‘The Chi’ Finale Brings The Drama … And The Joy

Malkia Stampley as Karen White, Alex Hibbert as Kevin, and Tyla Abercrumbie as Nina.
Malkia Stampley as Karen White, Alex Hibbert as Kevin, and Tyla Abercrumbie as Nina. Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME
Malkia Stampley as Karen White, Alex Hibbert as Kevin, and Tyla Abercrumbie as Nina.
Malkia Stampley as Karen White, Alex Hibbert as Kevin, and Tyla Abercrumbie as Nina. Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME

‘The Chi’ Finale Brings The Drama … And The Joy

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The first season of The Chi ended this week with a strong message: No matter what happens on the South Side, we still have our joy.

The Showtime drama has covered a lot of ground so far: gun violence, distrust of the police, collective trauma and pain, and the complications that happen when all of those things collide in a single neighborhood. But even with all of the hard-hitting topics, creator Lena Waithe and her team chose to end this season with a scene from a middle-school party. Showtime announced in January that The Chi will return with a second season, and although we don’t know much about what Waithe has planned, she did say at a recent event that “it’s gonna be blacker and more authentic.”

As the song “Reality Check” (by Chicago artist Noname) plays in the background, one of the show’s main characters, Kevin, dances with Andrea — a girl he’s liked since the first episode. The party is a celebratory one after the kids in the show have successfully put on their adaptation of The Wiz. It’s the final scene we see as the ending credits roll in.

Music by Chicago artists have powered The Chi’s storyline since its opening scene, where we’re introduced to the neighborhood as Coogie rides around on his bike. And along with a real and relatable soundtrack, the series’ debut season says a lot about the community, the culture, and the character of those of us who live there.

Trauma is complex

Trauma serves as an ever-present force throughout the season. The spiralling of events that occur after a teenager is killed causes a tornado of hurt for the entire community. But what is true in the series — and in real life — is that healing that trauma is difficult. The show doesn’t try to provide a solution to all of those complexities, but highlights the need for more resources to address them.

Tai Davis as Tracy. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

‘Good kids’ get hurt, too

The teens in the series are what most people would define as “good kids.” They’re very lovable characters, and when they’re killed, their deaths help dispel the myth that gun violence only happens to kids in gangs. Neither of the teens who are killed are associated with any gang activity, yet their deaths are the catalyst for even more violence.

Jahking Guillory as Coogie and Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

In the final episode, we finally see how Jason dies, and it’s chilling. A happy kid who’s out getting ice cream for his girlfriend accidentally sees a drug dealer and cop with a trunk full of guns and loses his life because of it. Seeing Jason be senselessly killed in his varsity jacket is a reminder of all the hurt and turmoil that resulted from his death — a death he didn’t deserve.

Tai Davis as Tracy and Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Ronnie. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

Just one thing can change the course of your life

Throughout the season, it’s just one wrong decision, trusting the wrong person, or one thing beyond someone’s control that totally changes the characters’ trajectories. For Brandon, it’s the death of his brother, Coogie, that changes everything. For Kevin, it’s witnessing a murder that makes him shoot someone out of fear that he may be next. For Emmett, it’s trusting the wrong people to get the money he so desperately needs to take care of his son. And all of these cases put the audience in the mindset that these situations could easily happen to them, too.

Violence does not define the totality of the South Side

The Chi intentionally shows that life on the South Side isn’t all about violence. The writers purposely show moments of love, family, and joyful fellowship. We see this in this episode’s school play scenes, when the kids go to a house party, and even more when the entire community gets together for a block party earlier this season.

Shamon Brown as Papa. (Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

And, one of The Chi’s greatest storytelling strengths is infusing comedic relief into episodes filled with really tough subjects. Papa and his hilarious statements offset the fear the audience has that something could happen to him, Kevin, or Jake at any moment. Even Reg, who is one of the more menacing characters, has moments that are funny and human.

On the season finale

It’s been a beautifully complicated season, and here’s how it wrapped up:

The OG wins again

Quentin gets his revenge by killing Trice, but not before Trice gives him all the details of Jason’s death. When Jason unknowingly stumbled on Trice and Detective Wallace one night, Trice shot him first, but it was Wallace who finished the job stepping on Jason’s neck as he gasped for air and pleaded for help. Because of this, Quentin kills Wallace by brutally slashing his throat.

Steven Williams as Quentin and Brian King as Detective Wallace. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Jake misses life as a kid

Reg and Jake deliver “the package” to Quentin and get their crew on board with Reg being its new leader. But while Jake can do anything he wants to, he chooses to go to the play to see his friends. He and Kevin continue to argue about his life choices, though, and that friction is likely to continue into to the next season.

Barton Fitzpatrick as Reg and Michael Epps as Jake. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Kevin pushes his nerves to the side, Papa lets his ‘star shine’

There is a stark difference between Jake’s new daily activity and Kevin and Papa’s play preparation. A nervous Kevin finds comfort in Papa, whose confidence carries the play. Everyone is up and clapping — from Kevin’s moms to even Reg. In that moment, there’s all happiness.

And later, that joyous feeling continues as the kids in the play party at school. Kevin clears up the air with Maisha, who he used to make Andrea jealous in a previous episode. Kevin and Andrea also make up and end the night dancing.

While Kevin is at the party, Detective Cruz visits his home and tells his mom that Kevin witnessed a murder. This storyline will likely be one of the first things to pick back up in the second season.

Shamon Brown as Papa and Alex Hibbert as Kevin. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Brandon’s family seeks closure

Detective Cruz notifies Brandon and his mother, Laverne, that Ronnie has confessed to Coogie’s murder. Laverne decides that she no longer wants to sell the house and move away because she wants to stay in town and watch Coogie’s killer be brought to justice.

David Alan Anderson as Greavy, Sonja Sohn as Laverne, and Jason Mitchell as Brandon. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Previously, this would have been good news for Brandon, who initially didn’t want her to sell the house. But now, Brandon is counting on the money he would receive in the sale to put into his food truck — a food truck that Reg wants to sell drugs out of since Brandon owes him.

Detective Cruz bosses up

Detective Cruz gets Ronnie to tell him details about killing Coogie that he’s reluctant to tell. He tells Cruz that he sold the gun to Meldrick, a drug dealer, and also that Kevin witnessed him kill Coogie.

Cruz also doesn’t shy away from Detective Wallace. He gets into an altercation with him in the police station bathroom and lets him know that he was not going to give up on investigating Jason’s death. And now, after Quentin kills Wallace, he has a new murder to investigate.

Emmett doesn’t give up on EJ

Emmett is determined to be a good father to EJ. And after EJ’s mom, Tiffany, shows up with a bruised face, Emmett offers to help her, too. He soon finds out that both Tiffany and her boyfriend, Dek, are abusing each other — a horrible situation for EJ to be around. So after talking with his mom, Jada, Emmett decides he’s going to have to find a way to get custody of EJ — a seemingly impossible act.

Jacob Latimore as Emmett. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

What to look for in season 2

  • Nobody wants Cruz to have to face off with Quentin, but since he’s assigned to Wallace’s murder case, that’s unavoidable.
  • Brandon just can’t catch a break. He’s in some deep water with Reg.
  • Emmett will likely have a tough court battle in his future. And as he struggles to earn money to take care of EJ, that’s going to cost him.
  • Can Kevin and Papa hold on to their friendship with Jake? They’re trying but it’s looking like they’ll soon need to let that go.
  • And with Ronnie incarcerated and seemingly on an entirely new kind of breakdown, it also gives the show the opportunity to explore the prison system. (H/T to Buzzfeed reporter Sylvia Obell.)

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