Godfather of Harlem Season 1 Episode 9 Recap and Review: Rent Strike Blues
A spoiler-filled recap and review of Rent Strike Blues, episode 9 of the first season of Godfather of Harlem, starring Forest Whitaker
(Spoilers ahead for Godfather of Harlem S1E9 and episodes before it)
The penultimate episode of Godfather of Harlem Season 1, Rent Strike Blues, sees some major reorganisation of allies and enemies. It all begins with Congressman Powell organising a strike of renters in the slums of Harlem, demanding that their landlords carry out the necessary repairs of their apartments. Mayme Johnson takes part in these protests and chains herself, along with others, to the buildings. When the cops try to forcibly move remove them, Mayme ex-flame Doug Jones protects her and a newspaper gets a photograph of the moment when Jones has his arms around her. Bumpy sees this picture and gets suspicious. But he has no business getting all righteous, having restarted his affair with Amy Vanderbilt just the night before, as Mayme points out. Nothing much comes out of this. Not in this episode anyway. By the end, Mayme tells Bumpy they're on the same side and all seems well with them.
Amy Vanderbilt, as it turns out, is funding the lawyers that Rev Powell is using to fight his rent strike in the courts. And with their assistance, Powell uncovers the real owners behind the shell corporation that owns the rundown buildings in the slum. Not surprisingly, these include all the big Italian mafia families. But, in a somewhat shocking twist — especially for Malcolm X, whose help Bumpy asks for convince Powell to agree to a compromise — Bumpy is also listed as one of the owners. He, however, claims his property is not part of the slums and is kept in much better shape. Malcolm is still quite shaken that his friend keeps siding with the people and the means used to oppress the black community.
Malcolm has other problems as well in Godfather of Harlem S1E9. Elijah Muhammad visits him and tells Malcolm he hopes Malcolm will be his successor. However, the Prophet is adamant that Malcolm give up his civil rights work and focus only on the religion. This goes against the grain for Malcolm who truly believes the way to peace is freedom from the White man. He is forced to stand by and watch helplessly as tenants are brutally evicted, and has a hard time coming to terms with this policy of non-interference. Elise reminds him of his own words: "When the black gangster gains a political consciousness white America will drop to its knees." She urges him to go to her father and get him to protect Powell and the tenants.
Powell needs protection because the Italian mafia has decided to whack him before he can testify before the court, out them as the owners of those buildings, and put the Feds on their tails for tax evasion. Bumpy's attempts to talk Powell into a compromise all fail. He even brings in Esther James and says she will withdraw her case against Powell if the latter agrees to call of the renter's strike. But all in vain. Mayme is more persuasive in her appeals for Powell to keep Bumpy's name out when he outs the owners of the buildings in court. Powell does as she asks and Bumpy figures it's because he finally realised they;re on the same side. Which is when Mayme says the aforementioned line about the two of them being on the same side as well.
While all this is going on, Chin Gigante gets things moving to turn the tide against Bumpy. He tells Frank Costello that Bumpy is the one who started the war, which is true enough. But he claims Bumpy killed Lorenzo Bonanno and blamed it on him (Chin). In order to prove this, he reveals that Bumpy killed a "made man" in Gigante's mob, Zambrano (a murder which Chin took credit for previously in order to get his daughter Stella back from Bumpy). Costello doesn't believe him, but Chin proves it by producing the woman who witnessed the murder. Costello arranges for a meeting between Bonanno and Chin. The latter takes Bonanno to what he claims is a dope house of Bumpy's where Lorenzo's body is found buried. We already know Chin dug up the body from the department store earlier, so he has no trouble producing it now. Bonanno believes him and it seems like the entire family is now poised to come down on Bumpy.
Last week, I predicted that Bumpy's daughter, Elise might bite the bullet before the end of the season, but in this week's episode of Godfather of Harlem, it's Chin's daughter, Stella who comes close to taking her own life. She broke up with Teddy Green in the previous episode, and Teddy, whose single Rise has become a huge hit, is partying hard to forget her. When she comes to talk to him, he cuts her off and tells her she's just a confused white girl and he doesn't need her anymore. So, Stella goes to home and tries to kill herself. But her parents find her and save her. Chin admits to her that he had Lorenzo killed because he found out he got Stella pregnant when she was a teenager. Chin also promises to not touch Teddy and begs Stella to comes back to him. It looks like she relents.
Malcolm, meanwhile, takes Elise's advice and goes and talks to Bumpy. He tells him to "get conscious" and Bumpy listens. At the end of the episode, just as Bonanno's man is about to shoot Powell, Bumpy steps up and kills that man. (Shout out again for the choice of music on the show, by the way. The songused in the scene just described, which is intercut with Chin riling Bonanno up against Bumpy, is extremely well chosen.)
With that, and with the Italian mob families now all against Bumpy, we're heading for a hot season finale. Godfather of Harlem has apparently been renewed for a second season so it can't get too hot. Bumpy, Malcolm and Powell on one side and the Italian mafia on the other. We'll have to wait till next week to find out who comes out on top. And alive.
(Godfather of Harlem is currently streaming episodically in India on Hotstar)