimacy of infanticide. After all, Teddy is far from paternal, and his connection to Grady was federal, not familial. And even if it had been, certainly Teddy is more of a Scar than a Mustafa. Not only is he partially responsible for the death of his own brother, but Teddy is also implicated in the disappearance of Franklin’s father, Alton. The Simba of South Central, Franklin’s future hinges upon his ability to overturn Teddy’s authority over his life and the lives of others. As fear washes over Franklin this episode, it is his wit under fire that seems to promise a fight rather than a fall. Yet, the question remains, who will become the King of Crack Rock?
When Franklin meets up with Gustavo for a routine supply exchange, which he jokingly dubs “quality time,” he quickly realizes that their drop (which took place in an empty lot outside an abandoned warehouse) was orchestrated by an omniscient operative. Catching himself mid-conservation, Franklin peeps game and figures out that Teddy selected their meeting spot and is likely listening to and watching over them. Perched above his pawns, Teddy does in fact surveil the two men from inside one of the buildings. Franklin, intent on feeding Teddy false information, pretends to be thrilled about his return to convince him of his lack of curiosity. Following through with the bit, Franklin leans into a buoyant bravado and even offers to buy Gustavo a brand-new jacket to replace the shearling brown suede coat he’s been sweating in for several seasons now. I for one hope Franklin does splurge on a nice coat for El Oso. After all, one ought to be, in the words of 2 Chainz, “fresh as hell, if the Feds watchin’.” Despite saving face, however, Franklin is still shaking in his boots (internally) now that he has to start watching his back around the man who once covered it. And as it turns out, ’tis the season for undercutting and reevaluating allegiances.
At the end of season four, after losing both his daughter Tianna and his wife Khadijah, it seemed as if Skully, the leader of the Bloods and a contentious business partner of Franklin’s crew, had loyalty to none but God himself. Yet, when he reappears on this week’s episode, it is Skully’s faith in his people that is tested. Having become increasingly Old Testament in his mourning, Skully’s flair for the biblical and dramatic has only been heightened. In a way, it is not all that surprising that a man who just last season crucified one of Manboy’s underlings would continue to govern his people according to a divine law of brutality. In “Lions,” after one of his men fails to follow instructions, Skully brandishes a sword and cuts off the man’s ear in front of witnesses. “Listen close next time,” he tells him before making him clean up his own blood.
When Louie and Jerome go to a drop site to do an exchange with one of Skully’s henchmen, Melo, an arrogant acolyte who has grown anxious about Skully’s grief-stricken antics, offers the couple $100,000 to kill him. “No one will shed tears of his death,” he explains. Incredulous, Louise is resistant to the deal. “So you gon’ take the throne?” she asks. To answer, he lays out his master plan of mutiny: Louie and Jerome follow Skully when he goes to see a psychic on his late daughter’s birthday and kill him while his defenses are down. Once the hit is completed, Melo can become the new boss of the Bloods, and the three of them can begin dealing at the rate of “12 for a key.”
Turning to Black Diamond and Dallas (or, as Jerome unaffectionately calls them, “Thing One” and “Thing Two) for intel on Melo, Louie and Jerome pull up on the duo as they drop their kids off at school (Bestie alert: Black Diamond has a son and Dallas has a daughter and they carpool to take them school!). Though their insights and strip-club connections prove crucial to learning about Melo’s reckless ways, Jerome struggles to trust them on account of their joint abandonment of Khadijah for money and Black Diamond shooting Louie. “They only loyal to the highest bidder,” he complains. Louie, however, is not interested in holding a grudge against the girls, offering to put their pasts behind them in exchange for their assistance. Black Diamond even apologizes for shooting Louie. “I’m glad you didn’t not make it,” she says (aw?).
In the end, these traitors help Louie and Jerome snuff out another traitor. On Tianna’s birthday, when Skully arrives at his psychic Mama Mambo’s blue home, Jerome and Louie corner him with guns pointed. Later, when Melo arrives at Louie’s club asking for proof of the hit, the couple gives him Skully’s necklace (his daughter’s locket) as evidence of his assassination. But then, Skully appears, alive and angered by his disloyal lackey, and proceeds to snap Melo’s neck. (Life comes at you fast!). “Through God, we shall do valiantly for it is he that shall trample down our enemies,” Skully exclaims. Grateful but confused by Louie and Jerome’s show of loyalty, Skully looks to the couple for answers. “You know it’s a cold game when pain made me doubt your loyalty. Why didn’t you take the shot?” he asks. “It is a cold game we in Skully, but somehow we found warmth in that hospital,” Louie responds, recalling their moment in season four when Louie, while vulnerable and recovering from a gunshot wound, talked down a gun-wielding Skully by explaining that violence will only beget more violence. “We owe you honor,” Jerome explains, giving Skully back his daughter’s necklace. “You know, we are our own persons. Ain’t nobody controlling us. You let me Angel be a reminder to you of that,” Skully responds, handing the necklace back to Jerome before he leaves. After all the day’s work is done, Louie cleans up the mess from Melo’s death, sits down in her chair, puts her feet up, and smiles.
In the face of uncut pricing and a drug landscape in which “Colombians got the game sewed up,” Louie’s smile is short-lived. For starters, Teddy refuses to budge on the price. “My price? Right at market levels,” he tells Franklin. “I think the problem here is the prices that Jerome and Louie are paying you, right?” Stirring up trouble once again, Teddy’s stubbornness exposes strife between Franklin and the Family. When Louie and Jerome meet up with Franklin and Peaches, Franklin tells his aunt and uncle that they are the source of the problems they face as they insist on breaking off from him and going off on their own. Franklin offers to split the profits with them if they agree to close ranks and end their ventures in Little Rock. What he does not anticipate, however, is Louie’s unwillingness to budge. “What would you like, Queen Louie? What’s gonna make you happy, cause nothin’ seems to do it for you!” Franklin asks. “How about not being under anybody’s thumb, nephew?” she retorts. In Louie’s answer, we see what Jerome dubs “lions fighting over sheep” turns out to be a freedom struggle rather than a scene of feline aggression. It’s neither Franklin’s hot breath nor Louie’s hothead that looms over them but the horror of CIA ties. Breaking up with the state is messy business. He just won’t let go.
Views from the Pride Lands
• Hakuna Matata: When Wanda comes by Franklin’s real-estate office with a sharp bang and a dream, she talks her way into a job by telling him about a time when she fixed Leon’s mama’s dryer without using a wrench. Worry not, Saint properties tenants! Wanda, the DIY doll, is coming over to optimize your appliances.
• Can You Feel the Curve Tonight: After seeing how sad and distracted Franklin has been, Veronique attempts to flirt with her man. He rejects her offer, assuming she’s inviting him to meditate or do a cleanse (LMAO!), but even when she makes it clear that she’s offering him WAP and not white jade, he is intrigued but uninspired. “Raincheck,” he tells her, kissing her forehead.
• Circle of Life: During one of their restaurant rendezvous, Franklin asks that Teddy never comes to his house or place of business (or anywhere he isn’t expecting him) again. Does telling your CIA contact not to interfere with your domestic life count as babyproofing?
• Be Prepared: Officer Buckley showed up at the club again, pushing Louie for “red meat” to serve up to the police. The hyenas are hungry, and I don’t know how much longer they’ll wait for their feast.