Black-ish (S02E16): “Hope”

Review: This week’s episode of Black-ish wasn’t Black”-ish” at all. Unapologetically so, this week put the spotlight on police brutality, which, in my opinion, has been a long time coming. For a long time I’ve wondered if the show was going to address this very relevant and important issue, as I’ve not known these writers to shy away from controversial issues. The Black-ish writers have always explored such issues in a way that still fits the show’s comedic format, yet manages to get the point across. So anyone hoping for a very special #AllLivesMatter episode*, this is not the show for you.

This was an episode that made me wish for an hour-long episode instead, because twenty three minutes of footage simply isn’t enough when it comes to such a complicated and delicate matter. But the Black-ish writers did an outstanding job showcasing the effects of the media and systemic racism in the American justice system on the minds of young Black kids and teens and their parents who are torn between wanting to shield them from what is currently happening in the world and wanting to making sure they step into this world with their eyes wide open.

All in all, I found this a very difficult review to write, because I’m not quite sure how to review this episode in a way that highlights every powerful moment that mattered. Because every moment truly did. If I’m perfectly honest, I’d suggest to forgo any reviews before watching and skip to watching it instead.

But this week’s episode was first and foremost about hope. Both keeping it amidst tragedy, and having it stripped away. The entire episode is set within the Johnson’s home and for once there are no side characters or outside factors. The whole family is watching the news, which is centered around a case of police brutality, the McQuillan case. It’s a developing story, in which a possible indictment is pending.

The kids all deal with this in their own way. Junior has been reading up on the matter and is able to provide facts and different viewpoints on the case; Zoey has vaguely heard of the case, but would rather escape from it by doing her homework. For the twins, this is the first time they’re confronted with this matter and Bow spends the episode distracting them from following the news. To her, they’re still too young, especially as little Jack still thinks swallowing chewing gum will lead to a chewing gum tree in his stomach and “unarmed” suspect means just that, a suspect with no arms.

But Dre feels differently. To him, it’s not too soon for the twins to learn how cruel the world can be. To him it’s important that they all watch the news and that they’re honest with Jack and Diane. His parents agree with him, naturally. As Dre was growing up, they never shied away from any of this. Poor young Dre knew far too much about Jeffrey Dahmer and Lorena Bobbitt!

They go back and forth on the matter, delivering statistics on police brutality, mentioning known cases such as Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland, and discussing the criminal justice system. While Bow wants to shield the twins from this and doesn’t want them to not have any hope, Dre is convinced that the kids need to know what kind of world they live in.

The outcome of the case is disappointing. No indictment, as we’ve heard many times before. Everyone is appalled, but not necessarily surprised. Protests break out in the city and the Johnsons’s plans to order Chipotle turns into Ruby cooking rice and stacking up on survival food and items.

It is then that the focus shifts to the older Johnson kids, with Zoey and Junior both representing this current Black generation. When Junior indicates that he wants to go out to join the protests, this upsets Zoey greatly. And it’s a powerful moment, because I think it represents what a lot of black teens these days are feeling. She’s scared, lost, confused. After all, a large amount of victims of police brutality are from the same generation, some not even young enough to vote. And to think Bow was terrified Zoey didn’t have any depth in her!

Moved by the kids’s reactions, Bow convinces Dre to take action themselves. The episode ends with the family going out and joining the protests with perhaps the hope of a better day. 

This was honestly one of the best episodes of Black-ish yet. This review only covers the tip of the iceberg of a poignant, wonderful episode. Major props to not just the writers this week, but also the actors themselves, as they all did a beautiful job!

*Check out Yara Shahidi’s open letter on this episode right here