Surprise, surprise, I’ll be doing reviews of the second season of OWN Tv’s Greenleaf. Thank god for the marketing push that had me spend my whole weekend obsesses, absorbed with watching the first season of Greenleaf on Netflix. It is that good. And since Being Mary Jane was so damn wacktastic this season (you can still catch my reviews of that on TheRoot.com), I decided Greenleaf would be a great time to review and pick my skills up in time for the second season of Insecure which comes back to HBO on June 23rd. So much good TV. I am delighted to see so many Black faces beautifully shot on my TV screen.
A quick recap of the first season and all that points that resonated the most with me. The book of Job is a running theme throughout Greenleaf, as peril befalls the family that oversees a megachurch (Calvary) and lives under one roof of a small mansion in the suburbs of Memphis, Tenn. The series features master performances by Lynn Whitfield, who plays Mae, the Greenleaf matriarch, and Merle Dandridge, who plays Grace Greenleaf, the prodigal daughter who has returned after 20 years to upend a family full of deep secrets.
Grace was once a powerful preacher in her family’s church and a favorite of the parishioners, and when she finally returns to the pulpit, she gives a rousing sermon based on Job 3:26. Job has cursed his life and lamented, “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest only turmoil” (NIV). Grace’s sermon goes on to be the most profitable service for Calvary, where the theology walks the line of prosperity preaching led by Greenleaf patriarch Bishop James, who is charmingly sly in manipulating the holy word to bend towards his materialistic needs. It was so frustrating to watch every member of the holier-than-thou Greenleaf clan use Grace as the scapegoat, though their indignant self-righteousness helps the show to craftily address complex issues that we face daily and commonly sweep under the rug.
The son, Jacob, is caught in his affair with Bishop’s (white) assistant; his wife forgives him in order to keep Grace from stopping his ascent into pastorhood, because infidelity isn’t a boulder on that path. Uncle Mac’s ability to cover up and get away with his indiscretions and sexual abuse of young women, belies a tangled web of efforts by the Greenleafs to ascend and profit from their church. Turns out Bishop isn’t so upright after all. The downfall of Mac, which causes the saintlike facade of the Greenleaf family to come undone, falls squarely on Grace’s shoulders.
Grace could be the one person to take her on, but she always demurs to her mother. Why doesn’t Grace constantly absorb and eat the blame everyone places on her? Greenleaf also highlights how the push toward Christian forgiveness can be twisted to keep a beaten woman silent, while the mother of an abused daughter so believes in the sanctity of her church that she forgives everyone’s silence and not only continues as a member but also works for the church, is what keeps Greenleaf intriguing and keeps it inspiring important discussions. GIRL!
Now to the first episode of season two, Mac is out of jail because he threw Bishop under the bus by getting Mae’s father, Henry, to reveal that fire that burned down the Greenleaf’s first church was set on purpose. This fire also killed a church worker, Darryl James, who was not suppose to be in the building at the time that Henry set the fire. I’m hoping that the show doesn’t veer off too far into Perry-esque melodrama with it being revealed that rival pastor Bansie Skanks, what a name, is son of Darryl James – that really felt like a dream sequence, I don’t know how much I trust it.
To my early question about Grace always absorbing the blame, Mae’s frustration with Grace and her sister Mavis makes a bit more sense now that we know Henry sexually abused her a child. That whole scene in the nursing home was creeptastic and depressing. But Mae is able to use her father’s incestial lust to convince him to not testify about the fire, moving the D.A. to drop the case against the Bishop. Mae, in all her complicated layers is my favorite character on this show, because I want to throw so much disdain at her and judge her, but I love Lynn Whitfield’s performance. I also love the relationship between Zora (love the name too) and Grace’s daughter. Sophia, Wait, in this love fest I think I love Zora’s fro even more.
It is most exciting to see the development of the relationship between the daughter Charity; her musical director, Carlton; and her husband, Kevin. It’s a hoot to see TC Carson from a Living Single play Carlton’s husband Reggie. Albeit cliche to have the music director of the church be a Black gay man because this storyline has been tackled. However, there is Charity’s husband, who is battling with his own sexuality, though he has never acted on it. Charity, lost one twin but had has now given birth to a baby boy and she claims acceptance of all people because “we’re all humans.” Super close to Carlton and his husband, to the derision of the church deacons, she is refusing to work with her husband, Kevin, on any level. It’s a precarious way to highlight how we box in men’s sexuality and the lack of of self-acceptance they are taught. Charity appears to be accepting and acknowledges that you cannot pray the gay away, but in reality, she’s unwilling to talk to or hear Kevin out at all. Yet she’s running into the arms of Carlton and Reggie.
It will be interesting to see where this goes, with Kevin putting himself in therapy that he swears is not conversion therapy and vehemently claiming he wants to be with his wife, even after acknowledging – do we say he’s gay, is sexuality for men that absolute of a binary? Kevin’s storyline can and will confront a lot of complicated questions, I’m interested to see how Greenleaf handles it. We notoriously respect the talents but not the humanity of black gay men, and as the deacon board makes noise about Carlton’s marriage, it will be great to see Greenleaf do what it does best: allow the self-righteous to pull back the rug and tackle the underbelly of the symbiotic ways of the black family and church.
P.S. Did you catch that sly remark from Mavis about Bishop cockblocking what he can’t have? Do they have a past?! Clutch my pearls!