by Angelica Jade Bastién | via Vulture
More than once, I found myself brought to tears by Queen Sugar’s midseason finale. It’s an immensely dense episode whose beauty and emotional landscape is worthy of study. There’s a lot to discuss in “Freedom’s Plow,” from Charley struggling in the face of Remy’s chilly indifference to Violet’s fainting spell. But first, I want to highlight the show’s greatest strength: its visual language.
To put it simply, Queen Sugar is one of the most visually astute shows currently on air. Part of that is the simplicity and finesse of its visual grammar, which is evident in this episode directed by Amanda Marsalis (who is also a photographer) and written by Anthony Sparks. Yes, Queen Sugar is gorgeous in all the ways we expect of television now. Its color palette is rich and highly evocative of the rural Louisiana I know and love. But the framing and blocking of actors is what stuns me most. Take, for example, a moment nestled into Nova’s arc this week involving a rather hellish dinner she attends with Robert.
Nova runs to Atlanta to spend time with Robert not wholly out of love, but a desperate need to escape the animosity boiling over among her siblings. The mix of emotions that Rutina Wesley has on her face complicates whatever romanticism is on display (like Nova slipping into the backseat of Robert’s car after they park to have sex!). Nova’s vacation away from life hits a snag when she attends a get-together with Robert’s longtime friends. I instantaneously recognized their brand of white southern masculinity: old money, narrow-minded, and unabashedly racist. Dinner with them goes as well as you’d think. It’s merely tense until Timothy North, a contributing editor for the Real American publication that Nova clearly loathes, starts speaking. Timothy obviously doesn’t give a damn about masking his more loathsome qualities. He describes himself as a “real deplorable.” His first words to Nova are even an insult. “Impressive … especially for someone I never heard of,” he says, describing her work at a symposium he attended. The dinner scene only increases the animosity several notches.
Consider how much work the establishing shot accomplishes, despite lasting for only a few seconds. We’re privy to the entirety of the dinner table, with the camera at the very end and looking slightly down at the party. The table is overcome with expensive food, floral arrangements, and wine. Nova immediately stands out, thanks to the pattern on her gorgeous outfit and to the texture of her hair. The decadence of the scene is undercut by Timothy’s virulent racism. He talks about “controlling growth,” and his hate of immigrants and the poor. As he continues talking, it’s clear that what he really desires is a new eugenics movement, which Nova calls attention to. “Who decides who’s unfit and undeserving of the American dream?” she asks pointedly. It isn’t lost on Nova what it means for Robert to move through this world, or the comment one of his friends made earlier about him being a Democrat now. Disgusted by what she’s hearing, Nova leaves the dinner abruptly and isn’t assuaged by Robert’s comment that he had to play the game to find power. How can you not hate the player when the very game he plays is what keeps black and brown people oppressed? When Robert shows up at Nova’s doorstep after she returns to New Orleans, she’s willing to hear him out (thanks to Violet telling her he deserves a chance). The conversation about ways to help make a difference and his apology leads the way to an impassioned kiss. Robert is willing to go the distance for Nova. But you know who isn’t exactly willing to go the distance for anyone but himself? Davis.
The last thing I want to witness on Queen Sugar is Davis getting a happily ever after. Sure, people can change and grow, but I’m not sure I trust him given what he’s put Charley through. Yet here Davis is on a date with the pop star, Tamar, we saw a few episodes back at Habitat for Humanity. I knew she’d return. She’s obviously intrigued by Davis enough to say, “Maybe we can be each other’s second chances.” Seriously? Of course, Davis lies to Micah when he asks if he can bring his girlfriend Keke over, claiming he’s in a business meeting. You know, the kind of business meeting that involves hand-holding and wine-drinking. This lie almost immediately blows up in Davis’s face when Micah, Keke, and her friend happen to walk past the restaurant where Davis is having his date. Micah storms in and doesn’t mince words. “You don’t waste time,” he says. Honestly, I was thinking the same thing. Davis doesn’t care that his divorce with Charley isn’t public yet, and he seems oblivious to how much the he’s hurting Micah.
Click HERE to read the rest of the recap, “Freedom’s Plow.”