Queen Sugar (Recap) | Heritage (S2 E13)

by Angelica Jade Bastién | via Vulture

I learned at a young age that love is not enough. This is a lesson I’ve carried into adulthood through intensely close, yet toxic friendships and the growing chasms between familial bonds. Sometimes the lovers, friends, and blood relatives you care for the deepest aren’t meant to be in your life. But there’s a part of me that is deeply romantic and yearns to be proven wrong on such matters, who wishes that happy endings powered by love are not only possible but sustainable. Perhaps that’s why I found “Heritage” to be the most profound episode of Queen Sugar this season. At the core of this series is a consideration about the limits and power of love in all its permutations: romantic, familial, platonic, spiritual. This is the first time this season in which every plotline is poignant and challenging, refusing easy answers or any answers at all.

The strength of “Heritage,” beyond the considerable acting talents of the cast, is thanks to the deft writing by Monica Macer and Davita Scarlett. The directing by Liesl Tommy and cinematography by Antonio Calvache focus on the minute shifts of the actors’ faces and physicality, setting them against the near-mythic terrain of rural Louisiana. The episode considers the question, “Is love enough?”, and for each character the answer is significantly different.

I’ve been open about my issues with Nova’s story line this season. Nova is an amazing character in theory, but the writers have made the mistake of focusing on political rhetoric over emotion. By not having Nova intimately deal with characters who speak to the emotional reality of these political ruminations — this season, a potential Zika virus outbreak in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward — she’s become a frustratingly staid character. That’s why my heart leaped with joy when Nova spots Calvin across the room while she’s at a café with her friend Ciara. Calvin’s absence has cast a shadow over this season, since he was previously intrinsic to Nova’s emotional life. There was also never a real good-bye that explained why things soured between them after the harrowing incident in the season-one finale when Calvin and Nova finally made their relationship public, only for her to get spit on by his racist, white acquaintance.

When Nova sees Calvin, she freezes and he noticeably softens. The air changes when they’re in the same room. But although Nova tells Calvin he can call her, she later says to Ciara, “Some things are best left in the past,” remaining taciturn about the possibility of a reconciliation.

Later, Calvin shows up at Nova’s doorstep at night. The chemistry between actors Rutina Wesley and Greg Vaughan is some of the most electrifying I’ve witnessed on TV in recent years. This is why I am so conflicted about how their story line plays out in this episode. When Calvin and Nova sit down on her couch, the space between them physically and emotionally is vast. They both admit they haven’t moved on, despite all their efforts. Calvin is at the edge of tears and closes the gap between them. He gets on his knees, pleading, “Whatever it is, say it. I’ll do it.”

Calvin bares his soul to Nova, expressing the depth of his love. “Felt like a fraud my whole life,” he explains. He played sports, joined the force, got married, and had kids because of outside pressure. He is a man built primarily by the expectations of others. “I did my whole life what everybody else wanted me to do … until you,” Calvin says teary-eyed. “Being with you was the first time I could be me.” When Calvin tells Nova, “I love you so much. More than anything or anyone,” how can you not swoon? Who doesn’t want someone to look at them the way Calvin looks at Nova? They trade I love yous, but Nova is holding back. He’s open; she’s closed off. Despite all his proclamations and love, it isn’t enough.

“For you, I’m freedom. For me, you’re prison,” Nova says pulling away. The looks on their faces and their backs turned to one another are complicated expressions of the pain, yearning, and history between them. Calvin is deeply hurt, explaining he handled the man who ruthlessly disrespected Nova in the season-one finale. But for Nova, that isn’t the issue. She feels she can’t be herself fully with Calvin. She has to hold back particularly when it comes to her activism, which makes up a large part of her identity. Furthermore, being with a white cop is, in her mind, hypocritical given all she fights for. “Just because you wish something is meant to be doesn’t mean it is,” she tells Calvin. What else can be said after that?

These scenes are a great opportunity for Greg Vaughan and Rutina Wesley, who make a meal of the intricate emotional landscape their characters navigate. Vaughan beautifully portrays Calvin as a raw nerve. Wesley understands Nova’s longing. By the time they kiss in a way that can only be described as a good-bye, it’s dawn. When Nova closes the door on Calvin, it’s evident this is a door that won’t open again. I admire Nova for fiercely sticking to her political identity and refusing to bend to the men in her life, no matter how much she cares for them. Black women often deal with a precarious calculus when it comes to romance, weighing identity, politics, and yearning. I’ve been there. I understand what Nova is going through. But there’s a part of me that wishes Calvin would stick around, since this is the first time I’ve felt Nova’s story line has had a lasting emotional impact this season. Unfortunately, black women often don’t get love stories with happy endings in which passion supersedes all else.

Click HERE to read the rest of the recap, “Heritage.”