Warning: This post contains spoilers for THEM Season 1.
For four episodes, THEM built up the mystery of what happened to poor Baby Chester.
And then Episode 5 happened, and suddenly the new Amazon Prime terror anthology from Little Marvin and Lena Waithe, which premiered Friday, turned into something else. What that something else is has become a matter of debate on social media, with some heralding the horror show’s infanticide as an allegory for the countless dangers posed against Black children in America, and others labeling it Black trauma porn.
In the scene, Lucky (Girls Trip’s Deborah Ayorinde) spends quality time with her baby while her husband and daughters are away. A strange white woman (Claws‘ Dale Dickey) approaches and, after offensively singing “Old Black Joe,” her attention turns to Baby Chester and she menacingly asks if she can have him. When a horrified Lucky says no and hurries inside to protect and hide him, the woman and three Deliverance-like white men break in, sexually assault Lucky and kill Baby Chester in a gut-wrenchingly gruesome game called “Cat In the Bag.”
Baby Chester’s killers are never arrested nor punished, and Lucky is left to suffer in silence as she slowly goes insane. In an attempt to start fresh and help his wife and family, Henry Emory (Top Boy’s Ashley Thomas) gets a new job in Los Angeles and moves them from their small southern town to an all-white Compton.
There, the Emorys — which also includes Ruby (Us‘ Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Gracie (Melody Hurd) — are once again terrorized, this time by racist neighbors outside the house and a racist and demonic ghost inside the house. By the finale, the Emorys overcome most of their tormentors, but at a cost.
“The supernatural entities have nothing on the real people and what they were doing,” Ayorinde tells TVLine. “They were the true horrific monsters. I was actually more terrified of the neighbors.”
Episode 9 is equally hard to watch as two newly emancipated Black people are tortured, blinded and lynched by white immigrants in a post-slavery, prairie-era Compton. But viewers aren’t the only traumatized ones. Ayorinde says the show had an on-call therapist for this very reason. The London native also relied on prayer.
“Coming out of Lucky, I leaned on my faith,” Ayorinde reveals. “I lean on my faith in general in life. But, I leaned on my faith heavily in this process. I had to. I prayed up all the way to the set and all the way back home to be honest.”
The therapy helped too, she says.
“I utilized the therapist we had on-call when we had to work through things,” the actress adds. “So, I had prayer, therapy and I leaned on the other Emorys — Ashley, Shahadi, Melody — and their parents.”
Wright Joseph says she, too, had to figure out ways to leave THEM behind when she left the series.
“Between takes, we did try to keep things light and playful as much as possible,” Wright Joseph admits. “The scenes were heavy but so was the energy of the some of the places we were shooting.”
For instance, Wright Joseph says, the scenes where Ruby and Doris (Sophie Guest) are in school were shot inside of an abandoned asylum. “It was absolutely insane to be there,” the Hairspray Live! alum says. “After shooting, my mom would sage me and I would shower and meditate.”
Both Ayorinde and Wright Joseph says they are proud of THEM and the work they put in but have no desire to relive the experience. “Sometimes it’s hard to separate from the character and the stress the character takes on,” Wright Joseph concludes. “But you have to for your own sanity.”
Ayorinde agrees. “This is my first horror project,” she says. “I don’t know how many more I’ll do after this. Maybe for the right one.”