Birgundi Baker as Kiesha Williams in The Chi Credit: Elizabeth Sisson/SHOWTIME

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

The fusion between bad and good deepens, women characters get their stride, and the series finds itself in the third season of The Chi, creator Lena Waithe’s south side Chicago-based drama.

The show’s debut season in 2018 focused heavily on gun violence and its aftermath, how one shooting can set off a domino effect of equally horrible events that stem from hurt, anger, and a need for revenge. It was a strong start for a brand new show, but the next season, which aired the following year, was a clear upgrade, addressing the criticism of the south side-based show not feeling like it’s set in the neighborhoods it’s supposed to represent and truly ramping up the visual content as the show’s characters worked to upgrade their lives. But season three feels fresh in a different way: it’s the season the show became all that it set out to be.

Since the show’s inception, the line separating characters considered good and bad has continued to intentionally blur. The Chi’s accidental villain is Ronnie Davis (played by Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine). And in this season, he finally finds redemption for his past wrongs. A veteran with PTSD and a problem with alcohol, Ronnie wrongly killed a teen who he’d thought murdered another teen—one who he’d helped raise when he dated the teen’s mother. This fatal mistake rightfully made Ronnie the neighborhood pariah, and he set off in season three to find Kiesha, a teenage girl who’d gone missing.

For months, Kiesha (played by Birgundi Baker) was held captive, and a determined Ronnie eventually finds her. But that redemption comes at a price when he’s shot in retaliation for that wrongful murder. Before he dies, though, he becomes what he aimed to be: a man who would make his grandmother proud.

And this season’s focus on Kiesha as a victim—and the other women-led storylines connecting to it—is a hard but needed integration into a show built on the effects of violence and pain. The majority of murder victims in Chicago are indeed Black men. (As of Wednesday, they constitute about 64 percent of murder victims in Chicago this year, according to tracking by the Chicago Sun-Times.) But often, women victims are left out of that conversation.

Season three corrects that, and it’s comforting to see that shift in a show that often leans on the struggle of young men. After two seasons of male-centered violence, this season challenges audiences to think of all the ways women, especially Black women, are affected by violence—both directly and indirectly.

Kiesha’s friends (using that term loosely), family members, and even those who claim to be anti-violence advocates blame her for her kidnapping, often using the same language her abductor used: she’s “promiscuous,” she “dresses inappropriately,” her Finsta (fake Instagram account) shows she “brought the abuse on herself.” It’s the language we see every day in conversations about women and girls, especially when talking about Black girls who, studies show, are often seen as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers. It’s this unfair characterization of events that Kiesha and the women who support her have to fight against.

This season also sees the inclusion of its first trans main character, Imani (played by Jasmine Davis). In every scene, Imani is a rock—which likely comes from her past. The show allows Imani to talk about the abuse she endured as a transwoman while still painting her as someone who is a survivor now focused on protecting her family—and anyone else who appears to be in trouble. Whether it’s busting into a drug house to look for Kiesha, who she’d never met, or helping her boyfriend, Trig (played by Luke James), reunite his family, Imani is a force, and we’re very lucky to have her added to the show.

The season three finale itself neatly wrapped up most of the storylines—an action critiqued by some as feeling anticlimatic. But pushing back on that idea, the final episode delivered both closure and happiness, something that can be an essential balm in a series that has consistently been able to effortlessly bounce from stories of pain to those of Black joy: Kiesha and Tiffany (played by Hannaha Hall) grow from foes to two young women who can relate to both tragedy and survival. Emmett (played by Jacob Latimore), for now, can enjoy his new business and new marriage before dealing with his recent mistakes.

And as Wale’s “Sue Me” plays in the episode’s final moments—“Sue me, l’m rootin’ for everybody that’s Black”—we get to see the show’s kids smile and experience happiness in budding relationships, the characters having newfound perspectives. Without the announcement of a fourth season, this ending could be how we remember the show’s characters: imperfect but always striving, facing tragedy but picking themselves up again, and doing their best to thrive in the city they call home. And there’s nothing more Chicago than that.   v