One of my favorite cousins would have turned 40 this week, but instead, he only made it to 22.
I was 14 when he was shot and killed not too far from where The Chi takes place on the South Side. And although there were multiple theories about what happened, I know that none of that really matters. He was a good person with an infectious smile who was hardworking and loved taking care of other people. But that didn’t stop what happened to him — and to our family. We still lost him. And we still were left to deal with that great loss.
So, I grew up thinking that getting shot was a normal thing that people just dealt with. Sometimes people were lucky enough to survive, and sometimes they weren’t. That it happens, you mourn, but you keep on going — you go back to school, back to work, back to everyday living, hoping that every time you see a news report, you don’t recognize the name.
As a Chicagoan watching Showtime’s The Chi, I’m on the lookout for how the creators blend authenticity and artistry. I see us — my family, friends, and people I know and grew up with — in the people on my TV screen. I see the characters’ layers and I’m interested in following how they navigate the situations they can and can’t avoid. I’m not upset that another show based in Chicago has violence in it because Chicagoans are doing the storytelling. To me, that’s an important distinction that drives the show’s honest representation.
And it’s not a stretch that other Chicagoans may see themselves in the characters, too. In 2016, someone in Chicago was shot about every other hour, and that rate continued through much of 2017.
This week’s episode of The Chi moved past mourning and grief to the confrontations that result from it and the consequences of those actions.
#TheChi gets me every week. The characters are so beautifully perfect and flawed. Watching Brandon and Kevin reflect on the incident with Ronnie is NOT the heartlessness the news media would have you believe about Chicago. Well done. 👌🏾— Illustrious One (@lifesajourney09) January 29, 2018
Brandon, whose younger brother was killed in retaliation for another teen’s death, and Jake, whose friend Kevin witnessed it, are just two of the main characters struggling to manage the murder’s effect by facing the issues head-on. And although showrunner Lena Waithe has explained that she wanted black men to be at the center of this narrative, it’s been the show’s women — the mothers, the grandmothers, the sisters — who have been there to hold everything together.
There’s black & brown babies like Kev experiencing trauma in their personal lives and then are expected to go to school the next day and excel like nothing happened #TheChi— Chelsey Brejanee (@ChelseyBrejanee) January 29, 2018
Stepping into more danger
Brandon — who’s been on the straight and narrow his whole life — is now placed in situations he’s likely avoided his entire life. He’s trying to protect Kevin after not being able to save his own younger brother, and he’s getting into more and more danger. And when he tries to stand up for himself or for Kevin, he’s forced to face even more issues.
That’s an important message: Any person, no matter how hard they try to avoid it, can be pulled into lifestyles and decisions that are difficult.
Brandon really need to stop trying to be a peacemaker he's just digging a deeper hole for himself #TheChi— KimmyKakes (@HunnyB8701) January 29, 2018
A kid getting pulled into the streets
We learn in this episode that Jake took a gun from his older brother, who’s a gang leader, so that Kevin could protect himself. That led to Jake unknowingly getting pulled into streetlife. He’s a kid but is still trying to protect his friends, and he takes responsibility for what happens to him even though he shouldn’t have been placed in those situations in the first place.
Women holding it all together
For viewers, like me, who have been wondering when we’d see more women in the show’s spotlight, this week’s episode began to bring the critical role they play into focus. From Jada patching up Ronnie’s wounds to Kevin’s sister helping him sneak in the house, this episode briefly touched upon the role of black women during periods of stress and trauma.
Ronnie’s grandmother, Ethel, was by far the supporting star of episode four. Although elderly and ailing herself, she saved Ronnie’s life multiple times in a single episode. She is the kind of maternal figure who works to keep all the glue together when a situation is on the verge of pulling a family apart — even when the family members who are causing all the drama may not even deserve her grace.
On the opposite end, Waithe and her team places a scene with Ethel saving Ronnie right next to one of Jerrika kicking Brandon out of the house after finding a gun in his bag. Jerrika doesn’t give Brandon an opportunity to explain why he has it before she kicks him out. Previously, though, she’d been a very supportive figure in Brandon’s life, and it’s possible that she reacted in that way because she’s scared for his life and their future — not because she’s intolerable.
We see real stories in Chicago of people empowering themselves to help save lives amid gun violence. I’m reminded of one teenage girl, Journey Jamison, who, thanks to training from a grassroots organization called UMedics, was able to save the life of a man who was shot near her home. Listen to her tell her story:
Tonight's episode of @SHOTheChi showed the strength of black women. From mending broken bodies to taking on the law, they do it ALL. Truly remarkable beings. @LenaWaithe @common @JasonMitch #TheChi pic.twitter.com/WhDCHghW44— John W. Brown (@JohnWBrown1) January 29, 2018
And as most characters try to handle the cards they’re dealt this week, things continue to escalate and worsen. Here’s what happened.
On episode four
We hear a gunshot as the first scene opens. There are montages of Brandon (Jason Mitchell) and Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) struggling throughout, but it’s not until the end of the episode that we know exactly what happened.
A bleeding Ronnie stumbles through the street and makes his way home, where he lives with his grandmother. He’s been beaten up pretty badly, but there’s a huge blood spot on his shirt near his abdomen where he was shot. (We see a very short cameo of Ronnie running into one of the show’s executive producer, Common, who offers to take him to the hospital, but if you blink, you’ll miss it.)
When Ronnie gets home, he tries to wash the blood off of his hands, and Coogie’s ghost (Jahking Guillory) appears behind him as he passes out on the floor.
Meanwhile, we see Brandon and Kevin (Alex Hibbert) with blood on their shirts. They’re not hurt, but Kevin is frantic and hyperventilating. Brandon tries to calm him down, rinses his shirt with a water hose, and tells him to go straight home. Kevin heads home and sneaks in through his sister’s window, who protectively distracts their mother so he can get to his room and clean up.
Brandon changes his shirt, moves a gun from his waistband to his backpack, and heads home, too. As he’s walking down the street, a police car pulls up with two officers who tell him to stop walking. He gets nervous and keeps walking, but the officers hop out of the car and stop him.
They ask him “who he rolls with,” implying that he’s in a gang. He says he’s coming from work and tells them the restaurant’s name. They start to search him, including his bag holding the gun, but he’s able to get out of the search by calling his boss and getting one of the officers a dinner reservation for him and his wife. The officers stop looking in his bag before finding the gun, and Brandon goes home.
The next morning, Jerrika (Tiffany Boone) shakes Brandon awake. She slaps him, says that she found the gun and bloody shirt in his bag, and kicks him out of the house. He’s forced to go stay with his mother, Laverne (Sonja Sohn), and her boyfriend. When he gets there, he hides the gun under the mattress in Coogie’s room.
Also in the morning, Ronnie’s grandmother, Ethel (LaDonna Tittle), finds him passed out on the floor. She checks his pulse and calls her nurse, who happens to be Emmett’s mother, Jada (Yolonda Ross). Ethel convinces Jada to help patch up Ronnie’s gunshot wound, saying, “Our boys are all we’ve got.” Likely thinking about her issues with her own son, Jada helps reluctantly, but says that she doesn’t want to be involved after this one favor.
We find out where the gun used to shoot Ronnie came from when Kevin’s friend Jake (Michael Epps) goes to see his older brother to get a haircut. Jake had stolen the gun from his brother and gave it to Kevin to protect himself. Jake’s brother, who is a local gang leader, tells Jake that he knows he took it and threatens him to bring it back.
Jakes goes to Kevin, who then goes to Brandon to get the gun back. But when Brandon goes back to his mother’s house to get it, the gun is gone. He confronts his mother’s boyfriend, who admits to taking it and says it’s gone. The two seem close to physically fighting before Brandon walks away.
Meanwhile, the girl Kevin likes, Andrea (Mariah Gordon), is throwing a party because her parents are out of town. Kevin and his friends go, and the scene is a nice break from the intensity of what’s going on in the kids’ lives.
Everyone is on their phones at first, but the third kid in Kevin’s trio, Papa (Shamon Brown), pulls a speaker out of his backpack, puts on his own music, and starts dancing. The kids start to join in, and eventually it’s a full-on dance party. We even see a little glimpse of a smile from Kevin as he finally joins in, too, which is the most fun we’ve seen him have so far in the series.
But later, Brandon tells Kevin that he doesn’t have the gun and will take responsibility for its absence. He goes to talk to Jake’s brother, who now says he owes him a favor — and that he likes it when people owe him favors. He asks Brandon about his credit score and then sends him away.
Jake isn’t off the hook, though. His brother says that since he “likes to play with guns,” he has to be in his gang. He says he’s going to train him to be a shooter and reminds him that it’s a lifetime membership.
Detective Cruz (Armando Riesco) is also on the brink of trouble and is trying to cover his tracks after telling Ronnie he had a suspect in custody (Coogie) after Jason was killed. It was out of protocol and was one of the things that contributed to Ronnie thinking Coogie was responsible for Jason’s death.
Cruz goes to look for Ronnie at his grandmother’s house. After Ethel says Ronnie’s not there, Cruz barges his way in and sees blood on the wall and bed sheets. Ronnie’s grandmother stops his search by threatening to shoot him with a shotgun after he unlawfully entered her home, and Cruz leaves. Ronnie, who’s now outside bleeding through his bandages and shirt, left the house when Cruz began his search, and he starts looking for a new place to lay low and rest.
At the very end of the episode, we have one final flashback of what happened in the fight between Brandon and Ronnie. We see Brandon walking away from a beaten up Ronnie who is lying on the ground. Kevin is watching Brandon walk away when Ronnie comes up behind Kevin and puts his hand on his shoulder. Scared, Kevin turns around and shoots him in the stomach.
- Both Jake and Brandon are now involved in a lifestyle they didn’t want to be in.
- Ronnie is in really bad shape, but he was able to get Jason’s phone, which Jason’s mother, Tracy, really wanted. He’ll probably make his way to Tracy’s and try to rekindle their relationship again. If he can heal from his injury, he’ll also likely try to find some redemption for killing Coogie.
- We still don’t know what Quentin (Steven Williams), the former drug kingpin, is up to. He’s trying to intimidate his successor, the guy who’s now running his drug empire for him, but that’s all we know right now.
- Detective Cruz’s work nemesis is a dirty cop who’s giving shipping manifests to that same drug dealer, Quentin’s successor, to break into railyards. He might continue to bring attention to Cruz’s mistake to distract anyone from learning about his own secrets.
- Although Jerrika kicked Brandon out of the house, she may come around. On the first episode, she said over and over again how she didn’t want Brandon involved in “hood” things. Some growth on her part may bring empathy and patience in upcoming episodes. But we have to wait two more weeks to find out this time.
Arionne Nettles is a digital producer at WBEZ. To share your comments and thoughts on The Chi, tweet her at @arionnenettles.