Logan Browning, Marque Richardson, and Ashley Blaine Featherson (Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix)

The image above is technically from the fifth episode of Dear White People, but the armed confrontation between Reggie and an overzealous campus cop looms large over “Chapter VI,” which shows the characters trying to cope after the harrowing ordeal. The cold open doesn’t provide backstory for one of the characters or detail the nuances of Winchester’s campus culture. It simply gives the narrator a chance to react to the events of the last episode. “I got nothing,” he confesses.

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Sam has plenty to say, as usual, but she has to say it all to her radio audience, since Reggie is conspicuously missing since the incident. “Chapter VI” is the second Dear White People episode to feature Sam, though I’d imagine as the series progresses, it’ll matter less and less which character’s face appears in the title reveal. This episode is actually more ensemble-focused, with the Winchester students each taking a moment to feel their feelings about what happened to Reggie. Antoinette Robertson, who has been killing it as Coco, steals the show when a racially diverse group of student convenes to discuss possible next steps. “Who cares if you’re woke or not if you’re dead?” she asks, following a testimony about the horrors she saw growing up in southside Chicago.

The gang tries to handle the matter through the official channels, offering to act as Reggie’s cheerleading section when Reggie meets about the incident with Dean Fairbanks. But once the meeting arrives, Reggie is nowhere to be found, and the notoriously hard-assed Fairbanks isn’t willing to let them lobby on his behalf. “My office is not a town hall,” he says before dismissing the students and assuring them the matter is “under review.” Sam challenges him to consider what he would do if Troy had been the one staring down the barrel of a gun, but Fairbanks says that would never happen because he raised Troy to avoid such situations.

While that small exchange seems to place Sam and Dean Fairbanks on different sides of the argument, it actually shows what they have in common. They both want agency, to feel like their actions could make the difference in a tense situation like the one Reggie found himself in. What makes Sam feel in control is to take action and demand the overzealous officer be held accountable for his actions, so other officers on the campus will know better. What makes Dean Fairbanks feel in control is to reassure himself that he’s already taken action to prevent Troy from ending up in a similar situation by raising him in such a way that he’s seen as less of an “other.” Both Sam and Fairbanks are being somewhat quixotic, but it’s reasonable for both of them to grasp for some sense of control given the circumstances.

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Sam can’t focus on the movement just yet because she promised Gabe she’d accompany him to the world’s most precious, pretentious coffee shop to meet his friends Milo and Vanessa. Sam’s a hit with Gabe’s friends, who faithfully listen to her show and display their allyship by tossing around the term POC like so much confetti. (I’m sure they’re doing quite well on Reggie’s “Woke Or Not” app.) But even as Sam is trying to put her focus on White Bae, she can’t get Reggie out of her head. It doesn’t help that Vanessa talks about Reggie as a “public victim,” someone who is suffering trauma but can’t deal with it properly because their pain has been co-opted by a political movement. The idea hits Sam in the gut, perhaps because it forces her to think about all the sympathy she’s been accepting for an incident that technically didn’t happen to her.

When she finally catches up with Reggie, who has put effort into dodging her, Sam is ready to do what Reggie wants to do rather than prescribing a solution. And what Reggie wants is to go to an open mic night attended almost exclusively by white students and read a poem he wrote about his experience. It seems a little odd at first that Reggie would choose this venue to express his feelings, but it makes sense in light in Vanessa’s comments about public victimhood. Maybe Reggie wanted to speak his truth in front of an audience that is far enough away from his pain to listen to him without projecting themselves onto the situation. Maybe he just wants to be heard, not to be made a campus martyr.

Sam hears every word, and urges Reggie to share the poem at the pep rally where more people will be able to hear his message. He turns back inward, but not before confessing his feelings for Sam. He tells her he sees her potential for leadership, and she shoots back “Well, maybe sometimes I want you to just see me.” It’s an excellent line, and it suggests that the qualities that make Sam and Reggie so much alike are the qualities that make them incompatible as a couple. But she’s still drawn to him, more so now that he’s dealing with a crisis that lands in their shared social justice jurisdiction. Sam’s facing a classic conundrum. Does she pick the guy who understands her intuitively, or the one whose differences balance her out? Gabe better not get too comfortable.

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Stray observations

  • Sam: “I’m not about to let this get swept under the rug like Brandy’s vehicular manslaughter.” I always wince anytime somebody brings that up. It’s fair game and all, but damn.
  • All the stress has ruined Joelle’s summer body diet: “Waist-thin, ass-thick is gonna have to wait until America solves its race issues.”
  • I no longer believe Lionel is responsible for calling the cops to the party. The show is working a little too hard to get me to think it’s him for it to actually be him.
  • Gabe started the non-GMO organic community garden as an undergrad, so he knows all about organizing.
  • #EmphaticallyStatingOurCase could use an edit.
  • Conner and Becca are still going strong! Those two (and the occasional third) just might make it.

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