Tory Kittles gets his most significant episode of the season (if not the show), but with several caveats. First, it’s a Black trauma episode. Kittles—with his two sons—is somewhere in not-New York City New York, and a couple sheriffs’ deputies assume he’s a suspect. When he asserts his rights, the senior officer (Lee Tergesen, leaning into his typecasting as a racist piece of shit) attacks him, knocking him unconscious. Once the other, less overtly shitty cop (Brandon Espinoza) confirms Kittles is a cop… they put him in the back of their car and drive him out somewhere to kill him instead of calling an ambulance.
Because all of a sudden, “The Equalizer” really wants to be realistic.
The other big caveat for it being a Kittles-centric episode is it being, one way or another, a major change for the character and potentially the show. We finally meet his ex-wife, Tawny Cypress, who’s initially confused why her sons called Queen Latifah for help before her, and then we get some backstory on Kittles. Including how Cypress always wanted to tell her kids about racist white cops, but cop Kittles wouldn’t let her. The episode speeds through that aspect of the story, letting the detail inform Kittles’s arc but not Cypress’s or the kids’.
The last caveat has to do with Kittles and Latifah’s chemistry. The show leans into it more than ever, but also without there being much weight behind it. Kittles has multiple flashback hallucinations in the episode, including returning guest star dad Danny Johnson either getting CGI de-aged (or de-aging make-up just looks like CGI now) and Kittles occasionally playing himself as a child. It’s kind of an acting showcase for Kittles, really. Just a horrific Black trauma one.
Because even though the show couches the racism a little bit, it’s only a little bit. The small-town cops are sympathetic to being murderers; the only non-overt racist the show introduces in the small-town is Dennis Boutsikaris, who plays a judge. Boutsikaris knows New York D.A. Jennifer Ferrin, who helps Latifah look for Kittles. The New York City cops can’t act because small-town racist sheriff Michael Pemberton tells them everything’s fine, so Ferrin and Latifah have to independently investigate.
While keeping the investigation limited makes it easier for the episode plotting—Adam Goldberg and Liza Lapira don’t get much to do here, and Laya DeLeon Hayes and Lorraine Toussaint don’t even appear–it also comes across like Kittles’s brothers and sisters in blue do not give a shit if Black cops are murdered by white ones.
Again, “Equalizer”’s picking one heck of a story to go for realism on.
Tergesen shows up before the opening titles, but then Boutsikaris and Ron Canada’s names show up, so it’s obviously going to be a big guest star episode. Canada has a great scene; sadly, all Black trauma stuff.
The show’s been having a rough time this season with Kittles as a Black cop and somehow decided the best way to resolve it was an exploitation picture from the seventies. Kittles does a great job. The main racist white cops are good too—Tergesen, Pemberton; a weird compliment.
Latifah simultaneously gets a lot to do but also not very much.
It’s a harrowing episode, start to finish.