by Angelica Jade Bastién | via Vulture
“I Know My Soul” is an episode that provides no quick resolution or easy answers. Wounds don’t heal. Insults burnish in the air. No outside threat forces the Bordelon siblings to mend their differences, at least momentarily, in order to survive. Like last week’s episode, it ends on an ellipsis. It’s hard to conceive of what will happen next since everyone is spiraling in different directions.
Nevertheless, Queen Sugar has always presented a hopeful stance on family. “Family comes first,” Violet says. Watching this week’s episode, I began to wonder, what do children owe their parents? And, is carrying familial legacies forward a gift or a burden? “I Know My Soul” is the best episode of season two thus far because it provides no heartwarming response to such questions. Charley, Nova, and Ralph Angel are forced to sit with their respective hurts and find salves on their own.
The episode begins moments after “Line of Our Elders” left off, with Violet making an impassioned plea for a furious Nova to stay in the wake of hearing about Ernest’s second will. Charley refuses to believe Ralph Angel, while Nova feels he is lording the will over his sisters. Ralph Angel may have legal rights to all the land now, but he does himself no favors by needling Charley and Nova. He repeatedly tries to hurt them by reminding Nova that she moved to New Orleans and never looked back. (Does she not deserve a life of her own? What does she owe her father, especially considering she was the least interested in the land?) He remarks that if Charley actually picked up the phone, maybe Ernest wouldn’t have ended up being a janitor. This is just the beginning of cruelty directed at Charley.
Meanwhile, Darla, Hollywood, Micah, and Blue play cards outside as curiosity grows about the turmoil brewing inside. (Director Kat Candler shows their Go Fish game in one of the series’s signature overhead shots.) Charley and Nova remain unmoved, so Ralph Angel goes to fetch the letter to settle matters, as if things could be that easy. While he’s momentarily away, the real issues that are causing Charley and Nova to react so venomously are uncovered.
Charley’s anger is easily understandable. In the wake of her issues with Davis and guilt over not coming when Ernest called, taking up this legacy is an act of penance and remembrance. She’s uprooted her life as well as her son’s. She’s tied her image and money to this legacy. That’s why I find Ralph Angel’s decision to hold onto this for so long only to now use it against Charley somewhat cruel. I get that Ralph Angel wants to prove himself, but how he’s going about that isn’t brave but impetuous and short-sighted.
Meanwhile, Nova isn’t angry over losing her claim over the farm itself, but what it represents. “You are going to have to let me in,” Violet says, recognizing that Nova’s reaction has roots in something she isn’t admitting. Nova opens up about the expectations Ernest placed on her: to settle down, have kids, live a more traditional life. Once Ralph Angel and Charley had children, he stopped asking about those plans — and Nova interpreted that as Ernest finally coming to terms with who she truly was. In finding out about this second will, her mind has changed. “Cutting me out of the farm seems like he’s judging me, punishing me,” Nova says.
The dynamics of legacies and the burdens upon black women who live untraditional lives is certainly fertile ground to explore. Actress Rutina Wesley carefully melds steely resolve, blistering anger, and confusion with the character of Nova. But I feel this story line could have gone a bit deeper. A parent placing weight upon their child to live a life more commonplace isn’t out of the ordinary. Nova is by far the most unconventional of the Bordelon siblings. She’s bisexual, has no children, deeply devoted to activism. I kept wondering if Ernest’s issues had different dimensions than what we’ve learned. Why did Nova’s disinterest in having kids bother him? Did he know about her sexuality, and if so, did that rankle him?
When Ernest’s letter is finally read aloud by Violet, she grants his words with great weight. Everyone is silent as she reads, drinking the words in and calculating their weight upon their lives. In the letter, Ernest pointedly notes he is leaving his farm to “the child of mine who needs it and loves it most.” He goes on to advise Ralph Angel to “never forget you are better than you think.” But what did he think about the repercussions on Charley and Nova? Legacy is important to black families, so this isn’t just about land and sugar cane. This is about everyone’s place in the world and how they believe their father conceived of them.
Click HERE to read the rest of the recap, “I Know My Soul.”