Queen Sugar / Season 3, Episode 12 / OWN
It’s the penultimate episode of Season 3! Everything is on fire right now. In this episode — written by Mike Flynn and directed by Kat Candler — we’re getting some resolution to some of the main threads. For starters, Charley’s going to have to come clean about the deal she made with Landry Enterprises.
We begin at her house, where she’s catching Violet’s segment on “Wake Up, NOLA.” Prosper’s in the kitchen, ending a phone call with his daughter (who we still haven’t seen). We know he isn’t being completely honest with her about his health, or anything else. It seems she still doesn’t know about the eviction, because he’s talking as though he might be able to go back to his house. When he notices Charley waiting to talk to him, he preemptively tries to excuse his daughter’s absence: saying she’s busy, working a big project at her job. Charley has to feel something about this. This isn’t so different than her dynamic with Ernest before he passed, after all. Her guilt about that is one of the reasons she’s taken Prosper in.
Anyway, we know from Prosper that the council vote on the prison is a couple of days away, but the parish meeting is tonight. He says he and the other farmers want Charley to speak on their behalf in front of the council. She demurs, knowing what’s going to happen. Even if she doesn’t want to be, she’s now implicated in anything the Landrys do because she sold them the mill. She finally admits this to Prosper — that she sold Queen Sugar as leverage to bargain on behalf of the farmers. Proper’s incredulous, then says she made a deal with the devil. No one would disagree at this point, including Charley.
Darla comes to pick up Blue from Violet’s house to take him to school and for a visit, including a bike-riding lesson. Everything feels tense. Ra sends Blue to get his bag and say goodbye to Vi and Hollywood, while he asks Darla if she’s gotten him a helmet. She says she has, as well as kneepads. Violet comes out and tries to find a distraction to get Ralph Angel to come back inside. He waves her off instead, and she heads back in. He asks Darla if her mother is still at her apartment. She tells him Darlene is gone back to D.C., and she’ll be handling things herself from now on. Ralph Angel nods, looking visibly relieved as he says goodbye to them and tells Blue to be safe on his bike.
No good deed.
Meanwhile, at St. Jo High, Micah is finding that his friends are taking the advice his mother gave him: radio silence. Only KJ shows up to see him, to inform him that the rest are all keeping their heads down and hoping this blows over. Ant’s home on house arrest, and they can’t afford to get caught up. KJ makes the assumption that Micah wouldn’t suffer if he got wrapped up in this anyway, because of his family’s wealth. Maybe that’s true to some extent, but we know what happened with that cop last year. Regardless, Micah finds himself alone.
Later, Charley is at Vi’s, getting chased off a phone call with Romero by her aunt. Theoretically Charley — and Nova — are there to help fill her pie orders, but instead Violet is fretting over the seating chart for her upcoming wedding to Hollywood. Trying to figure out who goes where, Violet tells Charley she’ll be seating her and Micah with Ralph Angel and Blue. Charley replies she might need a plus-one. Oh, really? Nova, still feeling chastened, sheepishly gives Charley some encouragement. When Violet asks Nova if she’s going to bring “that mystery man or woman” of hers, she says no. She’s coming alone and doesn’t need anyone to prop her up. She and Charley exchange a look across the table, and Vi picks up on the frosty air between the two sisters and wants to know what’s going on between them.
Charley clearly isn’t trying to get into it. She’s still hurt, and let’s face it: this is embarrassing. Nova hems and haws before finally admitting she’d started seeing Remy, but has ended it. Well, that’s about all it takes to send Vi into a snit. First, she assumes it started while Remy and Charley were still involved; then says she didn’t think she was the type to go after her sister’s “sloppy seconds.” Ouch. Nova asks Vi if she’s ever done something she’s regretted and tried to take it back. Between this and the essay about Ernest’s depression, Violet is pretty much through with Nova, and storms out.
Prosper comes back to the house to see Charley, after letting the farmers know what he’s learned — that she sold the mill to Sam Landry. Unsurprisingly, they think she did so only for her own benefit and called her a “damn hypocrite.” She points out that they all bailed on her last year — which would have tanked the mill and is one of the reasons she sold it, but she still lied. Charley thanks Prosper for the honesty. He reminds her they can still fight and that he’s there with her, but you can see her heart breaking. Since we still haven’t had enough of that, in comes Micah now on the tail end of that conversation. He wants to go visit Ant, so he’s not going through this alone. Charley hits the ceiling. Micah says if he was the one who’d been caught, she’d be blowing the cover of every other kid involved. Personally I doubt that, but Micah is a teenager: he is nothing if not self-righteous.
Speaking truth to power.
At the extremely packed parish meeting, all the farmers sit on one side of the hall along with Prosper Denton. Remy shows up, of course, and joins them. Charley sits with Ralph Angel and Micah on the other side of the aisle. Sam Landry and his sister Frances arrive. Sam, being the horrible person that he is, comes over to greet Charley with a smarmy smile. Smug bastard. Nova sits a couple rows behind, and Ra asks Charley, “What Nova sitting way over there for?” She doesn’t want to talk about it, and he responds, “Y’all messy.” True, but this ain’t the time, bruh, and it’s not Charley’s fault.
Exactly one white man stands up as the discussion begins. He’s been unemployed since another mill shuttered nearby, so he’s looking forward to getting a job at the new jail. Everybody side-eyes him appropriately. He on the payroll already? Callahan, the slick dude from the prison construction company MPTE Group, grabs the mic. He tries to lull the crowd into believing the new corrections facility will be good for the community: primarily by providing jobs, but also building schools. Cardale Stewart, one of the farmers, belts out, “A school ain’t nothin’ but a Band-aid for a broken arm.” Preach. Next come Mister Slick’s promises of shopping centers and more housing. Cardale still ain’t having it, and neither is Remy, who stands up and says, “You’re deliberately trying to break something so that later you can say you fixed it.” Sam Landry looks a little uncomfortable. I mean, did he really think he wasn’t going to get any push back from people who have nothing to lose at this point?
Ra nudges Charley to speak up, but she’s keeping mum for the time being. She knows the farmers don’t want to hear from her right now; they feel betrayed. But when Slick moves on to reading quotes from folks in other parts of the rural south about how their kids now have jobs at the local hoosegow, she can’t take it anymore. Maybe it’s because of the trouble Micah’s in, but Charley stands up and asks Slick if he’s going to read any letters from the mothers whose incarcerated sons are providing all these prison jobs. Some of the farmers are, as expected, not here for her: “She got some nerve.” “Traitor!” “You a damn lie.” Oh.
Cardale says, “You one of them, Ms. Charley”. She finally defends herself, pointing out that she gave up her mill to leverage fair rates to keep them all in business (She doesn’t mention that they all turned tail last year when the Landrys leaned on them, leaving her with no one using Queen Sugar in the first place because she’s less petty than I am). Then she goes back in on the MPTE flack, calling him out on the shitty minimum wage his company will pay its new employees in St. Jo and of course “the free labor you’ll get from the prison inmates.” Then she points out that the inmates at this facility will be counted towards the local population for the purposes of voting districts even though they won’t be able to vote. Damn. Looks like Charley must have watched Ms. Ava’s 13th before she rolled up to the parish hall.
Reluctantly, the farmers find themselves applauding Charley as she runs down every reason the prison will mean nothing but destruction for the people of St. Josephine. Whatever their hard feelings are, she’s right about all of it. And they don’t have another spokesperson who’s as knowledgeable and articulate about what’s at stake for their community socially, economically, or politically. She tells Mr. Callahan that “the soul of St. Jo isn’t for sale,” calls him out for seeking to profit from the misery of the parish’s people, and tells him to take his snake oil somewhere else, the room rises to its feet to applaud her. Even Cardale.
Trying to leave for the parish hall, Vi is at the kitchen with her assistants when she’s suddenly struck by chest pain. Rhonda tells the other assistant to grab her keys so she can take Violet to the hospital. Later, the family gathers around Violet in her bedroom. She explains that she has something called pneumonitis and that her doctor has prescribed some medications and rest. Hollywood pushes her to tell them the whole truth, and she finally admits to Charley, Ralph Angel, and Micah that she has lupus. When she tells them she’s known for a number of months, Ra and Charley scold her a bit (though they don’t seem surprised that Nova’s been aware and helping her). After some gentle scolding for keeping her health a secret, the kids all promise to pitch in with the pie orders she needs to fill.
Once everyone’s left, Vi sits in a tub while Hollywood washes her. She looks so hurt, emotionally. It’s hard for Violet to ask for help, or to need it. He’s there for her, though.
Ralph Angel, Charley, and Nova are at Vi’s kitchen, working on her pies. Ra is having flashbacks to their father — working himself half to death and not telling anyone what was really going on. Charley asks Nova what lupus is exactly, and then says she’s glad that she and Hollywood have been there for her. Maybe things between the two of them will finally thaw out a bit? Romero drops by to help Charley load up the truck to make deliveries. The flirting is strong between these two, especially when there’s a lemon pie on the line. He insists she come over at some point so he can make her dinner — his chicken mole is exquisite. Charley ain’t trying to turn down his mole. Nope. She could use a little mole in her life right about now.
Micah comes to visit Ant, who’s sitting in his room wearing an ankle monitor playing video games. Seems he’s been calling him, but Ant’s been freezing him out just like the others. His court date is coming up. He’s probably going to end up serving six months and blowing his only chance for college. Micah tells him how badly he feels that he’s going down for something they all had a part in, but Ant seems to be taking it in stride. The cops found his lighter, and he’s glad not all of them got caught. He reminds Micah of something he said: “Always fight for what you believe, no matter who it makes uncomfortable or who it scares.” Anyway, girls like bad boys, he says, so they’ll be all over him when he gets out. Micah promises he’ll be there for him, no matter what.
The soul of St. Jo.
Washing her hands in the restroom at the parish hall waiting for the results to come in from the council’s vote on the prison, Charley runs into one of the farmers. They eye each other in the mirror, and the woman quietly thanks her. She leaves and in strides Frances Boudreaux (which reminds me–where the hell is Jacob? Did he high-tail it out of town?). Anyway, the fact that Charley still suffers her at all is weird to me. Frances’ face is completely inscrutable as she suggests that while her brother has half the council in his pocket, there may be another vote they can count on from Councilmember Ward, who she claims always plays it straight. Charley’s too jaded at this point to trust it, believing there is no justice anymore. She talks about how her father always encouraged them to hope, but she no longer does.
The siblings all sit together this time, along with Micah and Prosper, to hear the votes being read. All the white men on the council vote for the prison. All the people of color vote against it. The last vote to be read is from Councilwoman Ward. It’s “for.” That’s it. A new prison is coming to St. Josephine.
Charley glares at Sam and Frances from across the room. Sam looks smug and self-satisfied, shaking Callahan’s hand and departing. Frances stares back at Charley and looks stricken. Maybe she really did think this was going to turn out differently, but it seems she underestimated her brother, and now everyone’s going to pay for their miscalculation. The siblings all wordlessly embrace. Charley looks at Ra and finally over at Prosper, who’s looking back at her. He’s not getting his home back, and the Bordelon farm is as good as gone.
Back at the house, Prosper is rocking in his recliner, despondent when Charley comes in. She pauses at the base of the stairs, but there’s nothing left to say. The Landrys have won, again. Prosper pulls out his little flip phone and calls his daughter. It’s time for her to come down and get him.
Upstairs, now that she’s finally alone, Charley break downs in her room. Micah, on the other hand, sits on his bed, strewn with the black and white photos he’s been taking, and pulls out his phone. First he sends a tweet: “Soon there will be more prisons than schools in St. Jo. #RiseForOurFuture.” Then he opens his laptop and runs the simplest and most powerful Google search there is: “how to organize a rally.” Let’s go, Micah.
A free man.
Darla heads back to the farm to drop off Blue and the bike. Ralph Angel wants to know how it went, and she lets him know it was a disaster. He orders Blue back outside, because if there’s one thing they don’t do, it’s quit. Darla sticks the helmet back on his head. Point of order: that helmet is loose as hell. That’s not how you wear a bike helmet! Anyway, Blue reluctantly climbs back on the bike and asks if they’ll both hold on while he rides. Honestly, this is one of the sweetest, most hopeful scenes we’ve had in weeks.
The two parents jog along behind, both their hands on the seat of Blue’s bike as he falters and starts pedaling again, until he’s finally moving along under his own power. Ralph Angel and Darla clap and cheer and then hug each other. It’s the second time in two episodes where estranged co-parents are having a moment of intimacy as they navigate trying to help their kid grow up and stay safe, but this feels so much better than when Davis and Charley embraced after his conversation with Micah. There’s optimism here — not that Ra and Darla will reconcile, but that they’ll do better by their son.
The two later sit together on Ra’s porch, smiling as Blue rides his bike in circles on the expansive lawn. Darla says they should just split the time with him, and you can see Ralph Angel physically relax. His parole is almost up, and he’s excited by the notion of traveling with Blue. Taking him up the gulf, to Disney Land, Disney World, everywhere. He wants to show him everything there is to see, because he’ll be a free man. “It’ll be a beautiful day,” Darla says.
As the audience, we all agree. We, too, need something to look forward to.
Though most of the episode titles have come from scripture, this one comes from a line in “On the Pulse of Morning,” Maya Angelou’s poem for Bill Clinton’s first inauguration. I recognized it because of its sample in the 1995 song “Horizons” by drum-and-bass artist LTJ Bukem.
All photos credit Skip Bolen © 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. / Courtesy of OWN.
Only two more episodes this season! Want to catch up? Take a look at other Queen Sugar recaps here.