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‘The Chi’ Goes to Work in ‘Every Day I’m Hustling’ (Season 2, Episode 2)

Season 2 of South Side, Chicago-based Showtime series The Chi is here, and the second episode is full of characters trying to get to work.

And because I decided after episode 1 to recap this season, here’s my summary of that: Brandon is still losing, Ronnie is still rightfully in jail, Emmett is still immature, Jake and Kevin are still not seeing eye-to-eye — and like Papa says, it’s a whole bunch of “negative energy” that’s “bad for my skin.” (If you need a refresher from Season 1, my previous recaps are here on WBEZ.)

Now, let’s get into Episode 2:

Reg has new responsibilities

In Season 1, Reg killed Trice (reminder: the former head of his gang faction) and put himself in charge. Well, now, he has to handle the responsibility of that, and it’s not that easy. Things are going wrong left and right, and when money comes up short, he has to pull off a massive stash house robbery to get it.

But he’s still late, which doesn’t make the big boss happy. The head of the 63rd Street Mob lets Reg know he’s officially promoted, but with some strong warnings. Basically, he better get everyone in line and he better not make any mistakes.

In past episodes, Reg has been known for his recklessness. It seems like now, though, he realizes how much he needs to focus. His life literally depends on it. Heavy is the head, dude. You killed for asked for this.

Barton Fitzpatrick as Reg. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Brandon is back in business

After he being robbed at gunpoint, Brandon got his taco truck back and named it “Coogie’s Taco Truck.” (Reminder: Coogie is Brandon’s brother, who was killed by Ronnie in Season 1, which lit the flame in a long line of actions that affected many of the main characters.)

Reg is still a problem for him, though. He’s expecting free food from the taco truck for him and the people under him, and it feels like the debt owed to him may never go away. (Reminder from Season 1: Jake took Reg’s gun to give to Kevin for protection, Kevin used it to shoot Ronnie, Brandon took it from Kevin to help him, Brandon’s stepfather found it and got rid of it, Brandon told Reg and now he owes him for … like ever.)

Jason Mitchell as Brandon and Steve Casillas. (Elizabeth Sisson/SHOWTIME)

Their relationship with each other seems to pivot this episode after Junie, a guy that Brandon grew up with, is killed, and Brandon cooks food for the repast. In an act of kindness — and to get Reg off his back — he tells Junie’s mama that the food was Reg’s idea and that Reg paid for it all, making Junie’s mama’s face light up thinking that both “boys are so sweet.”

Not race, but class

At home, Brandon’s relationship with Jerrika is strained — one underlying issue is that Jerrika is kinda bougie, and although she wants to support Brandon in his endeavors, she wants him to act like more than “the help.” And there’s the conundrum: Jerrika gave Brandon money for his truck and in one breath is telling Brandon not to worry about paying her back first, but in the other is letting her parents belittle him.

Not to put it all on Jerrika, though, Brandon does make stupid decisions at times (most recently, not getting insurance on the truck that was soon stolen) and letting his big heart make decisions that often aren’t so smart. Jerrika is the level-headed one in the relationship, and Brandon does need her encouragement at times.

Jason Mitchell as Brandon and Tiffany Boone as Jerrika. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

The Brandon-Jerrika dynamic sometimes adds a good layer of complexity because it’s one of the ways the show examines class between black folks. Not all black people who live in Chicago, and on the South Side even, are the same — even though so many other shows treat us like we are. Many of Brandon and Jerrika’s fight stem from their different backgrounds and points of view.

And that’s further evident in this episode by Jerrika’s parents’ treatment of Brandon and her interactions with a potential real estate client who makes it known that she has no interest in trying to “save the hood” and provide affordable housing. The client says she grew up on Section 8 and “if you let those people in, they’ll ruin your property.” That doesn’t seem to be Jerrika’s personal attitude toward helping the community, but her interactions with Brandon shift when she’s at a high-class event hosted by her parents.

Why was Ronnie’s grandmother attacked?

That’s what police are trying to uncover after Ronnie’s grandmother, Ms. Ethel, was beaten horribly by two men who forced their way into her house. A no-nonsense detective, Toussaint, was brought in from the West Side to investigate, and after seeing Brandon and Reg together at Junie’s repast, we can infer that she’s thinking there’s a connection there. (The CPD setup here seems kinda weird, but whatevs. We’ll roll with it for the purpose of fictional storytelling.)

Crystal Dickinson as Toussaint. (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Anyway, there’s been a string of robberies she thinks could be connected to Reg’s gang, the 63rd Street Mob, and she already was wondering if Coogie’s family (i.e. Brandon and his mom) would be capable of getting someone to attack Ethel as retaliation. Toussaint seems to be smart and thorough, though, and hopefully doesn’t easily jump to conclusions. Her and Detective Cruz did not start out liking each other at all, but she now seems open to teaming up with him since he knows the most about the gang and about Coogie’s family.

Meanwhile, Ronnie is trying to get out of jail to see about his grandmother, and the stress is getting to him. He’d been clean, but now, he’s making some kind of moonshine and keeping it hidden in the toilet. He even recants his murder confession and gets help from the leader of a white hate group in jail to get a new lawyer known for getting people out. Ironically, she’s black.

‘If I grow up’

Kevin is in therapy to work on … well, he’s forced to work on his mental health. After seeing Coogie be killed and shooting someone (Ronnie), his mother is right to get him to talk to someone. It’s disheartening, though, when he says, “if I grow up … ”

His mom is desperately trying to save him, but it’s tough. She’s scared: scared that Kevin can’t picture a future for himself and scared that it could actually be true that that future could be taken away from him.

Ronnie’s attempt to get out of jail doesn’t help. Kevin, who says he doesn’t “want to be a snitch,” is now being asked to testify — his prior written statement isn’t enough now. But after seeing Jake be pulled more and more into gang life at the insistence of his brother, Reg, it seems like Kevin is making the decision that he wants to take action somehow. “We smoke one of them, they smoke one of us. It’s all stupid,” Jake tells him. Kevin then tells his mom that he wants to testify now, and she immediately starts her worry back up.

Alex Hibbert as Kevin (Parrish Lewis/SHOWTIME)

Emmett’s on his daddy’s couch

Luckily for Emmett, his father let him stay with him after his mother, Jada, kicked him out in Episode 1. And it seems like Emmett gets his love for making babies from his dad, who has even more babies and BMs than Emmett.

Emmett’s father is peak black uncle with his tracksuit and taking calls on a Bluetooth earpiece, but you can tell that he used to be a ladies’ man back the day. That’s evident by the fact that him, his BMs (not counting Jada), and all of their seemingly a million kids eat dinner together every night.

The thought of this unity brings up harsh feelings toward his father. Emmett storms out, and during a moment on the back porch, tells his father that it’s basically not fair that he and his mother got the guy that runs out on his family while his new kids and their mothers get “Father of the Year.” Well, that’s because he made the decision to grow up, he says, and encourages Emmett to do the same.

So far this season, Emmett has only displayed immaturity when it comes to getting custody of his son EJ. And now, he needs money. Amir is back from Pakistan, but their previous shoe hustle won’t work right now. They devise a new plan: to clean, package, and sell weave he brought back from there. Amir has a direct line to get more, and the two decide they’re now in business together … again.

Behzad Dabu as Amir and Jacob Latimore as Emmett. (Elizabeth Sisson/SHOWTIME)

Got thoughts on this episode or season of The Chi? Tweet me at @ArionneNettles and let me know.

Top image: Barton Fitzpatrick as Reg. (Elizabeth Sisson/SHOWTIME)

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