Major spoilers and descriptions of violence are ahead. Amazon Prime Video’s Them ends to the tune of Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” The first season of the horror anthology’s heroes, the Emory family, line up proudly in front of their suburban L.A. home. Dad Henry (Ashley Thomas) may be down a finger, mom Lucky (Deborah Ayorinde) may have narrowly escaped a lobotomy, and their daughters (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Melody Hurd) may be forever traumatized — but they’re all still standing. That theme — of unshakeable fortitude — is the final message the Emorys telegraph as they deliberately stare into Them’s camera, in the face of the racist mob surrounding their house.
This parting visual should feel triumphant. Instead, it’s infuriating — a faux empowerment paen that refuses to reckon with the buffet of white supremacist trauma built by Them over 10 episodes.
The issues with Them’s ending goes back to season 1’s penultimate episode, “Day 9.” The chapter follows flashback episode “Covenant II.” When we check back in with the Emorys, it feels as if multiple scenes of connective tissue between “Day 9” and its timeline predecessor “Night,” Them’s seventh episode, are missing. Lucky is trapped in a mental hospital after Henry finds the corpse of their murdered son Chester in a box. It’s a macabre reveal — but not a crime. The doctor in charge of Lucky’s mental hospital, Frances Moynihan (Kate McNeil), confirms authorities do not believe Lucky killed her child. Therefore, there is no real reason to keep her locked up, or for Lucky’s daughters to say they believe their mom harmed Chester. Still, Lucky remains in a psychiatric hold, and the Emory girls suspect their mother of heinous misdeeds.
With Lucky sequestered, the Emorys’ racist neighbours capitalize on the opportunity to terrorize her family members. Marty (Pat Healy) and Roger (Zack Daly) beat Henry, hold him at gunpoint, and clip off one of his fingers. The entire time, the threat of sexual assault hangs in the air against eldest Emory daughter Ruby as the men mention how “grown” she is; in the Them premiere, Compton’s racist dads panic about the idea of Ruby, a child, tempting their white sons at school. The men claim their abuse has a righteous purpose — the recovery of missing white woman Betty Wendell (Alison Pill) — but it’s simply unmitigated racist hate and paranoia made actions. The already sickening situation escalates when Marty and Roger become displeased with Henry’s answers (they were always going to be displeased with Henry’s answers).
The white men drag Henry into the basement and attempt to lynch him in front of his daughters. It is likely one of the most upsetting and unnecessary scenes you will see in 2021, if not your lifetime.
The finale, “Day 10,” fails to mesh the true-to-life terror of the Emorys’ neighbours with the supernatural white supremacy that is also haunting the family home. Ruby heaves a hatchet into one of her father’s white assailants, killing him. Over at the mental hospital, Lucky bashes racist Dr. Monyhan’s skull in to save herself (and the other black women in Moynihan’s “care”). At this point in the series, Henry, afflicted by the otherworldly manipulation of Hiram Epps (Supernatural demon Christopher Heyerdahl), has already shot a police officer to death. It is difficult to watch the minutes tick down on “Day 10” and not fixate on how the Emorys will escape violent retribution for these self-defence killings. As Them takes great pains to prove, there is little justice, or understanding, for Black people in America — especially in this slice of America.
The finale ignores its own vicious pillar, turning its attention away from the discord on Palmer Drive and towards the terror inside the Emory house. Lucky arrives home and lights a fire perimeter with a psychic power she hadn’t previously possessed. In earlier episode “Covenant II,” viewers see a similar flicker of ability in Martha (Nona Parker Johnson), the pregnant Black woman in the flashback installment. Yet, Them never takes the time to make a concrete connection between Martha and Lucky at any time over its 10 episodes.
Inside the house, Lucky must help her family step away from the violent indignities inflicted upon them by Hiram. Gracie is abused by an imaginary teacher; Ruby imagines being choked to death and actually bloodies her hands on shards of glass; Henry is forced to rewatch “film” of his wife’s rape and his son’s murder by unrepentant racists. It is unclear why Them believes it is essential to show us the extensive brutalization of Black bodies once again, when there is so much plot to wrap up (no one even knows Betty was actually kidnapped and killed by the milkman).
In one last gasp to add more inexplicable “twists” to Them, Lucky enters the basement for a final showdown with Hiram. She rebuffs his attempt to trap her in the dark forever and screams “I see you” at Hiram repeatedly, banishing him to hell. Considering the prime placement and intense music, this moment should be meaningful. But that supposedly integral phrase — “I see you!” — has never been uttered in Them before. It holds no meaning or bearing in this series. Why those, of all the words in the world, are what finally defeats Hiram is a quickly discarded mystery. The last time the audience sees Hiram, his spirit is burning in the basement.
Although Hiram has been eliminated, there is still the matter of the angry white mob outside of the house, the multiple killings the Emorys committed to survive, and the reveal of Betty’s fate — all subjects Them has asked viewers to care about. “Day 10’s” closing sequence drops each of these threads entirely and purposefully. The Emorys leave the house on Palmer Drive and come face-to-face with their enraged neighbours and three police officers, who are on the other side of the fire barrier Lucky (somehow) magically enacted. The cops have their guns pulled and trained on the Emorys. Despite the intensity of the fire, the officers could still easily shoot through it to kill the Emorys, after everything they have been through.
Them does not grapple with the fatalistic sadness of that reality or work to give its protagonists a shred of hope. It plays “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” and urges Henry, Lucky, Ruby, and Gracie to pose for the camera like they’ve just pulled off the greatest Fast and the Furious heist in history. But their lives are still in danger, and there is no clear route for escape. After all that fight, their future could still be cut down in the middle of the street. This kind of demoralizing horror is the furthest image Miss Simone had in mind when she sang, “Oh what a lovely precious dream,” a few seconds into “Young, Gifted, and Black.”
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