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The Bordelon Siblings: Ralph Angel (left), Nova (center), and Charley (right)
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Queen Sugar is an America family drama airing on OWN. It was created, directed, and produced by Ava DuVernay. Oprah Winfrey is also a producer. The series is based on the novel by Natalie Baszile. It tells the story of three siblings who are forced to work together to run the family sugarcane farm after the unexpected death of their beloved father. The series premiered on September 6, 2016. On August 1, 2016, the series was renewed for a second season.

Nova, the eldest, is a determined journalist and activist trying to change the corrupt New Orleans police department. Charley, the middle child, lives a charmed life in Los Angeles until a scandal threatens to tear her family apart. Ralph Angel, the youngest, struggles with getting his life back together after being released from prison.

It stars Rutina Wesley as Nova Bordelon, Dawn-Lyen Gardner as Charley Bordelon West, and Kofi Siriboe as Ralph Angel Bordelon. Also featured are Tina Lifford as Violet "Vi" Bordelon, Omar Dorsey as Hollingsworth "Hollywood" Desonier, Dondre Whitfield as Remy Newell, Bianca Lawson as Darla Sutton, Timon Kyle Durret as Davis West, and Nicholas L. Ashe as Micah West.

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Tropes

  • Adult Fear:
    • In the season 2 premier, Micah is pulled over by a police officer, who aims a gun in his face and takes him into custody. The rest of the family gets worried when he doesn't return home after several hours. Charley and Nova's fear when they find his abandoned car is palpable. After this incident, Micah is left traumatized and his family isn't sure how to help him cope.
    • Violet gets the news that the oil rig Hollywood works on had an explosion and when he doesn't pick up, she fears he was hurt. Fortunately, she later finds him alive and well.
    • Darla's mother details how difficult and terrifying it was to try to help her while she was addicted.
    Darlene: Do you know how it felt for us? Our daughter calling us, high, asking for money? Or high, screaming in pain? Or high, threatening to harm herself? And we are all the way across the country scared out of our minds?
    • Ralph Angel learns that Blue is not his biological son and his ex-girlfriend wants full custody. His anxiety and agitation when he gets a visit from social services is understandable.
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    • Micah receives a death threat after becoming an activist and protesting police violence against black people. When he takes it to his mother, Charley confesses that there were actually a lot more death threats that she had been hiding from him. She admits that's why she sent him on vacation in Paris, to get him out of town for his own safety.
    • Charley and Romero start a clinic for undocumented migrants, but it gets raided by ICE. They're forced to watch helplessly as their patients are taken into custody, including a father who was ripped away from two of his children.
  • Affair? Blame the Bastard: Completely averted. Charley is furious and horrified when she learns that Davis had been hiding an illegitimate daughter named Tia for most of their marriage, but directs all her anger at him for cheating. She doesn't want to close relationship with Tia, but encourages her son to bond with his half-sister.
  • Amicable Exes:
    • Nova and Chantal by season 4, though its hinted that Chantal wants them to get back together.
    • Nova and Calvin. Despite the messy end of their relationship and the fact that Calvin got divorced because of their affair, they're still on good terms. In season 4, they get back together.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: The Bordelon siblings argue a lot, but at the end of the day they've always got each other's backs.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Nova screams at Charley for trying to make the post-funeral repast too much like a upscale banquet rather than a gathering of loved ones.
    Nova: We don't honor our father by sitting friends and family outside in fancy tables. We don't honor our father by having strangers serve those grieving. We serve comfort food to those who need comfort and we do it with our own hands!
    • Charley walks onto the basketball court as Davis is playing and demands to know if he really did rape an escort, as a video uploaded to the internet implies.
    • Ralph Angel pulls a gun on a man for trying to reposes his father truck. It's not the repossession itself that angers him, but the feeling that his life is changing too much and there's nothing he can do to stop it.
  • Betty and Veronica: Nova's Betty is a vivacious black woman named Chantal who shares many of her ideals. Her Veronica is Calvin, her white cop boyfriend who opposes some of her activist work.
  • Big Bad: The Landrys, with their constant attempts to sabotage the Bordelons' farm.
  • Big Sister Instinct: While a guest on a radio show, Nova defends Charley when the hosts start gossiping about the scandal surrounding her husband.
  • Big Storm Episode: A hurricane rips through Louisiana in 1.08 and afterwards the bodies of two migrant workers are found on the Bordelon property. It's later revealed that they weren't caught in the storm, but murdered for the money they were carrying.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Nova's boyfriend, Calvin, is not only white, but a white police officer working for the department she antagonized. To make matters worse, he's married with kids.
  • Blackmail: Davis threatens to reveal that Charley forged his signature to get a loan for the mill if she doesn't agree to give him shared custody of Micah. Though later he claims it was just a bluff.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Micah is so scared after getting threatened by a cop and arrested that he pees his pants. The moment is far from comedic.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Charley and Micah both feel way this toward Davis after his sexual assault of an escort is uncovered.
    • Micah toward Nova after learning that she is dating a white cop.
    • Romero toward Charley after he learns that she forced migrant workers to work through a hurricane, ultimately leading to two deaths.
  • But Not Too Black: Averted. The black characters come in all shades. Charley is fair-skinned, but both her siblings are very dark.
  • Canon Foreigner: Nova didn't exist in the novel.
  • Category Traitor: Charley's assessment of Parker Campbell, a black woman who's willingly working with Landry Enterprises and Old World Energy to start fracking in Saint Josephine's, something that will devastate the predominantly black community.
  • Cheerful Child: Blue, Ralph Angel and Darla's six year old son.
  • Child by Rape: Darla was heavily intoxicated the night Blue was conceived and doesn't learn until years afterward that two different men had sex with her. She wasn't in any condition to give consent to either of them.
  • Children Are Innocent: Despite being furious and heartbroken that Davis cheated on her, Charley is nothing but nice to his young daughter Tia.
  • Christmas Cake: Discussed. While attending a baby shower for one of her friends, Nova and the other ladies talk about being single in middle age and their plans for starting families.
  • Clear My Name: Charley is framed for the arson attack against Queen Sugar, but soon manages to prove that it was actually Frances.
  • Closet Key: It's heavily implied that Octavia was this for Nova.
  • Cool Aunt:
    • Vi is the voice of reason for the Bordelon clan and a maternal figure to the siblings.
    • Nova is this to both her nephews, but she's especially close to Micah. She even invites him to live with her during the week since his new school in Louisiana is much closer to her home than Vi's, where he and his mother live following her separation from his father. Charley forbids it because she doesn't like Nova's neighborhood.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Landry family. Between owning most of the land in the parish and running its only operational mill, they've got a complete stranglehold on the local sugar industry. This quality must have passed through the generations, since the Landrys used to own slaves, including ancestors of the Bordelons. Charley stands up to them, buys a rundown mill that she plans to restore, and gets the small farmers of the parish to side with her.
    • In season 2, they spy on the Bordelons using a drone, make threats against Blue, and hired desperate locals to steal from the farm.
    • In season 3, Charley finds out that they've been forcing farmers off their land as part of a plan to lease that land to the government for a private prison.
    • In season 4, Charley discovers that an energy company, Old World Energy, has been trying to buy up land in St Josephine's Parish to start fracking in the area. When the Landrys surveyed the land for the private prison, they found natural gas and teamed with the Old World Energy to take advantage. They are trying to redirect a proposed highway through St. Josephine's to make the fracking operation go more smoothly.
  • Dark Secret: Prior to The American Civil War, the Bordelons used to be owned as slaves by the Landry family.
  • The Dead Have Names: The Bordelon siblings are shaken after realizing they don't know the names of the two migrant workers who were killed on their property. Charley is hit hardest, since she believes they would have lived if she'd let them go home earlier.
  • Deal with the Devil: Charley decides the best way to destroy the Landys and protect the farmers she works with is by selling her mill for a share of Landy Enterprises. Later she ends up allying with Sam Landry's nephew Jacob Boudreaux and sister Frances Boudreaux, who also want to take him down. Her family and community are all furious when they find out and regard her plan as this.
  • December–December Romance: Prosper and Genevieve, who've known each other for decades, start a relationship in season 4.
  • Deep South: The Bordelons are from the fictional St. Josephine's Parish, Louisiana and Nova lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. Charley lived in Los Angeles in the beginning of the series, but moves to help run the farm.
  • Dreadlock Rasta: Nova wears her hair in long dreadlocks and is a down-to-earth spiritualist and herbal healer. This contrasts her with Charley, who straightens her hair and lived a glamorous, fast-paced lifestyle in L.A.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Ralph Angel drives off and gets wasted after Darla confesses that Blue might not be his biological child.
  • Easily Forgiven: Averted. The Bordelons can really hold a grudge. Ralph Angel and Violet stay angry at Darla for her treatment of Blue while an addict even after she got clean. Charley never forgives Davis for cheating on her. After Nova publishes a tell-all book, it takes months for anyone but Micah to even speak to her. Violet has some personal history with Sam Landry that she still holds against him.
  • False Friend: Octavia tries to steal a writing opportunity from Nova and then pretends otherwise. Nova sees through it immediately.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Ralph Angel, an ex-con who still engages in illegal activity and needs to find a job, is the foolish sibling. Charley, the wealthy sports manager, and Nova, the truth-seeking journalist, are the responsible siblings. Deconstructed because Ralph Angel is fully aware of this dynamic and finds it chafing. He considers his sisters' attempts to help him patronizing and doesn't think they have much faith in him.
  • Foreshadowing: Nova sarcastically calls the Landry estate the "museum of our enslaved ancestors". It turns out the Landry family did once own the Bordelon family as slaves.
    • Frances complains that the men of her family have a "weakness" for black woman. It's later revealed that her grandfather married a black woman who passed for white and her brother Sam has a biracial daughter.
  • Gender Flip: Charley's son Micah was a daughter in the novel.
  • Happily Married: Charley and her husband Davis are a wealthy, famous, and successful couple with a wonderful teenage son who adores them. However things between them become strained when Davis's sex scandal break out and Charley eventually files for divorce after learning about the plight of his mistress.
    • Violet and Hollywood get married in season 3.
  • Heir Club for Men: Ernest left the farm to Ralph Angel, but not the girls.
  • Honorary Uncle: The Bordelon siblings consider their aunt's boyfriend Hollywood to be part of the family, even during their temporary break-up. In season 3 he legally becomes their uncle after marrying Vi.
  • Hourglass Plot: Charley and Nova, by season 4. Charley starts out more concerned about maintain her celebrity lifestyle while Nova is a dedicated activist. In season 4 Nova gets caught up in fame after publishing a best-selling book while Charley is focused on fighting to protect the local farmers from white corporate executives.
  • I Have No Son!: In season 4, Nova includes details of Violet being abused by her ex-husband, Jimmy Dale, in her book without telling Violet. In addition, she went to Jimmy herself to get his side of the story, which resulted in him returning to town to see Violet. After a fight ensued between Jimmy and Hollywood, Violet kicked Nova out of her house, saying she never wants to see her again.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • In season 4 Charley has a Heroic BSoD and runs off to go day drinking in New Orleans without telling anyone. Her family and friends becomes increasingly worried about her safety until Nova finds her.
    • Darla nearly falls Off the Wagon after Leo breaks up with her. Then actually does after realizing she had been sexually assaulted.
  • Internal Reveal: In "Line of Our Elders", Ralph Angel confesses to the rest of the family that he was the only child named in Ernest's will.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Ernest Bordelon and Remy Newell, who are appropriately aged to be father and son. Charley is initially surprised when she meets Remy because she expected him to be much older.
  • In Touch with His Feminine Side: Blue, Ralph Angel's son, plays with a doll named Kenya that he takes everywhere.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Nova is tired of writing shallow reports at her boss's behest and instead launches her own investigation into the racism, inefficiency, and corruption in the NOPD.
  • Irony: The Landry family are a bunch of racists and Frances in particular detests the idea of interracial relationships. It turns out Frances' grandmother was a white-passing black woman, making her technically part black.
  • It's All My Fault: Charley blames herself for the deaths of two migrant workers in her employ. The workers had all wanted to go home, but she told them to work later than planned. The following morning, she found two of them lying dead in the fields and couldn't even identify them.
  • Justified Criminal: Discussed. When a man named Henry Lee is hired by the Landrys to steal from the Bordelons, he's quickly caught by Ralph Angel. Lee claims he only agreed to the theft because he needs to take care of his family and Ralph Angel, having been in a similar position, sympathizes with him. Charley, on the other hand, wants him sent to jail so the Landrys will be exposed and scolds Ralph Angel for being too soft on him.
  • Likes Older Women: Hollywood is much younger than Vi, but he's completely devoted to her.
  • Long-Lost Relative: In season 4, Nova learns that her mother had an estranged cousin that she never knew about.
  • Love Triangle: All three siblings find themselves in one.
    • Nova has a boyfriend named Calvin, but falls for a woman named Chantal.
    • Charley's having a rough patch with her husband Davis and develops feelings for Remy.
    • Ralph Angel has a complicated relationship with Darla, the mother of his son, but has tender moments with Reyna, his son's teacher.
  • Mama Bear:
    • Nova's crusade against the NOPD revolves mainly around the case of a teenager called Too Sweet whom Nova is desperately trying to get released from prison so he can start his life over.
    • Vi doesn't want Darla anywhere near Ralph Angel or Blue after the state she left them in due to her drug addiction.
    • Charley does everything in her power to keep the scandal from touching her son Micah. She also doesn't appreciate Nova interfering in his life without her permission.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Darla cheated on Ralph Angel while on a trip, shortly before she found out she was pregnant with Blue. It's later confirmed that Blue isn't his biological child, but everyone still considers him Ralph Angel's son. The reveal does end Ralph Angel's engagement to Darla, however. Later, Nova publishes the truth about Blue's parentage in her book, which causes one child to tell Blue he doesn't have a "real" daddy.
  • The Mentor: Remy, one of Ernest's old friends, helps the Bordelon siblings learns to run a farm. Interestingly, he's around the same age as them due to his and Ernest's Intergenerational Friendship.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Blue's mother Darla lost custody of him because of her drug abuse, though she's making effort to stay clean and be part of his life.
    • Nova and Ralph Angel's mother died before the start of the series. Charley's mother is often absent because of her busy schedule.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Charley is the product of Ernest's relationship with a white woman.
  • The Mole: Charley becomes this for Landry Enterprises, using her newfound access to the company's records and her fellow board members' secrets in an attempt to destroy it from the inside.
  • Momma's Boy: Charley's son Micah is closer to her than to his father, though he does still care about his dad.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: Among the Landry family, Sam and Jacob may be slimeballs, but Frances is far more cold and calculating.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Nova regrets publishing the book of her family's secrets after seeing the damage it did to Charley.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Charley and Micah didn't make it to the hospital until just after Ernest passed away.
  • Not Me This Time: Sam and Frances both deny responsibility for the arson attack against Queen Sugar, though they aren't exactly torn up about it. Charley later finds out that Frances actually is responsible and has her arrested.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws:
    • Averted with Davis and Ernest, who was his father-in-law. Davis, whose own father was never in his life, saw Ernest as a Parental Substitute and was genuinely grief-stricken when he died.
    • Vi did not get along with Ernest's first wife Lorna and much preferred his second wife True. In fact, Vi left Nova with the impression that Ernest cheated on True with Lorna, which wasn't the case.
    • Ernest hated Vi's ex-husband Jimmy and with good reason. Jimmy abused Vi throughout their marriage and at one point he and Ernest got into a physical altercation over it.
  • Off the Wagon: Darla breaks her sobriety after inadvertently learning that she was sexually assaulted during a party.
  • Ominous Hair Loss: Violet's hairdresser becomes concerned when she notices that Violet's hair is falling out and recommends that she go to a doctor. When she does, Violet gets diagnosed with lupus.
  • One Degree of Separation: Robert DuBois, Nova's love interest in season 2, once played against Davis in college.
  • Parental Neglect: Darla had custody of Blue for a time while Ralph Angel was imprisoned and she was too busy getting high to properly take care of him. The reason Vi didn't want to give legal guardianship of Blue back to Ralph Angel was to make sure Darla would never get her hands on Blue again. Vi does eventually relent.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Vi helps guide her nieces and nephew after her brother's death. She was also Blue's legal guardian for a while during Ralph Angel's incarceration.
    • Ernest was a father figure to both Davis and Remy.
    • Defied with Charley. She point blank tells Davis that she refuses to be a surrogate mother to his daughter.
  • The Patriarch: Ernest Bordelon was the glue that held to whole family together. His death leaves a huge hole in his children's and sister's lives.
  • Platonic Co-Parenting: Siblings Ernest and Violet Bordelon raised Ernest's grandson Blue for a few years because Blue's father Ralph Angel and mother Darla were in prison and dealing with a drug addiction, respectively. Once Ralph Angel and Darla start getting their lives together, they gradually take over parenting responsibilities.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Landrys are racists who never stop trying to make a buck off the suffering of black people. Especially Frances, who is against interracial relationships and calls Charley a "mulatta" who's trying to be white and needs to be "put in her place".
  • Private Profit Prison: In season 3, the Bordelons uncover a plot by the Landrys to force farmers off their land so that land can be used to build a private prison in the parish.
  • Race Against the Clock: The main problem facing the farm in the first season is that the siblings need to get a harvest ready before its too late for anything to grow and the farm loses too much money.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Nova receives one from her former mentor (and lover), an academic named Octavia Laurent, who publicly criticizes her for not including any professional sources in her book and privately called Nova out for only mentioning her once in a single, vague line.
  • The Reveal: Sam and Frances's grandmother was a black woman who managed to pass as white and married into the Landy family. She was a Bordelon by birth.
  • Rich Bitch:
    • Charley to an extent. She rarely goes out of her way to be malicious, but she looks down on sex workers and the poor, can be highly self-centered, and is willing to threaten her best friend to get a deal that'll save the farm.
    • The Landrys are a straight example. See Corrupt Corporate Executive.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The show tends to incorporate recent political and social issues, especially ones affecting the African-American community. In particular, the show focuses heavily on police brutality and corporate greed destroying small towns and rural communities. It also touched on the deportation of undocumented migrants from Latin America following the Trump administration's controversial measures to separate migrant children from their parents/guardians at the American-Mexican border.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Nova and Charley attempts to track down an associate of the Landrys named Parker Campbell. Charley assumes they're dealing with a white man and is shaken to discover that Parker is a black woman — and Sam Landy's daughter.
  • Scenery Porn: Louisiana's lush sugar country is practically an additional character, and absolutely beautiful.
  • Secret Relationship: Nova and Calvin, due to the fact that he's married to another woman. Becomes less secret after he leaves her for Nova.
    • At the start of season 2, Charley and Remy, since she hasn't finalized her divorce from Davis yet. Once she does, they're much more open about it.
  • Shipping Torpedo: Vi was really unhappy about Ernest's relationship with Charley's mother, Lorna, because she thought Lorna was in the way of Ernest and True getting back together. Vi passed this attitude onto Nova, but after Lorna tells Nova the truth about the whole thing, Nova decides to try to stop judging her.
  • Sibling Triangle: There's tension between Nova and Charley in season 3 after Nova starts seeing Charley's ex-boyfriend, Remy.
  • Slut-Shaming: Melina, the woman who accused Davis West and his teammates of raping her, is subjected to this, particularly from Charley. Charley apologizes when she learns that the players did rape her and Davis covered it up.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Nova is vocal activist who trying to change the systematic racism in the local police department. This puts her at odds with her police officer boyfriend, Calvin. Her nephew Micah takes after her in that regard.
    • This is heavily deconstructed in season 4. Nova writes a book about her family's experiences through the lens of social justice, using their personal shortcomings to make a larger point about various social and political issues. Naturally, they're all horrified by what she wrote and take it as a huge betrayal. Ralph Angel accuses her of exploiting them and Charley berates her for making them look like monsters to the whole world. Nova tries to defend her actions by saying their stories are inspirational and will help others, but they all remind her that the book still has negative consequences for them.
  • Spicy Latina: Averted twice.
    • Reyna Velez is a Shrinking Violet schoolteacher who is too shy to let Ralph Angel know she has a crush on him. Especially after he gets back together with Darla.
    • Melina Galoudian is a Latina sex worker, but the show focuses more on the danger and disrespect her job comes with.
  • Spiteful Spit: Nova bumps into a man who recognizes her for her exposé on the criminal justice system in New Orleans. He tries to assault her, prompting Calvin to step in, and then spits in Nova's face.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Nova used to be in a relationship with her professor until she decided to quit academia.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. There are multiple instances of characters seeking help from mental health professionals, such as Ralph Angel and Darla taking Blue to a child psychologist after he learns that Ralph Angel isn't his biological father and Violet getting diagnosed with PTSD from the abuse she endured at the hands of her ex-husband.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Charley while watching Queen Sugar burn.
  • Title Drop: In the season 1 finale, Charley buys a sugar mill so the farm won't be dependent on the Landry mill and she names it "Queen Sugar".
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Nova and Charley, respectively. Nova is surprised when Charley decides to get her hands dirty while taking care of the harvest.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: One of Darla's old friends comes to visit her and it's heavily implied that she encouraged (or at least enabled) Darla's excessive drinking and drug abuse.
  • Transgender: One of Ralph Angel's childhood friends, Toine, is a transgender man who now works as a police officer. When Ralph Angel was first arrested, they saw each other at the station. Toine feared that Ralph Angel would out him and felt grateful that he didn't.
  • Unbalanced by Rival's Kid: Charley is devastated when she learns that Davis fathered a daughter, Tia, with another woman while they were married. Charley has no interest in helping Davis raise her, but she's still kind and sympathetic to Tia.
  • Villainous Crush: Jacob Boudreaux, a Landry despite not having the last name, is romantically interested in Charley.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Charley and Nova are furious after Ralph Angel confesses to hiding the fact that they weren't included in their father's will, letting them believe for months that they had an equal claim to the land and rearrange their lives around it.
    • After Nova publishes a book containing all her family's darkest secrets, the rest of the family (and Darla) becomes extremely angry at her. Violet even refuses to see or speak to her again.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Averted. Lorna, Charley's mother, tries her best to civil to Nova and wants Nova to know how much she admired her (Nova's) mother.
    • Defied by Charley. She doesn't want to be a maternal figure for Davis's illegitimate daughter Tia, but she doesn't have anything against Tia herself. She places full responsibility for the situation on Davis since he's the one who decided to cheat.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Charley becomes enraged when Frances Boudreaux tells her they're Not So Different.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Nova is seeing married man at the start of the series, though they break up halfway through the first season. Toward the end of the season, though, he leaves his family for her and they get back together, only to break up again in season 2.
    • Charley's husband had a mistress named Melina Galoudian. Just prior to the beginning of the season he let his teammates gangrape her and she threatens to go public about their whole affair. To make matters worse, Davis later confesses he's been cheating on Charley with various women for most of their marriage and has a secret illegitimate daughter.
    • Ernest, the Bordelon patriarch, cheated on Nova and Ralph Angel's mother to conceived Charley. She grew up primarily with her mother. Subverted when it's revealed that he and True had actually broken up before he got together with Lorna.
    • Hollywood had a wife the whole time he was with Vi. They had been separated for years, ever since her mental breakdown, but were still technically married.
    • Micah learns that his girlfriend Stella had been cheating on him after nude pictures of another boy were found on her phone.
    • Subverted with Charley and Remy. Despite their mutual attraction, they don't get together until after she files for divorce from her husband.
  • Wham Line: At the end of season 4, episode 7: "The mill's on fire."
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