This Halloween episode of Black-ish is focused more on the holiday’s prank aspect than the costume part (although that does come at the end). “The Purge” kicks off with Dre ruminating on the nature of fathers and sons, both in civilization and actual nature. Animals, according to Dre, have a clear father-son relationship: The father is the alpha male, and the son is the cute and cuddly beta male who can easily get smacked around. Humans, though, are more evolved (or at least they’re supposed to be). Dre, for one, has abused his patriarchal power to knock video-game controllers and popcorn bowls out of Junior’s hands. But things are different now, as demonstrated by Junior viciously dunking on his father and then shoving his groin in the defeated patriarch’s face. Jack, luckily, captured video of this embarrassing moment.
Said video is even being watched by everyone at Dre’s office, and everyone on Twitter, too (not just Black Twitter, as Connor awkwardly notes). To add further insult to injury, Junior sends a box of nuts to Dre at work with the note “Dear Dad, I know how much you love to eat nuts.” Now Dre has no choice but to show his son who’s stronger.
Halloween isn’t just about pranks, though. Unfortunately, for many people of color, it means having to deal with racially problematic and offensive costumes from their white friends. Bow thinks that’s exactly what she’s in for when Janine comes bounding in the front door to show off her ‘Bee-yonce’ costume. She quickly clarifies she’s wearing bronzer, not literal blackface, prompting Bow to ask why she came by at all, “besides daring me to slap you.” Turns out Jeanine has an idea for keeping the neighborhood kids out of trouble this Halloween — while still indulging their mischievous impulses in a safe, “non-urban” way. Bow barely has time to address this soft racism and Janine barely has time to lay out her plans for Mischief Night before Ruby comes bursting in to declare Mischief Night should be more like The Purge. Ruby and Jeanine start to connect over their mutual excitement for this idea, until Janine asks if she can touch Ruby’s hair. “Oooh, don’t do that,” Ruby responds definitively.
Dre has now gotten his first taste of a world where Junior doesn’t fear him, and he’s not a fan. He’s willing to go to desperate extremes to reclaim the old status quo, and in no time the family is at a fake funeral for Charlie, apparently dead of a peanut allergy following Junior’s office gift. Josh was all too happy to pay for the funeral, apparently thinking it’s real (marking Black-ish’s second amazing joke this season about how much money white people will fork up at a moment’s notice in order to assuage their racial guilt). This is Dre’s Sistine Chapel, his magnum opus of pranking. Zoe approves; she loves to cause her brother pain. For his part, the still-breathing Charlie is happy to see how many people turned out. His parents aren’t there, “But in fairness, I didn’t go to theirs either.”
Later that night, Mischief Night barely begins before Ruby commandeers Janine’s megaphone and declares the start of a neighborhood Purge. Junior, for one, isn’t participating — he’s too busy sitting alone in his room pondering Charlie’s fate. Just then, static-y footage of Charlie appears on his TV, but a passing Zoe pretends not to see. She’s in cahoots with Dre, who comes in to solemnly ask Junior if he feels bad having fun when Charlie can never have fun again. As he exits, Charlie briefly pops up behind his shoulder to further freak out Junior. It works.
The barrier between life and death always feels porous on Halloween, but now Charlie is legitimately confused over whether he’s dead or not. How long does he have to stay in this ghost makeup, anyway? Until the next part of Dre’s plan, which involves capturing Junior’s humiliation on video so it’s final. “Like death,” Charlie notes, “which, just to be clear, hasn’t come for me yet, right?”
NEXT: Feels good to Purge