In Three Words: Sharper, Deeper, Evolving
I don't want to waste any time on this one, so if you haven't read my review of "DWP Vol.1", go peep that and then come back.
Okay... Where to begin. As I was watching this 2nd Volume of one of my favourite concepts this decade, I was also thinking about what went down in the 1st Volume and also the 2014 Film of the same name. The reason for this was seeing how far Justin Simien, the creator of all this, has come. Wondering what he wants this show to be in the moment of writing, filming, releasing and also where he is going to take it. Where these amazing characters are going to go in their own personal journey and as part of the overall narrative.
And just when I thought that they were going to end it on a "Curtain Call" type note, they introduce a new character, never seen in the previous iterations. Except. We kind of already know him... Because he has been narrating throughout this Volume and the previous Volume. Yes, within continuing the episode structure of focusing on one character and what is going on in their lives amongst the overall narrative, we were left on a damn cliffhanger, with GIANCARLO ESPOSITO walking out of the shadows and staring straight at the camera like the boss that he is!
That cliffhanger left me thinking, was this planned from the jump? Because I saw the narrator as simply that. Even when the show was slowly giving us pieces on the history of the fictional University, we didn't really know what the purpose of it was until the end of Episode 9. The overall narrative was simply a foundation for the next Volume. Do you understand how detailed the episodes must be for them all to serve a purpose and still seem natural?!
This is simply one of the best written shows out there. You can't tell me otherwise. Every episode was perfectly paced and all fit together like pieces in a puzzle.
So let's take a look at the episodes themselves. Episode I starts with Sam & the aftermath of the night of protesting which also included Lionel outing the plan to integrate Armstrong-Parker House and Troy subsequently putting a shovel through a window and getting arrested. Now, you would think that Troy or Lionel would be the talk of the Campus, but no. It was Sam and the talk was not positive. The epicentre of her social media battering was an account called "@AltIvyW", trolling her with the racial jabs that you'd expect from a trolling account. She snapped and went at it with this account all night and, of course, the account won the battle. Breaking Sam with a picture of her black mother and white father, referring to her mother as a "Monkey".
With Episode I, VIII & IX, it should be said that Logan Browning really nailed it with her performances in those episodes. I'm talking "Emmy/Golden Globes" nailed it.
Episode II followed Reggie, who's episode in the previous Volume was the best episode from a dramatic standpoint. This was about him dealing with the trauma of having a gun pointed at him. Compared to the other episodes it is probably the least relatable to many because there aren't many viewers that have had that kind of near-death experience before. But it was a good episode nevertheless. Tipping between how Reggie deals with sympathy (Not wanting it) to Troy who uses it to get what is nicely named "Sympathy Pussy". Reggie does try Troy's method, but it doesn't help. Instead, it was Gabe, who's Documentary shorts "Am I Racist" gave Reggie the opportunity to open up and think his feelings through. And if you remember the reason why Gabe & Sam broke up in the first place, you could see the awkwardness whenever Reggie & Gabe were face to face.
This episode and beyond really got me paying attention to the way this show is filmed. And it is not traditional at all! Even the shot/reverse shots were always angled differently. Some of these shots really reminded me of Mr Robot and how dead space could say much more than what you should be focusing on. There are so many shots in this show that would make any cinematographer get giddy over.
Episode III was all about everybody's favourite gay & awkward journalist Lionel, who was trying to figure out if his crush Silvio actually liked him or not. They hop from one Pride party to another, with Troy tagging along, partly to help Lionel, partly to get laid. This episode really got me thinking about the characters overall. Because I can't relate to being homosexual or a black woman or having a gun pointed at me, but they're all relatable in many other ways under the surface.
Episode IV was a big surprise to me. It really took a turn I didn't see coming. Initially you thought it was just CoCo being head of the only legitimate society on Campus and how her fixation with Troy last volume changed her. Well, I was kind of right on all of that, because the episode was about CoCo being head of CORE, while being pregnant with Troy's baby. That microscopic spanner in her works really gave a new dimension to a character that can easily be classed as the most predictable. The episode gave the notion that she was going to keep the baby, they even had a scene very reminiscent of the one in the final episode of "Insecure" S2 where Issa imagined an idyllic future with Lawrence. 18 Years Later, CoCo takes her now 18 year old daughter to Winchester and talks about not limiting herself. But as it turns out, she turns around and has the abortion. Having a child at this stage in her life, is her limiting herself.
A highlight for this episode was Kelsey (played by Nia Jervier) being more than just the bourgeoisie black girl. As it turns out, she's Trini and a lesbian to boot. I always like getting to know bit characters. It shows that the writers care about everybody and not just the main cast.
Episode V was (finally!) all about Joelle who has been depicted up to this point as Sam's sidekick until now. Out of everybody on the show, we learn about Joelle the most, realising her background, what she actually does as a subject in the University and in scope of the series, her feelings towards Reggie. In saying that, this links heavily to Reggie's episode and how the two take way too long to actually get together, that particular fruit blossoms at a later episode. This episode was also essential in how it assisted in the quest to find the "Order of X", with Joelle's momentary relationship with "Hotep" Trevor (To be real, I had to search Hotep) and his conspiracy theories providing some validity to what Sam & Lionel eventually find in the episode finale. We realise that Joelle is really a smart woman, academically smarter than Sam and you could even say socially smarter than Sam. Oh the struggles of being a friend eh.
Episode VI, we go back to Lionel and his quest along with nutcase Brooke to unearth the identity of @AltIvyW, who in the previous episode, gave away to Sam that it was somebody in the Armstrong-Parker house. It was somebody we knew, but who?! (And if you didn't clock now, this isn't a spoiler-free review.) Lionel accidentally cracks the case of who held Kelsey's dog Sorbet for ransom and along with trying to find time between his profession and his new interest, Wesley, he nearly gives up. But right at the end, he gets lucky, seeing the reflection of Silvio's laptop. Silvio, is @AltIvyW. The conversation they have is a really fascinating one, primarily diving into "Identity Politics". Just because Silvio is gay, doesn't mean he has to be a left wing liberal. With all this Kanye talk, it is a very very timely conversation and in some ways, Silvio is right. Being horribly racist is obviously wrong but his stance on not letting his sexual orientation dictate his politics is a worthy stand to take.
Episode VII was about Troy finding his voice, something I can relate to a lot. This was the more funny of the episodes, watching him bomb on stage, crashing Sam & Joelle's show, saying he's on shrooms and them going "Aww hell!!" and splashing around naked in the University fountain while on said shrooms made him a little more loveable. Even though most of the Volume has him either trying to get women or having sex with said women, this episode humanised Troy more, it gave him the chance to embrace that he is not his father and doesn't really want to be. This is explored in the 2014 film a lot so it was cool watching it in a slightly different frame.
Episode VIII. Wow wow wow. This was the highlight of the Volume for me. This was almost a stage-play in how Gabe & Sam finally let all their thoughts since the Protest out to each other. If Simien really wanted to and if it fit the style of the show, the bulk of the argument could've been done in one take. It really was a riveting episode that ended with Sam having to go home. But seriously. This was one of the best written 30 minutes of TV you will see all year, the back and forth was seamless and it was a lot to take in. It went by really fast for me, so I had to watch it again. Amazing piece of TV.
Episode IX was something, as a fan since the film, I have been wanting for a while. Looking into Sam's relationship with her family, especially with her father. I have to praise Logan Browning once again, the amount of emotional weight she has to carry with this character is staggering. Sam's consistent resentment of having a white parent was, to me, expressed viscerally in one momentary flashback where her dad takes her to school, holding hands, but once Sam sees to black kids looking at her, talking amongst themselves, she takes her hand away from her dad and walks ahead. It was something that stuck with me a lot throughout this episode. The fact that her blackness and her passion made her take her father's undying love for granted, really puts some things into perspective. As much as this show is about race and the black experience, a father is still a father and it is no surprise that Simien and the writers of DWP made her father smart enough to know what Sam is about as a mixed race woman that is unanimously pro-black in all facets of her life, which means that she will sometimes reject the fact that she is half white, even though society (and herself) categorises her as black. It's a dichotomy that all mixed race people face, including myself.
The final episode, you would think, wraps everything together. Sam is back with Gabe, Reggie & Joelle finally get together (a scene that quickly becomes one of the funniest moments of the show) and the entire black caucus are in attendance for the talk of right-wing commentator Rikki Carter, (Played by DWP alum Tessa Thompson) that was not a supportive crowd. But I have already spoiled the ending of this episode so let's move right ahead and summarise!
I noticed throughout this show that nothing is safe from change. When Sam had her conversation with Rikki backstage, it clearly made a mark on her, especially when she says near the end of episode X that she might stop her "Dear White People" radio show. This tells me that Simien is not afraid to evolve as it pertains to the direction of the show. Where the radio show was an integral part of this show, the fact that Sam might kill it off, says to me that this show is not afraid to evolve Volume by Volume.
This show juggles so many storylines and narratives that it blows my mind. Not only have the writers of this incredible show managed to deepen the main characters, introduce bit characters and give them more of a platform, but they did it all while having their individual stories serve a purpose to the overall narrative that there is a secret black society in Winchester. Once again there are so many timely conversations had in this show. Most of them seen in the trailer for this show. From microaggressions to sweet & salted grits, (for my non US people, grits is basically porridge, which makes me cringe that people have salt with their porridge...) "Dear White People" asserts it's niche in being, in my opinion, the most conscious show going right now. It's writing, it's performances, it's film-making inside a 30 minute time-frame. There aren't many shows that can be considered as genuine pieces of art.