The first episode of THEM wastes no time pitting housewife against housewife.
The biggest difference between Amazon Prime’s new terror anthology and other neighborhood-based dramas: One housewife is Black, and the other is white. It’s also Compton in the 1950s, and the Black housewife, Lucky Emory (Girls Trip‘s Deborah Ayorinde), is still reeling from the racist horrors she left behind in the South. Something terrible has happened to her baby son, and a move west signifies a fresh start without him. (Viewers won’t learn exactly what happened to Baby Chester until a very traumatizing Episode 5).
The white housewife, Betty Wendell (Devs‘ Alison Pill), is bigoted, privileged and easily threatened by the Emorys, who have moved in across the street, and all that the Black family represents. So, she does everything she can to make them want to move. In the THEM premiere installment, this includes sitting in front of the Emory’s house with at least 20 of her friends and staring menacingly.
The cluster of white supremacist women also play terrible songs on their little hand-held radios, including a racist little ditty called “Civilization (Bongo, Bongo)” from the Andrews Sisters and Danny Kaye. Wow. Makes you want to rethink the Andrews Sisters and Danny Kaye, huh? When they’re not openly staring and taking their white gaze to the next level, Betty and her friends make horribly bigoted comments and assumptions as they plan more dastardly deeds. Their husbands do the same. And by the time the Emory’s dog Sergeant turns up dead in the basement, it’s slightly unclear if the pooch has died at the hands of one of the neighbors or the menacing spirit inside the Emory home.
That’s because the malevolent force dwelling within the Emorys’ house is initially less gregarious than the neighbors. First, it messes with little Gracie (Melody Hurd), the youngest Emory daughter, by teaching her another racially offensive song called “Old Black Joe.” But this one is worse than “Civilization,” because the woman who hurt Baby Chester sang that very tune. When a horrified Lucky asks Gracie who taught her the song, Gracie says Miss Vera, the fictional teacher from her book. Yikes. That means the spirit can shapeshift into whatever person or thing it needs to in order to pounce.
Speaking of pouncing, that’s exactly what a spectral Miss Vera does when Gracie wakes up in the middle of the night. The ghostly figure is holding Sergeant’s collar — that’s kind of like a smoking gun right? — and sitting alone at the table. A sleepy and confused Gracie at first mistakes the image for her mom but when Miss Vera rises from the table, Gracie learns the truth, and it’s too late. Miss Vera draws nearer and nearer and then strangles the child in a pretty effective jump-scare moment. Phew!
The next morning, Lucky checks in on her daughters Ruby (Us‘ Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Gracie and notices that Gracie has marks on her neck. She screams and freaks out, and patriarch Henry Emory (Top Boy‘s Ashley Thomas) searches high and low for the perpetrator inside his new home but finds no one.
That is, until he goes to the basement and comes across Sergeant’s lifeless corpse. This makes Lucky snap, and she grabs her gun and heads outside screaming and yelling. Sigh. The terrors of racism have broken her and, sadly, this means that Betty has won this round.