When Snowfall last left off at the end of season four, the true identity of Franklin’s CIA cocaine supplier Reed Thompson had been exposed by Franklin’s father, Franklin’s inner-circle were questioning his leadership, and viewers enter the new phase of Franklin’s drug reign with more questions than answers.
Before we see Franklin Saint or any of the fictional characters from the Snowfall universe in the season five premiere, the episode places us in the room which helped start President Ronald Reagan’s racist War on Drugs. In a dorm room, we see NBA prospect Len Bias celebrating being drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft, and anyone who knows his history knew what was going to happen next. Soon after snorting cocaine, Bias collapses on the couch, and later the most popular player from the ‘86 NBA Draft was dead. Instead of Snowfall’s writers recreating the national reaction to Bias’s death as the focal point of the season premiere, they expertly alluded to its cultural pervasiveness while simultaneously exposing cracks in Franklin’s fictitious empire as Bias’s real-life death led to more national attention on the crack-cocaine epidemic in America.
The first time we see mention of Bias’s death in Snowfall is on a news report playing on the television in Leon’s home right before he has to discipline one of his drug dealers who stole from him in order to buy a pair of Air Jordan 1 sneakers. We never hear Leon’s crew explain to him the infraction when they come into his home while the news report is playing; we only hear the news anchor mention how Bias’s death is leading to a larger investigation. The same is true five minutes later in the episode when Franklin sees Bias’s death on the front page of The Washington Post, and proceeds to let out stress on his home punching bag. Both instances convey the idea of an impending storm brewing for Franklin’s cocaine empire now that the deleterious effects of his drug-dealing have escaped the neglected traumas of the inner-city and made its way to national news.
The episode doesn’t delve deep into the ramifications of Bias’s death, but its repeated mentioning of it in the first half of the episode foreshadows what’s to come. Four months after Bias’s actual death swept the nation, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed into law The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which called for life imprisonment for anyone whose dealing of drugs led to the death of someone. It effectively instituted a cultural war against Black people and has been commonly referred to as the Len Bias Law. Up until season five, Franklin’s biggest adversaries in the drug game have been other dealers. But, the inclusion of Bias’s death in the season five premiere feels foreshadowing for Franklin being forced to defend his immense drug kingdom from the invading forces of the U.S. government, especially given the racial makeup of the victims of his drug trade changing.
In Snowfall, Rob Volpe is a young white man Franklin enlists to help sell his cocaine in the predominantly white Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles without detection. Volpe is key to Franklin’s empire reaching beyond the inner city, but in the season five premiere, it brings more national attention to the drug trade in Los Angeles after one of Volpe’s white friend murders another young white man at Volpe’s cocaine-fueled house party. Franklin finds out about the murder from a news report on TV, even though we’ve seldom seen the Black casualties of the drug game in L.A. broadcasted on the news in Snowfall. The fact Franklin finds out about a death attached to Volpe moments after reading about Bias’s death is a national news publication is Snowfall showing us how the lives of celebrity athletes and affluent white kids are more valuable than the Black bodies the L.A. drug trade was built on. And it shows how the bigger Franklin’s empire gets, the harder it is for him to control who gets his product and how they use it.
The season five premiere inches Franklin Saint from out of the shadows of the inner-city closer to the national stage as the cocaine epidemic begins killing white people.