‘I’m a Virgo’ Season 1, Episode 2 Recap: The things we do for love

OPINION: Cootie falls hard for Flora and to make money, he hooks up with a shady agent who gets him a job modeling for a shady fashion company with an anti-Black campaign.

I'm a Virgo recap, theGrio.com
Jharrel Jerome (Cootie) in "I'm a Virgo." (Amazon Studios)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

It’s episode two of Boots Riley’s anti-capitalist training program, also known as the TV series “I’m a Virgo,” and a newly freed Cootie (Jharrel Jerome) is showing no signs of heading his parents’ warnings about the dangers of the world. The 13-foot-tall 19-year-old is back out in public and back at the Bing Bang Burger joint — two things his parents had forbidden for years. 

But Lafrancine and Martisse have no reason to fear; Cootie’s not there to eat one of their very disgusting, “poison” burgers. He just wants to see the super-fast pretty Black girl Flora (Olivia Washington) who works behind the counter. She is once again moving at the speed of light, handling her kitchen duties and openly flirting with him by signing his receipt with a heart. (I should’ve known by her smile in episode one that Washington is Pauletta and Denzel’s baby! But I’m just connecting the dots now for this recap.)

One of the things I love most about “I’m a Virgo” is that Boots makes room for Black joy and love in this story of revolution, and Cootie and Flora have it bad for each other. Still, he doesn’t want to move too fast. His new friends Felix (Brett Gray), Scat (Allius Barnes) and Jones (Kara Young) are trying to teach Cootie how to flirt and caution him against falling in love, but it’s too late. 

Jharrel Jerome (Cootie) in “I’m a Virgo.” (Amazon Studios)

The teens watch an episode of a “South Park”-like cartoon series called “Parking Tickets,” featuring a man spouting philosophies about love and pain while apparently dying, standing upright, his chest split open as he holds his bloody lungs outside of his body and a mosquito drinks from him. A shocked woman looks on as the man in her doorway talks about the agony of loneliness and that love is born from pain, so we should cherish pain and beg for it because pain tells us we’re alive. “It is our loot for making the maggots wait another day.” 

And then a child jumps into the frame and says his catchphrase, “Boyoyoyoyoying!” Felix, Scat and Jones crack up at the gag while Cootie — and hell, us too! — look confused. 

It reminds me of an interview Riley did on his absurdist debut feature film “Sorry to Bother You,” wherein he shares that the film’s title comes from the idea of giving people information that complicates their reality or that they may not want to hear. Through the show “Parking Tickets” and the show-within-a-show, Riley gives philosophical ideas — love as pain, anti-capitalism as liberation — to people that might not want to hear the message, but also gives the sugar of comedy and absurdism with the medicine of revolution. 

But Cootie’s not ready for all that just yet; he just wants to take his time getting to know Flora so they can fall in love; but girlfriends, he’s told, cost money. Martisse refuses to give Cootie any allowance since he’s breaking his parents’ rules. Cootie scrounges up all the pennies in his parents’ sofa and takes them to Bing Bang Burger to flirt with Flora again. She tries to convince her boss to change the ingredients to fresh produce for healthier meals, and he reminds her they’re a multinational chain restaurant; there’s no deviation from the global poisoning instructions. Flora’s further disappointed when Cootie doesn’t ask for her number, but Cootie is sticking to his plan of patience.

On his way out, Cootie meets a student (a hilarious Elijah Wood) who’s against the death penalty but is studying to be an executioner. A confused Cootie asks the student what sense that makes, and the student explains that if he’s an executioner he can more kindly and gently murder people while he patiently waits for the death penalty to be overturned. “Some people want pie in the sky; I just want practical solutions,” he says. The whole show is a  burn on neo-liberals and “change-things-from-the-inside” police/prison reformers specifically but, whew! This scene is laugh-out-loud funny even as it scalds. Wood has made a post-franchise career of popping up randomly as an impactful guest star and he does not disappoint here.

A broke Cootie is approached by a slimy agent who signs him as a client and promises to get him paid. But before the agent can even exploit Cootie through professional sports, Cootie is preemptively banned from all professional leagues. His agent then gets him a modeling contract with the streetwear brand, Asphalt Royalty. 

Every day he’s at the mall, posing for hours like a mannequin in the brand’s clothing. But they put him in poses that grow increasingly violent. First, he’s hunched over, reaching for a child mannequin that’s running away from him. Then he’s frozen in a scowl, his hand raised to pimp-slap a circle of white mannequin women. He knows these violent images are wrong, and when Jones comes to visit him at work, he tries to explain away his choice to participate before she can judge him.

He dismisses his poses as a “character” he’s playing and says he knows it’s “messed up,” but “it means something. The piece has a creative intention,” though he never explains. Perhaps Riley’s going scorched earth on the Black models who participated in Kanye West’s coon-tastic fashion show rocking his “White Lives Matter” T-shirts. Or, more likely, he’s calling out any Black creative who willingly participates in the perpetuation of anti-Black imagery in their art. Don’t shoot the messenger! 

Despite Cootie’s fears, Jones isn’t there to talk him out of his choice to be exploited and perpetuate anti-Blackness. She just wants him to come work with the people organizing the rent strike. But upholding negative stereotypes all day is exhausting, and Cootie is too tired to do volunteer work. 

When he complains to the agent that his back hurts from being hunched over all day, the agent says he has a new pose that’s easier on his back. Cootie’s now on his front, laying down in a bed naked, ass out and sexualized as his agent tells him to pout his lips more.

A cult leader and his cult approach Cootie and tell him he’s been prophesied as their end-times messiah on a sticky note from some guy named Sam. Cootie’s not trying to hear it. He can’t wait to take his newfound money to Flora, and she can’t wait to give him her number. Love is in the air; revolution and revelation can wait.

Brooke Obie is an award-winning critic, screenwriter and author of the historical novel “Book of Addis: Cradled Embers.”

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