TV Recap: All American – A Light In The Darkness …

All American
“m.A.A.d. City” (Episode 110)
January 23, 2019

Last week, we laid Shawn to rest while Spencer realized the important of being a hope for his community; to keep one foot in Crenshaw and one foot in Beverly Hills. Catch up on all of the action from last week with our deep dive recap and review here.

Photo: Jesse Giddings/The CW

Now, on to Episode 10 of All American, “m.A.A.d. City” … BEWARE OF SPOILERS!

Tonight opens in Crenshaw, with Dillon and Spencer both showing some serious basketball game. After Dillon scores on his big brother, Spencer takes a break to sit with Layla. The two love birds chat about going public with their relationship – neither of them wants to hide anymore. When Spencer sees Coop and Tyrone’s crew, Spencer announces it’s time to go home. Spencer hangs back to chat with his bestie.

Coop’s face is covered in bruises (from her lady gangmember beat down) and Spencer is all, “?!?!” Coop defends herself by revealing her master plan. Tyrone had Shawn killed so she has joined up with his crew to take him down from the inside. Coop believes that once the underlings in the gang trust her, they’ll take out Tyrone for doing Shawn dirty. Spencer thinks this is a crazy plan (it is) and she’ll surely wind up dead (maybe). Coop’s mind is made up – it’s how she sees herself helping make the community safer. And, until Spencer has a better idea, Coop tells him that he has to stay away.

“It’s like that?”
“It’s like that.”

Photo: The CW

Title Card.

Beverly Hills. It’s morning in the Baker house and Billy is already freaking out about the Eagles’ next opponent, Logan High. Coach wants Jordan and Spencer to meet him after school to come up with a game plan and some tricks to throw at this “deceptively easy” looking team but Jordan can’t make it today; he promised Ripley they’d see a movie. But, he’s all squirrely about it. Jordan is up to something …

Time for school but Spencer is in his own world. Sensing something is off with their adopted son, Laura tells Billy that she’ll take Spencer to school so they have a chance to chat alone.  Alone, Spencer tells Laura that he doesn’t think he can’t wait too much longer to start helping his community. She asks whether this is about Coop (perceptive Mrs. Baker – I wish we had more screen time with you) and Spencer doesn’t deny it. It’s about Coop, about Shawn’s murder, about how his brother can’t play basketball without running into a gang.  He wants to do something now and Laura encourages him, she’s sure he can make a difference.

Crenshaw. As South Crenshaw High lets out, Spencer rolls up to find Chris and Patience leaving school for the day. No Coop though. She’s missed 31 days already; since she’s been with Tyrone’s gang, graduating doesn’t seem to be on her mind anymore. Patience tells Spencer she’s worried about Coop; you’re not the only one, girl. An attractive girl (Asjha Cooper) walks by and Spencer leaves his friends to chase her.

Chris exposits for us that he didn’t think Spencer and Kia have been on speaking terms since they broke up.

Kia turns around when Spencer calls her name and she’s all sass and frass.  She’s giving him shit about being a big man gone to Beverly Hills but it’s not so much malicious as light hearted ribbing in the way exes can do. Anyway, Spencer needs her and her Uncle Flip’s help … he’s planning a rally to take back the parks from the gang. She’s incredulous but agrees to meet him later.

Still in Crenshaw, we cut to Jordan at his Grandpa Willy’s house, going over game tape.  Grandpa Willy is openly criticizing Jordan’s game; he has seen all of Jordan’s games and knows all of his weak spots. Jordan asks if he was this hard Billy?  Grandpa Willy doesn’t deny it and doesn’t apologize for it; it takes sacrifice to make the NFL. Jordan is just looking for some attaboys and asks his grandfather if he thinks Jordan can be great.

“I don’t know yet.”

Photo: The CW

That night, Spencer and Kia walk through a desolate park, one that has been taken over by gangs and that no one else can use. Spencer starts proposing his idea when Kia’s Uncle Flip () shows up. He wants to know Spencer’s big idea and it better not just be talk. Spencer proposes holding a rally to get signatures to take before the city board. He wants to pass an ordinance banning gang members from congregating in any public place. He’s lost Uncle Flip already because Flip is an OG Blood and Spencer is talking about giving the “police more ammunition to harass us.”

Uncle Flip agrees that young gangbangers have no code and are out of control but he won’t support anything that restricts his freedoms; even if it means less gang violence. It gets far more heated than I would get with a Blood but Spencer is made of sturdier stuff. He tells Flip he’ll do this without his help. Flip grabs Spencer as he goes to leave and makes a vague threat about not curbing Flip’s freedoms.

Commercials.

Beverly Hills. Jordan sneaks in the house that night but Billy is sitting, waiting for him. Ripley came by the house earlier looking for Jordan so the lie is up. Jordan admits to hanging with Grandpa Willy and Billy is all, “Gah, why?!?” “He thinks I can be great,” Jordan replies. But, he has to admit that Grandpa Willy didn’t actually use those words.  Billy tries to convince his son that Grandpa Willy will only disappoint him but Jordan thinks there is a place for “second chances.”

Crenshaw.  At the James house, Mama James is telling Spencer to not let Flip defeat him. Spencer is trying to do something good about something he cares about.

“Don’t let no old man run you off.”

Layla thinks Mama James gives a good pep talk and she isn’t wrong.  Dillon comes in the kitchen to let Spencer know he’s got a guest and it’s Kia. Dillon is the best, basically grabbing popcorn to watch the awkward fest as Spencer introduces his ex-girlfriend to his current girlfriend. But, this show is better than your average teenage drama and the girls don’t devolve into cat fighting. Kia is all about making plans. Even without Uncle Flip’s help, there is still stuff they can do. Let’s not do a big rally, she says, but rather, something we know the people will turn out for. Spencer proposes a community clean up of Essence Park; it was his place to just be a kid when he was growing up.

Photo: The CW

Kia is all about it but suggests they move fast before Flip and the other gang members convince folks to not show. Spencer and Layla have the hook up for supplies and manpower.  Montage time as the Spencer enlists the help of the South Crenshaw football team and fliers begin to be made. The James House is “Take Back Essence Park” central.

Meanwhile, back in Beverly Hills, Layla arrives at Spencer’s restaurant and runs into some Mean Girls, Gabby (Annie Thurman) and Lucy (Emily Levine) who think the optics are bad with Layla breaking up with Asher and resurfacing with Spencer 5 minutes later. There is a not very subtle threat to her reign as Student Council President. Fucking Mean Girls.  Layla comes over to Olivia who witnessed the entire exchange. Olivia warns Layla that this won’t end well, that Gabby is the reason Olivia doesn’t have more friends these days post her troubles. Layla has bigger concerns, she met Spencer’s ex.

Olivia knows all about Kia. Layla says that Kia is really cool but … Olivia cuts her off that she doesn’t think there is a competition between Kia and Layla. Layla invites Olivia to come help at the Take Back.

Crenshaw.  Kia and Spencer walk the neighborhood putting up fliers. She can’t believe he’s turned youth activist after she tried to get him to rallies all the time they were dating. His lack of interest was a reason for their breakup. He tells her that splitting his time between Crenshaw and Beverly Hills has given him some much needed perspective on what needs to be done. Kia mentions that Layla seems nice and Spencer refers to her as “special.” Kia is just happy he’s not with a Kardashian.

Nighttime in Crenshaw. Tyrone isn’t happy with Spencer’s activities. Coop calls it a little picnic but Ty isn’t even listening, he’s got money problems. Seems his take is a hundred short. Malik (Mikelen Walker) blames Coop but Coop says she just handed Ty what Malik gave her. She forks over a hundred to Tyrone to make him square. Tyrone questions that maybe she’s just giving him what was already his and Coop says she “ain’t stupid’; if she stole from Tyrone, she’d never admit nothing. Tyrone agrees and pistol whips Malik without blinking an eye. He tells Coop to take her pound of flesh out of Malik for trying to make her look bad. She hesitates about as long as possible and then sucker punches Malik in the gut.

Coop sees Patience watching from a distance, disgust written all over her face.  Coop runs after her (Ty isn’t pleased) but Patience doesn’t even want to hear it. She tells Coop that what she just saw, the Coop she knows would never do that and Coop can tell herself all the lies she wants about doing what she has to, but Patience, crying, doesn’t want to hear it anymore.

“I’m done. We’re done. I’m good.”

Commercials.

Photo: Jesse Giddings/The CW

We come back to Take Back Essence Park Day. Spencer is pleased to see Mrs. Baker arrive; he’s family, she explains. She even brought supplies, including snacks. Layla comes up to Spencer as he looks around; not many people have turned up yet. Layla tells him it’s still early.

At Grandpa Willy’s house, Jordan is busy throwing footballs through a tire swing and doing other accuracy drills with running commentary supplied by Grandpa Willy. When Jordan misses one, Grandpa Willy tells him not bad, he says that Jordan is used to being babied so he’s decided to ease up a bit.

Grandpa Willy is an asshole.

Billy shows up to this training session.  Jordan asks his grandfather if he thinks he can’t better. Grandpa Willy says it only matters what Jordan thinks and Jordan doesn’t think very much of himself.

“So stop wasting my time.”

Billy is shaking his head as he watches this exchange, he hasn’t been noticed yet. Jordan goes to leave but his father stops him. He tells Jordan that Grandpa Willy is testing him, he doesn’t let Jordan leave and the boy goes back to work. Grandpa Willy seems very self-satisfied.

Did I mention that Grandpa Will is an asshole.

Photo: Jesse Giddings/The CW

Back at Essence Park, Spencer is relieved when he sees a throng of people showing up, tools in hand, ready to work. He’s even more relieved when Coop arrives. Coop is all, “you’re doing this for me” and Spencer reminds her that she told him to come up with a better way. This is part of that. Coop is the most shocked, though, that Spencer got his ex and current girlfriends to both show up and do “manual labor” for him. Coop tells Spencer that Patience bounced. “She’s safer that way.” This makes Spencer’s face fall but he knows it’s true.

Photo: Jesse Giddings/The CW

Across the park, Kia is giving marching orders to all the volunteers, girlfriend knows what she is doing and people are listening to her instructions. Even Layla can’t stop staring at her and Olivia calls her on it. Layla says that Kia is “incredible and so passionate about her community.” After only an hour with Kia, Layla confesses that she doesn’t know what the hell they’re all doing in Beverly Hills. Olivia verbally smacks her friend out it, Layla has own problems at home and they’re only getting worse. Layla wants to know what Gabby has done now. The latest rumor is that Layla only rekindled her friendship with Olivia to get close to Spencer … which Olivia tells Layla she doesn’t believe. The point is, “Gabby’s gunning for you.”

Kia approaches Spencer and tells him the people are invested, it’s time to go get those signatures … which is when Flip and his Bloods show up. Uncle Flip tells Spencer that he still has a right to be in the park and talk to the people about why Spencer’s ban would be a bad idea for all of them. Guns tucked in pants are evident on Flip and his crew. Spencer’s hopes sink low as we go to Commercials.

Photo: The CW

We come back from break and Spencer and Flip are each making their arguments to the community. Spencer is hammering home a park safe for kids to play in, without worry of a drive by taking collateral damage. Meanwhile, Flip, is playing the card that police are already harassing black kids, this Ban would only strengthen their harassment. Also, the OG gang members have been looking out for the community since day one, who will look out if they get kicked out. Uncle Flip definitely seems to be winning the war of the words.

Grandpa Willy’s House. Billy tells Jordan it’s time to head to Spencer’s event and Grandpa Willy gets up to go too. Grandpa Willy asks if Billy’s worried that he’s going to tell Jordan … something. Billy just wants to know why his father can’t stay out of his life?!? Grandpa Willy gets all dizzy, from low blood sugar he says. Jordan, not understanding why his father is sort of accusing his grandfather of faking his dizzy spell, tells Billy to just leave and he’ll take care of his grandfather.

Nighttime in Crenshaw. Olivia comes up to a frustrated Spencer. He says that he’s barely gotten any signatures but she says some is better than none, progress! He apologizes for them not talking for awhile and for not telling her about him and Layla. She says it’s cool and then let’s it “slip” that Layla is catching heat at school over their relationship. This is obviously news to Spencer but he can’t worry about that just now, Tyrone’s crew has shown up at the park.

Photo: The CW

On the basketball court, Flip and Tyrone are squaring up. Flip is trying to advise Ty that it’s not a good time for him to be here, that Flip is trying to help him out. Tyrone is all, whatevs, “I run this block, this park, everything around here.”  Uncle Flip mocks Tyrone a bit and his OGs all laugh.  Flip is mad at Tyrone because of the way Ty and his gang are acting, it’s maybe going to cost Flip his freedom.

Photo: The CW

The argument escalates and Tyrone’s crew start to pull guns, he doesn’t care that him and Flip are both Bloods. Coop runs into the middle, telling Tyrone to stand down – there are kids here, she says. This causes Spencer to run into the middle. Mama James tries to stop her baby boy but she is restrained. Spencer starts yelling at both sides that they are dropping bodies like it’s normal.

“This is not normal! … Kids dying over nothing is not the answer. Killing each other is not the answer. Revenge is not the answer.”

Spencer is speaking to the whole community as well as to Tyrone and Flip. He tells them that they are all they got and if they destroy each other, who will be left to fight for them. Tyrone makes a show of contemplating Spencer’s words and then nods to his crew. Now, every one has their gun out. Laura grabs Layla and Olivia and starts to pull them away. Spencer is pushed to the outside of the two gangs; he can’t believe this happening.

Commercials.

We come back and Mama James is begging her son to leave it be but he tells her he has to do this. Chris comes to his side and tells him he’s got his back. The two footballers stand shoulder to shoulder as they approach Tyrone and Flip. Tyrone thinks about it and lowers his man’s gun. “Now is not the time,” he says but he promises Flip that he’ll be seeing Tyrone real soon.

The James House. Grace rounds on her son, telling him that he scared the bejesus out of her tonight … but also, she’s never been more proud. Spencer feels like a failure for not getting enough signatures but Grace tells him that he started a conversation the community “desperately needed to have.”

“You’re destined for great things, Spencer.”

Spencer doesn’t look entirely convinced but Grace bring him in for a hug. Dillon joins in and Layla watches from the kitchen doorway. There is sadness in here eyes.

Photo: The CW

At Grandpa Willy’s House, Grandpa Willy is telling Jordan to never get diabetes. He blames himself since he doesn’t track it like he should. He tells Jordan that the strips are very expensive as his doctor makes him get a specific type. Jordan offers to help him and Grandpa Willy suggests he just hand over some cash and Grandpa will order them himself. Jordan counts out the few hundred bucks he has on him and hands it over. Grandpa Willy’s eyes go wide as his great fortune and then tells Jordan to make sure he doesn’t tell Billy.  Jordan furrows his brow at this — I hope maybe he realizes he’s been scammed but Jordan .. isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed.

The James House. Spencer wants to know why he had to hear about this school rumor from Olivia and not Layla. She tells him that it’s not important, not in the grand scheme of things, not when there are real problems in the world like what just happened on the playground. Spencer assures her that it’s important because she is important.

Layla gets all serious and asks Spencer if they’re too “culturally different” to fit together. Spencer tells her their differences are what makes them so special as a couple. He tells Layla that she’s never been changed by all the bad shit that’s happened to her, that she is always a light in the darkness and that inspires him. To answer Kia’s question from earlier, what changed Spencer? Was Layla.

Shawn’s Coop’s Crib. Tyrone comes by Coop’s place, talking about Spencer surprised him today. He says that everyone is talking about what happened. Coop tries to downplay Spencer’s importance but Tyrone isn’t hearing that. Nah, he thinks Spencer has everyone’s attention and he is buys telling people about what kind of person Tyrone is. And that makes Spencer important. Which, in turn, makes Coop important to Tyrone because Coop is important to Spencer. Tyrone isn’t sure yet, he says, but he’s going to make good use of Coop. OMINOUS!

The James House. Flip comes by and tells Spencer that he underestimated him. Spencer is all, how, I didn’t get any signatures?!? Flip says that Spencer got to him and that’s all that matters. He tells Spencer that he should’ve “checked Tyrone’s punk ass” a long time ago but he’s going to fix that. Long story short, Spencer has his park back. Flip tells Spencer (he calls him “young blood”) to keep doing what he’s doing and maybe, together, they can make some real difference together.

They bro hug it out and Flip goes to leave. Before he does, however, he warns Spencer that Coop is “playing with fire.” If Tyrone goes down, Flip warns, he’ll take everybody around him down with him; keep that in mind.

Commercials.

We come back and the two besties are sitting on Spencer’s bed. Coop tells him she realizes she messed up with her Tyrone plan but she has to see it through now. But, she tells him, Spencer has got to focus on taking his shot in Beverly Hills. Coop tells Spencer that she has to know his future is secure. Spencer replies that he needs Coop to know that she “ain’t alone.”

Photo: The CW

Beverly Hills. At the Baker house, Jordan comes home and Billy apologizes to his son. Jordan tells him to forget about it, Grandpa Willy was just using him for cash. Billy doesn’t even bat an eye before he tells his son that Grandpa Willy first hit Billy up for money the day he got drafted into the NFL. He asked Billy for $48,000 and ruined the whole moment for Billy. Jordan’s reply is to ask why Billy doesn’t push him harder? “?!”, Billy responds. Jordan tells his father that he gets Spencer is great at football, a prodigy even, but he asks his dad, “what am I?”

First and foremost, Billy tells Jordan, “you’re my son.” He tells him that it’s more important to have a relationship with Jordan than push him hard like Grandpa Willy did to Billy all those years ago.

Photo: Jesse Giddings/The CW

The next day, Layla and Olivia arrive at the only restaurant these kids seem to eat at anymore. The Mean Girls are there but Layla won’t back down. She marches up to Gabby and tells her if she wants the “Stu Co” crown so bad, take it. She’s more concerned with real friendships, mentioning what she has with Olivia. Gabby is all Mean Girl smug but Layla isn’t done.

“And the next time you decide to come for me, you better swing harder’cause I’m not gonna be so nice.”

YAS QUEEN! That.Was.Awesome! Olivia and Layla leave the Mean Girls, mouths agape.

Back in Crenshaw, Spencer is helping Coop prepare for the mother of all “please forgive me” dinners. Spencer assures Coop that Patience will show. Cut to them having dinner and Coop having told Patience the real reason she’s rolling with Tyrone. Coop tells Patience that she was just trying to protect the people she loves. Patience seizes on the L word and these two crazy kids take it to the couch for sexy times.

Essence Square Park, the next day. The episode ends with Spencer playing some touch football with Dillon and Dillon’s friends. The park is clean and it’s finally a place families and kids can go again. The smile on Spencer’s face is a million watts of happiness and the episode ends on that note.

Thoughts.

I swear to God, I was sure something horrific was going to happen just then in that last scene. Dillon gets cut down in some retaliatory drive by or something. It was refreshing to see something in Crenshaw end right and happy. I like that this show, through all its darkness and seriousness, understands that sometimes good things happen and they need to be celebrated.

There are a couple of references to “lights” in this episode. Spencer tells Layla she is a light in the darkness and Patience tells Coop that she’ll always be there to make sure Coop returns to the light. And Spencer, a light for his whole community.

It’s not lost on me that Tyrone didn’t arrive at Essence during the Take Back until nightfall. Until the light had gone away. Tyrone and his crew are creatures of the night. They cannot operate in the day because they can’t stand the spotlight it would put on their stained souls. Interesting imagery for the show to use and it’s meaning was impactful.

This show does these types of plotlines so well, it’s the reason this show should be must watch for everyone. The football stuff is great and fine and fun; watching Jordan learn the lesson his father learned all those years ago about Grandpa Willy was interesting and a good arc for Jordan, but it’s the Crenshaw community plots that make this show so engrossing for me.

Speaking of the Grandpa Willy arc, it was interesting how the show dealt with the aftermath. Even after learning that he was being used, Jordan didn’t just kowtow to his father’s wisdom. On most shows, that final scene would have been Jordan telling his father he was right all along and Billy either doing a victory lap or else, Jordan backing down from all his concerns.

But that’s not how All American handled it. No, Jordan is still worried about his place. In the world of football and in his father’s eyes. This has been Jordan’s arc all season and he’s not completely sold yet on where he stands. I appreciated that the show hasn’t just moved on from that; that Jordan’s fears and insecurities have been erased. Because, that’s not how real life works. When you’re worried about whether you’re good enough and lord knows, whether your father thinks you’re good enough … those self-doubts take a long time to be assuaged. I am happy we are continuing to get to see Jordan’s journey.

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