It was only a matter of time until Grace made it to the pulpit, despite the fact that Bishop Greenleaf is the only person who wants her there. She greets the congregation with a simple “Good morning, Calvary,” bringing to mind the film Good Morning, Vietnam and the story of someone who hopes to bring a bit of joy in the midst of war, whose methodology rubs others the wrong way because it is not traditional enough. The settings of the Vietnam War and a southern black church could not be further from each other, but Grace constantly finds herself in the midst of battles with her family and congregants as she tries to set right various wrongs. Many characters would prefer she just leave things alone, but she feels compelled to help, even if her way isn’t the safe way.
Grace has begun meetings for Sisters of Tamar, her support group for survivors of sexual assault. In the Bible, Tamar was twice-widowed because her husbands had displeased God so He killed them. Talk about a vengeful god. Judah, the father of the late husbands, was concerned that Tamar was cursed and refused to have her marry his next son, even though he had pledged her to him. Tamar later pretended to be a prostitute to trick Judah into sleeping with her and she became pregnant with twins. Judah saved Tamar from being burned for promiscuity because he reasoned he had not honored the promise of his third son to her — and therefore, she was more righteous.
Despite the details of this biblical tale, found in Genesis 38, the connection between Tamar and the women who have survived sexual assault seems murky. Tamar willingly had sex with her father-in-law to fulfill her womanly duties of procreation and continue Judah’s line. Perhaps it’s because she was almost burned for her sexuality, but deemed to be the one in the right? If any biblical scholars have theories, leave them in the comments!
At Sisters of Tamar, a woman named Stacy shares the story of childhood abuse at the hands of her stepfather. After the meeting ends, her husband Cole snaps at her to hurry. He clearly doesn’t like her talking with Grace, and later, his dislike become violent. He beats up Stacy, saying she shouldn’t talk about her past. He thinks it makes him look bad for being with someone like her. In the wake of that assault, Grace and Kevin help find Stacy and her children a place to stay, but she goes back to her husband. Grace, who couldn’t come up with a sermon, sees Stacy and Cole in the congregation and abandons her safe route. Bothered by her own helplessness with preventing abuse, Grace turns to Job 3:26: “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, only turmoil.”
The episode ends with Grace citing the verse. We don’t get to see her sermon, but perhaps that is for the best. So far, the sermons have been some of the weakest elements of Greenleaf. It doesn’t appear that Calvary is a fire-and-brimstone church. Bishop Greenleaf is too charismatic to yell that his congregation is going to hell, but the few sermons that we have seen are clearly more interested in preaching to the show’s storyline without giving us stronger examples of what makes 4,000 congregants follow Bishop Greenleaf every Sunday.
Grace’s Bible verse selection makes Lady Mae, already cautious of her daughter’s sermon, sit up with attention. She accuses Bishop of putting Grace at that pulpit to punish her for Faith’s death; in a previous scene, she warns Grace to direct her sermon toward the institution of the church, and not a personal attack against the Greenleaf family.
Of course, Lady Mae’s inner turmoil is not the only bit of anxiety in the family: Charity hires a new choir director who confirms he’s gay. He doesn’t want any problems, especially since his partner will attend services. Kevin is uncomfortable with the idea of an openly gay choir director. It’s one thing for everyone to know, but it’s another to be proud and openly discuss sexuality. Meanwhile, Kevin is still scrolling through gay dating apps. The show needs to get to the denouement of Kevin’s story. When will he be caught in the arms of another man? Until then, this subplot is a bit boring. It’s unworthy of the amount of time it’s getting.
Jacob knows he needs to prove himself to get reinstated in church business, so he hopes to strike a television deal with new friend Greg. Under the terms of the deal, Greg’s network would air Bishop Greenleaf’s sermons. Greg agrees to consider such a deal if Kerissa and Jacob spend the night with him and his wife, away from the Greenleaf household, where they all can enjoy a hot tub and whatever else may happen. That’s one way to seal a deal. Jacob, turned on by the thought that someone else making a move on Kerissa, tries to be affectionate with her but she rejects his advances. She agrees to the swingers’ night of hot-tub action if that’s what it will take to get Jacob back in Bishop’s good graces, but he can’t go through with it. Despite all the times he’s cheated, Jacob tells Kerissa that he may not be perfect, but he can’t stand the idea of someone else touching her. Kerissa falls for his chest-thumping possessiveness and they end up making love. Shortly before Grace preaches, Lady Mae sees Jacob and Kerissa happy together and promises she will protect them from whatever Grace has in store.
Meanwhile, Bishop Greenleaf talks to Mavis about Grace’s revenge plans against Mac. The two share a moment that might explain why Mavis and Mae are not very sisterly with each other. Bishop confesses that when he’s with Mavis, he wonders if he’s missing the life he’s supposed to have, like a person who missed a train. Mavis soothes him by saying more trains come along all the time. And earlier, Lady Mae scolds Bishop for not forgiving Jacob the way he forgave himself. Has Bishop stepped out on Lady Mae before? And was it with her own sister? This is the kind of juiciness that Greenleaf needs. Building up Grace’s return to the pulpit and her plan to take down Mac is fine, but if this show wants to keep its audience, we need more of Lady Mae’s backstory.
At the midway point of the season, that’s the biggest obstacle for Greenleaf to overcome: It takes itself more seriously than it should. It needs to lean into its inner soap opera and let it all hang out. To be fair, it’s tackling some very serious topics, like intimate partner violence and sexual assault, but the show comes alive any time Lynn Whitfield is on screen. She is a master of resting bitch face until it’s time to charm someone into doing things her way, then her mask breaks into a sickly sweet smile no one can resist. We need to see Lady Mae and Mavis together. We need to find out why they are so distant. And if it has to do with Bishop, then … whoa. That is classic soap-opera goodness right there. Greenleaf should embrace it, if only to let us see Whitfield and Oprah Winfrey chew every last bit of scenery.