The next sentence is going to sound outrageous and might even offend and confuse some readers. Nola Darling is a Hannah Horvath and that’s a good thing. In “#LuvIzLuv (SEXUALITY IS FLUID)”, we get to see Nola for who she really is. She’s an educationally privileged, emotionally messy and selfish wannabe artist, receiving help from her parents and avoiding responsibility. The show is more successful and compelling when Nola becomes a person and not a representation of Black liberated womanhood.

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Shows like Insecure and Girls rely on likable unlikable women to drive the plot. It’s just as fun to roll our eyes at her and bury our head in our hands when she messes up what could be a successful relationship than to snap our fingers at some proclamation about The Black Female Form. It’s certainly way more fun than rolling our eyes at the words of a 60 year-old coming out of the mouth of a 27 year-old. Surprisingly, the character is more effective as someone we love to hate. Like so many characters this episode, I’m growing tired of Nola’s bullshit and that’s actually captivating.

Nola puts herself on a radical self-care cleanse, a mish-mash of millennial wellness catch phrases. Nola is swearing off social media, weed, alcohol and men but she’s not giving up sex. So we meet a former flame of Nola’s, Opal Gilstrap. Opal owns a nursery and has a daughter. She’s yet another lover of Nola’s that’s more established and has her life together and Nola storms back into Opal’s world and disrupts it.

The contrast of Nola’s unpredictable “bohemian” lifestyle with Opal’s life full of responsibility is a story line that is has a lot of potential. You can see Nola attempting to make things right with Opal but her bad habits and her immaturity get in the way. It makes Nola someone to root for and wonder what her happy ending looks like or if she’s capable of getting it together. That’s easier to explore than grand notions of self-expression or the Black female form.

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One of the most emotional moments in the episode is when Nola arrives late to Opal’s house after promising her daughter that she would cook dinner with them. Nola offers Opal commitment as a way to patch up after their fight. Nola knows that if she offered it to any of her men, they would forgive her for any and all transgressions so she tries the strategy on Opal. Being part of a lesbian couple with a “turkey baster” daughter would give Nola unconventional artist’s life she seems to imagine is in the cards for her but Opal isn’t buying it. Nola even attempts to use her artistic success in an attempt to hold onto Opal.

In the film, Opal is a predatory lesbian who is interested in turning straight girls. Ilfenesh Hadera plays Opal like the sophisticated 30-something that every 27 year-old floundering artist would see as a stable, loving force. Hadera is kind and sexy and gives her performance some weight even though it’s a pretty thankless part. It helps that there’s no doubt why someone like Opal wouldn’t be eager to rush into a serious relationship with Nola.

The episode also benefits from an ease that comes from stripping away the overworked dialogue and letting these characters breathe. There are still touches of that Spike-Lee-ness like when Opal’s daughter says her mother “eats the unborn eggs of caged birds.” It might surprise to some of the fine people who comment on internet reviews but I do enjoy Lee’s work and his dialogue. The previous episodes went too far to show off how hip and funky-fresh the writers were but this episode scaled it back and we got a better sense of who these people are.

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Nola talks about her frustrations with her work and her limitations without grand proclamations about capital-A Art and it makes for more engaging dialogue and makes the subject more relatable to the casual viewer. Lee still manages to shove in references to his favorite African-American artists. Creative people trying to create is a staple of television. The more successful examples of “creative people creating” are more about the personal limitations of the characters rather than having one artist be a mouthpiece about Art.

The episode struggles a bit with trying to tell us that Nola is impulsive and selfish because as the characters react to Nola, they claim that her fluid sexuality is a product of her selfishness. She describes herself as pansexual but her friends call her greedy and she can’t stick to anything for too long. Opal calls her a “try-sexual who will try anything once.” This is a cringe-worthy way to deal with a character’s pansexuality or bisexuality. There is enough evidence of Nola’s flaws without bringing her sexuality into it.

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The show still doesn’t know what to do with Shemekka or any of the other characters when they’re actively interacting with Nola. We see Shemekka get chewed out by Fat Joe’s character and Greer runs into Nola and Opal but it amounts to nothing. Using more of the cast each episode would make the episodes feel more balanced. The show also seemed to wrap up Nola and Opal’s storyline rather neatly. I would have loved a few more episodes as Nola tried to navigate this relationship.

Overall, this episode feels more like what the rest of the season could be and I hope the series continues to explore Nola’s flaws rather than The Message.


Stray Observations:

  • Raquletta Moss, the teacher who chews Nola out is dressed just like Peppermint’s character from the pilot challenge on RuPaul’s Drag Race and they have the same wig.
  • So, Papo is definitely going to be arrested or die now that we know he went to school with Nola and ended up on the street because of The System.
  • Nola is praying to Oshun, a goddess present in the Ifá and Yoruba religions. So many some of Mars’ sister’s teaching stuck. She rules over rivers, pleasure, sexuality and love. She’s often shown wearing yellow. So that yellow dress in Lemonade? Oshun.
  • I miss Mars.

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