Who doesn’t love a reunion? Opening with the return of none other than Cissy Saint herself, “Revolutions” starts like a slow burn as its star matriarch tiptoes around her old home. Cissy is back from Cuba with fresh braids and a quiet fervor. As she walks through the home she abandoned last season, she encounters signs of new life, rather than the makings of a haunted house. Stray heels, messy sheets, and Jet magazine issues decorate the old Saint home, indicating that Wanda has taken up lodging there. Wanda is understandably nervous when the two women finally meet, but Cissy is cordial. “I hope it’s been a safe space for you,” she tells her. A grandmother-to-be, Cissy explains her return as a strictly maternal one, an instinctual response to finding out that Franklin and Veronique were expecting a child. “I came as soon as I heard,” she says. “I guess it was the push that I needed. Truth be told, there wasn’t anything for me back there.” Showering Veronique with affection, she emphasizes her appreciation for her son’s companion. “Franklin is lucky to have you,” Cissy tells her. “I left him with a heavy burden.”
At a Japanese-steakhouse dinner celebrating her return, Franklin makes a toast to his mother. “Cissy Saint, you built this house,” he says, gesturing to his expanding empire. “Welcome home, Mama.” On the car ride home, Cissy presses Franklin about keeping her out of the loop on the danger they face. “You want in on the game?” he asks. “I’ve been in. I lost my husband because of it, and now the man responsible is back in our lives,” she responds. “I didn’t come back here to be a burden, Franklin. I wanna help, but I also don’t want to be kept in the dark, not anymore.” As Cissy’s reintegration into her family and life in South Central proves precarious, it also becomes evident that her family’s warm welcome will be no match for the heat of the social and political fires that continue to ravage her community. Typically, one might say “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” but this season takes the expression to its limits. This episode asserts that where there is constant fire, there will be those who are reduced to ash, those who search for water, and those who want smoke with the architects of arson. After all, as the episode argues, to borrow from Billy Joel’s 1989 classic, we didn’t start the fire.
This season’s resident firefighters are arguably Louie and Jerome. As a couple and individuals, they face danger, assess the damage, and try their hardest to salvage the relationships worth saving. When Jerome, Big Deon, and a few other PJ Watts Crips affiliates overhear a rap song by Maurice, a young artist from the projects, they key in on his explicit naming of street violence and its major players and decide to confront the rapper for “putting [their] business out on Front Street.” While Big Deon and his crew resort to aggression, Jerome takes a few tapes and begins to ask Maurice about his craft. To explain how integral rap is to his existence, Maurice remarks that he “slid out my mama rhyming.” (A newborn exiting the womb and delivering its first bar in its first breath sounds like the beginning of a SoundCloud rap horror movie.) Later, when the LAPD shows up, Jerome plays it cool despite recognizing Office Buckley (Louie’s strip-club regular and police contact) in the hopes of de-escalating the situation. Of course, it isn’t Jerome’s fire to extinguish. The cops proceed to raid the projects, siccing a dog on one of Big Deon’s precocious young helpers and taking battering rams to the doors of random apartments.
Louie learns of her contacts’ involvement in the raid when Jerome informs her of the unchecked brutality. “He need to be dealt with,” he tells her. Attempting to convey the raid’s damage and establish an assumed mutual investment in the well-being of Black South Central, Louie asks Buckley what could be “worse than siccing dogs on your own people?” Unsurprisingly, the officer rejects her suggestion of communal concern and scoffs at her presumptuous use of the word our. “Since when the fuck are they my people?” he retorts. He goes on to explain his dissociation as a reaction to intramural delineations. (I nearly turned my laptop off when he said his apathy toward police brutality was due to being called a “redbone” once upon a time.) “I need to know that there is trust here,” Louie explains, realizing no true solidarity can be forged between them (on account of his lack of integrity rather than his light skin). “You do what I ask; you’ll be fine,” he responds, refusing empathy once more.
Something of a fire starter himself, Leon has his revolutionary fire ignited by the raid. Musing on Union general William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea, a Civil War military campaign that operated according to a “scorched earth” policy, Leon begins to develop a militant approach to defending the people of South Central from the scourge of state violence. During a visit to Ari, an Israeli arms dealer specializing in “lethal devices,” Leon explains his plan to fight back against the LAPD. Ari is calm as Leon discusses his desire to “declare war on the police.” As it turns out, his calm is the result of a long-standing rapport with revolutionaries. “I have witnessed a few uprisings in my lifetime, some more successful than others,” he explains to Leon. With this experience in mind, Ari cautions him. “Let me tell you, the conditions do not exist in or out of the projects to successfully lead that proletariat insurgency that you’re dreaming about,” he says. “I get one of them pigs before they get me, I figure that’s a win,” Leon explains. “And what hell do you think will visit upon your people if you kill one of them?” Ari asks. “Can’t be any worse than what they doing right now,” Leon retorts. “Oh, really?” Ari responds dubiously.
Maintaining his militant posture, Leon declines Franklin’s invitation to Cissy’s welcome-back dinner. “Sorry, Saint, but I can’t sit up there celebrating, eating steak while my folks out here being hurt,” Leon tells his friend. “Folks here in the projects?” Franklin asks. “Black people everywhere,” Leon explains. “You could [help people] and still show up for me tonight,” Franklin suggests. Leon, having grown disillusioned with their friendship and their line of work, resists Franklin’s efforts at persuasion. “Instead of lifting them up, we puttin’ them in position to either get hurt, fall to the pipe, or get arrested,” he says. “I’ll never forget what your moms did for me, but I can’t [come].” When Cissy goes to visit Leon, she gauges the raid’s damage with her own eyes. Speaking to her son’s best friend about her time in Cuba, she feeds his appetite for revolutionary thought by describing the educational access and literacy rates on the Caribbean island. Leon lights up thinking about how “revolution got them there.” Cissy, noticing the heavy artillery at Leon’s spot, offers her insight into the nature of revolutionary organizing. “There are other ways to wage revolution,” Cissy explains. “There are other ways to fight, other ways to make change, and there are more people out in this world who want to help than you know,” she says. “When we were with the Panthers, a lot of times we made change without firing a shot.” Leon listens but remains steadfast. “Well, maybe you should have,” he says. “Maybe,” she responds. (Let me find out Charles E. Cobb is in the writers’ room!!!)
To minimize violence all around, Franklin meets with Teddy in hopes that his CIA connection might assist them as the LAPD’s raids grow more and more gruesome. Teddy is indifferent and explains that he no longer has contact with the police thanks to Franklin’s loudmouth (deceased?) daddy. “They’re not coming after you, right, these cops? Just your people on the street,” Teddy inquires. “My advice? Don’t worry about it. Nobody cares what happens in South Central … Keep yourself insular, only deal with your family, and they can never touch you.” This is, of course, reassuring only for those who can ignore the ravages of war as long as they do not impact them directly. To calm his nerves, Franklin tries to find solace in Teddy’s sociopathy. “Teddy’s different, mainly paranoid, all business. As long as I keep the money flowing, I’m safe, we’re safe,” he tells Veronique. Mama Saint is unmoved by her son’s efforts to extinguish the threat Teddy poses. “We all know what happened [to Alton]. Teddy McDonald killed him,” Cissy states emphatically. “We can’t say that without proof,” Franklin rebuts. “To wipe him off the face of the earth? Only one man wanted that,” she tells her son. Thus, after she learns Teddy is back, Cissy starts making big moves. Upon meeting a mysterious man named Rubén at a diner, she speaks with conviction. “I’ve made contact with my family. My son’s confirmed that he’s back,” she tells Rubén. “I want answers first … and then you can kill Teddy McDonald.” (Cissy got shooters?!) Perhaps, in the end, revolution will be the invention of the mother.
A Playlist for the Revolution
• A Song for Leon: Leon has found himself increasingly consumed with questions of war and revolution. Rapper Chief Keef asked the timeless question, “How you warrin’?” on his 2014 single “War.” This feels like Leon’s energy if you gave him the aux.
• A Song for Franklin: Franklin is enjoying the luxury of his new life right now, but I suspect he knows he’s in too deep to make his way out of all this without losing more than he ever imagined. I’m stuck between “Dead Man Walking,” by Brent Faiyaz, and “N 2 Deep (feat. Future),” by Drake, for our not-so-saintly Mr. Saint.
• A Song for Cissy: Between her husband and her son, Cissy can’t catch a break but heartbreak. Luckily, there’s no heartache Gloria Ann Taylor’s 1973 single “Love Is a Hurting Thing” can’t affirm.
• A Song for Louie: Louie’s BS detector is only getting stronger, and she’s quick to cut through the pleasantries and ask the questions nobody wants to ask. She doesn’t get too comfortable, and Jerome is the only person she trusts. Louie’s song is “Trust Nobody,” by Ama Lou.