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At the end of the ninth episode of this season, Franklin found himself in a position that he knew was coming: staring down the barrel of a gun, and then bleeding out on the floor after Mel shot him. He always knew that his actions would eventually have consequences, even as he walks around with all the swagger and confidence in the world. Getting shot was always a distinct reality of this business, and when Franklin murdered Andre, he knew he’d crossed into uncharted territory, forging a path much more dangerous than before.

Snowfall has spent two seasons charting the ebbs and flows of Franklin’s entry into the game, but it’s this third season that’s truly been dealing with the consequences. Franklin ended up in prison last season, suffering his own consequences, but it’s the collateral damage that weighs on him in this year’s 10 episodes.

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What “Other Lives” posits is that perhaps things didn’t have to be this way. The finale passes over any story involving Gustavo (thankfully), and only rounds out Teddy’s season in the very last scene. Instead, the focus here is on an alternate timeline, an imagined scenario where Franklin accepts his offer to the college in the very white, affluent area, and doesn’t skip that to start selling weed. The Snowfall title card appears 34 minutes into the episode, and the previous 33 minutes is a stirring, pointed, emotional look at what Franklin’s life might have been.

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The episode begins with a literal conversation about alternate lives, with Franklin sitting in on a class that discusses various potential realities in an infinitely expanding universe. “What would you be doing?” asks a classmate after class. “Probably back in Africa,” replies Franklin, “my people never chained and brought here in the first place.” The white, female classmate can only stare. “Took a fun game and kind of fucked it up, eh?” laughs Franklin. The interaction is a poignant one in terms of what Snowfall is doing. Franklin has always been aware of his people’s history, and he cares about his community; the trouble is, there’s no easy, expedient way to combat the history of oppression. In the real timeline, he sees the drug game as a way to profit off a system that typically keeps black men down. In this alternate timeline, he’s trying to get out of his community so that he can maybe one day come back and make it a better place.

“Other Lives” is so smart and heartbreaking, using the weight of history and the otherness of the black body to show how trapped Franklin is. In this alternate timeline, he’s done everything by the books. He’s gone to college, studied hard, put his head down and fought for his place. And what does he get in return? He gets stares from all the white boys that look exactly like Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers. He gets evicted from his dorm based on a mistake on a W-2 form. He corrects that mistake, brings it to financial aid, and is still evicted because now his loan is under review and he can’t pay out of pocket. “If our financial requirements are such a burden, perhaps this isn’t the best place for you,” says the financial aid officer.

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And that’s really the crux here: that no matter what Franklin does, no matter how hard black boys work to pull themselves out of difficult situations, they still have a seemingly insurmountable number of obstacles to contend with. From racism to bureaucracy to racism disguised as bureaucracy, there’s simply no clear path for someone who looks like Franklin. He’s literally bused back home, his opportunity to transform himself vanishing as the night creeps in.

It’s powerful stuff. Back home, Franklin wanders around his community, turning down Jerome’s offer to get in on the weed business, and then receiving a visit from Teddy, who tells him that if he ever wants to work for the CIA, he’d be there to help him along. The possibilities here are intriguing, and there’s at least the hint of another, more positive life. Turning down Jerome is just the first step though, and there’s no telling where Franklin will end up. In this alternate timeline, he still ends up with a gun in his face, though this time around Andre is there to save him.

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In “Other Lives,” we’re given a vision of Franklin pursuing the American Dream the way the averafe American is told too, by working hard to earn their spot in the grand meritocracy of the United States. But it’s all a dream, a fabrication. Not even an alternative timeline can give Franklin his freedom, because there are too many people above him invested in keeping him down. So, he goes back to what he knows. He’s ready to take this drug game to another level, no matter how many lives it’s ruined. The system’s swallowed him whole and closed off any opportunity for escape. Now all he can do is exploit that system to his individual advantage.

What’s more American than that?

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