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‘Survivor’s Remorse’ recap: What does a healthy relationship with your parents look like, anyway?

This season, everyone’s trying to figure it out

Season 4, Episode 1 | “Fallout” | August 20

By far the most stunning revelation to spring from season three of Survivor’s Remorse was that of M-Chuck’s parentage. We left off with M-Chuck (Erica Ash) taking Chen’s (Robert Wu) plane to Boston in search of identity and meaning, and a mission to “go full f—ing Munich” on the men who raped her mother.

Season four opens with M-Chuck on Cousin Pookie’s (Sir Brodie) porch, begging to learn what little he knows about the night her mother was gang-raped by two brothers and their cousin at a party on Long Island.

With Uncle Julius (Mike Epps) dead, Pookie is one of the few people still alive who know anything about what happened. Cassie (Tichina Arnold) is essentially an informational lockbox, which, as a survivor of a brutal sexual assault, is certainly her right. “This is not just your business! It’s my business, and I am not here on earth to be pitied,” Cassie tells M-Chuck during a phone call from Shanghai. “I’m doing great.”

Written and directed by series creator Mike O’Malley, this episode establishes a setup for what I imagine will be a season-long exploration of the relationships, or lack thereof, adults have with their parents and the consequences of erecting boundaries to protect ourselves and the people we love.

As the episode unfolds, it becomes clear that everyone, from M-Chuck to Cam (Jessie T. Usher) to Reggie (RonReaco Lee) to Missy (Teyonah Parris), is juggling issues surrounding the people who created them.

Cam has decided to connect with his father, Rodney Barker (Isaiah Washington), who’s been locked in a Massachusetts prison since age 17. Washington marks his Survivor’s Remorse debut with his trademark erudition. His swagger is more reserved than his Grey’s Anatomy character of Dr. Preston Burke, but Washington’s Barker is learned and fastidious. When he meets Cam for the first time in a prison waiting room, his prison-issued garb is pressed and pristine. He wears a kufi. Now in middle age, Rodney’s not dangerous, and he’s not a thug. He’s biding his time. But he’s obviously hurt that his first meeting with his son is with a person who’s a grown man, and Rodney seems just as disappointed in Cam as Cam is in him. And then we learn why: Rodney wrote to his son from prison, but Cassie kept the letters away from Cam until the family was evicted in a blizzard and she left them behind. Cam, Cassie explained, was the type of kid who would have committed a crime just to be with his dad in prison.

M-Chuck cajoles Pookie into driving from Boston to Long Island in the middle of the night to visit the graves of the three men who raped her mother, getting tacit permission from Cassie, who’s still in Shanghai with Chen and his parents, trying to live her best life and leave her past in the past.

And both Reggie and Missy’s efforts to compartmentalize their relationships with their parents are clearly starting to bleed over into their marriage.

Reggie’s going to have to rethink whether he wants to have a relationship with his father, Trent (Marlon Young), a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober for five years. Their interactions are tense with Reggie’s bitterness and resentment, but maybe that will change. After all, Trent came to his son’s aid when he was getting the crap beaten out of him in a diner parking lot. Now there’s a question of whether Reggie, in his physically weakened state, will allow Trent to care for him.

Meanwhile, Missy, frustrated with Reggie’s inner turmoil over Trent, is wrangling her own parents. Her reasons for keeping them at bay aren’t that different from Reggie’s — she wants to protect him from her mother’s classism. Missy comes from a family of well-to-do black folks who do things like have breakfast meetings with the Speaker of the House. But as much as Missy and Reggie are trying to protect each other, they’re shutting each other out too, and that conflict is likely to snowball. I’m guessing so, given that Vanessa Bell Calloway (who was lively and addictive in her guest role on Shameless, a show for which O’Malley used to write) and The Wire alum Isiah Whitlock have joined this season’s cast as Missy’s parents.

I’ve said before that Survivor’s Remorse is one of the best shows on television for exploring issues surrounding class and a sudden, meteoric leap in wealth. Its focus is more serious and more personal than Ballers, and the show’s writers have mastered the art of interweaving modern colloquialisms through the trademark Shakespearean cadence of the show’s dialogue. But the Calloways and the Vaughns are now comfortably settled into their lives as members of Atlanta’s 1 percent, and that gives them time to dwell on other issues. Or, as Cassie dourly puts it, “You kids, you got all this money now and you’re distracted with this trivial bulls—.”

Soraya Nadia McDonald is the senior culture critic for Andscape. She writes about pop culture, fashion, the arts and literature. She is the 2020 winner of the George Jean Nathan prize for dramatic criticism, a 2020 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism and the runner-up for the 2019 Vernon Jarrett Medal for outstanding reporting on Black life.