Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) walked somberly through the fields of sugarcane after her father Ernest’s unexpected death in the Season One premiere of Queen Sugar, taking in her surroundings. In the midst of her loss she said with certainty, “I’m sorry, Daddy. I’ll fix it.” The weight she’s borne to keep this promise to her father, enduring setbacks and battles, finally comes to fruition in “Line of Our Elders.”
Written by Mimi Won Techentin and directed by DeMane Davis, tonight’s episode displays the tenderness and complexity of the Bordelon family, all of them still coming to terms with Ernest’s death, wondering. The siblings want to honor his wishes, and yet they struggle, as ever, to be a solid unit together.
In the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “It is one of the blessings of this world that few people see visions and dream dreams.” Standing in front of her vision with Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe) during the grand opening of the Queen Sugar Mill, Charley has made history: She is now the first black woman to own a mill in the state of Louisiana—a feat at which her sister, Nova (Rutina Wesley), marvels.
To garner further publicity for her new venture, Charley submits to an interview with reporter Ben Harrison (Josh Ventura), who asks pointed questions about her marriage to Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett), his sexual assault scandal, and the death of her father. He goes so far as to question the professional relationship between herself and Remy (Dondre Whitfield), prying to find a juicy angle. He’s up to no good and clearly unsatisfied with the cookie-cutter information he feels Charley is giving him.
Nova, while visiting Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), stumbles upon a check addressed to their father in the drawer of his desk. After further digging, to her shock, she discovers that he worked as a custodian to help bring in money for his struggling land until his death.
While celebrating the Queen Sugar Mill with her family, community and farmers, the ceremony suffers a setback when an alarm is triggered in the warehouse, causing Charley to reach her breaking point. When Remy explains that the operation has to shut down due to a jam in the pressure feeder, Charley desperately tries to clear the choke in the machine by hand. She has an emotional breakdown, her need for perfection and not failing taking its toll as Nova consoles her—all as the reporter looks on, unbeknownst to them. Tearfully, Charley expresses her guilt over not being there for their father when he asked for help. “Everything’s supposed to be perfect for Daddy,” she says. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the flowers Sam Landry sent her are a curse, or at least a sign of something bad to come. It’s possible.)
“I thought if I could just put together this mill that maybe I could just make it right.” -Charley
In the final ten minutes of “Line of Our Elders,” the family arrives at Aunt Vi’s after paying their respects to Ernest at his grave, and Blue (Ethan Hutchinson) asks Ralph Angel why the cashier he robbed at a liquor store in Season One called him a liar during their encounter. After saying to himself, “I ain’t lying no more,” we know Ralph Angel’s ready to drop an unexpected bombshell on his family. He goes against his aunt’s advice and tells his sisters of the additional will he found from their father, leaving the land solely to him.
Aunt Vi’s warning to him in “My Soul’s High Song,” about the damage this would cause between himself, Charley and Nova, turns out to be true. His honesty is a power move for him, showing his dominance to his sisters in order to rebuke the notion that he’s anything but capable of controlling the farm—that he’s not the immature younger brother any more. The dinner immediately becomes explosive as the sisters tag-team Ralph Angel, arguing over his revelation and their father as Nova shares her recent discovery, to the shock of Charley, Aunt Vi and Hollywood (Omar J. Dorsey). Swiftly the sisters direct their anger towards Ralph Angel, who they feel their father sacrificed so much to support in spite of his choices.
Everything is out on the table, literally.
Charley: I uprooted my life, my son, all because of a lie?
Nova: Daddy cleaning floors and scrubbing toilets to keep your son in clothes… and food. He worked himself to the ground. Gave up farming to clean after other folk for you, Ralph Angel.”
In all its emotional rawness, the performances the actors at the table are the meat and potatoes of Queen Sugar: Though he wanted to get the truth out, Ralph Angel fails to realize that the letter affirms him but stings his sisters—who value honoring their father, only to feel that even beyond the grave, their father overlooked their abilities, that their brother, with all his faults, was considered more deserving.
In the heat of the moment, Vi runs to block Nova from leaving, which gave me chills and had me shedding tears. It’s yet another reason to love her, as she once again becomes the anchor of the Bordelons.
”You’re not leaving. Nobody is leaving until we settle this mess!” —Aunt Vi
Now we’re left wondering how this revelation will affect the rest of Season Two and the divide this may cause among the Bordelons. Will Charley remain passionate for her new mill or feel stuck after she’s invested so much? Will Ralph Angel’s pride in being the better man he imagined screw him over going forward? There’s just an overwhelming sense of, “What now?”
Ashley G. Terrell is a freelance entertainment writer based in Michigan. Her work has appeared in Ebony Magazine, The Huffington Post, Black Girl Nerds, and more. She is currently working on her first novel and is the creator of the blog, The Carefree Black Girl Chronicles of ASHLEMONADE. You can follow her on Twitter.