Tonight, Being Mary Jane was an ode to Black History Month. You could bullet-point all the nods to black history and civil rights leaders that were featured in this episode, because that is how many of the scenes in this episode seemed to be introduced. It was as though the show had a list of topics that needed to be addressed within the 45-minute storyline and we just went down them one at a time, without any cohesion.
Ever so conveniently, Kara uses Ronda’s own cock-blocking ways in M.J.’s favor, scoring them both a trip to Atlanta to cover a Thurgood Marshall gala. Great, we can catch up with M.J.’s family and Kara’s sons, storylines that are hard to keep up with when the main characters are miles away.
M.J. is warmly greeted at home and immediately offers to cancel her hotel stay because Treyvion is acting up at school. Treyvion, who is much discussed but never appears in this episode, has been having nightmares since his mother, Niecy, was assaulted by the cops while he was in the car. He’s now taken to biting kids in school; it’s mentioned several times, but we never delve into why the family has so strongly resisted the obvious need for therapy.
Then—surprise!—Lee shows up at M.J.’s parents’ house while on the phone with M.J. as she coolly solves a Rubik’s Cube. Yup, just like that. Mary Jane is delighted, and her relationship with Lee is just going easy-breezy beautifully, which is such rare form for M.J. Did the encounter with and subsequent rejection by the millionaire matchmaker whip her into shape that much?
Lee is charmingly doing the most by enamoring M.J.’s family at the dinner table. Niecy, who just dropped her sniveling baby daddy No. 2 last week, seems to have gained heightened senses in sniffing out who is the right man for her auntie. No worries—Lee breezes through almost every encounter, melting away any resistance with personal anecdotes. Maybe life really is easier with a British accent.
At dinner, Lee takes an unnecessarily big bite of the hog’s head cheese made from scratch by Paul Sr. Lee glides smoothly into the next scenes of him bonding with M.J.’s father while preparing the cheese and hearing the recipe’s connection to the resilience of black slaves. Is it worth nothing that hog’s head cheese, a cold cut with absolutely no cheese at all, is a European dish? OK, understood; it was just the vehicle to give a Black History Month lesson. Okra stew or black-eyed peas weren’t available.
After Lee finishes bonding with Paul Sr., he introduces his 22-centimeter-long (that’s 8.66 inches, if you’re wondering), rock-solid eggplant emoji to Momma Helen when she accidentally walks in on him in the family room while he’s waiting for M.J. to sneak down from Treyvion’s room. Shall we survey the room and see how many of us saw that coming from over the mountain and through the valley of clichéd storylines?
Ms. Helen is very serious about her separate-room policy and gives an unsolicited take on Mary Jane’s empty egg cartons and cracked eggs, because M.J. is almost 40, and the best way to encourage your child’s relationship is to chastise her about her uterus.
At the Thurgood Marshall gala, we get cameos from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; the first African-American United Nations ambassador, Andrew Young; and civil rights leader C.T. Vivian, all of whom give brief interviews to M.J. on the important legacy of Marshall. Beautiful moments indeed.
Vladimir Frederick, a colleague of M.J.’s, is a lukewarm version of her nemesis, Justin. He is consistently condescending to an unfazed M.J., almost to the point where it’s overdone and obnoxious even for someone who is narcissistic. Judge McCallister, a U.S. Supreme Court nominee at the gala, becomes the prime target of a competition between M.J. and Vlad: Who can land an interview with the judge, who has been turning everyone down? Well, typically, Supreme Court nominees do not give interviews prior to confirmation, since they’re barely willing to answer specific questions at their Senate confirmations. But let’s do this for the premise, which allows Lee to set up the perfect alley-oop by distracting Vlad, giving M.J. the opportunity to speak with McCallister.
The British accent works magic, at least until Vlad manages to hit Lee’s sweet, insecure spot by claiming that Mary Jane is a self-absorbed, only-out-for-her-own-gain woman. M.J. makes the smarter play of sliding in with the judge’s wife, who is a fan of Ronda’s. Hopefully the maneuver doesn’t end with Ronda landing the interview. Oh, it can’t be that obvious.
At the end of the night, in the most farcelike way, Vlad decides to kick up his condescension to absurd levels by making flagrant sexual gestures at Mary Jane in front of Lee. The magic of the British accent evaporates and Lee takes a step back and swings a hard right hook into Vlad’s face. Now the part-time Justin has served his purpose and can leave with a bloody nose.
In a scene reminiscent of the first episode of the season, we find Lee asking M.J., “What do you want?” and M.J., for a second time—though in a less comfortable physical location but much more comfortable emotional space—asks him to say he loves her. Damn Momma Helen for making them have to do the grown-up in the back of an old pickup truck.
To close out the episode, we find out that Helen gave up a singing career to become a wife, and that random call about the death of Redd Turner earlier in the episode was from a man she had recorded music with. At the end of his stand-up-comedy set, Lee invites Ms. Helen onstage to sing. Ms. Helen, who quickly pulled out a new wet-and-wavy bob, shows just enough shoulder to be completely ready to find her singing voice again. Ms. Helen can always pull it together, even when the plot of the episode is rather bumpy.
For now, Niecy isn’t giving us any cause for prayer (thank God!), so we can pray that Ms. Helen’s rediscovery of her voice isn’t a forewarning to Mary Jane to sabotage her relationship with Lee in the name of career endeavors, and that things overall are a little less cliché and obvious to the viewer. Missing a lot of nuance and Mara.