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A dour and unbelievable plotline sucks all the fun out of She’s Gotta Have It

Illustration for article titled A dour and unbelievable plotline sucks all the fun out of iShe’s Gotta Have Item/em/i
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In the first two episodes of She’s Gotta Have It, we’re told by Jamie, Greer, and Mars that Nola is a freak and a sex addict. In “#LBD (LITTLE BLACK DRESS),” her therapist says that she’s insatiable. Her therapist says that Nola is wrestling with the question “Do I have to give up an essential part of my self-expression in order to survive?” This is certainly a worthwhile question to tackle in a series but it doesn’t feel like it’s the question being tackled in this series.


When it comes to Nola’s art, the only thing standing in the way of her self-expression is graffiti. The episode opens with Mars leading Nola to a set of her posters that were defaced by someone named Onyx. Naturally, he drew dicks all over the posters and wrote misogynistic slurs. Nola’s reaction is to immediately crumble. She collapses into Mars’ arms. But in her opening monologue, she tells Onyx and the haters to watch the fuck out.


Watch out for what? What tools does Nola have to get revenge or reclaim her power in this situation? It’s not clear if she has any. Her therapist’s assessment of her that she’s fragile and hiding behind a self-protective armor. As we peel back that armor, the only thing that’s left is a completely insecure and anxious woman. (It’s also naïve to assume that putting anything on a city wall wouldn’t be defaced.) Nola seems stunned that her art would provoke a reaction even though it’s an act of protest.

Nola claims to be unhappy and confused in her relationships. She claims that all three of her relationships are threatened by her sexuality but do we see any proof of that?

All of her men are turned on by her and excited by her. They may be momentarily embarrassed or uncomfortable the situation but when you remember that Jamie is going through a separation, his discomfort makes sense. Mars seems to be the one with the deepest feelings for her. He only defends her against another guy in the crowd after Nola rejects him. And Greer? Someone needs to develop his character immediately.

What’s giving me pause from completely enjoying She’s Gotta Have It is that the show doesn’t seem to understand that Nola can have fun with her body and her sexuality. Her body and her sex life feel like a burden for her.


If Nola is supposed to be having passionate and casual relationships with these dudes, she’s relying on them emotionally like you would a serious monogamous partner. Instead of Nola trying to find Onyx herself, she happily lets Mars handle it and cries on his shoulder. With Jamie, she repeatedly asks if he’s leaving his wife. If you’re having an affair with a married man who takes care of you financially and your relationship and character are based on your insatiable sex drive, you wouldn’t be asking him when he’s leaving his wife. These don’t appear to be casual, open relationships. Nola demands that these men can’t ask her questions and refuses to commit to them but relies on them for her emotional needs.

The main plot of the episode is about Nola following a directive from her therapist to go do something for herself and buying a very expensive black dress. She wears the dress out on three dates with her three men. By the end of each date, she’s offended and upset that they each have a reaction to the dress. First of all, it’s not even that extreme or revealing of a dress. It’s something you could find at Forever21 or bebe. In this episode, she’s put off that the three men she’s in relationships with are interested in sleeping with her.


And this isn’t to say that a relationship is blanket consent or that sometimes you just aren’t feeling it but Nola is either continuing to have a post-trauamtic response to her attack or she’s just a mouthpiece to deliver long-winded and indignant monologues about how she can wear whatever she wants! Again, she sounds like a angry teenager who can’t wear her favorite dress to prom rather than a confident, empowered woman. And if she’s having a traumatic response to the assault, that isn’t being explored nearly enough.

Besides, who are these monologues for? Anyone watching a show about a supposedly empowered woman maintaining three sexual relationships probably has a working definition of feminism. We don’t need these. Nola doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself when she’s delivering them in her relationships and I’m not either. Why can’t the show allow Nola to enjoy herself? I’d certainly have a better time if it did.


Stray Observations:

  • There is no way in hell that dress would cost over $500. This felt a bit like Lucille Bluth guessing how much a banana costs.
  • The scene with her therapist rang true for a first experience with a therapist. Simultaneously trying to present a stable image while being on the verge of tears the whole time.
  • The best chemistry on the show is between Nola and Mars and Nola and Clo. The shopping scene between the two girls felt so natural and easy I wanted an entire episode of it. And it makes total sense that Mars prays to Michael Jordan.
  • After almost an entire episode about Shemekka and her plastic surgery woes, we get one scene of her easily getting the money? What kind of awkward pacing in this?
  • The writers keep letting Nola list “classic films” rather than develop a personality or inner life. What 27 year-old black girl is hung up on Terms of Endearment?

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Ali Barthwell is a wearer of fine lipstick and fine hosiery.

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