By Britt Julious
Chicago is such a vast city that it would be nearly impossible for any single show to depict it accurately. And The Chi, despite being created by a Chicago native, feels brighter and glossier than the Chicago I know as a current resident. But that doesn’t mean Chicago is an entirely dark or suffering place, something it seems creator Lena Waithe has made a point of articulating. For despite the rapid, successive murders (in the pilot, we see two) and working class struggles, there is still humor, romance, and fun within the city’s limits. But those things don’t last forever, not here at least.
What The Chi does best is depict the inherent innocence and youth of the city. The show’s youngest characters like Kevin (Alex R. Hibbert) or his schoolmates or Coogie (Jahking Guillory) wear bright pops of color, from baby blue to lime green to a deep Bulls red. They haven’t learned the fault and fear in standing out. The simplicity and euphoria of innocence versus the gripping soberness of adult life and everything that may entail are the two warring factions. Uncomplicated youth can only last so long. Violence, struggle, and adversity are the real truths of life.
How long can a Black boy on the South Side of Chicago stay merely a Black boy? That question arises as we follow Kevin in episode two.
In the show’s pilot, Kevin reluctantly auditions for the school’s musical, The Wiz, and the drama instructor tells him he wasn't bad. In episode two, we learn he is still a part of the musical as his crush, Andrea, says she’ll see him at rehearsals. In some other setting, in a school in the surrounding Chicago suburbs or even somewhere on Chicago’s predominately white North Side, Kevin’s main worries would be his budding crush, memorizing his lines for the show and playing video games with his two best friends.
But Kevin‘s life is already more complicated than any middle-school kid should face, and so in addition to those sweet scenes of life within the seemingly safe halls of his school, we also see Kevin trying to outrun Ronnie Davis (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), the man who killed Coogie in the first episode. Later, we see Kevin try to man up when Brandon (Jason Mitchell) visits him at his home. Kevin opens his front door while holding a baseball bat in one hand, evidently fearful for his own life after Ronnie chased him through the neighborhood.
“The only reason why I told you this shit is cause I thought you was going to handle it, so handle yo business nigga,” Kevin said.
Instead, Brandon has also grappled with what he should do now that he knows who is responsible for his brother’s death. As we saw in episode one, after Kevin named Ronnie as Coogie’s murderer, Brandon got a text telling him he was now a line cook at the hip restaurant where he works.
Although older than Kevin, Brandon also wrestles with the sober reality of his brother’s death pushing against the life he could have, the life he wants to have. Does he continue to navigate the straight and narrow path as a line cook, hopefully earning enough money to open up his restaurant with his girlfriend? Or does he find retribution for his brother’s murder, settling the score like many people around him would do (and have already done)?
Therein lies the problem of an eye for an eye: the cycle has no means of ending so long as someone decides to embrace reckless murder over forgiveness. And as the cycle continues to unfold, more and more characters will be wrapped into its elusive, neverending fold.