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TV Review: Dear White People (Season 2)

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Dear White People was one of the most underrated TV shows of last year and its second season focusses on the aftermath of the explosive events of season one, while delving into the mysterious history of secret societies at Winchester, resulting in a darker and wackier direction for the show.

Throughout, it both maintains it’s acerbic wit and delivers its fair share of flooring moments - finding the perfect balance of style and substance. 

Logan Browning is the crown jewel amongst a cast of gems, balancing strength and vulnerability, grief and rage, regret and tenderness, all without breaking a sweat. The impact of online abuse is explored as Sam goes head to head with @AltIvyW - an anonymous Twitter troll that plagues Winchester’s online circles.

The frustration and exhaustion that comes with battling bigotry on a daily basis is brought front and centre, while the mystery of the user’s identity keeps the audience hooked. The reveal is a surprising one, and makes a pertinent point about identity politics and ally-ship that is as bold as it is important.

Sam’s romantic life takes the backseat this season, and she tackles family issues instead. The penultimate episode of the season sees her dealing with a family emergency that brings out the best in Browning, who is faultless in her incredibly moving performance.

Love lives do spice up in other areas though, with Lionel (DeRon Horton) and Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) having particularly great storylines in that department. Lionel’s intrepid journalism both helps and hinders his romantic endeavours, and the episode depicting his experiences as a black man in queer spaces is both horrifyingly depressing and comically true. 

Joelle’s position as second fiddle to Sam is brought into question this season, explicitly addressing the colourism rife in non-white communities that prize light skin over dark. I won’t ruin it, but the ending of her episode is the best of the season, with a low stakes plot twist to rival even the biggest reveals of the season.

Back to the heavier stuff this show tackles, one of the most hard hitting episodes of the season is definitely Reggie’s (Marque Richardson). Focusing on the aftermath of the near-death experience he faced at the hands of campus police last season, Richardson is so nuanced in his portrayal of fear and anger, and his complex relationship with both therapy and Dean Fairbanks adds something incredibly powerful to the narrative.

Troy (Brandon P Bell) too has a complex relationship with Dad Fairbanks, but this season sees him giving up on his father’s version of himself, and committing to living life his own way. This involves a hilarious magic mushrooms sequence, and a few lessons from the school of hard knocks, but it’s important that Troy is ultimately framed as a success story too, rather than the failure the white students so want him to be.

Rather than battling Pastiche this time around, the gang face the integration of Armstrong Parker, due to a different house burning down. The inescapable presence of white students in black spaces, at black caucus meetings, and throughout the show itself is used mostly for comedic purposes, leaving the more sinister stuff to @AltIvyW. This perfectly reflects how anonymity on the internet has given rise to the neo-Nazi movement.

One character who doesn’t have such a huge problem with the integration of AP is of course Coco (Antoinette Robertson), who weaponises her blackness to curry favour with white people and institutions. Her episode, however, isn’t focussed around her white friends at all. A personal crisis leads to her leaning on roommate Kelsey (Nia Jervier), and later she has ample bonding time with both Sam and Jo. Her ambition is never compromised, and her female friendships strengthen her, showing real character growth.

Each episode begins with nuggets of the racial history of Winchester — the legacy of both black students and white, passed down through the generations. Placing our characters as direct recipients of this legacy positions this story in the context of race relations in America as a whole, and speaks to the systemic nature of oppression and inescapable generational trauma.

The haunting image of a black man’s skull being measured by a white professor, ‘proving’ a fundamental difference in brain capacity crops up time and again, throwing huge weight behind the present day issues tackled. On top of this, each episode ending with the focus character gazing directly into the camera still never fails to pack a punch.

This season also benefits from some absolutely epic cameos. Undeniable winner of the Met Gala this year, and all round powerful creator Lena Waithe appears on the fictional TV show within the show as a lesbian coming to terms with her sexuality. Also revealed to be gay this season: Kelsey. Hopefully she gets a little more of her own storyline next season!

Giancarlo Esposito also gets a cameo that's literally too good to spoil...

The best cameo and possible moment of the whole season comes in the form of Tessa Thompson, who is absolutely on top of her game right now. The original Dear White People film starred Thompson in the role of Sam, and now she makes an appearance as political commentator Rikki Carter, aka “the black Tomi Lahren,” who makes a living arguing Republican stances on TV, and telling people that racism is over.

It’s a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek move that sets her up as a moustache twirling villain, just to have her deliver one of the most powerful speeches to Sam when they get a chance to confront each other. The fact that she literally is a version of Sam a few years later? Absolutely genius.

This season definitely retains the spirit of the first, with each character given the space to develop in a meaningful way. Overarching plot lines tie the whole thing together with clever easter eggs, and we never once lose sight of the most important messages. If you haven’t binged this yet, what are you doing with your life?!

Dear White People: Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix now.

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