Black-ish Season 1 Episode 23 Review: “Elephant in the Room”

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Black-ish Season 1 Episode 23 Review: “Elephant in the Room”

Black-ish

The best scene of “Elephant in the Room” (any non-Diane involved scene, that is) is in the Johnsons’ kitchen, as the parents lament the fact their child is coming under the influence of the Republican party. In walks Ruby the Caricature, spouting off at the mouth about how creationism is immoral and immigrants should go back across the border. She then reveals she’s a card-carrying Democrat despite this, unable to cross the political aisle to the party that actually fits her beliefs, because of some assumption about Republican evil-ness. That self-contradiction brings a wonderful bit of color to Black-ish (and much needed shades of depth to Ruby’s character) – unfortunately, it’s not something Black-ish‘s penultimate episode is interested in really exploring, either.

The problem with “Elephant in the Room” is often the thing that plagues Black-ish; too willing to dip into slapstick for its humor, “Elephant in the Room” never takes the opportunity to build anything out of its straw man Republican, instead throwing out thin arguments in pursuit of reinforcing racial stereotypes (black people who vote Republican are hypocrites, yada yada yada). I’m the last person to defend the Republican party, but “Elephant in the Room” at no point considers this a viable option; instead, it’s just “Republicans are idiots” for the entirety of the episode. As good/easy as those arguments are to make, “Elephant” doesn’t utilize them towards any meaningful end, instead offering up a resolution of “we respect your beliefs… but you’re wrong” to love-smitten, Young Republican Junior – in other words, an attempt to prevent him from forming his own ideas and thoughts about the world.

I don’t mind that Black-ish picks a side of the political table to stand on, but it’s critique of black Republicans is thin, at best, and doesn’t warrant the back-patting and self-congratulatory smirk Dre has in the final moments, as he’s basically telling his son he’s wrong for thinking the way he does (yeah, Dre the Crappy Father makes a return in the final act). That lack of nuance in portraying Republican beliefs (again, can’t believe what I’m saying here) undercuts the pathos Black-ish tries to present about aligning oneself with the political right. While I can’t argue I know dozens upon dozens of ignorant Republicans (like the “small business” owners whose mansion Dre and Bow visit), I know plenty of idiot Democrats, too, and Black-ish refuses to poke fun at the side it aligns itself with, which makes this straw man attack against Republicans less effective.

At least there’s another fun Diane plot to save the episode. Recent weeks have brought Zoe and Diane closer together in their stories, and the B-stories have been all the better for it. Zoe and Junior don’t make for a great story pair; he’s an idiot and she’s aloof, which robs their stories of having any kind of impact on a character level. Diane trying to sabotage Zoe’s eye sight so she doesn’t lose the nickname she hated? That’s a story I can get behind, offering some much-needed connections between father and daughter (to this point, Bow’s mostly the one talking to the kids; Dre just yells and overreacts to them) that give her story some weight where the central conflict is lacking. It’s a small touch, having Diane fight to protect a nickname she doesn’t like, but watching her try and manipulate the system around a clueless, blind Zoe is much more fun than Diane taking on Jack or Junior, who are way too stupid to challenge Diane and her abundance of intelligence and charisma.

That charming B-story is almost able to eclipse the rest of “Elephant”; yet, we’re still left with the ending where Dre tells his son he’s wrong for having his beliefs, an absolutely irresponsible way to approach parenting, and a moment Black-ish seems completely ignorant of. It brings an episode with some promising moments to a crash-and-burn ending; Black-ish‘s attempts to engage nuanced ideas out of cartoonish comedy hasn’t found its balance through the first season (remember the “Rosa Parks” speech by Junior at a fancy, upper-class ski resort?), a dissonance seen once again throughout the entirety of “Elephant in the Room”.

[Photo credit: Nicole Wilder/ABC]

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