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‘The Chi’ Goes To A Block Party

My greatest memories growing up on the South Side were all outside: running through water blasting from a fire hydrant, the smell of delicious barbecue, and dancing late into the night with my family and friends.

The latest episode of The Chi, called “Today Was a Good Day,” had all the good things we cherish about #summertimechi — both past and present — and they all happened at a “Stop the Violence” block party. The whole neighborhood was outside dancing and doing the Wobble, while everyone ate good food and connected with one another, and with Chicago music industry legend George Daniels in the mix. The scene felt very much like Chicago, and it brought a celebratory feel that we haven’t been able to see much of in this series so far. (The closest was episode 4’s house party.)

Gunshots ring out

But it wasn’t all rosey. As fun as the block party scenes were, they also highlighted the fact that summer in the city can still be a violence-ridden season. At the end of the episode, distant gunshots interrupted the party while everyone danced to Jodeci’s “Get On Up.”

There was a brief pause as everyone looked around, but the DJ (DJ Pharris from Chicago’s Power 92) told the crowd they weren’t going to let that stop the party. People started dancing again. They didn’t let the gunshot steal this very joyful moment — a moment they all very much deserved.

Guns get into the wrong hands

This episode also gave us a glimpse into how illegal guns make their way into Chicago, as it showed a local gang stealing guns from a South Side rail yard. This wasn’t a huge operation — just some guys in a couple of SUVs. Unlike the drug trade, which is often dominated by powerful cartels or large gangs, illegal gun markets operate at a much smaller level in Chicago. (To read more about that, check out ProPublica reporter Mick Dumke’s piece for WBEZ’s “Every Other Hour” series.)

Even The Chi’s rail yard heist was rooted in some truth. Like The Associated Press reported: “Chicago's biggest rail yards are on the gang- and homicide-plagued South and West sides where most of the city's 762 killings happened” in 2016. Just hours after 111 guns were stolen from a South Side Norfolk Southern rail yard in 2015, they were already being sold out on the street.

Here’s how The Chi’s plot moved in episode 5, ending at a much anticipated block party that brought all of the show’s main characters into the same space at the same time for the first time.

On Episode 5

Emmett is still chasing checks

Poor Emmett is still trying to make as much money as he can to raise the son who was dropped at his house in the first episode. He’s literally running from job to job the entire episode.

Amir had previously told Emmett he could get a job at his corner store if Emmett found him a certain pair of Nike Jordans. Emmett finds them and brings them to him, but instead of offering the teen a job at the store, Amir pays Emmett to go pick up an unspecified shipment from his cousin.

Emmett pulls into the warehouse, and everything looks shady. Amir’s cousin and his crew have guns, and they warn Emmett to stay in the van while they load it up. Emmett, sweating and nervous, drives back to Amir and demands answers. Amir admits that the van is filled with illegal cigarettes he sells individually to gain a larger profit — not drugs or anything that Emmett had thought might have been in the van.

Emmett tells Amir that he should consider working with him to sell exclusive shoes on a larger scale. Amir doesn’t immediately agree to working with Emmett, but giving him the ability to expand his business would be the end of his money problems. Although, it probably won’t be a legal — setting up the possibility for Emmett to make some poor decisions in his desperate search for cash.

Jacob Latimore as Emmett and Behzad Dabu as Amir. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

Jake gets an introduction to gang life

Jake rides with his brother to the rail yard to steal guns. They have the shipping manifest from Detective Cruz’s dirty partner, and it directs them to the right rail car. They break into it and transfer guns from ATF boxes into the toy boxes they brought.

This is appealing to Jake, whose brother gives him $100 to help load the boxes into the truck. But instead, he grabs a gun and goes out of the group’s view so he can take a selfie holding up the gun while mean-mugging the camera. A railroad employee sees him and chases him back to his brother’s truck as they all speed away.

Later, Jake brags about the heist to his friends as he spends part of the $100 buying all of their snacks at the corner store.

Michael Epps as Jake. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

At this point, Jake enjoys his access to money and weapons, but he may soon remember that the life he’s being pulled into has many more negative outcomes than positive ones.

While trying to go with Kevin to get his bike back from a bully, Jake is stopped by a member of a rival gang. It’s not his gang’s territory, and someone recognizes him as Reg’s little brother. He stops Jake but allows Kevin to keep going. He can’t travel as his friends can, and this is the first time we see that Jake’s life may dramatically differ from his friends in upcoming episodes.

Michael Epps as Jake and Vonzell Scott as a crew member. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

Kevin and Papa can go back to kid life

We saw Kevin — as well as his friend Papa — being just regular kids this episode. Compared to Jake, the third in their trio, Kevin and Papa are able to mostly do kid things in this episode. Our first shot of them is in Kevin’s room playing a video game. When Kevin mouths off to his mother who comes in and tells them to be quieter, the super lovable and funny Papa sucks up to Kevin’s mom and says, “It’s hormones probably, Ms. Williams. It’s in the meat.”

It’s a very real and relatable scene that offsets how scary Jake’s life could be as he continues down a different path.

Maisha, a girl who has been bullying Kevin, steals his bike this episode. (In previous episodes, Maisha has done things like chase Kevin, lick his face, and shove him into a locker.) And after he goes to her home and finds out she’s living with her baby in a housing project, he seems to feel some compassion for her and says she can borrow his bike to run her errands.

It’s a scene that adds complexity to one of the show’s young characters. It’s another instance of the show creators reminding us that kids’ lives outside of school aren’t always simple and carefree.

Genesis Denise Hale as Maisha. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

Ronnie can’t get back into Tracy’s good graces

Ronnie’s alive, but he’s still healing (and still bleeding) from his gunshot wound. He goes to see Tracy to try to get her to forgive him for standing her up the night he found out that he’d wrongly killed Coogie. He goes to Tracy’s house and gives her Jason’s phone, which he’d been able to retrieve, but she’s not impressed. Also, she can’t open it. She tries the passcode she thought would unlock it, but it doesn’t work.

Ronnie also admits to Tracy that he’d killed someone in an attempt to avenge Jason’s death for her. She tells him that none of that is her fault and gives him the phone back. She doesn’t want anything to do with him — or with what he has done.

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

Quentin is definitely up to no good

We’ve suspected it for weeks, but Quentin — a neighborhood kingpin elder — is getting back into business, although he admits he’s not sure just what kind of business. He assembles his old crew, and they join him in monitoring what the current street leaders are doing.

One of the people under his watchful eye is Jake’s brother, Reg. While watching Reg and his crew bring toy boxes filled with guns into the stash house, Quentin’s crew profiles Reg as being “bold” but “short on strategy,” and they come to the conclusion that they can figure out what he’s up to soon.

Steven Williams as Quentin, Ronald Conner as Tep, and Curtis Toler a JB. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

Old school officially meets new school at the block party when Reg is yelling at the DJ to play different music. Quentin and his crew come up to Reg and his crew, they exchange words, and the end result is the newer leaders backing down — at least for the remainder of the episode.

Barton Fitzpatrick as Reg and Steven Williams as Quentin. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

And another huge block party development: Quentin knows Tracy. And many people have been speculating for weeks that he could possibly be Jason’s biological dad, since he came into town inquiring about Jason’s death.


Brandon’s taking bad love advice

Brandon is still hurt over losing Jerrika. He’s staying with his cousin, who’s giving him bad advice but also giving him some much needed companionship, teaching him tai chi and giving him a lot of weed from his grow house. Brandon is extra worried that Jerrika might be seeing someone else while he’s gone, having some other man near his stuff and using his George Foreman grill. He also comes clean to his cousin about finding out about who killed Coogie and the subsequent reasons he feels he can’t go to the cops now.

Later at the block party, Brandon sees Ronnie, who is there with his grandmother, and confronts him. Ronnie remorsefully admits that he only killed Coogie because someone told him Coogie killed Jason.

Nothing is really resolved, but Brandon warns Ronnie not to ever touch Kevin. He may not have been there to protect his own brother, but he’s not letting anything bad happen to Kevin.

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie and Jason Mitchell as Brandon. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

But Ronnie isn’t the only person Brandon runs into at the block party. He sees Jerrika, who is there on a date. The guy even walks up and says, “You must be the guy who keeps calling.” That really frustrates Brandon and he just walks away.

Tiffany Boone as Jerrika, Gregory Fenner as Demetrius, and Jason Mitchell as Brandon. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

What’s next

  • The gunshots at the block party could possibly mean something more than random shots during the night. They could indicate a major plot move, although they could have no major significance at all.

  • Now that Quentin is officially back on the scene, he may have some significant action in upcoming episodes, especially because he’s tied to many of the main characters at this point. Plus, Jake’s brother Reg did not seem happy about being approached by Quentin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to get back at him somehow. If they do go head-to-head somehow, my bet would be on Quentin.

  • Ronnie, who still does not have the woman he loves and is ridden with guilt, might be seeking some deeper redemption for killing Coogie as he continues to mentally fall apart. That gunshot in his stomach doesn’t seem to be the only thing that’s not healing.

  • Extra note: Since the last episode, Showtime announced it has renewed The Chi for a second season, signing on episode 3 writer Ayanna Floyd Davis as executive producer and showrunner.

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

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