Since Dear White People season 1 premiered last year, a lot has happened. Remember Charlottesville? That was only nine months ago. There was also the firing of Rex Tillerson, the reveal that Scott Pruitt pays on $50 a night for his D.C. condo, and the Parkland shooting, which inspired the March for Our Lives two months ago. Not to mention all the absurd news items that have faded from our minds — remember when Trump asked Washington correspondent April D. Ryan if she would set up a meeting with Black lawmakers? Yeah.
Given this weight of information, Dear White People season 2 feels like its jumped months in the future, not just days. Narrative-wise, the show picks up shortly after the rally outside Hancock house that ended season 1. But emotionally, Dear White People has aged. Season 2 delves into the more insidious parts of racial politics, like alt-right Twitter and the ingrained whiteness of university secret societies. There’s more history in season 2, as the narrator (and later, also the characters) unfurls the legends of the fictional Winchester University. A lot of it eerily mirrors things that are happening today, as I write, as the show makes its way to Netflix. If Dear White People season 1 was a commentary, then Dear White People season 2 is a dangerous, curious prediction.
The villains are more dangerous this time. The stakes are higher. Sorbet, a small fluffy puppy, has gone missing. At the same time, the humor is more insistent. The pop culture references are cruelly relevant, and, yes, there are more fake parody television shows. Winchester is, in many ways, a disaster, but it's also never looked better.
Episode One: Sam
Tis the season of exploring the alt-right. Actually, Dear White People might be the first scripted show to explore the hidden (scary, shitty) depths of the alt-right. At the same time, the residents of Armstrong Parker are dealing with something only slightly less sinister: white students. White students have infiltrated Armstrong-Parker, the residential house for students of color. At the end of season one, Davis house burned right as Troy (Brandon P. Bell) smashed a window in Hancock house. The confluence of these two events suggested arson, but as of now, the leading theory is that a microwave lit the fire that sent white people to AP.
We begin at meal time, during one of Dear White People's signature tableaus. Sam (Logan Browning) is poking at sugary grits (sugary? okay) while Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) judges. Grits are, apparently, one of the benefits of white students in AP. Other effects include: yoga in the common space, and an influx of white students watching P. Ninny (Lena Waithe's cameo) in her reality show.
This season delves right into the aftermath of last season's protest. It's hitting Sam harder than it is Troy or Reggie (Marque Richardson), thanks to Twitter, which has its own DWP world branding here. One of the things Dear White People does spectacularly well is create its own lexicon of pop culture and branding to employ throughout the season. (This is why it's particularly jarring to hear that 13 Reasons Why reference in the first episode. But I digress.) An alt-right account @AltIvyW is hounding Sam for her show Dear White People, calling Sam racist for its premise. The account campaigns for Rikki Carter, an alt-right figure, to come to campus. All of this is less political than it is personal — Sam is troubled. She isn't recording Dear White People, telling Joelle that another 'don't touch my hair' take would be "hack." She's lagging in school work and she's showing signs of depression.
This doesn't stop her from, erm, enjoying herself in her new double. This is a thing, I've learned, called "prebating," as Joelle calls it, a preventative form of sexual activity that exists to cure us of dangerous horniness. Sam prebates to defend herself from the good looks of Gabe (John Patrick Amedori), her film TA. Gabe broke up with her at the end of season 1, after she told him she loved him. There are other factors at play — he called the cops on the party; she slept with Reggie — but the biggest factor in their breakup was her obsession, he told her in the finale.
The second season of Dear White People is, once again, indecisive on the character of Sam. In a lot of ways, Sam is our protagonist, our trusty guide through the halls of Winchester's socio-political drama. But the show wants us to see her as flawed. When her father calls to check in, Sam snaps, hanging up on him before he can finish his sentence. Relationships with parents are never easy, but Sam's dismissal of her dad feels like a symptom of something more nefarious. It's also intriguing that DWP brought on another character — this show is good at utilizing every character it introduces, and Sam's forlorn-looking father will likely make a return appearance. Sam's father, who is white, represents a different form of oppressive whiteness for her. And, the way she reacts to his phone call — it's off-putting, even for the staunchest Sam apologist — speaks to a form of anger that's more dangerous for Sam than anyone else. Then again, that's exactly what Sam's dad would say. I'm still not sure if the show wants us to judge Sam for her anger or if it want us to join in.
For the record, most of the characters in the show seem perplexed by Sam's ire. When Sam argues with a transfer student in the middle of her documentary class, the class seems confused, as does Gabe, who assumes the argument is about him. (It is probably a little about him.)
All of this orbits around Sam's Twitter coma, which starts as triumphant. It starts with an innocent dispatch: She tweets, "Dear outdated racist, your death rattles have a lot of typos" while "Changes" by DeJ Loaf plays. (This is a jarring use of a song that I strongly associate with On My Block.) She spends days in her bed (which is way too big for any college dorm, IMHO) tweeting furiously at @AltIvyW. She has the upper hand, argument-wise, but definitely the lower hand, life-wise.
"You haven’t showered in days, boo. He is winning," Joelle (perfect, rational, underutilized character) points out. He puts the nail in the coffin when he calls Sam's mother a "monkey." Sam bursts into tears, finally fully broken by the vitriol at her back.
The other nail in the coffin are a group of campus right-wingers who start a podcast called “Dear White People.” It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it sounds like InfoWars, but with college students.
To make matters worse, Sam emerges to discover that Gabe, Mr. I-Called-The-Police, is making a documentary. It's called "Am I Racist?" and Reggie is participating.
Deadpan to camera.
Sam: "Hey, you wanna go for — for a run?"
Joelle: "Like white girls in TV shows when they need a visually interesting way to deliver exposition?"
Joelle: "Like white girls in TV shows when they need a visually interesting way to deliver exposition?"
Episode Two: Reggie
Like Sam, Reggie isn't doing well. His episode begins with a bit of Reggie backstory: He wanted to go to Howard, but Winchester had a better computer science program. So, he headed to Winchester, where he eventually came face to face with the gun of a campus security guard. DWP graciously gives us some history here. Giancarlo Esposito (our narrator) pops in to say that in 1825, security guards at Winchester started carrying weapons as a response to a nearby slave rebellion. And, uh, yeah, that's the last time Winchester updated its campus weapons policy.
Reggie's having panic attacks and flashbacks to the event in question. He's also wearing a lot of chunky knit sweaters and he's in therapy, though only because the university compelled him to be there. He's also living with a white roommate named Clifton (Erich Lane). Clifton loves hot pockets (yum) and doesn't use a wash cloth (ew). He's also very scared of dolphins, and is currently sober in honor of Thane Lockwood (Brant Daugherty), the football player who died in season 1.
"I can handle white people. Clifton's just so white," Reggie tells his University-appointed shrink. The washcloth is a real sticking point for him. (As a result, we find out that Troy uses a poof to wash himself. Good info to have.)
So, how does Reggie go from Mr. Chunky Knits to Mr. In-A-Documentary-About-Racism? That rests on the shoulders of Troy's father Dean Fairbanks (Obba Babatundé)Dean Fairbanks wants Reggie to overcome his trauma, and his words are helpful, even if they're trite. "You got 99 problems — your head doesn’t need to be one," he tells Reggie.
Reggie pooh-poohs the Dean's help for most of the episode, resorting to other forms of comfort. He tries the Troy method, sleeping with a number of faceless women. It doesn't work. (He yawns during sex.) He also tries the Kurt (Wyatt Nash) method, which involves MDMA and wearing a lamp on his head. (A reminder: Kurt is the leader of the comedy troupe Pastiche. Pastiche, if you'll recall, was the catalyst for season 1. The troupe hosted a blackface party which Sam then justifiably chastised them for on Dear White People. Later, Lionel discovered that it was Sam herself who sent the invites for the blackface party.)
Early in the episode, Reggie also tries the Joelle method, sitting in on Bible study with her. Bible study probably is the most beneficent for Reggie. Joelle's quote from the Gospel of Joshua is particularly applicable for Reggie, but he's not ready for it.
After some MDMA, some sex, and a couple of angry roommate chats — "I confided in you about my fear of dolphins!" — Reggie is still struggling. What appears to turn the dial is Joelle (HMM. HMM). At an open mic, Joelle sings "Call Tyrone" while Reggie flirts with a rando. She glowers from the stage — HMM. — and, when she returns, she's pissed. She scurries home to watch A Wrinkle In Time, and Reggie is alone. Officially. So, he goes back to Dean Fairbanks.
"You cannot let those few seconds become your whole life," the Dean tells him. “You gotta find a way to let this out.”
And that's how he ends up talking to Gabe about racism for a documentary. Reggie begins by sharing the daily microaggressions that consume his life. For example, when he walks behind a white woman on the street. Does he cross the street? Does she?
"I’m done seeing myself through other people’s eyes. I’m telling you what’s going on beneath my skin," he tells Gabe.
Clifton, to the woman Reggie slept with: "Ma’am, would you like a hot pocket?"
Episode Three: Lionel
This entire episode is devoted to Lionel's relationship with Silvio (D.J. Blickenstaff), an important cliffhanger from last season. Dear White People takes its narrative upstarts seriously, and the show is ruthless when it comes to reckoning with the events of last season. Silvio kissed Lionel on The Night. It was dramatic. For us, the viewer, it was liberating. Lionel! Some love! Finally! For Lionel, it was probably liberating, too. But it hasn't been smooth sailing since. Last episode, they materialized briefly, seemingly on a date. This episode, it's clear that Silvio is fucking around. What's more important is Silvio, through his fuckery, becomes an emcee of sorts for the queer community of Winchester's campus. He takes Lionel (and us) through its winding halls, treating us to glimpses of both its grand flaws and its ecstasy. This is Lionel’s Goldilocks journey: He has to find the community at Winchester that fits just right.
They begin their "date" — Silvio arrives drunk and is generally rude throughout the night — at a party for literary students. All the newspaper editors are there, chatting about their favorite Real Housewives. I would like to take this opportunity, again, to grumble about the show’s pop culture inconsistencies. Why reference real television shows when there are already fake television shows within the show? That said, all the references are very funny, and the show uses them well. Real Housewives comes up whenever the characters are looking to deflect. When Lionel calls out another editor at the literary party for using a racial slur to describe Asian men, he ignores the comment, turning instead to Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
This episode deals a lot in the word “problematic” and how the characters in the show react to it. At the literary party, the editors and writers seemed exhausted by it, asking if it can be retired. On the other hand, Troy employs it freely and seems to welcome it.
“I’m problematic as fuck,” he tells Lionel when he’s called out for queer erasure. (Troy was “working on” a threesome with a pair of “fake lesbians” who just turned out to be a couple.) “Just @ me in your next thinkpiece.”
The crux of the drama is that, ironically, Lionel has nowhere to write a thinkpiece. The Independent lost its investors, the Hancocks, who turned out to be ultraconservative. The narrator tells us that the Independent used to be a right-wing publication, a conservative response to the Bugle, the university’s more well-known paper. Important: the Bugle published a tell-all on secret societies at the school in 1924. Lionel is studying this article, possibly because all the X’s he’s seeing around campus refer to a truly secret society.
Following the literati party, Silvio and Lionel head to Donna, a dance party in Chester. It’s also not Lionel’s vibe, but Sam is present, as are a number of gay Black men. The conversations are a bit more joyous, but the structure is largely the same. A group of men debate Taylor Swift versus Lady Gaga (“Miss Germanotta”), playfully accusing them of appropriation. At the party, Lionel also runs into Brooke (Courtney Sauls), another former Independent writer who’s struggling to find another paper to take her.
“Do you know what your little stunt cost me? Do you know what it cost Sylvio?” she hisses at Lionel. It’s a cruel reminder that the actions here have unimaginable repercussions. For Brooke, the Independent was a pipeline to a newspaper career. Now, the remaining school newspapers have rejected her — in her words, they “met their [diversity] quota.” Turns out, this is also why Silvio is acting dickish. He’s upset that Lionel dismantled his paper.
But this is all okay, because Lionel has a plan. He wants to smoke out the alt-righters, and he’s going to do it with… a new newspaper.
“Nobody at Winchester gains notoriety by upholding institutions,” he points out.
Just as the episode comes to a close, Lionel (finallyfinallyfinally) gets a new love interest. His name is Wesley (Rudy Martinez), and he’s funny, and he likes Lionel.
Lionel: "I’m always weird. It’s not really situation-dependent."
Episode Four: Coco
Coco Conners is pregnant. So, yes, things at Winchester are only getting more complicated. She’s also decided to take the AP integration as an opportunity to become a Black tutor of sorts. She advises the white students on their various problematic activities. For instance, when Abigail (Sheridan Pierce, a.k.a. Syd from One Day At A Time) is confused about her Black roommate’s relationship to Beyonce’s Lemonade, Coco is there to advise. Coco has the uneviable task of fielding any and all questions related to race in AP.
“When did I become the white whisperer?” she mutters to Muffy (Caitlin Carver). On top of that duty, Coco is grappling with CORE, also known as the Coalition for Racial Equality, and, oh yeah, she’s pregnant. This episode gives us some background on CORE: It’s a group established in the ‘70s by a student named Jeannette Daniels who wasn’t pleased with the work of the Black Students Union. These days, Sam is the leader of the BSU, and CORE is the more powerful group. Which, of course, means Coco wants to lead it.
None of this is ultimately important to the episode, which devolves into a study on ambition and motherhood. Coco, for a minute, wants to keep the baby. The baby humanizes the cool-blooded Coco. She is suddenly less narcissistic, focussing on her roommate long enough to discover that Kelsey (Nia Jerver) is a lesbian. (“I’ve been out since Queen Janet’s wardrobe malfunction,” Kelsey says, rolling her eyes.) Kelsey becomes Coco’s caretaker, offering massages and home-brewed teas to ease her pregnancy gas. She also takes Coco to the dotor, where Coco makes the decision to get an abortion.
Did we ever think Coco was going to keep the baby? I did, for a moment, while the show swept me into Coco’s dream narrative. What happens if she keeps it? The show briefly entertains this idea. Say she enlists Troy as a father. Say she has the child, a girl named Penelope Conners-Fairbanks. Say the child grows up to be a vision of Coco: ambitious, wide-eyed, and a fan of the word “Lilliputian.” Say she also gets into Winchester. Say Coco has to drop her off at Winchester. The show enjoys its stint in the future — things have barely changed, but the fashion is Suessian and we can now “beam” things up, a la Star Trek.
Coco doesn’t have the child, of course, perhaps because she doesn’t live in the idyllic world her imagination presented. While she’s dealing with the pregnancy, she’s also dealing with a few of the show’s more political plots, like “Dear Right People,” who decides to take down the Black caucus with fake emails. (Joy Reid much? Dear White People, this is eerie.) Because of this, Coco is rejected from Pegasus, an elite social club that would have helped her career.
Coco gets an abortion, then proceeds to focus on her career. Which, first things first, involves asking Carson Rhodes to campus to speak — the Black caucus (Sam, mainly) is convinced that he, and only he, can sort out the disaster that is Winchester’s politics.
Coco, to Troy: “My reputation's on the line. I spent weeks dating you.”
Episode Five: Joelle
Welcome to Joelle’s episode, which finally addresses her second-fiddledness. She spent season 1 as a supporting character, offering funny takes when needed and largely remaining out of the drama. She was Sam’s sidekick, and this episode deals with that. She does, in fact, feel like Sam’s sidekick. And Sam, true to her protagonist nature, sometimes treats her like one. In the show’s opening scene, Sam routinely interrupts her friend during a recording of Dear White People. Joelle recently joined Sam as host of the show, which is parallel — she’s also stepped up to join Sam as a “main character” in the broader show of Dear White People.
So, we get the background facts on Joelle. She was valedictorian of her school. She’s a really good singer. (She twice sings “Lift Every Voice And Sing” in this episode.) She’s obsessed with grades and being the top of the class, although a mystery character labelled T. King is always just a few points behind her in grading.
Look, I don’t want to say that this episode unfolds like The Babadook mapped atop You’ve Got Mail, but it does. Joelle foreshadows it best when chatting with Gabe (they’re friends) in the library. “This world is not kind to the Kellys of this world,” she grumbles. She’s talking about Kelly Rowland, but he assumes she’s talking about Kelly Ripa.
So, when T. King turns out to be a thoroughly handsome man named Trevor (ACTOR), things look fishy. It’s all too good to be true, at least for the narrative this show is spinning. Despite their immediate connection, Trevor shows tiny signs of misogyny that Joelle (and us, really) are only too happy to ignore. When he first meets Joelle, he tells her he’s pleased to see a Black woman doing so well in the world. Later, he takes her to the culinary lab where they eat oyster and lobster (??? in a college???). He confides that he doesn’t like Armstrong-Parker House, which feels like a red flag because, well, AP is the core of this show. All of the characters cherish AP. Trevor has some conspiracy theories as well, tossing out references to “the power” and “taking it back.” But he’s tall and sweet to Joelle. He takes her out for ice cream!
Sigh. I would really like for Joelle to catch a break.
Trevor’s time comes when he visits AP house with Joelle. He’s a hotep, which, if you’re unfamiliar, is a slang term used to describe men who are pro-Black but generally backwards. (This post will help.) The term actually comes up earlier in the episode in reference to Carson Rhodes. He’s not a hotep, one character pointed out, but he does hate Rikki Carter. CORE and BSU want Carson to come to campus, remember? But a small portion of the Black caucus wants Rikki Carter to come to campus.
Ah, Rikki Carter. Carter, played by Westworld’s Tessa Thompson, is a mashup of Tomi Lahren and Stacey Dash. She’s a Fox News pundit who’s also Black. She has a “brilliant political mind,” according to James (Nicholas Anthony Reid), but she’s conservative.
Trevor’s downfall feels like the first victory of Dear White People Season 2. It is abruptly followed by a loss — Rikki Carter is coming, yay! — but it still feels triumphant. After calling Sam a “mutt” and using a slur to describe a gay character in Prince O’ Palities, an Empire satire, Joelle does the math. Trevor is regressive and controlling. In fact, in the little time they spend together, Trevor is in control, shepherding Joelle around campus and “teaching” her without ever really listening to her. Trevor, we were counting on you!
Joelle gets her word in, chastising Trevor for his hate speech, but the episode concludes with one epic punch from Reggie. (It’s almost… as if… Reggie… loves… Joelle…) Plot twist: Trevor doesn’t matter because Reggie and Joelle belong together.
The real plot twist is that, right after the punch happens, @AltIvyW tweets about “black on black crime” in AP. So, it has to be someone who witnessed the punch, right?
The call is coming from inside the house.
Al: “We got nachos today and I gotta get to it before it forms a skin.”
Al: “We got nachos today and I gotta get to it before it forms a skin.”
Joelle: “If only I could order you in Mahershala.”
Sam: “Name one good thing the internet's ever given us.”
Joelle: “The Arab Spring, Bossip headlines, the gif industrial complex, and access to information."
Joelle: “The Arab Spring, Bossip headlines, the gif industrial complex, and access to information."
Episode Six: Lionel, Part 2
Dear White People didn’t hold onto that @AltIvyW secret, thankfully. Just over halfway through the season, the show allows Lionel to discover the alt-righter’s identity. The show unfurls it just slowly enough, so that by the time Lionel’s done the (admittedly easy) math, we’re all on the same page. AltIvyW is Silvio. The call was coming from inside the house — in fact, it came from a former love interest. Silvio’s reveal illustrates what season 2 has been trying to say this whole time: the call has been coming from inside the house. Sometimes, the caller doesn’t even know they’re placing the call! That’s how “inside” alt-right ideas have become.
“This campus can’t handle opposing thought,” Silvio sneers at a flabbergasted Lionel. It started as a joke, he says, but then it ballooned. He started getting likes on his tweets. He started getting attention, more attention than the Independent ever got. Lionel points out the obvious: Silvio’s gay. How could this happen? Silvio has a very characteristic retort: “Just because I take it occasionally up the ass doesn’t mean I want this school to.”
He’s not the only reveal of the episode. If episode three was Lionel’s journey out of the dark, this is Lionel’s journey into the light. He begins to enact his plans to relaunch the Independent as an independent blog. He joins forces with Brooke — a Hermione-esque character who’s bound to have an episode in the eventual third season — to investigate AltIvyW. A hate crime against Sam spurs Lionel and Brooke to start looking, and Lionel starts to slowly, slowly get his shit together. This includes exploring things with his new love interest, Wesley. Wesley is incredibly patient. Wesley is very kind and also brings Lionel McDonald’s in this episode. We like Wesley. In this episode, Lionel says, “Fuck should!” and kisses Wesley. It is glorious.
Lionel’s investigation leads him first to discover where Sorbet was. Did you forget? Sorbet, Kelsey’s dog, is missing, and the crime has been attributed to the mysterious alt-right faction. In this case, again, the call is coming from inside the house. In a situation that parallels the eventual Silvio discovery, Brooke and Lionel find that Al (Jemar Michael) has Sorbet. He took Sorbet as a prank and then...just kept her. For fun. This isn’t unlike Silvio’s “it started as a joke” reason. What’s that Hannah Arendt quote again?
In the process of these discoveries, Lionel makes amends with Brooke, who’s always hated him. Brooke is the driving force behind the episode, despite her hatred of Lionel, and Lionel rightfully recognizes her hard work. It does, however, take Brooke “tricking” Lionel into thinking he’s made a discovery to make their friendship work out. Brooke does all the hard work, then lets Lionel think he made the discovery just so he can feel good about himself. Even when she’s jealous, Brooke is good to Lionel. And then she gets called “crazy.” (Justice for Brooke! Here’s hoping she and Al hooked up eventually.)
The ultimate Silvio discovery occurs concurrently with the final season of episode five. Lionel approaches Silvio just as Reggie punches Trevor in the lobby of AP house. We know what happens next and, given the new perspective, are keenly aware that Silvio will be the one to send the tweet. The only question is, what will Lionel do next?
Or the better question is, what will the Order of X do next? They are certainly trying to recruit Lionel. We just don’t know who they are.
Kurt: “If you’re looking for base social commentary, try Andy Borowitz.”
Rashid (Jeremy Tardy): “I enjoy the subtle nuanced writing of Ta-Nahisi Coates. Is that a crime?”
Lionel: “Not yet! There is a bill but it hasn’t passed the house.”
Lionel: “Not yet! There is a bill but it hasn’t passed the house.”
Lionel, to Brooke: “This isn’t some TV show, okay?”
Episode Seven: Troy Fairbanks
Why did it take so long for us to get to Troy’s side of the story? Maybe because he’s not central to the story this season, although he is important. He is, after all, the face of last season’s riot, as the guy who shattered a window in Hancock house. He’s lost. He’s no longer the Head of House at AP — Coco booted him in episode four — and he’s struggling to find his purpose.
To the hourlong dramas of this world: Observe how Dear White People crafts a feature-length narrative in just 30 minutes of television. In episode seven, Troy Fairbanks experiences the full hero’s journey, from peeing in a fountain, failing at open mic night, chatting with a poodle, and all the way to succeeding at open mic night. If Dear White People can do it, and sneak in loads of exposition in the meantime, so can Westworld.
Abetted by mushrooms and the boys of Pastiche, Troy tries to figure out what his “brand’ is. Is he funny? The stand up he does in the first half of the episode is not good. So, he journeys through the characters of the show to figure it all out. Each character he meets shares an anecdote about Early College Troy, a character we didn’t meet last season.
Turns out, despite his legacy standing and leadership skills, Troy wanted to be a comedian. His freshman year, he wanted to join Pastiche, the show’s send up of The Harvard Lampoon. (What’s the Harvard Lampoon, you ask? It’s the birthplace of Colin Jost.) But after a drunken night ended in peeing in a fountain, his father insisted on Troy going another route. The show sneakily introduces a faction of Black Winchester alums who… appear to be more powerful than the Illuminati. (“Is this a Black illuminati or something?” Troy asks. One member replies that they’re more “competent” than that particular secret society.) These faceless alums, shrouded in shadow, insisted that Troy take on head of AP house.
In his journey to become head of AP, Troy befriends Reggie, who’s desperately in love with Sam. To amend this, Troy sleeps with Sam, who gives him a boost in the AP standings. Eventually, he does become head of AP, which brings us to the beginning of season 1. He was sleeping with a professor last season, remember?
His friends all have different opinions on Troy’s issues. Reggie thinks Troy is like “the Black guy in a white sitcom.” Sam thinks Troy is a womanizer. Coco calls Troy a “shell.” Finally, Sorbet, the talking dog, leads him back to the fountain.
“I’ve already said too much. We’re not even supposed to talk to you!” Sorbet (Loretta Devine) says before skittering away.
The fountain is Troy’s Phoenicia, a symbolic home for the Troy he once knew. That is to say, the fountain is where he and his new Pastiche friends peed freshman year. This was before Troy discarded comedy in favor of being a leader. Emboldened by a naked swim (ironic because earlier he said he would never streak on campus), Troy tells off his father for teaching him only how to be a “shell.” The worst part is, Dean Fairbanks did help Reggie earlier this season. But he can’t help Troy, because he expects too much of his son.
Troy’s better, post-transformation stand up may not be great stand up, per se, but it’s introspective. Troy excavates his mind, exploring his flaws for the audience. Why is he like this? How is he so good at dick pics and why is he so into Instagram Live?
Buried in Troy’s little Odyssey is some much-needed plot development. (In just a half hour! Tis true, it can be done.) Lionel published an expose on Silvio, and Muffy, Coco’s prim best friend, did get into Pegasus. She lied to Coco about it, though, because secret societies.
Random Pastiche Fellow: “This feels blatantly expositional. We doing a podcast?”
Episode Eight: Gabe
This episode, written by the playwright Jack Moore, is a tour de force. Last season gave us the Barry Jenkins-directed episode. This season gives us a short play. (The episode is directed Justin Simien, the show’s creator.) And in only 31 minutes! Gabe and Sam finally resolve their issues slowly and painfull over the course of those minutes. In real time, the show’s central character combats the one person she’s yet to confront this season. The conversation is for Gabe’s documentary, which we find out here is a project for his “documentary in the age of YouTube” series.
All lof of the characters in Dear White People use media as out outlet for their trauma. For Lionel, it’s journalism. For Sam, it’s her radio show. For Troy, it’s comedy. For Gabe, it’s this documentary, which is starting to resemble the show itself. Each episode of this show is dedicated to a different character’s interiority. Gabe is largely doing the same device, only clunkier. Having him train the lens on Sam for an episode about Gabe is a brilliant choice, as it puts both characters in harsh relief. Not to mention, Sam turns on her recorder for posterity, and they film in the Dear White People radio booth. This is Dear White People meets Am I Racist?, the Avengers: Infinity War of DWP’s political media.
The actual conversation itself is clunky, which DWP can be at times, especially when it’s belaboring a point. Here, it’s grappling with Sam’s flickering likability. Gabe suggests shes “inflaming” the students of Winchester with her rhetoric. She fires back that the ruling class always critiques the means of protest of the oppressed. The debate is familiar — it’s not unlike the conversation surrounding Sally Kohn and the writer Aminatou Sow last month. This is about respectability politics. It’s also about where respectability politics bleed into the personal sphere. Sam and Gabe’s debate — 31 engaging minutes, I tell you — vacillates from the political to the private slowly, at first, as they each pause their devices to confess things. (This is a brilliant move on Moore’s part, and I cannot get over it. Over the course of the episode, the sound of the beep starts to signify a move into more intimate conversations.) At first, Sam and Gabe are talking about racial politics at Winchester. But then, they’re talking about the events of last season. Gabe called the cops. Sam (sorta) cheated on Gabe with Reggie. Gabe broke up with Sam on the night of the rally. Sam sent out invitations for a blackface party. Which things are personal? Which things are political?
“Not for nothing, but your white guilt is the only reason you do Dear White People,” Gabe says finally, causing Sam to stalk out of the room. She returns to deliver one of the show’s most powerful lines.
“‘Guilt’ is too simple a word for what a girl like me in a world like this feels,” she says. She then reveals that her online trolls have taken a sinister turn. One sent an email to her parents (they cc’d Sam) using a racial slur in reference to Sam. It’s just not simple.
Gabe and Sam don’t resolve their political differences in this episode, but they do resolve their personal differences. They kiss briefly — finally — and then Joelle interrupts. She has bad news.
Sam’s dad is dead.
What a show.
Episode Nine: Sam, Part 2
Television shows, in the eleventh hour, often sprint off into another destination, usually to gift one character the ability to solve whatever crisis is brewing at home base. For Dear White People, this is that episode. Sam heads home for her father’s funeral with Joelle and Coco in tow. Gabe and Reggie make brief appearances in this episode doing boyfriend duties. (No, Reggie and Joelle aren’t dating yet, but they are engaging in prolonged hugging.) At Sam’s childhood home, the threesome find love, laughter, etc. Along the way, they find the key to the “Order of X” mystery that’s been haunting the season.
It’s rare that the three main women on the show get an opportunity to spend time together. Sam and Joelle each spent a good deal of this season on their own, and Coco has always been an ambitious lone wolf. Coco and Sam haven’t even really resolved their differences from last season, but they were close friends once. Leveled by grief, the threesome find the time and space to start speaking the same language. They even start calling each other out on their bullshit.
Sam and Joelle mock Coco for her primness, poking fun at her skincare routine and her owl-shaped crudite. In turn, Coco calls Joelle a doormat, telling her she’s too kind to Sam. And Sam, meanwhile, gets a fatherly lecture from Coco, who, it turns out, spoke to Sam’s dad shortly before he died.
“Sam’s difficult, but that’s just because everything she does, she does with passion,” he told Coco. Coco also remarks to Sam, “No one expects to finish their sentences around you.”
This is a real reckoning for Sam. As if last episode weren’t enough, the death of her father brings her whirring political brain to a stop. Even her mother is sick of Sam’s diatribes. When Sam confronts her mother about her father’s health, her mother retorts, “You don’t have a monopoly on grief, little girl.”
In the first episode, she was harsh to her father. She nearly hung up on him when he called her “difficult.” She was harsh — so harsh, that if you listened closely, you might hear the foreshadowing of his sudden death. This paints a cruel picture of Sam, putting Gabe’s view from last episode into perspective. Is Sam so passionate that she’s become dispassionate? Is she so single-minded that she’s oblivious to those around her? This episode tries to come to some sort of conclusion.
The conclusion comes via Sam’s father, Billy, who leaves a note for Sam in his library. The note comes in a book about Winchester’s secret societies, which Billy just so happens to have in his library. The book presumably holds the secret to the Order of X but, for now, it’s just the bearer of very sad words.
Billy tells Sam, effectively, that he didn’t want to involve her in his heart issues. He absolves her of guilt and then tells her it’s not going to be simple.
In words that feel very meta, Billy says, “If it all seems very confusing to you, you’re probably just seeing it clearly.” In other words, if you’re struggling to make sense of Sam’s character — should we like her? Is she cruel? Is she justified? Is she wonderful, the harbinger of social justice? — you’re probably just seeing her character for what she is. Like Nancy Meyers says, it’s complicated.
The last bit of news from Winchester shoehorned into this (28 minute!) episode is that Carson Rhodes won’t be coming to campus. CORE did not secure the funding to pay him. And that, for the Black caucus, is a loss.
Episode Ten: Dear White People
There’s no one character at the center of this episode — well, actually there is. The narrator finally emerges from his tidy recording studio to recruit Sam and Lionel for the Order of X. Giancarlo Esposito doesn’t have a character name listed, but, presumably, he’s the master of the Order of X, the rumored secret society at the center of this season.
The secret society plot this season has always seemed like a supremely complicated MacGuffin. Sam and Lionel’s enthusiasm for it has bolstered its power — if they think finding out news of a secret society will “save” Winchester, they’re probably right, right? It’s still not clear, though, what saving Winchester looks like. Regardless, this hunt for truth has given the season a sense of purpose, and, at the very least, it gave us a tour of Winchester’s complicated history.
The 35 minute of Dear White People finale moves swiftly and furiously, tying up loose ends just as it loosens others. For clarity, I’m going to move character by character, marking how each member of Winchester’s community made it through the season. We’ll start with the more trivial characters.
Kelsey: At the beginning of the episode, Clifton refers to Kelsey as “Coco.” Later, he calls Sam “Kelsey.” This is Kelsey’s contribution to the finale, which is a shame, because — in her words — there aren’t enough representations of Black queer women of color on television. (Except for on that one porn site she mentioned.)
Clifton: Still an idiot. He was also the idiot who lit Davis afire with… a hot pocket.
P. Ninny: She comes out on national television! Then, she motorboats the interviewer.
Kurt: Sleeping with Coco! Kurt is a sneakily good foil for Coco. Both blindly ambitious, he and Coco have a lot in common. They also have good reason to hate each other. Well, everyone has good reason to hate Kurt. He is instrumental in the plan to destroy Rikki Carter, though. He helps Black caucus buy out Rikki’s event so that it will be filled with people of color, not alt-righter students.
Wesley: Surprisingly, not into monogamy! Less surprisingly, he’s into lube. This doesn’t bode well for Lionel, who is interested in monogamy.
Troy: His rally days are over, but he is interested in joining Pastiche. He submits a packet to Kurt, declaring his comedy career officially in the works.
Joelle: Kisses! Reggie! Finally! They almost get down to brass tacks, but then Sam interrupts. This is the second of three sex scenes in this episode.
Gabe: He and Sam are happily in the throes of a new relationship. They both seem petrified that it won’t work, but they’re also happy to be there.
Reggie: On top of finally making a move on Joelle, Reggie gives James the info he needs to see the security tapes from the night of the Davis fire. James is the student most convinced that the Davis fire was the result of arson.
James: Disappointed by his findings.
Silvio: Introduces Rikki Carter at her event. Is a dung heap of a character.
Lionel: At his wit’s end. Silvio, he points out, turned out to be an alt-right vampire, and his current love interest isn’t into monogamy. Plus, this secret society investigation isn’t going anywhere. But then, Giancarlo Esposito makes his entrance.
Sam: Is officially done with Dear White People after her confrontation with Rikki Carter. This episode deals a lot in “characters” and how we use them. Rikki claims she’s playing a character when she espouses alt-right rhetoric. She even implies that Carter Rhodes does as well. They released their books in the same month to drive book sales. She compliments Sam’s character, to which Sam says, “She’s not a character.”
“Not yet, but give it time, hon,” Rikki replies. She boils Sam, Carter, and herself down to minstrelsy. She’s making money talking about race issues on television and building an empire from it. Also an interesting tidbit: She says she got her start arguing contrarian takes in debate just to win. Her logic seems solid, but it also ignores the power of celebrity. Rikki Carter may just be an act, but there are millions of people who don’t see it that way. And those millions just might vote.
But for Sam, everything about Rikki’s revelation is disheartening. Rikki hit her right where she’s vulnerable: her radio show. Sam has been dealing with the topic of celebrity and fame since the show began — a target on Twitter, she suddenly has both haters and fans. She has a lot of power, but she’s also getting attention, something Gabe also called her on in episode eight. Rikki, interestingly, is the first to get under her skin. Of course, that might not last because…
Giancarlo Esposito: The narrator of the show, and presumably the leader of the Order of X. He placed “Xs” above the doors to Lionel and Sam’s rooms. He summoned them to the bell tower basement, which was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. He’s the one beaming into the camera at the end of the season. I have a number of questions, but my first is: Who will narrate the third season? Sam?
Sorbet: Hanging out with the Order of X?
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