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Black-ish - Episode 4.20-4.23 - Quadruple Review

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The last four episodes of Black-ish have been focused around Bow and Dre's deteriorating marriage and how the couple went from happy to not being on the same page at all. Through careful writing and smart visual choices, the show offered us its take on struggling relationships and how to reconcile being one with being a couple. Let's review.

Fifty-Three Percent

It always starts with a disagreement, with something that puts a couple out of sync. In Bow and Dre's case, it's the fact that Devante is not walking yet. She thinks it's normal, and he worries about it to the point that he believes they should consult a doctor. There are frictions between them, and it's not only about Devante. It's the misspelling on his birthday cake, it's the plates, and other little things that just stack up on top of each other and put the couple more and more out of tune. In the narration, Dre highlights that the odds of a marriage being successful are like playing Russian roulette. 53% is the number of marriages that end in divorce. This collective information tells the viewers that something seriously wrong is going on between Dre and Bow, and that it won't get fix in just one episode.

To try to mend things, Bow and Dre decides to go back to couple's therapy, where their therapist suggests they allow themselves time to reconnect and start by going on a date. It doesn't go well. There's more resentment, more issues that are being brought up and not enough positive feelings being expressed between the two protagonists. Bow and Dre are definitely at a crossroad in their relationship where they simply don't know how to communicate with each other anymore. A new wave of arguments is hitting them when Devante finally takes his first step, prompting Narrator Dre to say that "baby steps" is how you fix problems, but in their case, the other issue is that they just cannot find a way to get back into their flow, to take the first baby step towards reconciliation. Instead, they start to believe that maybe they do not see things the same way anymore. Directed by Tracee Ellis Ross, Fifty-Three Percent is a solid episode that scratch the surface of a deep problem and prepares the viewers to dive deeper into marital problems.

Blue Valentine

The second episode in this installment really takes things on a different level visually. Using a blue color palette to illustrate the somber state of Bow and Dre's marriage, the episode switches between blueish scenes featuring only the couple and bright colors for scenes where the family is together and during flashbacks. Even if those are not very original choices (light conveys warmth while blue emphasizes the coldness between Bow and Dre), they are nonetheless effective at communicating the emotions weighing on the characters. It's Saturday, the kids are out with Ruby, and Dre and Bow realize they forgot about a meeting they scheduled months ago to remodel their kitchen. And just like they are having a hard time renovating their marriage, they struggle with renovating the kitchen, unable to agree on decorative choices and feeling like they can't agree on anything. They feel like they don't know each other anymore, and flashbacks intervene throughout the episodes to highlight the changes in their relationship and how much it has degraded.

To some extend, the episode is a tough one to watch because it's hard to see beloved characters being in such a difficult spot. Overall Blue Valentine is a strong episode, even if it made some poor stylistic choices (like the music - enough with Coldplay and piano versions of "Where is my mind" already). One of the best scenes in the episode though is a flashback, where young Dre talks to Ruby about her and Pop fighting all the time. She then tells him that "Marriage is about choices. You have to keep choosing each other, even if you're not sure it's the right choice." This piece of advice comes back to Dre's mind and act as a ray of sunshine in a otherwise pretty bleak episode, but turns out not to be enough. Dre and Bow try to reach each other but fail and come to believe that maybe the solution to their problem is in giving each other space. In a heartbreaking ending scene, Dre packs his bag and asks Bow how they got there in a moment that parallels the day where they moved into the house and Dre asked that same question with happiness in his tone rather than despair.

Collateral Damage

The kids were shielded from the situation until Dre left the house. Collateral Damage explores how Bow and Dre's situation affects their children individually. The narration switches from Dre to each of the kids, each one of them trying to figure out how their parents' issues are going to impact their lives. Their parents argue that this is a temporary situation, but that leaves enough uncertainty hanging around to put the kids under a lot of stress. Junior sees their struggle and wants to find a way to help his siblings through this. The arrangement Bow and Dre agreed on is to practice nesting and take turn leaving the house according to a set schedule. While Jacks dances to make people happy, Zoey argues with her boyfriend and their parents starts to see that the arrangement is not working for the kids. Once again, they bring up the idea of finding a way to get back on the same track, because after 20 years of marriage they refuse to do down without a fight.

Collateral Damage also features Junior's high school graduation and it quickly turns out that, while he is the one who put on a brave face following the news of his parents' separation to support his siblings, he also is the one who really does not take the whole thing well. During his graduation's speech, he talks about commitment and how much his parents have taught him about it, and as his speech seems to bring back hope into the household, things go south again in the middle of his graduation celebration. That night, Bow and Dre have a nasty fight in front of the entire family, and it becomes clear to everyone that their separation is no longer temporary. In light of this development, the children start blaming themselves but that is put to a quick stop by Ruby and Pop who reassures them that none of their parents' problems is their fault. It's a very important message that the show could have given a little more time to (it is addressed only during the last minute of the episode) as it would have benefited from being discussed more.

Dream House

Opening with scenes from the previous episodes to sum up the decline of Bow and Dre's relationship, Dream House focuses on the two characters learning how to live on their own again. They both
narrate this episode and describe how they are going about this new way of life. Dre moves to his dream house, a place that Bow finds unfit for their children (and she is quite right). Dre struggles with the fact that the kids are not fans of his place, and Pop reminds him that no matter how much he tries, he'll never be able to compete with the home they grew up in. On the other end, Bow is having a hard time dealing with all the things she has to do on her own now, like taking care of the trash, the dog, and handling the security alarm being set up in the middle of the night (which gave room for some pretty funny moments). It reaches the point where she feels like she doesn't know who she is anymore and it takes Ruby's help for her to realize she is a strong and independent woman who can definitely function without Dre.

The first half of the episode therefore centers around Bow and Dre's struggles, and the second half sees them turning things around. But something happens that changes everything: Bow's father dies. She calls Dre and he is there for her during this difficult time. That's the thing about death, it tends to remind us of what really matters. As Dre explains, "Bad times tell us about who we are and who we want to be with," and he realizes that he wants to be with Bow (and she wants to be with him). This tragic event brings them back together and they both come to see that they want to work on their relationship again. Back in therapy, they come to accept that their old marriage is over and that a new chapter is ahead of them. A montage shows us that time is going by and we see them getting closer and closer on the therapist's couch. In the end, they celebrate their 20th anniversary knowing that they are now in a new marriage and that their relationship isn't the same anymore. Indeed, now it is probably stronger than ever before. If the ending of this episode might come across as a bit rushed, it is still pretty effective at showing the progress Bow and Dre made and it definitely is a well-done ending to a strong and well-written four-episode story arc.

Black-ish ended its fourth season on a very high note with a daring (for a comedy) and well-done storyline, and it surely will be great to see where that takes the characters in season 5.

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