Ah, it took a little longer than expected, but Black-ish finally got to it tonight: the “hair” episode.
As Dre tells us during the requisite preamble, hair care is one of the most important facets of his life. He even has a list to prove it:
List of Things Most Important to Andre Johnson:
3) My Mama
4) Clean Sneakers
“In the black community, hair is everything,” he explains. “Hair helped put black people on the map.” He cites Madam C.J. Walker, who he tells us became “the first black millionaire” thanks to her beauty-product innovation. (There’s some dispute as to who America’s first black millionaire actually was, though she is generally cited as the first female self-made millionaire.)
Nevertheless, Dre takes us through a short history of his own personal hairstyles throughout the years: the Baby Baldy, the Fourth-Grade Flattop, the Sixth-Grade S-Curl, and the Graduation Gumby, the Twenties Twisties, the First-Time Father Fro, and his current look, the Funky-Fresh.
But good hair doesn’t just happen to you. It all goes down at the barbershop, that all-important community cornerstone filled with zany characters. We get a Goodfellas-esque introduction to the guys populating Dre’s favorite shop. There’s conspiracy-loving Ta-Ta, list-loving Scootie, the fist-fight-loving Mike. So much love! Most importantly, there’s T., Dre’s lifelong barber — who he hopes will become his sons’ lifelong barber as well.
Not so fast, though. There’s a new guy on the scene, and his name is Smoke. He’s got some “baby-mama drama” with his girl LaTonka, but they’re working on it. But the real headline is that he’s successfully poaches Junior from the Dre’s camp.
Dre snaps. His son is “violating the most sacred of codes.” He’s switching chairs.
When Dre and Junior return home, there’s a noticeable shift in the power dynamics. Thanks to his trendy new look, Junior gets a grand reception. He’s a hit! Not only does Bow dig it, but Zoey thinks it’s just cool enough for him to start acknowledging her at school (though not cool enough for her to acknowledge him back).
Dre’s weirdly angular new hairstyle, on the other hand, receives a much cooler reception. He looks like some sort of crooked simpleton, and his family rightly treats him as such.
This is bad news for Bow, who doesn’t need any added drama in her life right now. She’s busy arranging the annual family Christmas-card photo (think gingerbread-cookie costumes), but the stress has become too much for her to handle. Grandma Ruby smells a chance to play her favorite game: trolling Bow. Ruby decides to take over planning duties for Bow, and her first order of business is a new theme: “elegance.”
But since Johnson Family Rules dictate that one member’s decision must always strike fear and panic into another member, Diane is not pleased by the news. She’s concerned that having to look elegant will expose just how inelegant the family is. She plants herself firmly in favor of tacky costumes, while Zoey joins Team Elegance.
NEXT: Ruby decides the family photo should look like Empire
Over at work, Dre’s shaken confidence and traitorous son is hindering his performance. The majority of his white co-workers can’t relate, though — they confess to not even knowing how his hair works. “I always thought it was just a textured tattoo,” says one. “I didn’t think it even grew,” claims another. The best advice they can come up with is the same one Dre got at home: Get a new barber.
As Dre informs them, there are rules in place to protect such rash decisions. It’s code. Just like the Lakers don’t cut Kobe Bryant after an off-night, Dre can’t abandon his guy after one bad performance. And to prove his point, he marches back to his barber for a re-do.
It’s not pretty. In a strange turn events, his hairline goes significantly backward. His head suddenly has way too much forehead for a man not named LeBron James. Bow is equally dyspeptic about it, demanding that he fix the situation before the family photo.
Speaking of which: Ruby has produced a sort of word cloud/mood board for how to pull off the theme of “elegance”: marble, animal prints, mahogany, Coach bags. She wants to go full Empire. That’s right, the theme went from cookie to Cookie.
Ruby even goes so far as to Empire-ify everyone in the family: She herself is none other than Cookie, “a bad bitch” who “oozes elegance.” Dre is Lucious Lyon, “a dreamer with voice and hair that you would do jail time for.” As for Bow? She gets the white girl, Rhonda.
Interesting in theory (maybe) but terrible in reality: When Bow finds Ruby posing with the children in their lurid get-ups, she’s outraged. Her youngest daughter in fishnets! Her oldest in a leopard-print coat! Her son holding a cane! And…a stuffed lion? Enough is enough: “Christmas is not about being a bad bitch!” she tells Ruby.
Not helping matters is Dre’s decision to hire an at-home barber, to better avoid the shop that he feels has left him behind. This means “no waiting, no clowning, no play-fighting that turns into real-fighting that turns into jail time.” Plus, 100 percent less Pootie Tang.
Junior revolts and heads straight back into Smoke’s chair (what is this family’s haircut budget?) expecting once again to out-do his pops. Instead, things go awry when Smoke cuts his hair while in a bad mood. Bad moods turn into bad haircuts, everyone knows, and Jack comes home with his unappealing head hanging in shame. He got burnt, just like his dad — and so he, too, decides to swear off the barbershop.
But then, just in time for the end of the episode, the Big Lesson dawns on Dre. It was a Good Thing that his son connected with his own barber! That’s the whole point of the tradition, after all — to find someone you can trust and learn from. The barbershop isn’t about getting your hair shortened, you see. It’s about becoming a man.
And so after the family photo shoot (gingerbread cookies with a side of Empire, by the way), he and his namesake son return to the shop for the 3,476th time that week. After all, it’s what’s best for his boy. Just not his hair.
Junior: George R.R. Martin is at the Waldenbooks right now. And I heard if you give him $20, he’ll tell you if Tyrion becomes king.
Bow: Is the flour working?
Diane: If you’re going for Christmas in Medellín.
Bow: Wha — how do you even…
Bow: I’m going to lose the deposit for the penguin wrangler.
Diane: I can’t do elegance! I’m quirky at best. Elegance is going to expose us for who we really are.
Jack: But I don’t like who I really am!
Dre: I’m so upset with my son that I can’t even focus right now.
Mr. Stevens: Oh, I’ve been through this before! Look, you’ve got to get him to Dubai. It’s the land of no laws, no extraditions, and the shopping mall there is amazing. There’s a ski lift inside that bad boy!
Co-worker: This is not a haircut, this is the starting five for the San Antonio Spurs!
Mr. Stevens: Yes, but they are so fundamentally sound.
Dre: Is this your phone? I thought it was my phone…
Junior: With the Gandalf case?
Bow: So you’re just going to have me on the floor?
Ruby: You see? That’s such a Ronda way of looking at things.
Junior: Now is “Who dis” with on s or two?
Bow: Jack, no gansta-leaning in this house!
Bow: Christmas is not about being a bad bitch!
Ruby: Neither is that sweater.
Junior: Smoke is barber until he dies…or LaTonka kills him.
Dre: Give me the Dennis Haysbert.