Each week, William Lee and Nina Metz recap and discuss the second season of “The Chi,” which airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on Showtime.
First, some real world news: Last week Jason Mitchell, who plays Brandon, was terminated by his agent and manager and dropped from the next season of “The Chi” (which has not yet started filming) as well as the upcoming Netflix movie “Desperados.”
According to Variety: “Reportedly, he was involved in an off-set incident during production on ‘Desperados,’ leading to his dismissal from that project and subsequently from ‘The Chi.’” There are also multiple, unconfirmed reports of incidents during production of “The Chi.”
This revelation puts a distressing and sour spin on everything we saw this week in Episode 7: “Blind Eye.”
1. Brandon and Jerrika contemplate their finances
Nina Metz: Brandon and Jerrika’s story was such a huge part of this episode and watching these scenes now makes me absolutely queasy.
Let’s get some of the plot details out of the way: Douda (aka Otis Perry) is funneling tens of thousands of dollars into Brandon’s bank account and delivers a brand new taco truck to expand the operation and calls these expenditures a “gift” — an explanation Brandon accepts far too easily considering Jerrika previously told him the guy had a bad reputation.
Meanwhile, Jerrika opens her eyes to the housing inequities that squeeze poor and working-class people and decides she wants out of the real estate business. It’s a decision she’s able to make only because Brandon is swimming in money these days — but she knows where that money is coming from. Based on how the episode is edited, it looks as though Jerrika quits because a struggling single mother gave her a reality check and now she’s freaked out and ashamed. So instead of working on behalf of low-income renters or buyers, she’s just done?
This storyline is making us, the viewers, do too much work and that’s largely because one of the show’s ongoing weaknesses is that Jerrika as a character is so underwritten.
Will, talk to me. Brandon is someone we’ve rooted for from the start — he’s fundamentally a good guy who has always been on the level — and yet it feels impossible have sympathy or any emotional investment in this character now that we know Mitchell is accused of behavior so appalling, it got him fired. I really like “The Chi” and I’m angry and sad for everyone involved and that this show I’ve long respected for all its strong qualities — layered, complicated, fun — is now tainted because of these allegations.
William Lee: So Nina, as we chat about this, the news of Mitchell’s firing is still fresh and my head is still spinning at the implications of his departure.
If “The Chi” gives a major stage to the myriad of challenges happening in Chicago, Mitchell is its main face. Mitchell, as noted by Deadline.com, was indeed a rising star whose turn as Eazy-E in “Straight Outta Compton” propelled him into the spotlight, a level frankly few black American actors of his age have reached. As Brandon, he breathed life into the recognizable Chicago archetype of the talented but downtrodden striver who had only hope and his girl.
And while I haven’t always felt like the pairing between Mitchell and Tiffany Boone was spot-on, they have the best relationship of any couple on the show. Watching their romantic scenes now feels tainted, especially if the allegations against Mitchell bear any fruit. Honestly, Nina, I don’t know how the show goes on without such a major piece. Finding another actor to step in to replace Mitchell would be like trying to replace Peter Dinklage in Season 2 of “Game of Thrones.”
NM: Some of the strongest scenes this year have been between Brandon and Kevin and this week we got another glimpse of the two, mid-haircut — jokey but tender — and again, I’m angry and sad that we won’t get to see this friendship grow and deepen in future seasons.
Creator Lena Waithe told us last year that Brandon is the character she most relates to — a creative young person trying to get a toehold — and it’s unclear how she and the Season 3 writers will re-imagine the show without him, but it’s also worth noting that that terrific side characters who only exist as part of Brandon’s world — like his hilarious cousin/pot guru Hannibal and his blunt-talking stepfather Greavy — likely will be gone as well.
2. Cruz’s flashback and Toussaint’s secret
WL: This week we learned major background details about Detectives Cruz and Toussaint. Cruz left the Kansas City police force after his partner shot an unarmed black motorist in 2013, just as America was opening its eyes to excessive force across the country. Cruz resisted whitewashing the shooting to implicate his partner, but was quickly ostracized and he changed his tune. Before the end of the episode, we learn that Toussaint’s son is in prison under the threat of danger because his mother killed a gang boss. I appreciate how the show mixed their backstories into the flow of the show and it didn’t feel too heavy-handed to me. Did you like how the writers mixed these stories in?
NM: I appreciate the way Cruz’s flashbacks captured the cynicism of how the system works: The closing of the ranks and the internal repercussions of not toeing the blue line. I don’t know if you watched the CBS police shooting drama “The Red Line” — filmed in Chicago as well; the finale aired last Sunday — but it also dealt with a similar issue of: A cop knows a shooting by a fellow officer is bad, now what? The peer pressure but also the butt-covering is designed to prevent any kind of reckoning or consequences or improvement, so frankly I’m surprised Cruz got reprimanded with desk duty for that botched confession from Ronnie.
3. Ronnie and Jada’s tentative flirtation
NM: Ronnie’s been working on that old car that once belonged to his biological father, much to Miss Ethel’s disapproval. She doesn’t want to dredge up those old memories and it’s Jada who nudges Ronnie to stop burying the past: “Don’t you have questions? Like, why didn’t y’all ever move? And did she ever go over there and confront him for not even saying hi to you when you lived right across the street?”
When Ronnie suggests they go out to dinner, she counters with: “Why don’t you come by my place and put together my bookcase?” Oh Jada, I love you. They’ve clearly been inching toward something romantic and I like that they’re taking it slow. After a chaste kiss, he goes — presumably driving back home in that Caprice, aka “the smoothest ride on the South Side.”
Will, we got to see a snapshot of Miss Ethel in her younger, saucier days (that’s the flashback I’m hankering for — make it happen, Season 3!) and Ronnie and Ethel dancing in the street together. It’s been a long time since Ronnie’s felt this good about anything.
WL: First off, a shoutout for showing that vintage Chevy Caprice — it is a smooth ride. Secondly, the show continues to impress with its delicate balancing act showing the highs to some characters while others suffer below. Indeed it was good to finally see Ronnie smile after a rough start this season. In that moment, we got a glimpse of what kind of family unit Ronnie, Ethel and Jada could be. But we already know such happiness isn’t meant to last. We can only hope Ronnie finds some peace before the next shoe drops.
Until next week: Brandon has been such a fundamental part of this show, these final three episodes of the season are going to be tough to watch in light of the accusations about Mitchell.