by Angelica Jade Bastién | via Vulture
How do we heal? This is the question at the heart of “Caroling Dusk,” the fifth episode of Queen Sugar’s second season. Time can be a cruel mistress. It doesn’t heal every wound completely. So what should people do when emotional scars linger even after the obvious signs of past calamities do not? The Bordelon siblings and those in their orbit are experiencing a multitude of issues including deep-seated loneliness, the bone-shaking fear in the wake of a young black man’s unjust arrest, the death of loved ones, and the end of important romantic relationships. It’s sometimes difficult to parse out the emotional complexity of Queen Sugar, a series in which every gesture and every frame carries tremendous weight, but this episode gives us a surprising focal point: the juxtaposition of Charley and Darla as they both try to rebuild their lives.
Queen Sugar ended last week on Darla’s mournful face after she was cruelly (although arguably justly) fired for skipping work to be by Ralph Angel’s side at the farm. Now she’s navigating a landscape in which finding new work is difficult. The gaps in her résumé underscore her history of addiction. Pressure from Ralph Angel is also at an all-time high. “You don’t have to do this all by yourself,” he says after proposing that she live with him and Blue. Ralph Angel wants the white-picket-fence fantasy with Darla. He doesn’t completely understand why she’s so attached to her own independence when she can lean on him for support. Even before Darla met with her sponsor, the underpinnings of her reasons against moving in with Ralph Angel made perfect sense to me: Depending on others for strength opens her up to a complacency that could lead to a relapse. But also I think a part of Darla doesn’t believe she deserves love, kindness, and such a comforting sense of family, given how many people she hurt during the throes of her addiction.
Later, when Darla gets back to the home, she finds Blue tearing up his room looking for his beloved doll Kenya while a frantic Ralph Angel searches by his side. The moment Darla crouched on the floor and heard what happened, a ripple in her facial expression confirmed what I feared: She threw the doll away. In that same tentative voice that marks most of her conversations, she tries to explain to Ralph Angel as his anger bubbles to the surface. “What am I going to do with sorry?!” Ralph Angel asks when she tries to apologize. This leads Ralph Angel on a futile quest, digging through the trash of the gas station where Darla thinks she threw away Kenya. This leads to a curious scene: Just as Ralph Angel is completely undone by having to dig through trash in order to find his son’s worn, beloved doll, a cop car rolls up.
Ralph Angel is able to avoid a parole violation and a return to prison because one of the officers, a black man, is an old friend. They end up talking about their past and present. It’s a touching scene, as the police officer thanks Ralph Angel for defending him from school bullies who realized he was gay even before he fully did. This is the second time Ralph Angel just skirts a parole violation. The threat of Ralph Angel going back to prison has loomed over the entire series. Would the show ever push his story back in that direction, given that he’s finally working toward a long-held desire to get his life in order? Is this commentary on the post-prison struggles of convicts and the ways black men’s lives are curtailed in our society?
When Ralph Angel returns home (without Kenya), it isn’t surprising he quickly reconnects with Darla. She opens up to him, admitting that she believed Blue only held onto Kenya so fiercely as a salve for her absence during the worst times of her addiction. Since she’s back, why does he care so deeply for this doll? Ralph Angel tries to console Darla, reminding her that Kenya is just a doll and has no bearing on her place in Blue’s life. It’s almost as if Darla can’t fully hear Ralph Angel, though. She’s still beating herself up for one mistake after another. “The one thing I know I’m good at is being his mother,” she admits. It’s the kind of moment that leaves a deep bruise.
Click HERE to read the rest of the recap, “Caroling Dusk.”