Recap: Messages To Heaven in Queen Sugar’s “No Haven In My Shadow”
Season 3, Episode 4 | Grade: 9.3/10
Writer: Mike Flynn | Director: Maria Govan
Darla (Bianca Lawson) and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) has been a complicated dynamic since their history was introduced in the series premiere in 2016, the two struggling with their separate pasts as an addict and parolee. Darla’s unexpected arrival at the end of episode three made Ralph Angel have to confront what he’s been actively avoiding: her.
As the two sits across the living room silently staring at one another, Blue (Ethan Hutchinson) in his excitement gravitates to her like a bee to honey savoring her presence. As they uncomfortably make small talk, Ralph Angel asks how long she’s here for she reveals that she’s returning to St. Josephine from Washington D.C. for good for the sake of their son. Knowing that he’s not the biological father and the years she has kept that secret to herself, he rightfully questions if the two of them can peacefully coexist.
“I’m going to be in my son’s life. I’ll do whatever I have to do to make it work.” — Darla
“No Haven In My Shadow” was intentional in keeping the spirit of Ernest Bordelon (Glynn Turman) present apart from the stream of family drama, a year after his death that initially brought the strained siblings together. A bonfire commemoration will be held in his honor with written notes to him are tossed in the fire. Oftentimes the drama of the show can make you overlook the ripple effect of his presence and death. Aunt Vi (Tina Lifford) calls Charley (Dawn Lyen Gardner) hell bent on making sure that she escorts their family friend Prosper (Henry G. Sanders) to his doctor appointment she scheduled.
It’s also clear that Charley and Nova (Rutina Wesley) haven’t spoken since their argument over Queen Sugar Mill being sold to the Landry’s. She’s visibly conflicted, scribbling out messages to her father she can’t complete. I couldn’t help but think of the guilt she carries of not seeing him before he died due to her ex-husband Davis’ (Timon Kyle Durrett) rape scandal and desperately wanting to keep her promise to him.
Season 1, Episode 1: “First Things First”
Nova is also at a loss for words (no pun intended) as she’s struggling with the direction of her book and its overall purpose. So, like any niece, she calls Aunt Vi for wisdom who gives such a black auntie response: “Girl, black folks ain’t got no time for writer’s block. Too much to say and not enough time to say it.”
It was later in the episode on the eve of the bonfire ceremony for Ernest that Nova stumbled on old fishing rods in the shed and recalled to Remy (Dondre L. Whitfield) her memories of fishing with her father. She even remembered how her father stopped in a station, quickly returning to the truck with a busted lip and the smug look on the faces of three white men.
Charley’s insider “Vicky with the tea,” as I like to call her, continues to unearth information on the Landry-Boudreaux family. She reveals to Charley that the six percent difference between Sam Landry (41 percent) and his sister Frances (35%) in the family’s business caused a rift between the two and the history of tension. Besides the questionable actions (i.e. having sex with prostitutes and mistresses), the Boudreaux’s track records are clean but Charley won’t be satisfied until she uncovers something to dismantle the family completely.
Charley keeps her promise to escort Prosper to his doctor’s appointment but he’s stumbling through documents to find his medical records. He’s uneasy as the anniversary of Ernest’s death approaches and dealing with his health issues proves to be overwhelming. She reschedules the appointment for the next day and when going back into his house to retrieve his jacket she sees a photo of a young Prosper and Ernest and a 30-day notice termination of tenancy letter issued by Sam Landy and Landry Enterprises. He’s been leasing the land for decades until they cut his land lease and is at risk of losing his home.
“I’d appreciate it if you kept this to yourself.” — Prosper
Charley doesn’t in a sense. How could she? Angered by yet another black farmer’s life being disrupted, she confronts Jacob Boudreaux (Lea Coco) who says the evictions are due to the Environmental Protection Agency deeming the lands unsafe. The past two hurricanes flushed runoff from the Watkins-Miller shutdown on hundreds of acres of farm land resulting in mercury in the soil. As a result, farmers are kicked off their land for testing, two who have recently broken their contracts with Charley. If there was any question of where Charley’s heart is, her arguing over the treatment of the black farmers proves to Boudreaux is proof of her duty to protect.
Flynn and Govan beautifully tied together sentimental moments that made this episode so rich but the bonfire commemoration was intimate tribute of spiritual faith.
“Mama said fire was how we talked to our ancestors. Create a pathway, send them messages in the flames. When our own granddaddy died, Ernest hugged me and said that a bonfire would light his way to heaven. He always knew how to make you feel better.” — Aunt Vi
In keeping the tradition that Ernest passed to Blue, he had the honor of initiating the ceremony (“This is how I’m celebrating my birthday by celebrating my Papa.”) The cinematography voice overs of the written messages tossed into the flames by each family member to the acoustic remake of TLC’s “Waterfalls” was beautifully done with the intimate shots of what each of them did afterwards. Nova promising, “Daddy, our story will live on” which gave her freedom to write with the fishing rod visible in the background. I admit that I became a weeping mess with Aunt Vi’s voice over, “Thank you for always taking care of me” and her deciding to be open to Hollywood helping her business.
But it was Charley clutching onto her message, the way she glanced over at Prosper who was deep in thought. Closing her eyes before giving her father another promise she’s willing to fulfill.
“Dear Daddy, I’ll take care of him.”
Other Episode Notes:
- Darla’s response to Ralph Angel blocking he from attending Blue’s field trip had a moment when she caught herself, (“I shouldn’t have to ask permission to spend time with my son…our son.”) There’s still part of her that’s a bit in denial that things doesn’t have to change but it has.
- I love how Hollywood (Omar J. Dorsey) is invested in helping Aunt Vi because he believes in her dream though she seems quite stubborn and resistant to him buying her a delivery truck to better transfer her pies. The effects of her abusive ex-husband Jimmy Dale come up, sharing how he bought her house and reminded her of it as a form of control. I was happy that he shut that down: “Me and Jimmy Dale like night and day so don’t go there.” He also voiced his worry of her working too hard with her lupus since he saw Ernest “work himself into the ground,” and he wants to prevent that.
- I still don’t know what to think about Remy and Nova’s energy towards one another especially the way they stare at each other. It feels wrong to me.
- Charley running into the guy who gave her his phone number outside the club at the doctor’s office was a little surprise and possible intention of introducing another potential love interest. I still often wonder how that will go with her and if she’ll be open.
- I loved the moment between Nova, Blue, and Ralph Angel as they talk about Ernest and True. Wanting to know more about his grandmother, he asks them questions to get an understanding of who she was and what they loved about her. “How’d she die?” and “Do you miss her?” So tender and innocent, especially when his written note to his grandfather is a thank for bringing his mother back.
- Just when we were getting use to Davis breathing again, he manages to knock himself back by revealing to Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe) that he has a 13-year-old daughter named Tia whose mother recently died. That’s a four-year age gap between her and Micah meaning that Davis cheated and had a baby on Charley early into their marriage unbeknownst to her. The real kicker is that he knew about her the whole time! Micah watches old interviews of Davis with him and his mother present with new eyes as he gushes about his love of family. “I’m ashamed of what I did but I’m not ashamed of her. I want you to know about her. I want you to meet her.” After 13 years…really Davis?
- Ralph Angel slowly letting Darla back in for the sake of Blue by adding her name to his field trip slip instead of his. Despite his stubbornness, his moments of maturity are always nice.
- Miss Effie breaking her agreement with Aunt Vi to let her bake in the church’s kitchen for the Wednesday Supper Club was such a monkey wrench even though the checks from the pie sales have cleared (“I’m sure the good Lord appreciates that”).