Tariq and Kal’s secret relationship on “The L.A. Complex” is complicated enough, considering one of them’s a mega-famous musician and the other’s a struggling creative type trying to make his way in the industry. But add in the fact that they’re both gay men in the notoriously homophobic hip-hop community, and there’s a whole other layer of complication that makes it very hard for our two favorite characters to live in their own skin.
Before you object, yes — that is a broad generalization of a culture — but it’s not unfounded, so let’s agree that homosexuality is looked down upon in certain circles. Why else would closeted hip-hop stars have their own slang term — “on the down-low“?
“A lot of people have been commenting saying ‘Wow, that’s not realistic,
they should come out and be happy together,’ but they can’t,” Benjamin Charles Watson, who plays Tariq, tells Zap2it. “It
doesn’t happen in the hip hop world — it’s not like that. That’s not
the way it is.”
Tariq and Kal have had a difficult journey on their way toward becoming a couple. Kal’s temper didn’t help, and neither did his desperate fear that he’d be discovered. Toward the beginning of the “L.A. Complex” mid-season finale, Tariq and Kal reconcile after Kal menacingly blows up yet again at an innocent bystander (this time the bystander is Tariq’s friend Abby).
“I’m sorry I can’t live the life I want to live,” Kal says when he goes to Tariq’s apartment to plead for forgiveness.
As we saw over the previous five episodes, Kal is continually struggling with his desire to love Tariq and lead a happy life with the man he wants to be his partner, and the terror he feels when he thinks his secret could be revealed.
For the most part, Tariq has been forgiving of Kal’s temper because he
knows the pain he’s in. He doesn’t let him get away with violence
without calling him on it, but Tariq understands the struggle.
But in the final moments of the episode, the now-happy couple discusses a future on the road together before sharing a romantic kiss — that one of Kal’s buddies walks in on. The panic in the rapper’s eyes is evident as he pulls away and begins savagely beating his boyfriend, screaming “faggot” as he kicks him in the stomach. It’s terrifying and heartbreaking at the same time, and extremely painful to watch.
Andra Fuller, who plays Kal, tells Zap2it that it was a struggle to film, too. “That was difficult just to imagine somebody who’s that tortured, to have to result to those drastic measures to protect his secret. When I’m calling him names in that scene, Kal is talking to himself.”
He continues: “That was pain. I tried to let you see the pain in his eyes as he was punching him.”
The pain is evident — but is this incident the final straw for Tariq? While we won’t find out how the relationship fares until the show returns for the second half of Season 1 at some point this summer, it’s easy to see it both ways. Tariq could forgive Kal and it would be completely in character.
“Tariq is the type of guy that when he sees — everyone will see one way out of the problem, but Tariq sees multiple ways out of the problem. He’s so goal-oriented and career-minded that when the love happens he gets flustered and he’s just trying to balance love and career, what he wants so badly. He’s one challenging, awesome dude to play,” Watson says.
But on the other hand, just because Tariq can understand Kal’s actions doesn’t mean he should forgive them. Tariq’s not established in the industry, but being outed could hurt his career too — Kal acts as if he’s the only one with his professional reputation at stake. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that it’s truly hard to imagine a world in which it’s okay to forgive someone for beating the crap out of you, even if it did come from a scared, hurt, conflicted place.
Although it’s a painful situation for both men, perhaps this is the incident that will allow Tariq to stand up for himself and Kal to realize that he needs to stop pushing away the man he loves. (And, you know, that you can’t beat people up without consequences. And that violence in every bad situation is a really terrible knee-jerk response.) Losing Tariq would teach him an invaluable lesson — we can only wait and see if Tariq feels the same way.
Check out more of Fuller discussing Kal and Tariq’s relationship in the video below, then weigh in: Should Tariq forgive Kal? Is there a way past this incident for the couple?