After seven seasons, the Bordelon family’s journey came to an end. “Queen Sugar” signed off on Tuesday night with a poetic series finale centered around the importance of family — in all its forms.
Series creator Ava DuVernay wrote the finale, titled “For They Existed,” and returned to the director’s chair for the first time since helming the pilot and second episode. (To note: the remaining 85 episodes were directed exclusively by other women filmmakers, 41 of them to be exact.)
In Variety’s Power of Women cover story celebrating the series’ legacy, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker said she was “euphoric” about bookending the series as director and insisted she was wholly “satisfied” with the farewell ode.
“‘Queen Sugar’ is the longest commitment I’ve ever had — and we’re talking relationships too — and I did my very best every single day,” DuVernay explained, sitting alongside executive producer Oprah Winfrey. “In the end, there was no sadness; I was just so pleased, so proud. It was a satisfaction that was so deep, I hadn’t experienced it before.”
Winfrey chimed in to explain why it was the right time to say goodbye: “It’s never reached a point where people said, ‘Oh, they should’ve quit two seasons ago…'”
And after watching the super-sized 90-minute episode, it’s easy to see why the pair felt so content to let the Bordelon family — led by siblings Nova (Rutina Wesley), Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) and Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) — “take flight” one last time.
Going into the finale, though, “Queen Sugar” fans had a few questions about how things would end:
- Will Ralph Angel tell Blue (Ethan Hutchinson) the truth about his biological father against Darla’s (Bianca Lawson) wishes?
- Will Violet (Tina Lifford) and Hollywood (Omar J. Dorsey) begin fostering another child (or children) — and will he win the school board election?
- Speaking of elections, does Charley win her bid for congress? Will Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe) ever start acting right after jeopardizing her campaign with his reckless NFT depicting the moment she confronted her husband Davis in the middle of an NBA game? (“What did you do?” she’d cried.)
- Will Nova find a new and true love now that Dominic is out of the picture?
- And, most importantly, do the Bordelons get their daddy’s land back? (After all… hasn’t that fight been the crux of the plot these last seven years?)
DuVernay answered some of those questions quickly — the opening scene reveals that Hollywood has become “St. Joe’s newest, Blackest, beautiful-est school board member” — and others shockingly. In a twist, Charley loses the election, but she and Micah reconnect and find common ground before he goes on to drop out of Xavier to take a job at L.E.A.P. (a tie-in with DuVernay and Array’s real-life social justice initiative).
Some of the answers are tenderly framed — Hollywood and Vi ultimately become foster parents to a 10-year-old girl named Pauli (whose name, DuVernay revealed, is a nod to her longtime producing partner Paul Garnes) — while others point to “Queen Sugar’s” impact beyond the screen. Kevin Richardson, one of the Exonerated Five portrayed in DuVernay’s “When They See Us,” plays a farmer in the episode’s pivotal auction scene, as the Bordelons and the Black farmers’ co-op try to win their land back from the Landry’s.
But the real magic came courtesy of the ace DuVernay had up her sleeve: the poignant return of patriarch Ernest Bordelon, played by Glynn Turman.
“Thank you to the great Glynn Turman for returning to help us finish our story,” DuVernay tweeted, as the episode aired. “Only an actor as formidable as Glynn could have portrayed ‘Ernest Bordelon,’ a character that loomed large in the life of every character for seven seasons.”
Ernest certainly loomed large over the episode, appearing in a series of flashbacks to share wisdom from beyond the grave, as his kids worked through the trials and tribulations of their relationships and lives. It’s the Bordelons’ surrogate uncle, Prosper Denton (Henry G. Sanders), who conjures him up, first, while encouraging Ralph Angel to fight for his marriage to Darla after they hit a rough patch over his decision to tell Blue a portion of the truth about his biological father. As a result, Darla decides to leave him, taking their daughter Tru to her mother’s house in Washington D.C.
“I tried my best by you kids. I tried to be there in ways that Ernest can’t no more, but I failed by not sharing enough with you… Things that he said to me that might help y’all,” Prosper says, as the scene changes to a conversation from the years before “Queen Sugar” began, with Ernest fretting over Ralph Angel’s wayward life.
“He could do so much with this land, take it further than I ever will, if he’d just buckle down,” Ernest lamented. “I hope he does it better. I ain’t talking about the crop… If Ralph Angel ever comes back to the land, I hope he don’t end up on it alone. Ain’t the same without family. Land without love, don’t mean nothin.’”
Back in the present, Prosper translated Ernest’s meaning, promising Ralph Angel that his father would be proud of how far he’s come. “He wants you to keep doing what you’re doing with the land — work it, grow it, fight for it,” Prosper says. “He also wants you to have love on it, to have family on it. He came to understand that was the most important thing.”
Later, when Nova questioned why so many people from her past had come back into her life recently, Prosper offered another memory from his wife’s funeral when Ernest came to console him. That day, the two men reflected on their lost loves and their fears for their daughters, Nova and Billie (Tammy Townsend).
“When me and Trudy finally broke up that last time, she said to me, she said, ‘Ernest, love goes its own way, just like a river. You can’t force it or make it go your way. If you’re smart, you’ll just flow with it,’ Ernest shared. “Our daughters will be wise one day too, when they come to understand it doesn’t matter how love comes – rich, poor, man, woman, Black, white, here or hereafter – it flows its own way. And they’ve gotta flow with it.”
DuVernay and series cinematographer Antonio Calvache’s striking extreme close-ups on Turman, Siriboe and Wesley’s faces capture the weight of Ernest’s words and their impact on the resolutions to come.
Nova’s final chapter began with a callback to the pilot, as DuVernay trains the camera on the character’s postcoital state. Yes, Nova is back between the sheets with Calvin (Greg Vaughan) after a late-night tryst… again. But while she’s technically in the same position audiences met her in at the series’ opening frames, Nova is in the midst of becoming a different woman. She’s focused on reclaiming her spirituality and rediscovering herself.
“I’ve been so disconnected from the way I used to be,” Nova admits. “I don’t think it’s left you,” Calvin responds. “It’s a deep part of who you are. You’ll find it.” And by the episode’s end, Nova does.
While clearing out her mother’s family home, Nova is surprised to learn that Trudy and her late Aunt Martha left the property and a church to her. The simple act of being handed her mother’s keys leaves her shaking with wonder. It’s then that she realizes they unlock a door in the home that she previously couldn’t open.
“All my life, I wanted to feel this feeling,” Nova says, choking back tears, as the sun streams into the unlocked room. “Not outside of me, inside. Inside, finally I feel it. I’m home.”
With that, Nova finally commits: to her life, to the house, to her community and to her man, admitting she’s always loved Calvin. “I’ve tried to hide it. To ignore it. I second guessed it. I fought it. Cursed it. I did everything to it, but accept it, with no conditions,” she tells him. “No ideas of what it should be or could be or what others will say or think. I never just let it be, to just go with its flow. To let us flow.”
So, that just leaves the Ralph Angel’s quest to reclaim the Bordelon sugarcane fields.
After scrounging up $750,000, it seemed like Ralph Angel and the Black farmers’ co-op were primed for a win at the auction for the Landry property. Tensions rose as the bidding war rocketed higher and higher, until Remy Newell (Dondré Whitfield), who appears for the first time since Season 4, stepped in to save the day with a $1 million bid (on behalf of his department at Texas Valley A&M). But, just then, Jacob Boudreaux (Lea Coco) appears and outbids him with a cool $1.1 million. The look of devastation on Ralph Angel’s face says it all — it’s over.
Well, not so fast.
In the episode’s final minutes, Boudreaux surprises Sam Landry (David Jensen) — and the audience — with the reveal that he was working with the Bordelons and the co-op the whole time. Remy’s bid was a decoy and that look on Ralph Angel’s face was actually a sigh of supreme relief.
“You lost Sam. That’s right, it’s over now. But by the looks of this big old fancy house, you’ll be fine. You see, you and your kind, you’ve been stealing from my people for generations. It’s a hell of a head start, don’t you think? But we’ve got something that you’ll never have — cuz we’ve got love. We’ve got each other. We’ve got our land back.”
In a stroke of absolute genius from DuVernay and “Queen Sugar’s” creative team, God’s Property and Kirk Franklin’s gospel classic “The Storm is Over Now” plays in the background as Siriboe delivers this closing monologue.
Its lyrics – “It’s over now / It’s over now / I feel like I can make it / The storm is over now” – couldn’t be more appropriate to bid farewell to a family who’s weathered every storm imaginable, both forces of nature (like season 1’s hurricane) and man-made (the series-long battle between the Bordelons and the Landrys).
The final montage shows Ernest — technically, his spirit — watching over each member of his lineage. First, he visits a pregnant Nova, sitting on her mother’s refurbished porch with Calvin. Then he looks in on, Charley and Davis as they share a smile over breakfast. He sees Micah thriving in his leadership role at LEAP. Vi, Hollywood and their foster daughter Pauli are adjusting to life as a family of three. And — perhaps most tear-jerkingly — Ernest strolls through the sugarcane alongside Ralph Angel and Blue, while they share another father-son heart to heart, which the show has become famous for. (The scene is also a nod to the last time these three men shared a frame, on Ernest’s deathbed — which Winfrey told Variety is one of her all-time favorite moments from the series.)
As Ralph Angel heads toward his beloved childhood home to help Darla tend to Blue and their, daughter Tru, he takes one last look over his shoulder and gazes into the fields his father dedicated his life to, just part of the legacy for him and his sisters to carry forward. Unbeknownst to him, Ernest is staring back.
His gaze surveys the house, the land and everything on it. With a tip of his hat toward the next generation of Bordelons, Ernest turns and walks deep into the cane, as the hymn ends and the screen fades to black. DuVernay’s dedication fills the frame: “For my father, Murray Maye.”
It’s the final grace note in a coda that drilled home all “Queen Sugar” has represented since its 2016 debut. It’s the rare drama centered on the daily lives of ordinary Black people and the richness, complexity and sometimes mundanity of their lives. It spoke to an underserved audience who tweeted along fervently week after week, with #QueenSugar trending in the Number 1 spot for the finale. By hiring 42 women to direct its episodes (39 of them their first episodic television jobs), it potentially changed the TV industry.
At the end of a virtual finale watch party presented by OWN, in association with Black Restaurant Week, attended by some cast, crew and select journalists, Winfrey popped up on the Zoom screen to thank everyone for their involvement and dedication to the show.
“It’s been one of the great joys of my life to be a part of this series,” Winfrey said, with a sigh. “What are we going to do on Tuesday nights without our ‘Sugar?'”
It’s a great question.