In Season 2 of Dear White People, you’ll come for the drama but stay for the friendship dynamics.
Seeing kinship in action can be such an emotionally triggering thing. Powering through Season 2 of Dear White People‘s 10 episodes in one sitting will send you back to the friendships, relationships and situationships that toggled between terrific and utterly toxic. While the story of Samantha White, a very woke mixed chick grappling with both sides of her identity while matriculating through Winchester University, is the series’ entry point, the relationships within and outside of her orbit are the real treasures to unpack.
From bestie Joelle Brooks, friendly rival Colandrea “Coco” Conners and forbidden lover Gabe Mitchell to revolutionary Reggie Green, status climber Troy Fairbanks and timid truth seeker Lionel Higgins, none of the surface interactions between the show’s primary characters are exactly what they appear to be. Even seemingly periphery characters like Kelsey Phillips and Wesley Alvarez hold an extraordinary amount of weight in the emotional development and psyches of the aforementioned characters.
With only minor spoilers ahead—if you haven’t caught up on Season 1, that’s your own fault—take a dive into a ranking of the most meaningful (and meaningless) relationship dynamics of Dear White People Season 2.
10. Lionel and Silvio
If there was ever a case for a toxic, leech-driven friendship, Silvio and Lionel would be the poster children for it. Plainly speaking, Silvio is no good for Lionel and everyone knows it. While Lionel is technically Silvio’s underling at the school paper, the former is leagues ahead when it comes to natural curiosity and a dedication to truth-telling. Yet and still, Lionel wants so badly to prove his greatness and worthiness as a journalist (and a writer-lover-friend) to Silvio. Silvio may have been Lionel’s first kiss after coming to terms with his queerness, but proves this season that he is the last one he can trust in any emotional (or ethical) capacity.
9. Sam and Reggie
This was the meager flame we followed along with on Season 1. Sam and Reggie share the same fiery passion—one that eventually came to a head in the bedroom—for the betterment of black people at Winchester and beyond. However, on a soul-to-soul level, they don’t appear to provide the care and emotional sensitivity that each of them needs in their true match. They look like a power couple in theory, but in practice, they serve each other better as friends and fighters on the front line.
8. Sam and Joelle
Selfishness has a way of bleeding through even the strongest of bonds, whether or not either party in the relationship can detect its ominous presence. It is very clear that Joelle Brooks is Sam White’s ride-or-die. Whenever Sam is on the brink of tears from a breakdown or a breakthrough, Joelle has Kleenex, a strong shoulder and an open ear propped and ready. However, at times, especially in Season 2, that same level of friendship isn’t always properly reciprocated. Joelle is the springboard on which Sam hashes out her best ideas for her hot-button radio show, “Dear White People.” (She eventually asks Joelle to join the show as an official co-host, even though that offer was long overdue). Sam’s crippling inability to pay attention and yield to Joelle’s true wants and needs past her own—it’s frustrating how long it takes Sam to notice Joelle’s stifled attraction towards Reggie—is something that could’ve set the friendship back had Joelle not been so dedicated in her role as a true friend. Talk about loyalty.
7. Sam and Gabe
Let’s just put this out on front street: Watching the back and forth love fiasco between Sam and Gabe can become tiresome. So many of Sam’s biggest struggles exist within her mind, including how who she chooses to love can impact her work’s effectiveness. How much pain can Sam put herself through with denying love, support, a safe space for not only her heart but also her ideas, regardless if it looks like she’s negating her “wokeness”? There’s no debate that Gabe messed up royally last season. By calling the police at that on-campus party and a “rent-a-cop” showing up to “de-escalate” the situation with a gun, Reggie is emotionally damaged until further notice. Even without saying it, Sam carries the weight of that guilt and takes responsibility for bringing Gabe, a cultural outsider, into her friends’ sacred space. However, the heart wants what it wants. Watching her deny her desires to forgive him for those differences and honor the things that undeniably bind them is an eyesore.
6. Reggie and Joelle
Joelle and Reggie are the hopeful flame viewers had to wait two seasons to see properly fanned. Joelle has had coy feelings for Reggie for quite some time, and it seemed as if he felt something towards her, too. However, they never explored the possibility because Reg was still in hot pursuit of Sam, the ideal revolutionary lover in his mind (even though Joelle is exactly the balance of “fight-the-power on Wednesday but catch Love & Hip Hop-knockoffs on Thursday” that he needed). But this season, when he and Sam decide to return to each other’s friend zones, and Sam lets Joelle know that she has no claim on him, what a refreshing feeling it is to see their stars (finally!) start to align.
5. Lionel and Wesley
Lionel is one person who deserves to find a little gold at the end of his rainbow. In the show, he’s an observant creature by nature and often seen in the shadows of the social scene, partly because he’s trying to find a newsworthy scoop but mostly because he’s awkward and shy. On top of that, he’s inching closer to his sexuality comfort zone, but the dating waters are still murky for him. Vying for Silvio’s attention proves to be a bust, but Wesley, a newcomer to the Dear White People family, offers a glimmer of hope. There is a natural chemistry between the two. Wesley doesn’t mind Lionel’s awkwardness; in fact, he is charmed by it. The playful sort, Wesley inspires his hesitant beau to lighten up and offers encouragement during Lionel’s bouts of self-doubt. Wesley helps the aspiring journalist honor his sexual urges and share in intimacy for the first time. Lionel finally gets to be someone who is wanted.
4. Sam and Coco
To the naked eye, Sam White and Coco Conners are worlds apart. Presented initially as “enemies” in Season 1, we learned that the two former roomies had a closer past than we thought. Choosing the civil route, they eventually hashed out their differences once they realized they were taking different paths to the same end goal: respect for the black students at Winchester. In Season 2, they remain cordial, but in their separate social circles for the most part. However, when Sam suffers a devastating personal loss that causes her to go back home for a few days, Coco insists on coming with her and Joelle. (She made it a point to remind her how close their families once were.) Where Joelle is gentle with comforting Sam, Coco always gives it to her straight, no chaser, providing insight Sam may not want, but needs to hear. Sam, being the hard edge that she is, flourishes with this sort of tough love because she understands it is just that: love.
3. Troy and Reggie
In the same way that Coco and Sam run on opposite sides of the track, Troy and Reggie seem to be eons away from each other in terms of personalities and purpose. Troy has been groomed by his father, a dean at Winchester, to work within the very white confines of the school’s political infrastructure. Reggie, a man of the movement who was scarred and betrayed by the same university—who, innocent and unarmed, stared down the barrel of a university officer’s gun last season—chooses to rebel against it. As a continuation from an aha-moment last season, Troy continues to internally struggle with identifying a purpose outside of his father’s rigid shadow.
In search of brutally honest feedback about who he is and who he once was, he consults Reggie, an old-friend-turned-distant-colleague who is far from delicate when dishing out his response. However, free from having to fake public niceties (and with the help of some natural vices), these two walking representations of “strong black men” are finally able to unpack the heavy things within them. Confusion, defeat, embarrassment, shame, depression, worthlessness, lack of love—things that feel too risky to display on the outside. They are descriptors that don’t necessarily fit the mold of who they have been to the watchful eyes of Winchester. This delicate moment of brotherhood—which right now is even more important than technical friendship—is an important image to bring to the forefront.
2. Coco and Kelsey
Kelsey Phillips has been a treat to watch drift from the periphery of the character pool to become an anchor in one of the most emotionally gratifying scenes of Dear White People. Her character—highly energetic, preppy, quirky, queer (as we later find out) and in desperate search of Sorbet, her dognapped pup—could easily be brushed off as an “annoying,” more airy-minded version of her new roommate, Coco. But when Coco finds out she is pregnant mid-semester and tries to quickly decide if life will be best with or without a mini-Coco, it is Kelsey who drops everything and dedicates herself to her friend’s prenatal care.
Whether it’s whipping up Trinidadian remedies for morning sickness and massaging her feet or accompanying her to the clinic and offering genuine words of comfort, Kelsey becomes that sister Coco desperately needed, quietly sought out (she went out for a shallow sorority in Season 1) but stifled beneath perceived arrogance. Although Troy accidentally saw Coco in her wig cap during a sex blooper—the one downside of roughhousing in a wig—no one sees her vulnerability as Kelsey has been able to, without chastising, judging or taking advantage of her as she works through a hard time.
1. Troy and Lionel
While all of the characters in this season of Dear White People are dynamically written, there’s an undeniable satisfaction that comes from seeing Troy Fairbanks, the handsome socialite and Type-A male, and Lionel, a nerdy writer dipping his toe into queer sexuality, in the same room. Between elementary and high school, young black men put forth much effort to prove how “not gay” they are as a defense mechanism to safely escape the taunting, teasing, bullying and overall social scrutiny that comes from narrow-minded youth. That sort of learned behavior squelches potentially beautiful, healthy friendships before they can even begin.
When Lionel is paired with Troy as a roommate, it’s evident that Lionel has a mild crush on this very heterosexual man who will never reciprocate his feeling, but Troy doesn’t show any sort of “expected” discomfort or disdain in sharing that space with Lionel. He barely even bats an eyelash. Differences in sexual preferences and social mannerisms have no effect on the development of their teacher-student, open-book friendship whatsoever, and it’s a beautiful sight to see. This normalization of the spectrum within the black male experience—within Troy, Lionel and all the men of Dear White People—is refreshing, and a vision of what today’s society could be if we simply grew the f**k up and honored our authentic selves.