As evidenced by the title, this week’s episode of Wu-Tang: An American Saga is centered around Dennis/Ghostface (Siddiq Saunderson). Episode 4 builds on the narrative from one of Ghost’s signature songs, “All That I Got Is You,” the tale of his home life, his relationship with his mom, and how it made him the man he is; and then adds the love story of a young Dennis and Shurrie (Zolee Griggs).
Whether you’re a die-hard Wu fan and know the rappers’ backstories, or you’re just a casual fan who sang along to Mary J. Blige as the clan’s designated storyteller painted the picture of growing up in a crowded Stapleton Houses apartment on “All That I Got…,” you probably know that Ghostface had two brothers with muscular dystrophy (his only siblings for the sake of the series), and a mother with issues – including alcohol addiction. If you saw the Wu-Tang docuseries Of Mics and Men, you also know that as the eldest, he was the man of the house before he was even a teenager. In this week’s episode, we get a closer look at how the pressures of caring for two brothers with disabilities – one who’s nonverbal, plus a mom fighting with the bottle, drove Dennis to be such a go-hard. He’s always dead serious about the business because he has no choice. Bobby/Rza lives in a house – with a basement – has a working, engaged mom, routine, order and stability. Meanwhile, at one point, Dennis is down to the last box of oatmeal in the crib.
The episode follows Dennis and Shurrie back and forth between an undetermined “THEN” that could be one or two years in the past, and “NOW.” The “THEN” is peppered with heavy foreshadowing, starting with a studious and focused Shurrie telling another girl on the bus she’s destined to end up with a locked-up baby daddy before getting distracted by Dennis while trying to study at the house. When Divine gets home, he tells Dennis that he and drug dealer Power (Marcus Callender) are no longer working together and appoints Dennis as his No. 2 man.
In the “NOW,” Dennis wonders out loud if Shurrie should be with someone more suited to a college-bound student…and if they should tell Bobby and Divine about their relationship. Her response? No, and “You crazy?”
Mama Linda (Erika Alexander) visits Divine (with her cream Dooney & Burke bag. Big shout out to costume designer Marci Rodgers; she is killing it.) and convinces him to take a plea deal for the sake of the entire family. Now, Dennis and Bobby have to get serious about coming back from losing all their inventory and cash in the stash house fire. This is no longer a case of holding things down for a minute until Divine comes back; this is a long-term situation. It’s on them. And Christmas is coming.
While cutting through Manhattan’s Battery Park on his way to a job interview, Bobby has the realization that he and Dennis could move weight to all the financial cats there. There’s no heavy police presence and no competing factions. Shotgun’s coworker Erika hooks them up with some rolls of film to sell on the streets for cash (we’re guessing in exchange for a weed connect once they get the product). They get their dough, get a skimpy bag of product, cut it with some tea leaves (figuring the target consumer won’t know the difference), and they’re in business.
At home, Dennis is trying to keep things together as his mom is falling apart. He takes his brothers to the neighborhood babysitter Ms. Gloria (there was always a neighborhood babysitter yelling at kids to “get out of the street” and stuffing money in her bra. Amen), cleans up the house, and even adds some holiday cheer. He gives his mom space for a little pampering, complete with a box of Calgon; something it’s obvious she doesn’t get often. His obvious pride in being able to help her out and give her some joy is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
In another “THEN” flashback, Dennis is itching to get at Power, but Divine orders him to stand down, insisting there’s no beef between the two – just business. The series opened with Power ordering a hit on Dennis and he was later behind the fire at the stash house, so we know there’s more backstory coming to fill in the gap between time periods. Dennis promises he won’t touch Power and robs his parents’ business instead. In the process, he realizes that Power is a college graduate who grew up in a stable family – most importantly, with a father. This stays with him. Meanwhile, while he’s working with Divine, he and Shurrie are building a romance through furtive glances and little moments of tenderness, like Dennis scraping his plate instead of just dropping it in the sink for Shurrie to wash like her brothers. Acts of Service is apparently Dennis’ love language.
In another “NOW” scene, Ms. Linda’s street-savvy, hair-styling, fly girl sister Laurie (Diane Howard) surprises the family with a visit and blesses us with some outstanding lines. Can we form an actual Undependable Ni**a Association of America to officially keep a rating scale? Life would be easier.
Anyway, Aunt Laurie clocks the vibes between Shurrie and Dennis immediately. Later, when Shurrie answers a desperate emergency call from Dennis, Laurie cautions, “Go take care of your man, just make you take care of yourself, too. Alright?”
Working hand-to-hands in Battery Park, Rza takes a moment to sit with the chess elder (Anthony Chilsolm), and complain about the Five Percenters loud and incessant “teaching” messing with his focus (we feel you, Bobby, we feel you). Some of the future Wu members are already Five Percenters (Ason, Allah Justice, Sha), but the elder plants the seed for Bobby’s conversion when he translates the Islamic sect’s message to chess terms: “The world will tell the Black man he’s a pawn, a white man he’s king. But those gentlemen over there, they tell you that you’re the player and that you move the pieces. That you’re a God.” We can see the transformation of thought happening in Bobby’s mind. The convo immediately transitions to Bobby, Dennis, Ason and Gary/Allah Justice watching Shaolin vs Wu Tang for the umpteenth time. But now, Bobby is actually listening to the Shaolin monk’s dialogue (he’s woke!). He hops up, inspired, and starts working on what sounds like an early version of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” Ason jumps on, Bobby talks about arrangements to make it a crew cut, and Dennis decides to break out, “As long as my gun clap, I ain’t gotta rap.”
When Dennis gets home, he discovers that his mom had another Calgon night – and threw in a bottle of booze. He finds her passed out, half-submerged in the tub. He calls Shurrie, the one person he knows he can trust his brothers with while he goes to the hospital. When he finally gets home the next morning, he’s at his breaking point, “I got all of this (material stuff), and I still got nothing.” Shurrie insists that he has her, and Dennis scoffs. As much as he loves his brothers, the idea of having kids with disabilities, and possibly driving another woman to his mother’s fate, is terrifying. Shurrie is bright – folks have been talking about her books and reading the whole episode – and is about to graduate and head to college. Her aunt even called it “parole,” a way out of a life of cooking, washing dishes, and looking after her younger brother while her mom works double shifts. Dennis can’t see a typical domestic future is in his cards, “You think we gonna get married and have kids?!… I thought you was the smart one.” (Spoiler alert: They get married and have kids.). He storms out and finds himself back at Power’s parents’ store. He ends up in a discussion with Power’s dad – unaware that he’s talking to the person who robbed him – about fatherhood. The same way something clicked in Bobby’s mind in Battery Park, we see a change of heart and mind – and perhaps determination? – show up in Dennis.
What The Episode Got Right: Let’s just assume fashion is going to always be an answer here, so we’ll skip that. We still think the scenes between Bobby and the old chess playing sage are a bit too down the middle, but the elder’s breakdown of the Five Percenters’ message explains the appeal of the movement to young black men in the early ‘90s, and how the Five Percent Nation’s influence on Wu-Tang is vital to Wu’s story. Also, to answer a question we posed in the last recap: Yes, Ghostface and Rza’s sister (her real-life name is Sophia) were really in a relationship.
What The Episode Got Wrong: Nobody from the boroughs says “Manhattan” like Bobby did when talking to the chess player. It’s “the city.” (We understand that was for you non-New York viewers, but still.)
What We Could Do Without: About three of the references of Shurrie being smart and focused. We got it.
What We Absolutely Don’t Believe: That Shurrie just walked off the bus after that back and forth and that was the end of it. Ol’ girl would have ended up in a fight on the bus after that line. Shurrie actually might have gotten jumped.
What We’d Like To See More Of: Is Aunt Laurie hanging around? Because she’d be good for some good ol’ grown foolishness that we don’t get from Mama Linda.