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‘Survivor’s Remorse’ recap: The awful truth

M-Chuck’s origin story — less mysterious, more painful

Season 3, Episode 9 | “Second Thoughts” | Sept. 18


This is one of those instances where you hate to be right.

Since introducing the storyline revolving around the mystery identity of M-Chuck’s father, Survivor’s Remorse has been subtly preparing its audience for the worst. Considering that Cassie’s mother (Tichina Arnold) has been uncharacteristically tight-lipped about the subject and that Cam (Jessie T. Usher) knows who his father is (even though they don’t have much of a relationship), we knew whatever lay behind this curtain was nothing good.

M-Chuck’s pleading entreaty to her brother at the beginning of the episode really hammers home that M-Chuck’s not just being a brat, or disrespectful, or nosy. She feels genuinely unmoored, and the distance between her and Cassie is messing with M-Chuck’s ability to form lasting, healthy romantic relationships. “I feel like I’m walking in late to the movie of my own life,” she says. “I got no idea how my story starts and it’s f—ing me up.”

“I feel like I’m walking in late to the movie of my own life. I got no idea how my story starts.” — M-Chuck

Finally pressed to either glean the information himself or wait for a private investigator to do it instead, it’s Cam who pulls information about the parentage of M-Chuck (Erica Ash) out of his mother, right before she’s about to board a private jet to China to meet Chen’s (Robert Wu) parents.

Cassie doesn’t know who M-Chuck’s father because Cassie was gang-raped at a party when she was 15 years old. When Cam weakly asks his mother if the incident was ever reported to the authorities, Cassie scoffs. No one cared about what happened to poor little black girls on Long Island, she tells him. It’s also pretty clear that Cassie still blames herself a bit for what happened when she tells Cam in her matter-of-fact way that she shouldn’t have been drinking with people she didn’t know.

There’s a pretty obvious question of why Cassie decided to carry the pregnancy to term. The show addresses the abortion question not with Cassie, but with an accidental acid trip that sends Cam back to high school. What an unexpected, oddball way to discuss abortion: with an imaginary talking fetus called forth by the powers of LSD. And yet, it works in calling out the ways an ongoing fight over women’s bodily autonomy shortchanges everybody.

[Can these documentaries change the way we think about abortion?]

When choice becomes a political issue, with people forced to line up along a binary of for or against, public communication gets distilled into absolutes. We’re seeing this a bit in the presidential campaign, in which some on the left were initially wary of Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Kaine, a devoted Catholic, is personally opposed to abortion, but he has a 100 percent legislative rating from Planned Parenthood when it comes to reproductive rights despite his opposition to the Hyde amendment. The demand for cleanly demarcated attitudes on abortion doesn’t leave much room for openly processing complicated feelings a person can have — knowing it was the right decision for her at the time, while also not necessarily feeling joyful about having to have done it.

“Maybe you’re not feeling guilty. Maybe you’re just feeling,” Cam’s imaginary fetus says to him. “… People start speaking up about regrets on stuff like this, they start taking away women’s rights.” When Cam calls up Lindsay (Kati Salowsky), his high school girlfriend, to confess that he doesn’t feel great about the decision to abort, she gently reminds him it was her decision. The show doesn’t try to deny or step on Cam’s emotions. Instead, through some witty editing, it cleverly suggests therapy as an option.

Bonus points for avoiding the irritating cliché of a white girl dating a black boy just to tick off her parents.

Odds and ends:

Did anyone else pick up on the wardrobe design in this episode? Cassie is almost always reliably clad in bright, bold jewel tones. But for this sobering confession, she’s clad in a comparatively simple white shirt with a bejeweled collar and black duster. The nun garb serves as a visual callback to her faith.

Cassie has been holding it together for a really long time. She’s had no other choice. When you consider that her support system amounted to Julius, and he’s now gone, her ability to simply remain upright after his death is remarkable. Sure, black women are made of strong stuff, but Cassie’s emotional scaffolding is practically titanium. For this and a zillion other reasons, I really want Chen and Cassie to work out. If there’s a woman who deserves to be cherished and celebrated, it’s her.

This has got to be one of the healthiest adult reactions I’ve seen to teen sex in a long time, and you can see why Cam is so devoted to Coach Healey (Lenny Clarke) so far into adulthood. Healey’s first instinct when he catches his daughter and his star player isn’t to grab a shotgun, it’s to lecture them about consistent condom use. It’s still rare to see a TV dad who respects his daughter’s bodily agency and doesn’t treat normal, healthy expression of sexuality as a black mark on his parenting, or an inability to protect his daughter’s virtue. I’m guessing that has a lot to do with Lindsay growing into an accomplished, well-adjusted adult. Bonus points for avoiding the irritating cliché of a white girl dating a black boy just to tick off her parents.

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.