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Blindspotting: Weddings Bells or Prison Alarms?

For the past eight weeks every Sunday night Blindspotting has plucked it audiences from our couches and invited us into a little slice of Oakland life. It’s been the most creative event of the summer with the way it seamlessly slips spoken word and interpretive dance scenes side by side with real life discussions of hardships and trauma. So it’s not surprising that the season finale is bursting wide open and pulling out every last stop it has to make one final point.

Miles is transferring in a week which means seeing him regularly is going to be tough. It also means the reality that he’s going to be gone for five years is going to hit again. So in an effort to find some way to bring them closer despite the concrete ocean between them, Ashley decides that they’re going to get married. In the visitation block with the safety glass between them and the guards watching their every move. It’s not much and it’s definitely not a dream like wedding but the whole family has agreed, even Trish plus it’s the best comfort Ashley can come up with for herself. She needs this. After a hectic morning of reminding Rainey to find her ID, reassuring that Trish is going to wear actual clothes and Sean running around in his Sunday best; the family sets off to surprise Miles.

Meanwhile Earl starts his first day of work but the trauma of his ankle monitor has a tight grip on him. Not to mention James, his P.O, is still dismissive of his anxiety and seems to only be by his phone when it means telling Earl what time to be home. But once Earl is about to calm his budding panic, via probably the prettiest interpretative dance scene of the season, he finds a state of calmness and freedom we haven’t seen from him before. Until he’s told that there’s another boat coming in he’ll have to help with, which will make him get home late. It all goes downhill from there.

Like many things lately in Ashley’s life, there’s always a hiccup or two. In this case there are several before she even makes it through the metal detector. Including Trish’s grill getting stuck in place, Rainey’s ID being expired so she has to run home to get her passport, longtime family friend “Uncle Rick” refusing to ordain the wedding once he learns that Miles hasn’t actually consented to it and Janelle dropping the bomb that in Bali she was married and a stepmom. It’s a lot, but once she and Miles are finally in front of each other nothing else matters. And he might be shocked and insistent that Ashley doesn’t have to marry him out of guilt but she’s not hearing any of that. She knows him well enough to know that he wants to get married just like her, so they’re going to do the damn thing. If nothing else, the bond and love that two of them share is genuine and pure.

But while everything works out in Ashley’s favor, Earl spirals into turmoil. He’s home late, the light on his monitor is red, it’s over for him. As quickly as his new start began, it’s all going to come crashing down because without a doubt the police are on their way to arrest him. He’s not even going to get to say goodbye. He does manage to leave behind a note for Janelle and the others because by the time they make it home the only thing left behind is his extension chord. And as police sirens ring in the distance Ashely let’s us in on a little secret: everything that’s been going on since the first episode has happened within the span of one month.

“Bride or Die” may not be my favorite episode of the season but it definitely does it’s job as a finale. With so many moments that evoke a variety of emotions it’s hard to decide which was a favorite of the best. From Trish’s laugh out loud perfect comedic timing to the warmth of Janelle’s reveal and the heartbreak of Earl’s unfair downfall, the episode is full to the brim with moments of masterpiece. Even the spoken word poems and dances feel like a step up from previous episodes, despite the past ones not lacking at all. A hard bar to raise that is somehow risen higher.

To me, the best thing about the season finale is the last second reveal that everything we’ve witnessed in the past eight episodes occurs over the time of just one month. Simply because it puts a new perspective on the entire series as a whole, and puts even more focus on how terrible the prison system is and the effect it has on those not even incarcerated. In four weeks life has been ruined, uplifted, ruined and uplifted again. It’s not an exaggeration that there’s something different every single day.

Although the episode is pretty evenly divided, it’s Earl’s half that really leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Sure it sucks that Ashley and Miles had to kiss through a thick sheet of glass and will have to coordinate their sex lives for the next five years but it’s Earl that truly bears the brunt of the chaotic day. It’s fitting that his character is surrounded by dancers and spoken word, because the trauma he’s experiencing isn’t something that can be plainly stated. It has to be felt, and by the end of the episode Earl’s situation and the after effects this will have on him lingers with you. He is by far the most developed and interesting character of the show.

With a cameo from Utkarsh Ambudkar who told the hilarious Scorpion Bowl story in the original movie as a prisoner with just a one letter difference from Miles, and a phone cameo from Collin himself; the finale is probably the most ambiguous of the episodes. It lays the groundwork for could be an explosive second season, especially if Collin allows himself to return home.

Hopefully a renewal is on the way for Blindspotting as it would be a huge missed opportunity if Starz didn’t.

-Danyi

black girl blogs · reviews · tv reviews

Blindspotting: Ripple Effect

With only two episodes left in its season, Blindspotting decides to spend the second to last focusing on the youngest character. After being told that his father is going to be in jail for the next five years, Sean gets to have his very first visit with Miles. Which it’s goes pretty okay, until a prisoner has an outburst and all the inmates have to be removed. It’s a scary thing to witness for a six year old. And it will probably leave a lasting impression on him.

The family spends the rest of the day trying to cheer Sean up by taking him bowling. Everyone pitches in and puts on their best smiles for him, but he’s still less than enthusiastic. Even at one point asking to go home instead of finishing the game. As Sean depressingly bowls, Ashley, Rainey and Janelle bounce around ideas for how Miles and Ashley can remain close while he’s away. Leading to Rainey googling a prison program for family that offer visitation weekends instead of just an or so. It’s not much, but a weekend together every month is better than just an hour and actually would give them time to bond. It’s definitely something Ashley should think on.

Since it’s a family trip of course Trish has come along too, even Jacque is down for trying to cheer Sean up. But the two of them have other things on their minds, like starting a business that they run themselves. So it must be fate that none other than Cuddie the bank loaner shows up at the bowling alley. He’s there to practice with his team but is much more interested in Jacque. And though Trish might have lost him with her proposal he still put her on game of how to start up without him and the bank. They can do it, they just have to go about it in the right way. Starting with quitting the strip club.

With Sean’s complete disinterest in bowling the family decides to go back home. Once there they plan out a whole evening of activities to life Sean’s spirits including home baked treats, games, a dance party, karaoke and twister. But Sean remains upset through them all, until Earl begins to mess with him; poking and providing at Sean until they start to rough house and finally the little boy cracks a smile. Thus his bad mood is finally surpassed and everything starts to feel a little better. Meanwhile Trish and Jacque arrive at the strip club and quit, only for Carl to offer an investment into their business. It catches the girls by surprise but with the amount of money he’s offering they would be hard pressed to say no. So they strike a deal and Trish is lit about it, thoroughly convinced that she and Jacque can run a fetish service out of Rainey’s home. It’s either going to be brilliant or it’s going to be a disaster.

While this episode doesn’t seem as fast past as the previous one, it’s not without its moments of depth and complexity. A particular highlight of the episode is a moment between Ashley and Earl; after cheering up Sean and putting the living room back together he is wrapping up the night by literally collecting his extension cord. But Ashley wants to thank him for making Sean laugh and pulling him out of his mood, she tells Earl that he’s doing really good. Which seemed to be the general consensus. But according to Earl that couldn’t be farther from the truth. He’s been traumatized by his time in jail and that trauma isn’t going anywhere. It’s left him unsure of himself and how he’s supposed to move forward, he doesn’t even know if moving forward is possible. It’s a moment that pulls back down reality and further moves Earl out of the comedic relief zone he started in.

Another moment worth noting is that while bowling Sean momentarily imagined a prison guard bowling down inmates in the place of pins. The events of the morning have already rooted a fear inside him. It’s going to be hard for a six year old to come to terms with his father being taken away like this. A smaller detail that I find not being talked about much is the fact Rainey’s persistent memory problem. It seems as the season goes along she’s having more and more trouble remembering things. And it’s unclear if anyone close to her even notices.

The audience was also treated to a sweet and beautiful scene when Sean asks Ashley to sing him to sleep. It’s always a pleasure getting to hear Jasmine Cephas-Jones sing and here she doesn’t disappoint at all. Hopefully if renewed for a second season Blindspotting will find more reasons for her to heavenly voice to be heard. With the season finale on the way, Blindspotting has a few things to clear up and of course seeds to plant for future development. It would most certainly be a mistake for Starz not to allow the uniqueness of this show to continue to expand.

Blindspotting airs Sunday nights on Starz

-Danyi

black girl blogs · reviews · tv reviews

Blindspotting: The Degrees of Discipline

Kids are tough. They’re small people that are more often than not misunderstood. Adults simplify children because it makes taking care of them easier, for the grown ups. In Blindspotting’s third episode “The Rule of Three”, Sean starts spiraling out of control because his father isn’t there to be the disciplinary. So it falls upon Ashley to take him in hand, only she finds herself deeply conflicted on how to do it the right way. Meanwhile it’s Trish’s turn for her day to put its foot on her neck and not ease up, and the more she fights back the worse it gets.

Anyone who cares for children for an extended period of time knows that when things suddenly and drastically change they can start to act out. Sean’s entire world has been flipped upside, so it was only a matter of time before his behavior became less than stellar. Especially since his dad isn’t there to physically snatch him up and he knows his mom isn’t going to. After ruining Ashley and Trish’s morning with swift kicks to the legs, Sean’s put in time at Nancy’s while Ashley tries to figure out what to do about him.

Of course everyone has advice for her, Rainey insists that if she plans it correctly she’ll only ever have to discipline Sean physically three times as he’s growing up. But Ashley hesitates at the physical part. Miles pretty much agrees with his mom, she needs to karate chop Sean back multiple times in different ways. And he even points out that Ashley has her own standing with violence, she used to beat bitches up. Yorkie and Rob offer a bit more toned down solution. A slap or two to the face, which Yorkie quickly explains can be considered a spanking of the face depending on how you look at it. Even Scotty, Ashley’s manager at the hotel, suggests simple pops to the back of Sean’s hand could be enough. But Ashley balks at them all, she doesn’t want to get physical with her baby. She doesn’t want to contribute to the possibility of him growing up to be violent, which she eloquently explains to us in the episodes spoken word break of the fourth wall. It puts her between a rock and a hard place.

Meanwhile, Trish’s day spirals in a different way. Determined to run her own strip club, she makes an appointment with the bank to apply for a loan. But the meeting doesn’t go the way she wants and Trish ends up losing her temper and getting kicked out. It doesn’t phase her until she heads to work where she’s surprised to find that the girls don’t take her side in the situation. They try to explain to Trish that most the time she’s on a level ten when she should be a on five, but she won’t hear it. The night turns worse when Trish is forced to go out on stage and dance despite the agreement she thought she had arranged with the owner. It’s a sobering moment for Trish, but she deals with it my throwing back alcohol; no one wants to be sober when life is shit.

Everything comes to a head when Ashley returns home that night to find that Trish took her work shoes without asking. Drunk and still seething about not getting the loan Trish pokes and prods at Ashley until the older woman snaps. Though she’s not the one who gets to Trish first, Rainey does and it just so happens that Sean is dropped off right as Grandma Rainey spanks Tia Trish’s face. And it strikes a bit of fear into him in the right way, which Ashley uses to her advantage to position herself as the parent Sean been a to listen to. At least while his dad is away.

As someone who cares for kids as a job, this episode was particularly interesting. How to discipline kids is always a heavily debated topic, because no two parents do it the same. And as society tries to constantly move forward in progressive ways, the act of hitting or spanking children is something that firmly divides people. And it’s divided on several different layers. Episode three attempts to unravel a few of those layers and mold itself a solution that works for the scenario. Sean isn’t bad kid, so what works for him might not work for other kids. Or could even just be a temporary fix. There’s the possibility that he could become a bad kid, once he learns that Ashley has been hiding the truth about Miles from him. But that bridge hasn’t been crossed yet.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the episode isn’t the tensions of what to do about Sean, it’s the little details of the other characters that reveal bigger plot points or deeper development of their character. For instance, we learned that Ashley comes from an abusive household, which is what makes her so firmly against physically disciplining Sean. She doesn’t want to repeat the cycle in anyway. We also saw another side of Trish, it was brief and nearly buried by her outburst at Ashley but earlier in the night it was there. After being shouted down by the owner of the strip club Trish had to get ready to go on stage and as she puts her makeup on we witness her break a little. There’s more to Trish than just the wildness and ratchet ways. Though it’s hard to feel sorry for her when it’s obvious she knows what she’s doing when she’s being a bitch. Which is super evident when after Rainey slaps her, Trish whines out the excuse that she’s drunk. As if that somehow makes her treatment of Ashley okay.

With each episode Blindspotting challenges what it means to be thought provoking television. It gives its characters different layers of personality instead of just sprinkling pieces and hoping something sticks. This is no more clearer than when it comes to Ashley and Trish. The show makes space for them both to exist and although they seem pitted against each other on a surface, it’s seems likely that could change soon. Especially since Ashley tried to apologize for her judgement of Trish’s clothes and attitude before the fight. She tried even though it got her nowhere. Which says a lot.

With each episode of Blindspotting I find myself loving it more and more. I was obsessed with the movie when it came out and now I find myself obsessing with the show. It’s an amazing when a show makes you feel like you can be as creative as you want and that’s what Blindspotting is doing. Giving us permission to present creations differently. Hopefully more TV shows will take after it.

Blindspotting airs Sunday nights on Starz

-Danyi

black girl blogs · reviews · tv reviews

Blindspotting: The Roughest Day Ever

With its glowing running start, Blindspotting aced the pilot episode and starts digging in deep right away in the second. As we find out that Miles is sentenced to five years in the opening scene, the events of Ashley’s day following give us an up close look at the particular way women have to be strong no matter what. While it is often thought that the prison system only really affects those incarcerated, in “Smashley Rose” the perspective of those closest is brought into the spotlight. From Rainey’s sidewalk breakdown to Ashley’s hotel meltdown and Trish’s enhanced meanness; we learn learn a little more about these characters and the real life struggles they’re dealing with.

To start, while everyone around her crumbles Ashley forces herself to stay strong. She can’t break down about her life partners sentencing when she has to go work and pretend to be fine. She has to keep her head on straight for Sean. However there is no solace behind the desk of one of the most expensive hotels where the rich flaunt their egos and after unwanted advances plus verbal racial abuse Ashley has her moment. It’s beautiful and poignant to watch as she laments about the unfairness of the way the rich get richer and the poor suffer for it while she destroys the hotel room of the racist guest. It’s a something she honestly deserves. But it’s probably not enough.

Meanwhile Rainey has her own version of a breakdown. Miles is her son after all, and he’s being taken from her for five years. It’s a lot. And Rainey’s solution, after a round of embarrassing vocalization meditation, seems to be turning attention to Sean and how to tell him. Something Ashley is firmly against, but Rainey won’t be deterred and makes a trip to the library to find books that will help. She’s trying her best to be supportive but so far comes off a little tone deaf and overwhelming. Between Ashley’s unwillingness to tell Sean where his dad is and Rainey’s unsure-ness when it comes to where race should be included in which topic, the day is mostly a bust for them both. “It was a rough day,” to quote Mama Rainey.

Despite not seeing much of her in this episode, Trish’s presence is still just as big as it was in the first one. She’s very upset about Miles’s sentencing and though she has comforting hugs for her mom, icy words and deathly glares are all she spares Ashley. Not only has her brother been taken away but now the possibility of Ashley staying with them for five years is very much the elephant in the room. And Trish is not happy about it at all. Though as Janelle points out at the end of the episode, she and Ashley used to be hella mean too.

A bright spot in the drama heavy episode was that of Earl, the neighbor renting the spare room in Nancy’s house. Earl is obviously the comedic relief of the show but there’s something deeper to him as well. He’s nice, polite and friendly even though Janelle mostly snips and snaps at him for being too silent. He’s even got a cheerful attitude as he explains why he’s got foot up foot of extension cords wrapped around one shoulder; to keep the battery on his monitor up when he’s out. He’s fairly chipper about the whole situation so far.

With only thirty minutes, there’s not room for anything that’s not important plot wise and so far every second of Blindspotting has been an improvement to the story and absolutely worth it. Especially things like the deep inner looks at how Ashley’s mind is dealing with Miles’s sentence, by creating an imaginary Miles to be at her side which I hope is handled carefully seeing as how this could easily become the Miles show without meaning too, and the subtle way Janelle is avoiding talking about why she’s back in town suddenly, always changing the subject and brushing it off. Plot details like that mixed together with the seamless dance choreography and breakage of the fourth wall have produced an outcome that is something completely unique. Every detail is breathing life into the bigger picture of this perspective of Oakland life. And telling a captivating story while doing it.

Blindspotting airs Sunday nights on STARZ

-Danyi

black girl blogs · reviews · tv reviews

Blindspotting: Welcome To The Best New Show On TV

Disclaimer: I am not from Oakland, so most references and homages to the Bay will go over my head. That’s entirely my bad. Now, let’s get into it.

In 2018 one of the most stunning movies in the last decade, Blindspotting showed us what’s it’s like to witness police brutality and the mental ramifications it can have. But it was also a love letter to a place like no other, Oakland California aka The Bay Area. Using spoken verse the film connected its audience to a culture most of us will never be able to see in person and it gave insight into the complicated world of male friendship. It was a masterpiece and there will probably never be another film like it. Which is why the chance it’s been given to expand the Blindspotting universe in the form of television couldn’t have been given to more deserving content.

In the film, life was shown to us through Collin’s eyes and it was his story he shared with his best friend Miles. We only caught glimpses of Ashley, Mile’s life partner, her story wasn’t fulfilling as it could have been. Now the show has come to rectify that. Here, this is Ashley’s world and she’s telling the story. And from her perspective, life is much more complicated than it seems. With the love of her life behind bars, the newly established security of a better life is ripped from under Ashley’s feet; leaving her to pick up the pieces. She’s thrown from a middle class lifestyle back into her Bay Area hood roots and no matter how much she wants to escape it, it’s the place where her support system resides. So she has no choice but to deal.

Despite being only a half hour, Blindspotting comes out the gate swinging. It throws the only character the audience really knew behind bars and shifts focus towards the side characters and the ones mentioned only by name in the movie. With Miles locked up, Ashley is forced to take their son, move in with his mother and half sister, and figure out how she’s going to survive. She and Miles were on their way out of the hood, now Ashley is back to square one and not everyone is happy about her return to the neighborhood. Hell, Ashley herself isn’t too pleased about the entire situation. She depended on Miles, she doesn’t even know their online banking password. Not to mention Trish, his half sister, has zero love for Ashley and loudly makes it known whenever she can. The dislike is mutual though and Ashley has no problem voicing how much she disapproves of Trish’s sex work lifestyle. But as much as Trish can’t stand Ashley, she and Miles’s mother Rainey seems to love her daughter in law very much. At least enough to allow her and Sean to move into her home on a whim’s notice. However Rainey’s house is a place of controlled chaos. Trish’s latest dream of running a female owned strip club has set up base in her mother’s living room. All day long girls walk around with little to no clothes on and constantly pose for sexy pictures. It’s not exactly the best place for a little boy. But again, what choice does she have?

There is solace in the chaos of returning home though. For Ashley it comes in the form of Janelle, her best friend and Collin’s little sister. Janelle has been away traveling world for five years and now that she’s back, Ashley’s got someone completely in her corner. Which is what she needs. And even though her daughter is practically disgusted with the new living arrangements, Rainey is also in Ashley’s corner. Proven when, after Ashley discovers an engagement ring in Miles’s old room, Rainey tries to comfort her by getting on one knee and pretending to be her son. It’s weird and awkward but it’s the thought that counts. Life has been turned upside down for Ashley, she’s gonna need all the help she can get to keep afloat and not lose her sanity in the process.

While the film was entirely male centric and through the male gaze, the show completely diverts from that and centers itself around the women. This is Ashley’s show, it’s her world, her perspective and her journey. And it’s being told by mostly women as well. Taking the criticisms of the film seriously it’s creators Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal have established a very woman heavy crew behind the scenes, especially in the writers room. Which is probably what makes Blindspotting feel so refreshing and new even though it’s a world we have been to before.

Having only seen the first episode there isn’t much to be reviewed as pilots are always the set up and establish episode. But the show is beautiful both visually and as modern content. There is no other place like The Bay, it’s a little world of its own and I’ve never seen a place presented to the audience the way Blindspotting shows us Oakland. Every inch of the neighborhood Ashley has returned to is full of life and anytime is a great time to turn up. Like the sideshow she and Sean attend in the middle of the afternoon.

The cast is brilliant and stacked with major talent. Jasmine Cephas-Jones has been a star in the making for a while and now her time to shine is here. She’s given life to Ashley in both new and old ways, the fierce protective mother we saw in the film is still present but in the show it seems she’s going to be allowed to be more than just Miles’s baby mama; and rightfully so. Right behind Cephas-Jones is Jaylen Barron who steals every scene she’s in as Trish. Outrageous and loud, Trish is like her brother but times ten and though she may be abrasive she made several points from the moment she appeared on screen. With the demeanor of Miles and Trish, it’s intriguing that they have such a hippie like mother as Rainey but it’s not often that a legend such as Helen Hunt agrees to be in the first season of an experimental tv show and it’s delightful to see her play off the likes of Cephas-Jones and Barron. Rounding out the impressive cast of women is Candace Nicholas-Lippman who, though we haven’t seen much of, lit up the entire screen with her bright and gorgeous smile. It’s a smile much like Daveed Diggs’s, meaning the casting department made the right decision in giving her the part of Collin’s little sister. Hopefully we’ll get to insight into what their relationship is like and what it’s like to return home by choice for her. Finally we have Earl, Janelle’s new roommate who is renting out the spare room in her mother’s home. Played by Benjamin Earl Turner, the most we know about Earl at the moment is that he spends a lot of time yelling across the street for someone to get him a burrito from the taco truck since he’s on house arrest and the truck is just beyond his monitor’s permitted perimeter. It’ll be exciting to see what he’ll bring to the show in later episodes.

I am excited for the plot points that had seeds planted in the first episode. At the top of my list is the dynamic between Ashley and Trish, if it’s not a highlight of the series then it will be an opportunity missed. Trish and Ashley are two sides of the same coin, they come from the same background but live their lives very differently and endlessly judge the other for the choices they have made. Which is a very real thing for a lot of women. It will be interesting to see where this sister-in-hate relationship goes, especially with the jarring way Ashley snips and snarks about Trish’s line of work. I sincerely hope the inner workings, internalized fear and the societal pressure that weigh down and project onto these two is addressed and explored.

It will also be interesting to see the way Blindspotting develops and grows its side characters. In the movie, there wasn’t enough time to tell Collin’s story, a bit of Miles’s and give Ashley the growth she deserved. With television, growth is the only way to keep a show interesting. So I hope to see in depth development to the likes of Janelle, Earl, Trish, Sean and Rainey. But I’m especially interested in Janelle and Earl, both of them have potential to make great characters. And since they both are the darkest of the main cast, I really hope that they’re given more substance than just being the comedic relief.

I’m very hopeful for the story Blindspotting is about to tell us. I still frequently watch the movie so now that it’s having its universe extended, I couldn’t be happier. I’m geeked for this Oakland takeover we’re about to witness.

Blindspotting is available on Starz, new episodes premiere Sunday nights.

-Danyi

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