by Angelica Jade Bastién | via Vulture
Nestled into this episode of Queen Sugar, Darla earnestly suggests adding a porch swing to the home that she can now call her own given her engagement to Ralph Angel. This is more than just an effort to make the home more of her own. It’s an effort to have what she calls a “clean slate.” For Darla, this marriage can’t be an extension of what’s come before — the hurt, the accusations, the pain with love in short supply. But clean slates aren’t possible. We are the sum of our wounds and wonders. Healing yourself is possible, but you can’t erase your mistakes or completely rewrite the ways people view you. That’s something Darla and Charley learn acutely.
“Drums at Dusk” is even more heart-wrenching and evocative than the midseason premiere. Director Julie Dash and cinematographer Kira Kelly grant the actors a beautiful canvas. Emotional turns simmer. The most provocative moments are rather quiet and tender: the frustration dashing across Darla’s face when Ralph Angel turns cold, the way Violet’s face drops when she sees Lorna, Charley dreamily moving through rows and rows of white wedding dresses. What has stayed with me most is how Darla experiences one heartbreak after another.
Darla really doesn’t have friends or much community to call her own beyond Ralph Angel and Blue. So it’s Charley who accompanies her to try on wedding dresses. Darla seems hesitant to enjoy the moment or even relish how genuinely great she looks. Darla urges Charley to be honest. “Honesty is in my blood. My mother is the queen of brutal honesty,” Charley says as she discerningly yet appreciatively admires Darla’s potential wedding dress. The friendship between Darla and Charley has become one of my favorite relationships in Queen Sugar. Actors Bianca Lawson and Dawn-Lyen Gardner complement one another, each providing different amounts of steeliness and yearning. It’s rare these two characters allow themselves to be fully vulnerable. Charley goes on to admit issues within her relationship with her mother: “I was with her when I went wedding-dress shopping. I had fallen in love with the first dress I ever tried on. She hated it … she said it made me look pregnant. Which I was.” This admission allows Darla to talk about how she left a voice-mail for her mother and hasn’t heard back. She’s yearning for acceptance she’ll likely never get. Charley advises her that while her blood relatives may never reach out to her, she has a family in Ralph Angel and Blue. But does she?
Ralph Angel is the kind of man who cannot handle much reality. Despite all he’s been through, Ralph Angel has the distinct quality of someone in stasis. It’s like he hasn’t grown up emotionally from his early tragedies. This quality is apparent in the ways he provides no support for Darla. When she walks out of a store, a man leaning against a car in the parking lot refers to her as “Star.” Hearing this name, she bristles. She tries to rebuff him but the man is insistent. “Nah, I’d recognize that ass anywhere,” he bellows. Darla’s tears and nervous energy make it clear she does know him. Does Ralph Angel comfort her? Of course not. After he watches this moment play out between Darla and this disgusting stranger, it’s like a light switch goes off. Whatever charm and warmth he’s shown her recently drains from his face. What’s left is a clenched jaw and simmering anger. This stretches into the evening as Ralph Angel continues to pull away from her. The blocking and framing masterfully communicate the fractures widening between them.
Ralph Angel has not grown like Darla has. He can’t even pretend to be okay for Blue’s sake, preferring instead to brood. “This is the first night living in this house and you’re acting like you don’t want to be anywhere near me,” Darla says when she can no longer ignore Ralph Angel trying to sleep at the far edge of the bed. Ralph Angel is all too eager to throw it in Darla’s face that she obviously knew that man in the store parking lot, that Star was the name she went by when she would have sex to get drugs. Does Ralph Angel reckon with the depth of Darla’s pain? How hard she’s worked to better herself? No. Instead he’s cruel. “You can’t keep punishing me,” she exclaims. But Ralph Angel prefers to not handle this terrain even as it is clear he’s pushing away the woman he loves in the process.
“Toxic masculinity” is a term that has been bandied around a lot in recent years for good reason, but it’s important to discern the reasonings behind its various permutations. Ralph Angel’s anger and stoicism is a by-product of a culture that demands such from black men, a mode of survival that’s deeply rooted in his own issues he likes to pretend don’t exist. Darla deserves better than to be continuously punished by him.
Click HERE to read the rest of the recap, “Drums at Dusk.”