After the extended Disney World commercial that was last week’s premiere, Black-ish is back to tackling the big topics this week. Well, arguably the single biggest topic of all: God. After Hamilton star Daveed Diggs shows up as Johan, Bow’s world-traveling brother, Zoey gets infected by his secularism and admits she’s starting to doubt the existence of God — which, of course, sends Dre into a spiraling freak-out.
Let’s rewind. Dre’s top-of-episode musing this week is about “constants.” Humorous examples include new Jordans always coming out on Saturday, Rihanna always having a summer jam (looking at you, “Work”), and white men always going bald. A slightly more relevant constant is how much Dre hates his in-laws, especially Johan. After Johan starts showing off at dinner with his Parisian-dinner-this and croissant-that (he’s a professor and just returned from two years of teaching in Paris), Dre tries to remind him whose house it is by making him participating in grace, and he asks Zoey to lead. Dre’s trump card spectacularly backfires, however, when Zoey responds she doesn’t feel right saying grace since she’s starting to doubt her belief in God.
Dre’s immediate reaction is to ask whether there’s a Wiccan Club at Zoey’s school and whether she’s been forcibly converted. There must be some such fantastical explanation, Dre assumes, because there’s no way he raised a non-believer daughter. Zoey’s reasoning is a lot more grounded than that, however, or at least a lot more classic: How can there be a God when so many bad things happen? By this she means world hunger, cancer, dead babies. For a second I assumed this list would also include police shootings of black people, especially since there have been so many lately, but that may have been a touch too dark for what the show was going for here.
Johan thinks Zoey is on the right track. He, a self-described “man of science,” doesn’t believe in any man in the sky (or “sky cake,” as Patton Oswalt once memorably described religion). Ruby shows up a few minutes late to dinner, hungry after an “amorous FaceTime,” and Dre covers up what just happened, fearing she’ll chastise him for being a bad father.
The next day, Dre takes his problems to the office, where he finds out Leslie and Josh don’t care much for God either, though Leslie does like that religion “stops poor people from stealing my stuff.” They are impervious to Dre’s eloquent story about how faith has been a source of strength for oppressed people throughout history (cue montage of slaves, Depression-era poor people, and pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Mecca). In fact, his story makes them fall asleep. At this point, Leslie is unfazed by Dre bringing up slavery. Is there any word he can’t connect to slavery?
In the world’s most awkward, racially charged version of the Wikipedia game, Leslie throws out a word to see if Dre can associate it with slavery. He chooses “Skittles,” and here again I thought the show might get into the weeds of current national dialogue, since Donald Trump, Jr. recently created a lot of controversy for retweeting a racist meme comparing Syrian refugees to Skittles (which might, in fact, originate with Trayvon Martin famously buying Skittles just before being killed by George Zimmerman), but no, it just happens to be an eerie coincidence. Charlie helpfully points out that “there are no brown Skittles” to help his friend draw the slavery connection, but Dre’s already moved beyond this silly game. He’s realized the other “God-ies” (Leslie’s term) in the office are Charlie and Curtis (the latter of whom even takes off his shirt to show off his religious tattoos, ranging from a fish symbol on his chest to a full-back portrait of Jesus). In other words, the black workers believe in God, and the white bosses don’t. He concludes this whole atheism thing must be some white bullsh-t and rushes home to purify his house of the contaminating influence of stuff white people like.
Bow and Johan subsequently find Dre in the kitchen, desperately trying to flush the family’s entire supply of almond milk and hummus down the sink, preparing to issue a “no more Whole Foods” edict. Johann responds to this insanity by reasonably pointing out there are plenty of black atheists (Ta-Nehisi Coates, for one, recently won the National Book Award for Between the World and Me, which offers a completely godless perspective on racism and black life, among other things). Bow counters that science doesn’t explain everything; sometimes things happen in the hospital that can’t entirely be explained away by medical science. Johann seems to think those huge hospital A/C units probably account for that. Once again, Ruby enters in medias res to find Dre would rather tell her Zoey is dying of an aneurysm than admit one of his kids is flirting with atheism. This last-ditch excuse doesn’t hold for long, though, and suddenly Ruby is blaming Bow, Johan, and their “family history of blasphemy” for contaminating her granddaughter.
NEXT: A real crisis of faith