Wednesday's episode of Black-ish was the ABC sitcom's most groundbreaking yet. (Full disclosure: ABC is a part owner of Fusion.) The Johnson family watch together as a—fictitious, yet tragically familiar—narrative unfolds on their television: A police officer who assaulted an unarmed black teenager is not indicted, and protests erupt around the country.
How, as a family—as a black family–do you cope with this injustice? Rainbow's (Tracee Ellis Ross) optimism—she wants their four kids to stay "innocent" to the ugliness of the world for as long as possible—clashes with her husband Dre's (Anthony Anderson) pragmatism. "They’re not just children, Bow," he tells her, "They’re black children."
Many of the emotional episode's most poignant moments emerge as the youngest Johnsons try to understand the meaning of this unrest, and the meaning of their own blackness—they're also the source of some of its unlikely humor, as when Jack (Miles Brown), misunderstanding the meaning of the word "unarmed," exclaims, "The police are shooting people with no arms?!” Meanwhile, Dre's mother Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) stockpiles rice, government cheese, and vodka for the riots she believes to be imminent.
"Hope" isn't a low-stakes Very Special Episode that exists in the abstract: It's engaged with the specifics of the Black Lives Matter movement. The characters remember, by name, victims of racist police violence like Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. The Johnsons discuss the influence of black intellectuals like James Baldwin, Malcolm X, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose Between the World and Me—a book about racial injustice framed as a letter to his 15-year-old son—has become a touchstone for teenage Junior (Marcus Scribner). Coates (whose name Dre mispronounces) even makes an unlikely cameo appearance, as Black-ish repurposes footage of the author speaking to the “long history of criminalizing black people in this country" from a December episode of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes.
Throughout the episode, each member—and each generation—of the family finds their own, equally valid ways to process their anger, confusion, grief, and fear. If there's one universal truth to be found, it's this: Don’t give up hope.
Black-ish airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.