‘I’m a Virgo’ Season 1, Episode 3 Recap: Special ain’t so spectacular

OPINION: Cootie and Flora continue to get to know each other by going on another date, where we get the heartbreaking story about Flora's superpower.

Jharrel Jerome (Cootie), Olivia Washington (Flora) 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.

Whew. Boots Riley’s Prime Video series “I’m a Virgo” is nothing short of an anti-capitalist manifesto, and the third episode, “Paco Rabanne,” is the most masterful, emotional ride yet. 

It begins on a sweet note, with our gentle giant, Cootie (Jharrel Jerome), the 13-foot-tall Black teen on his first date with Flora (Olivia Washington), the literally lightning-fast Black girl who’s biding her time as a chef in the Bing Bang Burger kitchen. Only their mouths are in focus as they get to know one another and hang on each other’s every word. 

But when Cootie tries to talk about being in a relationship, she surprisingly tells him to slow down. She may move at the speed of light, but she’s in no rush to be committed. It’s actually her mission as a chef to feed people healthy, cheap food that will make them slow down and enjoy it. It’s a lovely bit of irony for the girl with super speed.

Across town, Cootie’s friend Jones (Kara Young) has organized the community into an eviction defense committee to block landlords and police from entering apartments in a complex and evicting the tenants. Soon, the Hero shows up and shuts down the committee and the evictions resume. 

Still, Cootie admires the Hero’s actions and his catchphrase, “Get your mind right, half-wits.” Flora tries to educate Cootie on the Hero’s dog-whistle slogan and fascist practices, but Flora sees he’s committed to his ideas of the Hero, so she drops it. At this point, Cootie’s parents, his friends and now Flora have told him this Hero is a pig, but Cootie’s going to have to learn the hard way.

Flora doesn’t want the date to end, so she takes him from one restaurant to another and we learn the heartbreaking story of her super speed and what she has to give up of herself to live in a world that could never keep up with her. 

Like Cootie’s giant genes, Flora was born with her speedy superpower. And like Cootie, her exasperated parents were fearful of her gifts and sought out doctors and child psychiatrists to understand why she moved, talked, ate and did everything else with super speed. Eventually, as a pre-teen, Flora trained herself to do everything in slow motion. 

I'm a virgo episode 3 recap, theGrio.com
Jharrel Jerome (Cootie) in “I’m a Virgo.” (Amazon Studios)

This allowed her to finally communicate with her overjoyed parents and participate in the world instead of outside of it. “It’s like translating,” she explains of how she restrains herself so that she can be understood, seen, heard and loved — and as a Black woman, I’ve never felt more seen. 

Unfortunately for Flora, learning to tame her superpower doesn’t keep her parents’ fractured marriage together. Unlike Cootie’s adoptive parents, Flora’s mother decides it’s all too much for her and she leaves Flora with her dad while she goes off to find herself and calls Flora her “tough girl.” Even in childhood, and even by adult Black women, Black girls are burdened with the strong Black woman trope. 

It’s an interesting creative choice from Riley to remove Black mothers from both of these superheroes’ lives. Cootie’s Black mom (presumably) dies in childbirth. We never see her in that opening scene of the pilot episode; we’re just told in exposition that she was Martisse’s (Mike Epps) sister. She’s replaced in Cootie’s life by the biracial mother figure Lafrancine (British actress Carmen Ejogo) who clearly cares for and dotes on Cootie. As far as we know, Flora gets no replacement mother. 

For a show full of well-thought-out metaphors, I’m stumped by what Riley’s choice to erase Black mothers means, particularly when so much of our communities’ survival is because of Black mothers. Riley’s work from “Sorry to Bother You” to “I’m a Virgo” centers Black men’s experiences, with women on the periphery, and perhaps in not wanting to show another Black father abandoning his kids on TV, he chose the road less traveled and made a neglectful Black mother instead but wound up with a pattern of Black mother erasure. It’s the first choice in the series that rings false and unnecessary in an otherwise stellar episode. 

Back at Cootie’s exploitative mall modeling gig, Felix (Brett Gray) and Scat (Allius Barnes) stop by and Cootie shares that he’s going on a third date with Flora that night. Felix warns him that third dates mean sex and Cootie has no idea what to do. Even though Felix is supposed to join Scat at the comic book store, Felix hangs back to give Cootie some ridiculous sex advice as Scat rides off alone.

Cootie goes home with Felix to change for the date and realizes his clothes are giving him a rash on the right side of his chest down to his waist. Lafrancine had been sewing all of Cootie’s clothes up to the point when he started modeling for Asphalt Royalty; perhaps his body was not used to the cheap fabrics or poisonous dyes. Perhaps it’s his punishment for exploiting himself and modeling negative images of violent and hypersexualized Black men for profit. We don’t yet know.

Cootie smears garlic paste all over the rash as a YouTube video instructs him, but then is overcome by the odor. He sneaks into Martisse’s bathroom and douses himself in Paco Rabanne cologne, which gives the episode its title and lets Martisse and Lafrancine know that their son is about to have sex. 

It’s another thing they haven’t prepared him for, and Lafrancine’s whole parenting philosophy is thrown into question by Jones when Lafrancine draws a picture of Jones’ eviction defense committee rescuing tenants from eviction. Jones says the committee is not the savior, and she wants the people to understand that the people save themselves. A leader’s only job is to create more leaders; creating images of saviors, superheroes and icons doesn’t do that. I see what you’re doing, Boots Riley. I see it — even if Lafrancine doesn’t yet.

Meanwhile, Cootie and Flora are having another date so lovely that they’ve decided to leave it and have sex at Cootie’s house, even though his toilet is overflowing at home. 

Cut back to Scat, who’s at the comic book store alone. He plays an arcade video game version of his favorite cartoon show, “Parking Tickets,” as the kid who only says his ridiculous catchphrase from the show “Boyoyoyoing!” In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, the character rides a bicycle away from a police officer who’s chasing him with a gun drawn. Scat loses the game and the player dies.

I'm a Virgo episode 3 recap, theGrio.com
Allius Barnes (Scat) in “I’m a Virgo.” (Amazon Studios)

He moves away from the game and watches an episode of “Parking Tickets” that’s playing on the store’s TV. In this episode, a weatherman is forecasting a winter storm before going into a long monologue about the fact that there’s no escaping the coming storm, which will fall on everyone — the survivors and “upon those who are survived by us.” Scat says that last part of the monologue in unison with the weatherman. He’s probably seen this episode a dozen times. Still, when the Boyoyoyoyoing! kid pops up again to interrupt the weatherman’s philosophical musings in order to say his nonsensical catchphrase, Scat still cracks up laughing. 

But he’s there on a mission, to get a “Parking Tickets” action figure for Cootie, who’d lied and said the character was his favorite just to fit in with his new friends. As Scat buys the action figure, the clerk recognizes Scat’s super fandom and gifts him a banned episode of the show that had only aired once and led viewers to have existential meltdowns. Scat eagerly accepts it. 

Riding away on his bike, Scat mimics the scene from the arcade game, causing havoc for whoever was in his path. He starts flying on his bike and tries to take a photo of himself midair while smoking a blunt but he loses balance, drops the phone and crashes into trash. He’s stabbed by metal shrapnel and stumbles into a hospital. The white woman administrator at the hospital ER refuses to let him see a doctor because he doesn’t have insurance and when he gets loud in defense of his own life and the injustice of her dismissal of him, a Black male security guard throws him out of the hospital.

Hours go by as he sits at the bus stop unable to use a stranger’s phone because he doesn’t know anyone’s number. Neither of them dial 911. Felix happens to drive by and see Scat bleeding out at the bus stop and takes him to the hospital but Scat collapses before getting to the door.

As Felix screams for help, Scat sees the “Parking Tickets” episode he just watched in the comic book store playing on the hospital doors. Nurses and a doctor scramble outside but Oakland has transformed into the winter snowstorm scene from the cartoon as parking tickets rain from the sky. Snow falls “upon we, the survivors, and upon those who survive us,” Scat says along with the weatherman, as he’s dying. He’s wearing a T-shirt with the Boyoyoyoyoing boy on it, but no one pops out with a catchphrase to lighten the mood. This absurdist dramedy is in full heartbreak mode.

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

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