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
Bow has a very clean idea of Mischief Night, the kind that involves eating breakfast for dinner. But when she comes into the twins’ room to share the good news, she finds a hilarious note from Jack and Diane explaining they’re sleeping under their beds tonight — but she shouldn’t check there, and she certainly shouldn’t look for them during The Purge. That is, of course, what Mama Bear does, and she finds the kids just as Diane’s about to light a Molotov cocktail. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have time to spirit them away before they’re held up by a gang of masked Purgers. Bow’s pleas that they decline to participate are no use against the Purgers’ paintball guns, which leave quite a mark on her cashmere sweater. She responds by unleashing a torrent of swears directly into one Purger’s face, which is so vicious they all turn and flee. For Diane, this is further proof of the benefits of Purging. “Doesn’t it feel good to Purge?” she asks her mom. “Your skin is dainty.”
Meanwhile, it’s time for the final phase of Dre’s plan. Pretending to cheer Junior up, Dre takes his son into the hallway, where Charlie is strapped to the ceiling. The scare works — almost too well, as Junior goes tumbling down the stairs. Bow and the kids return to find Dre literally kicking Junior while he’s down. Bow worries his leg might be broken and Dre mocks the notion…but the camera cuts immediately to an EMT declaring, “His leg is definitely broken.” Junior gets wheeled out of the house on a stretcher and the rest of the family follows behind, leaving poor Charlie still strapped to the ceiling and more confused than ever about whether he’s really dead or not.
At the hospital, a doctor (played by the wonderful Andy Daly of Review fame) describes the fractures in both of Junior’s legs. After Junior asks whether it has anything to do with his dad kicking him, the doctor takes Dre into the hallway, away from “the victim.” Facing the prospect of being labeled an abusive parent, Dre immediately launches into a litany of excuses, ranging from “Eustace got left at soccer practice” to “I was only kicking him because I thought he was lying.” The doctor concludes Dre is not an abusive father, just a short, petty man.
The Purge seems to have paid off for Jack and Diane — now happily sharing their breakfast with each other — but not for Ruby. After demolishing Janine’s mailbox in retaliation for the hair-touching attempt, Ruby got payback Purge-style when Janine destroys her car windshield. Ruby wants to know why Bow didn’t warn this was a bad idea — which, of course, she did.
Junior’s sitting on the basketball court, lamenting he can’t fit his Halloween costume over the casts on his legs. Dre comes out and Junior confronts his father with his own pettiness: “If you had it your way, I’d never grow up. I’d just be your punching bag for the rest of my life.” For a moment, it seems like Black-ish is going to get really real — but then, Junior hops from his wheelchair to dunk over his father once again, and this time the whole family’s there to film it. Turns out Junior figured out his dad’s plan when he caught a very much alive Charlie eating a granola bar in the kitchen. He then teamed up with the rest of the family to make a stair fall look convincing, hire EMTs (including one woman, per Bow’s specific request from the hospital), and so on. Dre happily acknowledges his son has beaten him, fair and square. It seems the prank prince has become the prank king — but that won’t stop them from joining forces from time to time. As the Johnson family struts out in matching Incredibles Halloween costumes, Dre and Junior agree to start planning a prank on Bow for next year.
The end result is an entertaining Halloween episode, though light on both topical discussions and guest stars (Daveed Diggs is nowhere to be found this week).