William Lee and Nina Metz recap and discuss the fourth season of Showtime’s “The Chi,” which airs on Sundays at 8 p.m.
“The Chi” returns for a fourth season with an opening montage that shows Kevin going to prom, Kiesha giving birth, Emmett looking anxious, and Douda (aka newly elected Mayor Otis Perry) being shot on a skyscraper rooftop. Then came the words, “One month ago.”
It feels very tepid and meaningless in terms of foreshadowing. The show (produced by Lena Waithe) has always had a shaky narrative, alternating between sophisticated depictions and awkward storytelling.
If you were hoping that “The Chi” will finally confront the Chicago Police Department’s long-standing toxicity against African-Americans, well, here it is. Let’s see how this develops.
Here’s a glance at the first episode: “Soul Food,” as the phrase goes.
- Jake and Kevin’s encounters with police violence
Lee, William: I’ll be honest and say that the police violence plot made me uncomfortable at first for simply selfish reasons. I’ve been trapped in a bubble of violence, rage, and contempt in the news, and I didn’t want it in my entertainment. But I was fascinated by how Jake and Kevin’s feud with a local tough man escalated into a street brawl. The way it happened rang true – a snide remark from a youngster, coupled with an officer who refuses to dismiss it, may lead to some dark places. But the finest thing was how it brought Kevin’s trauma back into focus. Kevin has faced some of the most extreme situations, for those keeping score at home.
What were your thoughts on the way it was handled?
Nina Metz: Because the show has a propensity to memory hole Kevin’s traumas across the seasons, it’s important reviewing them: He saw Ronnie shoot and kill Coogie before firing a shot at Ronnie. His biological father had passed away. Then Brandon, his sole true father figure, was assassinated. After that, he came dangerously close to losing his sister in a violent kidnapping. And now he’s had direct experience with police brutality. He’s 16 years old.
I thought the way that scene progressed was authentic and truly frightening. But I’m simply leery — maybe even weary — of the way “The Chi” handles these kinds of situations, since there’s also the heightened soap opera cartoonishness of Otis Perry and his wife to contend with. None of it makes sense in the context of the same episode. Is it supposed to be believed that Otis now cares about the same Black people in this city who he has exploited for so long? Do you believe he has a genuine affection for Jake? What is his relationship to his Blackness and Chicago’s reality of police brutality? He’s a skilled shape-shifter who developed his abilities as a survival mechanism, but the programme lacks the finesse required to develop the character in ways that feel complex and real.
- For her unborn child, Kiesha looks for adoptive parents.
NM: Kiesha is around 8 months pregnant and interviewing potential parents. “Are you a decent marriage?” she asks one couple. “I’m feeling a little tense.” I admire Kiesha for being direct, in contrast to her own mother, who doesn’t seem concerned enough about the tension in the room. Nina is presented as clueless to the world around her in ways that defy logic each season, so at least “The Chi” is constant on this.
The main news about this plotline is that Tabitha Brown joins the cast. Brown, a vegan food influencer with a lovely Southern lilt, gained a household name this past year thanks to her inspiring social media videos. But she’s also been an actress for a long time, and she’s quietly fantastic here, portraying a lady with the hopeful hope of adopting a kid even as her marriage falls apart with great nuance.
Her character won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Will, how do you think this storey is going to end?
WL: I honestly don’t know. This plot, more than any other, feels like a journey into unknown territory to me. Birgundi Baker gives life to a teen who gives birth to a child created through rape. She’s admitting her emotions of emptiness to Kevin one minute and then abruptly shifting gears as a guest knocks on the door the next. Her performance often reminds me of young girls and women who live by suppressing horrific memories in order to survive. I’m not sure if she’ll keep this child, but only time will tell.
- Emmett’s universe
WL: Now, on to more trivial things, we return to Emmett, who has found a new normal with his wife, Tiff, and business partner Dom (with whom he also secretly had sex). To add to the oddity, Dom and his deadbeat father, Darnell, are now dating, and Tiffany is the only one who is unaware of the affair. As a result, Emmett has become painfully insecure, fearful that the women are scheming against him. I’m quite interested to hear your thoughts on the situation. The clinginess of previous relationships rings true, but I’m not sure I believe everyone else’s casual attitude.
N.M. : It didn’t help that during that embarrassing (for him) double date, Emmett appeared to be suffering from weed-induced psychosis. I’m not sure where this tale is going, but I’m hoping for a storey that’s less humorous and more focused on his maturation into an adult. What does he look like now that he’s four years older than that lovely but flaky kid we met in Season 1? Is it just more of the same turmoil in his personal life?
Darnell bringing over an old-school VCR as though it were the pinnacle of home entertainment made me giggle.
We’ll have to wait until next week to find out if Tiff and Dom’s edibles side business is actually sustainable.