The second episode of of The Chi, “Alee,” continues to build on the world that was so firmly established—and then wracked by two major deaths—in the pilot. We open on Emmett, aka Horniest and Least Responsible Dudebro Award Winner, in the midst of a house party full of beautiful dancing women. He’s dancing with his “girlfriend” Keisha, but all of his attention is trained on another woman, dancing alone a few feet away. Keisha is not blind to this, and gets angry, but Emmett manages to coax aka coerce her into a bedroom and begin to go down on her. But then Emmett Jr. starts crying and we realize this is either Emmett’s house, of he brought his son to someone else’s house, but either way he left the baby alone in a room with the door closed and a party raging outside of it. Keisha, like me, is pissed, and leaves.
Thus begins this episode’s (and series’s) continuing exploration of the bonds between parents and their children, and the familial relationships that knit communities.
While Emmett is busy being entirely self-centered, Brandon is sitting by the dumpsters behind the restaurant, tortured by the loss of his brother and the knowledge he now has of who killed him. Brandon doesn’t want to kill Ronnie, or anybody, but he can’t untangle his grief from his anger, though he spends every second trying to. Meanwhile, Ronnie and Tracy stand in their own grief before a memorial mural for Jason. Brandon stands in front of the corner store where Coogie was killed. Ronnie and Tracy go home and fall into bed together, while Brandon goes home to a sleeping Jerrika and resists her advances. She comforts him when he admits where he’s been. Grief and love playing out in parallel, so closely tied together.
Brandon also has to deal with his mother’s grief. Laverne blames him for Coogie’s death, and deals with her pain with alcohol. We learn she’s a landlord, renting at least one apartment in the building where she lives and neglecting the water damage plaguing her tenant’s apartment. Brandon now bears his familial baggage without the company of Coogie. He buries himself in his work at the restaurant, which is paying off for him: he’s asked to help with catering a big fancy wedding, and the head chef loves the new dish creations he comes up with. But it seems work is the only place he can feel a tiny bit of levity in his life.
The overlapping bonds in this south side community continue to reveal themselves when we meet Ronnie’s grandmother Ethel, an old woman who lives alone in a house and spends much of her days watching judge shows on TV and yelling at Tracy, who we learn is her home nurse. Tracy meets Ronnie on the porch of Ethel’s house as he comes to see her and informs him that if Ethel wants to stay in her house, she needs to take her medication and stop throwing full diapers and accusing Tracy of stealing, and that Ronnie needs to help her. Tracy is really awesome. She is already one of my top 3 characters in this show.
While Ethel is certainly brash, it’s clear she loves Ronnie, and that he loves her. But Ronnie, like all the men in this show (and all men in general), have inherited the fatal flaw that patriarchy bestows upon them: the quiet, often invisible sense of entitlement that makes them at once act like helpless children yet believe in their inherent power. Ronnie only takes care of Ethel in a way that suits him.
Not unlike Emmett, who is far less equipped to care for the children he keeps having than Ronnie, and is so irritatingly pressed to get his sneaker money that he’ll do anything to dump his kid. In fact, Emmett very nearly abandons Emmett Jr. at a playground in this episode, but changes his mind at the last second. When he shows up at work with baby in tow and his boss tells him to get his act together and go home until he can find care for his child, a mysterious customer who goes by Q pipes up. Turns out he’s Emmett’s boss’s brother, and pays Emmett $100 to go find a sitter. Emmett’s boss tells Emmett that he shouldn’t have taken the money but it’s too late now so he better do what Q says, and that knows a woman who runs a daycare. He gives Emmett the address. When Emmett shows up, though, the kind but clearly overworked woman tells him that she has too many kids there already, and that he’ll have to be waitlisted. Emmett looks like he can’t comprehend why no one is helping him take care of this baby.
Meanwhile, Q heads over to the office of Alderman Clint Martinez, and I had to google “alderman,” which is just another word for councilman. So basically Clint Martinez is a local politician, and he seems scared of Q, which honestly I am too because he keeps making weird veiled threats. He wants Martinez to tell him anything he can find out about Jason’s killing, and Martinez agrees, looking shaky. Q also apparently knows Tracy, but we don’t know how yet.
Kevin, Jake and Papa’s storyline this episode involves Andrea’s cousin, a tall and imposing girl who intimidates the heck out of the boys, and it’s pretty great. She informs Kevin that she and Andrea are Jehovah’s Witnesses and to not try anything with her, and clashing with Papa, who quickly backs down. Later, she chases Kevin down and tackles him, and while Kevin braces for violence, she pins him down and apologizes, kissing him. Someone needs to teach this girl consent. Kevin is comically confused, but he has bigger worries: Ronnie spots him walking home from school and chases him, saying he just wants to talk, which as a viewer I believe is true. But Kevin is terrified and runs so fast he loses Ronnie.
Later, he tells Brandon that he needs to take care of his business and kill Ronnie, because Kevin is scared for his life. Jerrika demands that he promise not to do something stupid, and he promises to do nothing. The way he says it makes it sound like he’s disappointed in himself for being unable to take action when he feels so helpless. And in the end, he calls his friend who offered to get him a gun.
While the residents of the south side continue to care for, hurt, and love each other, Detective Cruz is clashing with his new partner, Detective Wallace. Wallace is a grade-A asshole who is totally fine assuming that both Jason’s and Coogie’s deaths were gang violence, despite the fact that neither of them had any known history of gang connections, and makes the crudest homophobic joke that makes my blood boil so I won’t repeat it. Cruz knows he’s missing a piece of the puzzle, but can’t get Wallace or their supervisor to tell him what the gang task force (which Cruz is not a part of) have going on at the stash house where Coogie had befriended the dog in the backyard. Cruz suspects Ronnie might have something to do with Coogie’s death, or at least know about it, so he finds Ronnie to tell him that Coogie was not the one who killed Jason. Ronnie is shaken; not only did he not mean to shoot in the first place, but now he’s killed an innocent boy.
SO. We made it through episode 2! I’m really enjoying the slow unfolding of everyone’s interwoven storylines and the broad cast of characters. I know that spread-out, slow-building stories aren’t everybody’s jam, but I like having the time and space to dig in deep with so many people. It usually makes for a great payoff when everything starts coming together and I’m really invested because of all the time spent with these characters in their quieter moments. I find them all sufficiently compelling to give myself over to them.