A Breakdown Can Be A Breakthrough On ‘The Chi’

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie.
Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)
Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie.
Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

A Breakdown Can Be A Breakthrough On ‘The Chi’

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

As soon as I saw the ending of this week’s episode of The Chi, I immediately thought of a print hanging in my mama’s house — and in a lot of houses.

“He Ain’t Heavy” is a famous painting of a black man reaching over a wall to pull up the hand of another, and artist Gilbert Young says that the depiction is a reminder to reach back and help someone else. This episode ends with two black men embracing — one holding the other up —  and is a visual that’s essential to the show’s core. In fact, showing vulnerability further reinforces how the characters represent the real, flawed people that we see and interact with every day, even when we don’t know their backstories.

It’s about community pain

The Chi has undoubtedly been about the collective trauma of a community since the very beginning. Creator Lena Waithe has been clear that’s a deliberate goal of the show.

And like Dr. Kimya Barden, a professor of inner-city studies at Northeastern Illinois University, said on Morning Shift, collective trauma can be juxtaposed with post-traumatic stress, but there isn’t always the same kind of resources given to those communities.

“There aren’t those interventions or services to support these coping mechanisms that come with community-based violence,” Barden said. “Hearing it, seeing it, and even being victimized by it.”

On The Chi, we see what can happen as a result. As an addict, a vet, and the father figure of a slain child, Ronnie has experienced a mix of all those situations. He’s no angel, but there’s nothing about him that screams hardcore killer either. And now he’s struggling to come to terms with his actions.

Ronnie’s been bleeding from a gunshot wound in his stomach since episode 4, but the hole in his heart seems to be much deeper. He’s mourning the loss of his stepson, Jason, as he mourns the kid he killed thinking he was Jason’s killer.

It’s a twisted spiral that causes pain all around. And like Rafiq (played by executive producer Common) says in this episode: “The block don’t teach you how to express that pain, do it?”

Common as Rafiq. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

‘You good, man?’

As much as this episode is about recognizing Ronnie’s pain, it’s also about his realization that he needs to reach out and get help.

The mental health of black men has been a topic of recent discussion as more and more public figures share their struggles. From the #YouGoodMan posts after Kid Cudi went to rehab for depression to Jay-Z talking about going to therapy — “You can’t heal what you never reveal” — the discussion is starting to break down some of the stigma surrounding the act of admitting a problem and then actively seeking help for it.

When Ronnie finally accepts the help Rafiq has been offering since the day he stumbled past his mosque after being shot, I’m sure we all took a collective exhale.

Here’s a look at what else happened in episode 8.

On episode 8

Ronnie breaks down

What pushes Ronnie over the edge is someone else’s death. His dealer, Meldrick, makes a client — an addict who just happens to be a radiologist — clean Ronnie’s gunshot wound in exchange for pills. But the doc later overdoses, and Meldrick sends Ronnie out to take the body somewhere “before he turns” into a zombie.

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie and Byron Bowers as Meldrick. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Ronnie puts the doctor in his own car and drives him out to his home. When he gets there, he honks the horn to get his family’s attention and then gets out the car. The doctor’s wife comes outside and finds her husband. Ronnie watches from afar as she screams.

He then visits Rafiq, who tells him the story of when he accidentally killed someone when he was younger. He was at a house party when a fight broke out. He shot a gun to scare the guys fighting them, and the bullet struck and killed a 7-year-old girl in a neighboring home. Rafiq tells him that he went to jail for it and that someone else helped him deal with what he’d done. He offers that same help to Ronnie, who breaks down crying in his arms.

Quentin and Reg flip power positions

When episode 7 ended, Reg had beaten up Quentin’s brother, Sonny, and was holding Quentin hostage in Sonny’s chicken restaurant. As Quentin and Reg talk face-to-face, Quentin is not backing down. He’s determined to look and sound like he has the upper hand in this situation, even though he doesn’t.

Reg raises his gun to shoot Quentin, but things go for a turn in Quentin’s favor when Sonny gets up and knocks Reg in the head right before he can pull the trigger. Sonny is extremely mad that his brother’s dealings have ended up there, and he tells Quentin that he wants him and Reg out of there … right now.

When Reg wakes up, he’s in his home with Quentin and his crew, JB and Tep, who got his address off of his ID in his wallet. Quentin tells him that’s a rookie mistake because now he knows where Reg lives and where his family lives. Reg tells him that his father is locked up, that his mom died, and then lies and says no one else lives with him. But Quentin knows that’s not true. He and his crew stay and wait until Reg’s brother, Jake, comes home that night and a nervous Reg gives Quentin the name of the cop who’s working with their gang: Wallace.

Steven Williams as Quentin, Curtis Toler as JB, and Barton Fitzpatrick as Reg (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

The dynamics of Reg and Quentin’s relationship have once again shifted. Old and more experienced seems to continue to win over young and eager. Reg may have used Quentin’s brother as his weakness, but he wasn’t the only one playing that game.

Kevin and Papa stage an intervention for Jake

Kevin and Papa are worried about Jake ever since he pulled out a gun at the skating rink. They agree to set up a date, play video games, and talk to him about what’s on their minds.

As soon as they start to talk about it, Kevin’s mom interrupts them and sends them to the store.

Alex Hibbert as Kevin, Michael Epps as Jake, and Shamon Brown as Papa. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

They’re shopping and getting everything off the list, but there is one thing left: tampons. Papa calls Kevin’s mom to ask exactly what kind of tampons she wants because he “already did his 10,000 steps” so he’s not walking back to the store today if they get the wrong thing.

Again, it’s the youngest cast members who bring the most comic relief in this episode, but especially Papa. From scenes of him whiddling in his room or his conversation with Kevin’s mom about tampons, he’s becoming a fan favorite.

But as they walk from the store, Kevin and Papa start the conversation again about Jake’s behavior since his brother forced him to join a gang. In anger, Jake says Kevin is the one who shot someone, letting the secret out to Papa that Kevin shot Ronnie.

Emmett misses his life as a full-time dad

This week, Emmett is starting his day off of daddy duty. He’s relaxed and grateful to not have been woken up by a baby after the baby’s mother, Tiffany, came and got him. But by the end of the day, his attitude takes a drastic turn.

Emmett takes his girlfriend, Keisha, out on an oh-so-romantic McDonald’s picnic date in the park. When he sees a man playing catch with his son, he starts to talk about how he wants to get EJ into T-ball when he’s old enough to play. He thinks about how he doesn’t even know exactly where the baby is, and then has an urgent need to try and find him. He finds out where they are and tries to take the baby back. But Tiffany’s new boyfriend interrupts their argument with a knife, and Emmett angrily leaves.

Jacob Latimore as Emmett, Ivan Ellis as Dek, and Hannah Hall as Tiffany. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Things come together for Brandon

This week’s episode isn’t all gloom. Things are looking up for Brandon, who spent the night at the home he once shared with his ex-girlfriend, Jerrika — but on the uncomfortable couch. In the morning, Jerrika cooks them breakfast and encourages Brandon to go ahead and sign the papers for his mother to sell their childhood home. He’s now unemployed, and selling the house would give him money to start his own business.

He finally gives in and signs the paper so that his mom can sell the house, and we see that what he was really holding onto wasn’t this physical home, but the memories of his murdered brother, Coogie, living there. His mother, who’s ready for a new start, is doing the opposite.

Sonja Sohn as Laverne and Jason Mitchell as Brandon. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Brandon also lucks up on the career tip, too, when he convinces his cousin to become a silent partner in a food truck business. He buys Brandon an old ice cream truck to convert, and Brandon is ecstatic. He takes a joy ride to see Jerrika, who says she’s glad to see him happy.

“All this is great,” he says, “but it’s nothing if you’re not there with me.” They have a huge makeup kiss, and he picks her up and carries her into the food truck laughing.

Tiffany Boone as Jerrika and Jason Mitchell as Brandon. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

What’s next?

  • Hopefully, Ronnie’s breakdown means recovery and redemption for him. What the show hasn’t covered in depth yet is forgiveness, and this is the opportunity to go into that.

  • Brandon definitely deserves a new start, but he’s still got a lot of work to do to make that happen. And it’s possible that the sale of his childhood home may not go smoothly. Jerrika mentioned that she has a potential offer from someone who has been buying up multiple properties in the area. That person or entity may be bringing more harm to the neighborhood than good.

  • And again, Quentin’s got to be Jason’s biological father. The first question he asks in his interrogations is still: What do you know about that kid — the basketball player — who got killed?

Arionne Nettles is a digital producer at WBEZ. To share your comments and thoughts on The Chi, tweet her at @arionnenettles.