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Black-ish - Being Bow-racial - Review:"B is for Bow"

Black-ish takes a break from the usual run of holiday episodes (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas) to give us a thoughtful plot that finally answers the question: Does Rainbow see color?

The answer is yes, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

Bow has never been simply a supporting character in Dre’s life. Although Dre introduces the show, each member in the Johnson family gets their own episodes, challenges, and inner turmoil. Still, it’s a special treat to hear Bow take over the narration for this episode. It’s her episode. With the exception of a couple of scenes set at Dre’s work, the episode revolves around Bow and her identity crisis.

Bow’s crisis is brought to light with the introduction of Junior’s new girlfriend, Megan. She valiantly saved Junior from getting bullied by a group of freshmen girls and speaks fluent Dothraki, so he’s obviously smitten. Dre is proud and Johan is enthusiastic. Junior often wears a cape. A girlfriend is worth a celebration.

Bow, on the other hand, isn’t so excited. She at first tries to justify it. Maybe Megan is mean or dumb, but she is actually polite, kind, and was accepted on early-admission to Brown. Bow is forced to face the truth. She’s upset because Megan is white.

Bow takes the opportunity to educate the audience on the unique plight of bi-racial individuals (who were called by very offensive names with very, very offensive origins). We get a history lesson that takes us from the Thomas Jefferson White House to the Civil Rights Movement to Loving v. Virginia and beyond. Even though Bow knows all the history behind her identity problems, that doesn’t leave her any closer to solving them.

I haven’t always understood Johan’s place on the show, especially because he sort of just pops up every once in a while (does he live there?), but he’s the perfect person to help Bow through her crisis. Dre just welcomes her to the club and Ruby takes it as a chance to needle her (and accidentally confesses that she cuts Bow’s hair when she’s sleeping).

It’s only Johan, who’s struggled with the same decisions, who can really listen to Bow. He understands what it’s like to not know which box to check on standardized testing forms. Through her conversations with different members of her family, we delve into Bow’s main insecurities, and get to see an amazing fashion-through-the-ages set of flashbacks that lets Tracee Ellis Ross go goofy with the material.

Johan understands, but can only get Bow so far to an answer to her crisis. She has to go further up the family tree. The episode’s emotional focal point is an honest, heartfelt conversation between Bow and her father (a returning Beau Bridges). Dre remembers Bow’s father being nothing but gracious and chill when they first met, and even though he was probably very high as well, it’s a happy memory for them both. Bow decides to go to her very chill, very high father for advice on this new situation.

Like Johan, Paul is just ecstatic that Junior found a girl. He also, however, understands his daughter’s frustration and confusion and helps Bow identify what exactly she is feeling. It’s bittersweet. Paul helps Bow realize just why she had such an upsetting reaction to Megan. He helps her reaffirm her identity as a black woman but also acknowledges that that identity wasn’t completely decided by Bow herself. The world saw her as a black woman long before she decided what box to check. Bow ends the conversation feeling more like herself again.

Meanwhile, Dre’s stuck in a fairly silly B-plot. Junior’s white girlfriend causes the office to stop all work on the important Microsoft account and start comparing ways to pick up women of different races. Dre can’t talk to a white woman without turning into some kind of medieval leprechaun and the guys try to help him get over it so he can have a conversation with their Microsoft liaison, Kelly. This quickly devolves into everyone picking Charlie’s brain for dating advice, which comes down to always having two John Mayer tickets on you at all times, even if he isn’t touring. Even their boss (Wanda Sykes appearing for the first time this season) gets in on the discussion, when she isn’t flipping them the bird through the glass partition.

All the procrastination stops them from having a presentation ready for Kelly when she actually arrives. Dre makes the big case for Microsoft (and probably gets all of Black-ish’s product placement obligations out of the way for while) by trying to sell Kelly on the idea that the Surface is so much fun to use, they forgot to do their actual work. His on-the-spot speech, coupled with a truly horrendous WordArt font, leaves Kelly annoyed. Charlie manages to swoop in, save the day, and seal the deal with his John Mayer tickets.

In the C-Plot, Zoey redesigns the twins’ room for an assignment in her interior design class. Neither really like what she does with it, but Zoey realizes that has less to do with their personal tastes and more to do with the room being more mature and less childish (which I didn’t really see at all). She realizes that Jack and Diane want to stay kids for a little while longer, no matter how much they brag about making their room look like a high-end airport lounge. She gives them back the big "J for Jack" and "D for Diane" above their beds. Jack is content. He really relied on that "J".

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Let me know in the comments!