The Johnson family confronts police brutality

By Keertana Sastry
February 25, 2016 at 03:41 AM EST
Patrick Wymore/ABC
S2 E16
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If there were still doubts about Black-ish‘s place as one of the best TV comedies right now, tonight’s episode, “Hope,” should clear those up once and for all. In one swoop, the series tackled police brutality with an incredible balance of depth and brevity that proves comedies can handle difficult subjects as long as they are done with a steady hand. And no one has shown a steadier hand than Black-ish creator Kenya Barris. (Be sure to read EW’s interview with Barris about tonight’s episode.) 

This week, there won’t be any diverging story lines. “Hope” opens with the Johnson family together, waiting to hear the results of the latest high-profile allegation of police mistreatment of an unarmed black man, a situation Dre explains has happened time and time again. As the conversation begins, we instantly see the dichotomy between how Dre and Bow have been raised. When Jack and Diane ask what is going on with the story unfolding on TV, Bow immediately attempts to shield her children from the injustice that is occurring by explaining to Jack and Diane that the justice system in America is the best in the world and we as Americans have to have faith in the system no matter what.

On the other side of the argument lies Dre — and his parents. These three are more jaded/realistic and explan that while Bow may be right that not 100 percent of cops are bad, maybe only 92 percent are — with the other 8% being “advisors on Law & Order.” CNN’s Don Lemon makes an appearance in the episode to report on the breaking news story as it unfolds, and as he explains about the growing unrest of people on the street as people await the indictment of the police officer, Ruby warns the family that it’s time to stock up in case of a riot. That means no takeout for dinner; instead, Ruby suggests eating light foods like cheese and white rice and using all other foods as weaponry. (“Ever get a frozen apple to the back of the head?” Ruby asks menacingly.) Ruby also explains that precious metals and sexual favors are the only currency during these times of unrest.

Jokes aside, Dre, Ruby, and Pops do not hide their anger towards the police, with Pops actually shouting out that the police are “damn thugs.” But because Dre and Bow approach this issue from different perspectives, their parenting styles in this delicate situation are rife with tension.

Dre grew up with family members who actively criticized the police when they allegedly did something wrong. In fact, Pops was even a member of the Black Panther movement…sort of. (He was a Bobcat: “It’s Panther adjacent.”). And as Jack and Diane get more and more confused about the tension in the world around them, Ruby furthers their worries by telling them they should only use seven words when dealing with the police: “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” and “Thank you, sir.”

Bow, on the other hand, wants to instill in her kids the sense that there is still hope in the world. “I don’t want my kids to live in a world that’s so flawed, there’s no hope,” Bow explains to Dre. But while Dre understands where she’s coming from, he thinks she needs to be more realistic. President Obama ran on hope, Dre reminds Bow. But no matter how much hope he instilled in people, when he got out of his car during the motorcade on the day of his inauguration, didn’t Bow worry for his safety? “Tell me you weren’t terrified that someone was gonna snatch that hope away from us like they always do,” Dre says. “That’s the real world, and that’s what our children need to know.”

NEXT: Junior takes action…and the family follows suit

Junior chimes in during these moments with his surprising amount of knowledge (and, at times, naïveté) about policing in the black community: He’s been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. But rather than being impressed with his son’s desire to learn more about the racial unrest, Dre complains that he already said everything that Coates writes in his books and essays. He also lectures Junior that only learning a little about the situation and repeating the words of another person is dangerous. Dre tells Junior he needs to make his own decisions about what’s going on by doing real research and taking part, even though Pops reminds Dre that he himself once acted just like Junior (a flashback to Dre emulating Malcolm X’s Plymouth Rock speech gives us hilarious context).

Junior decides that his dad’s right. He does need to participate to truly understand. He tells the family he wants to go downtown to the protests, when finally Zoey stands up and gets the family’s attention by yelling at Junior and asking him why he has to go down there. “So you can end up in the hospital or with us up on that podium?”

Bow rejoices in Zoey’s knowledge of current events. (I’m so happy there’s some depth inside of her,” Bow tells Dre. “I was worried; I was really worried.”) And Zoey explains that while she acts like she doesn’t care about the world around her, she and her friends do care quite a lot. And now she’s worried that there’s just no point in hope any longer, especially when Don Lemon reveals on CNN that the officer will not be indicted. “Everyone I love has been talking about it all night, and none of you knows the answer,” Zoey explains.

Jack and Diane ask Zoey if she’s giving up. They hope she isn’t because apparently Zoey is the only person in the home that Jack and Diane trust. But Dre and Bow find a middle ground in the way the world and its problems should be explained to their kids. Bow suggests that the whole family goes down to the protests together because while she may not believe the world is as broken as Dre does, she does think that something has to change.

Dre closes by stating in voiceover that while parents try to instill hope and the idea that the world is good in their children, sometimes it’s your children that give you hope. And with that, not only does Black-ish take on a challenging topic with humor and heart, but also relates it back to its original conceit of parenting and family. I’ve gotta give it up to the promo department at ABC, they’re marketing was right on the money. What other show could do justice to an episode about injustice? 

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