[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Season 3, Episode 9 of The Chi. Read at your own risk!]
After a nerve wracking then triumphant couple of episodes that saw Keisha (Burgundi Baker) go through hell and then liberated by unlikely savior Ronnie (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), The Chi dealt us a devastating blow: Ronnie was murdered, shot down in cold blood. It was a tragic, if not unsurprising, turn. Ronnie had redeemed himself in the eyes of the community, and even himself, and had started to envision a fresh new life.
Since we’ve known him, Ronnie has been what you might charitably call a drifter. Aimless, low key dependent on booze, and not quite certain what he wanted to do with his time on Earth. The veteran was, of course, also the person responsible for the death of Coogie (Jahking Guillory) back in Season 1. He’s carried that weight ever since, which is why his daring and heroic rescue of Keisha this season felt like such a beautiful arc. Working off scant clues and a hunch, Ronnie — the butt of neighborhood jokes and the object of disdain by even his own family members — turned himself into an amateur private eye and then vigilante, breaking into the home of Keisha’s captor and helping the young girl escape sexual slavery. The bum-turned-superman became something just short of a saint, winning handshakes, accolades, and cash. His dignity had been restored, and he could know that his late grandmother might look down on him, finally, with some respect. And just like — snap! — that, his life was over, as he was shot from behind. Why’d The Chi choose to end Ronnie’s life? What’s next for the character’s loved ones, and the community?
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TV Guide caught up with showrunner Justin Hillian and Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine to talk about Ronnie’s death and what it means for the community and show.
What a seismic episode! Ntare, how are you feeling about the story, and what was it like dying on screen?
Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine: Since the first episode of The Chi, when Ronnie shot Coogie, I was expecting him to go. I was amazed at the journey the writers took him on. The writers really brought it full circle — dealing with the trauma that he’s dealt with and then coming to terms with it and somehow engaging with the people who were affected by the trauma. They really told a complete story, which we don’t often get to do. You don’t get to fully examine things like this the way the writers did. [As far as the shooting], so the way they staged it, I didn’t even see anything coming. There was no dramatic buildup of like staring at the guy. He just shot me down. It was just bliss. And I think that was really interesting. Ronnie had already transcended, and he was taken away.
Justin, why did you all want to have Ronnie killed?
Justin Hillian: Ronnie is a character that — there’s a Ronnie in every neighborhood. Guys that come back from the war and life isn’t what they thought it was going to be. Promises made to them that are reneged on and then we see how they sort of deal with that trauma, that pain. They self-medicate. And he’s kind of someone that was, you know, forgotten about in this neighborhood much maligned. People had given up on him. And we thought about what Keisha was going through, and that, you know, so many of these girls that go missing, people give up on them. So that’s why it was important for us [that he be the one to rescue her]. He could relate to being the one people give up on. He was like, ‘This is the one thing I’m not gonna do — give up on this girl.’ There was just this ultimate tale of redemption. But we did want to honor karma. So we looked at it kind of like this moment when he’s walking with Tracy, the woman that he did all of this for. He shot Coogie because he was trying to avenge Jason’s death for Tracy. So it was like, not going to get better than this in this moment. That’s why we didn’t want him to see it coming. But also for the person who shot him to be a friend of Coogie who just couldn’t stand seeing this guy who killed his friend be worshipped as a hero. All of that just felt really poetic, and the end of an arc and the end of a story.
Now, were we to believe that he had a chance of reconciling with Tracy?
Hillian: Our intentions weren’t to make a romantic reconciliation, but just to be redeemed in her eyes. You know? It was also why we liked him being the person to see Keshia when she was at that bus stop and for her to rush by him, to be leery of him. And then him being the person that saved her, and then their last conversation is him telling her “The city had a hold on you, and it just won’t let you go sometimes,” right before he gets ready to leave. And then he gets murdered. It all felt right.
So what’s the fallout going to be? What can viewers expect in terms of consequences for Ronnie’s death?
Hillian: I think just the emotional repercussions for the community, really. When you look down on someone, and then you realize that’s the person who came through. And now when you finally have an opportunity to appreciate that person, for them to be gone, and you weren’t able to give them their flowers while they were here…It makes everyone kind of think about how short life is and what kind of people they want to be and how they want to relate to other people in the community.
How will Keisha be affected? I’m sure this will be triggering or traumatizing for her.
Hillian: It makes her realize, or I will say crystallizes for her, the fact that all pain can have a purpose if you choose to give it meaning.
While we’re on Keisha, why is her mom so reluctant to get her in therapy?
Hillian: Dre, her step-mom, is really into the idea. Nina, her biological mom, is reluctant because her fear is that she’s a bad mother. And she’s fearful that, as things come out in therapy, then it’s going to be a poor reflection on her. She felt like with Kevin, it didn’t go well. Because with therapy you have to take two steps back before you can take four steps forward. And she’s someone who isn’t comfortable with that, going backwards to do some of the work. She just kind of wants it to all be okay. And she’s an enabler. She’s like ‘Hey, if you don’t want to do anything, you don’t have to do anything.’ She’s not necessarily coming at it about what’s the healthiest choice, she just wants them to be okay.
Does he get a proper send-off, a funeral?
Hillian: Yes. It was really important for the character, and the actor — Ronnie has meant so much to this show. We wanted Ronnie, even though he’s not there to see it, to have the community actually be there and, you know, give him his flowers. We also liked the symmetry of opening with the funeral and closing a funeral.
What can you tell viewers to anticipate for the finale?
Hillian: It’ll be emotional.
Mwine: Just in terms of the full circle, my daughter was born the day before I got the offer for The Chi. And by chance, when we were filming the last two episodes, there was supposed to be a kid that was Ronnie’s grandchild, and for whatever reason [the kid they had] didn’t work out. They said we need to get a kid. And I said ‘My daughter is the same age.’ So it was really like a complete full circle because, you know, they say kids come bearing gifts when they’re born. And then she was cast in the last two episodes. So she was literally ushering Ronnie off.
The Chi Season 3 airs Sundays at 10/9c on Showtime.