From the moment this series dropped, commentary and criticism about this episode has been all over Twitter. It’s the moment this series was building to: Nola getting all three of her lovers together. This episode should be the climax of the series but instead it’s a let-down. We don’t learn anything new. The episode ends with a dance number that doesn’t pay off any of the emotional threads of the story and feels like another moment for Spike Lee to indulge in his musical tastes. It’s fun and cute but it feels like a waste of four and a half minutes. That’s valuable time in a season finale that could set up threads for the story to continue to put a bow on the end of the series.
As the man who introduced me to Spike Lee’s films always said “That man doesn’t know how to end a movie.” In this case, he doesn’t know how to end a season of TV.
Watching this episode, I was struck with the biggest problem I’ve had with the entire season. Nola delivers what I believe is a heartfelt speech about her mistakes and being labelled a freak and not wanting to be normal. She then reveals a painting of her three men and their penises. The men are all uncomfortable with her honesty and how she’s handled the whole evening. Everything is centered around her feelings. The men even tell her “We understand…we just don’t like it” and she replies with “That’s for you to deal with.”
Nola rails over and over again through the series and this episode that Greer, Mars, and Jamie are trying to own her or occupy her. They’re telling her she’s not normal. They’re calling her a freak. They’re angry. They’re possessive. Everything she does is just turning their objectification back on them and ain’t it a bitch?
We don’t see any evidence that these men are angry with her or possessive. Either in this episode or the entire series. There’s a few feeble attempts to ask for monogamy but none of the men give her up or even storm out when they see each other Thanksgiving dinner. Throughout this episode, they’re not mad at Nola. They’re uncomfortable, anxious, even a little hurt. Greer, Mars, and Jamie throughout the season have viewed Nola as a person or strived to see her as more than their plaything. By God, Mars kept hunting for the person who was vandalizing Nola’s art and got his sister to give her a free Yoruba cleansing. He, at the very least, doesn’t deserve this.
In the film, Jamie’s desire to possess Nola turns violent with the horrific assault near the end of the film. Not that Jamie’s assault in the film is justified or understandable but it demonstrates what someone like Nola lives in fear of. What is Nola in fear of in the series? It doesn’t have to be violence because we shouldn’t expect our female leads to be subject to constant violence but what are the stakes for her? She says she can’t be embarrassed again if Cheryl cancels another one of Jamie’s checks.
That’s the horror our lead can’t imagine living through? Nola’s righteous snarkiness at the men throughout this episode makes her profoundly unsympathetic and unlikeable. Even when the men question her painting, her response is an insensitive “Well, it’s open to interpretation.” Nola tries to frame her behavior as “acting like a man” but this would all be unacceptable behavior from a man. It’s a lazy excuse to avoid any real reckoning of Nola’s behavior and worldview.
She comes off petulant and I’m left questioning again why these men are so enamored with her and want to be with her. Even in the dance sequence, she seems to pull each man into dancing with her by making the others jealous. This doesn’t seem like a responsible or kind way to practice polyamory. By ambushing them into seeing each other, making them jealous of each other, and ignoring their wants and feelings at every turn. The show has struggled with how likeable or relatable to make Nola and I think it works best when we can roll our eyes at her but feel a strange fondness for her. She shoots right past that and lands squarely on “irritating and mean.” DeWanda Wise can usually balance Nola’s insecurities with her confident façade but the script doesn’t help Wise’s portrayal. She can’t manage Nola’s playfulness.
The creative choices in the episode feel like Spike Lee showing off how creative and boundary pushing he can be. I’ve already mentioned the dance sequence but I didn’t mention that it ends with a Star Wars-style scroll explaining “The It is.” Again, if this show is for Black audiences, why explain something we’ve all been joking about with her families after big meals for years? If this show is for white audiences, is this the part of Black culture we want to make accessible and explain?
After the preposterous (but a little fun) dance sequence, the men leave her bed and it’s understood that they left for good. The final moment of the episode has Nola deliver a monologue again to the camera when she’s interrupted by Opal at the door with a bottle of champagne. What has Nola done to earn Opal’s trust back? Why is Opal constantly shown as an alternative when Nola is sick of men? It’s definitely an improvement from Opal in the film but it’s also a shitty way to portray a same-sex relationship.
The series ends on a confusing note that doesn’t make us enjoy spending time with the protagonist and doesn’t provide any evidence for the central thesis of the show.
- I would like 100 gifs of Anthony Ramos dancing, please.
- The show couldn’t resist one more reference to Rashamon, could it?
- “Raspberry Beret” doesn’t even feel like a thematic match for the emotional stakes of the episode. Did Spike Lee pick it because it’s “the most fun” Prince song?
- Mars’ head on his…head is something that will haunt my nightmares.
- The second Nola tried to make me wait through four Thanksgiving prayers, I would have wrapped my plate in foil and gotten out of there.