[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Season 2 of Dear White People.]
Dear White People called in a familiar face to take on an important role in its sophomore season. Tessa Thompson, who originated the role of Sam White in the 2014 feature film that inspired the Netflix series, came to play as a conservative pundit who engages in a showdown with Sam, now played by Logan Browning. Not only did the show play a meta trick by inviting Thompson to play, but her character served as a fun-house mirror up to Sam, showing her a twisted potential future if Sam continued to let her angry persona take over her life.
Thompson's Rikki Carter -- imagine her as a more eloquent Stacey Dash -- sparks debate among Winchester University's black students after they watch her speak on TV. The season eventually culminates with Rikki's arrival on campus to give a lecture to the school's growing conservative student body. Her visit naturally leads to a one-on-one showdown with Sam, who spends most of Season 2 battling alt-right trolls on Twitter and trying to be the antithesis of everything Rikki stands for. The scene resembles a complex game of chess, with Rikki eventually calling checkmate after informing Sam that the only real difference between the two of them is time. That devastating truth bomb scared Sam on such a core level that it pushed her to make a decision that could drastically change the show's landscape for Season 3.
Dear White People creator Justin Simien compares the dramatic scene to something that frequently occurs in Hollywood. "There's a thing that happens when you're in the industry long enough," he says, "and certainly if you're looking close enough at the outrage that's happening online: You realize there is actually a bunch of people who are pretending to believe something because it's good for their image and it is good for their base, but what they really think is up for debate."
That's Rikki's story, but her encounter with Sam is also foreshadowing Sam's darkest possible timeline.
"People change and brands stay the same. No matter what it is ... at a certain point you change and you start to evolve. Yet, your brand stays the same because people expect you to stay the same," Simien continues. "I think what [Rikki] is saying is that if Sam is not careful, Sam's identity will be all that she is. There will be no room for evolution. No room for change. No room to change her mind even. In that way, I think that [Rikki] is giving her a bit of a warning really -- without knowing it -- about what [Sam] might become."
The game-changing conversation occurs in the Season 2 finale, and while we see Sam is clearly affected by the encounter, the full effect of what Rikki tells her hasn't fully taken shape. The conversation will have large ripple effects for Season 3, though, as Sam decides to quit her radio show, also titled "Dear White People," at the end of the season.
"We'll just have to see how that decision works out for her and all the crew," Simien says. "I think if Sam were to leave the [radio] show 'Dear White People' in this cultural context, I think the vacuum that that leaves is an interesting thing to talk about. What happens to her when this identity she's crafted, when she lays it down is an interesting thing to explore."
The radio show was a centerpiece for the Dear White People film and has served as a springboard for both seasons of the Netflix series. It is often where controversy begins and is discussed within the context of the series. Taking it out of the equation not only forces Sam, as Simien says, to evolve and avoid the Rikki Carter trap, but it also allows for Dear White People to move forward as well.
"I'm not worried about the future of the show, but just like in life I want to take the characters to unexpected places that feel human and feel right for them," he explains. "Without giving too much away, I will say we have thought about [ending the radio show], and we look forward to the next few months to make up our minds about what [Season 3] is going to be."
Dear White People Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.