I must admit: This season finale surprised me. I’ve worried about Greenleaf falling too often into the familiar arms of soap operas, but “What Are You Doing Here?” ends with a lit fuse instead of a bang, tempting us with the possibilities of an explosive second season. I respect that. It leaves the audience more intrigued than shocked, which may do a lot to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Major hat of the tip to Greenleaf’s writers for leaving us with a slow burn.
Speaking of hats, Lady Mae preaches about the Virtuous Woman at her Women’s Day program, to an audience of women decked out in beautiful, colorful, wide-brimmed hats. Almost every woman wears some elaborate decoration over her hair, as is based in black church tradition, and it is both funny and sweet to see such a tribute. Lady Mae gives a rousing sermon on how only a virtuous woman can save Calvary from the drama brought by men to the church — a careful nod to Mac’s crimes, the recent shootings, and looming financial upheaval. Lady Mae literally points to herself during her sermon, but the women in the audience believe Grace will be the church’s savior. They stand and applaud in Grace’s direction, giving her their implicit support and sending Lady Mae into shocked silence. The Greenleaf daughter has stolen her mother’s shine, whether she intended it or not.
Later, Bishop seeks Grace out to talk about what happened. It appears all is forgiven between them, which is confusing. Did they just need to confront their issues? Was that it? Regardless, Grace says that she is thinking about moving back to Phoenix to be closer to Sophia, so Bishop comes clean about his health. He has Parkinson’s disease. His current treatment plan works well enough, but he knows he can’t continue preaching for more than a few years. He wants Grace to rise to her calling, to stay in Memphis and return to preaching. Grace agrees. She has finally come home.
Grace may not have an active mothering role while Sophia is away, but she certainly acts as caretaker for others. Henry McCready, father of Mavis, Mae, and Mac, has returned. He tells Grace that since she got his son locked up, she has to take care of him. At his apartment, Grace sees his numerous pills bottles and realizes he’s dying. After she sets him up in a hospice, he gives her some of that slow-burning information that’s set to explode in season two — and it might explain what Mac has on Bishop. Many years ago, when Grace was still very young, someone died in a church fire. Henry claims that fire was no act of God, and the implication hangs in the air that Bishop was involved. Based on her steely, determined look, it’s clear Grace will have a new mystery to solve next season.
And that’s fine! Maybe this investigation will expand Grace’s character. Through this season, she’s been overshadowed by the powerhouses of Lady Mae and Bishop. We’re not really sure how Grace came to be the savior everyone thinks she is. Bishop claims he knows her because he knows himself, but do we, the audience, know Grace as well as we should? It would be great to learn more about what makes her character tick, beyond a vague sense of justice.
When Grace steps up to preach again, Lady Mae is clearly tense, unsure what her daughter will say. Grace begins her sermon by acknowledging the crimes Mac committed and asking for a moment of silence to recognize those who came forward, those who have not, and those who are no longer alive to tell their stories. Grace stresses that the time for silence is over, that everyone must do their part to report abusers. Lady Mae reaches for Bishop’s hand, her face a stony mask of guilt, blame, and anger.
After Grace’s sermon, Lady Mae goes to confront Mavis. It’s the confrontation Greenleaf has been building up to all season. Lynn Whitfield! Oprah! It’s about to go down.
Lady Mae blames Mavis for bringing Grace back and stirring up old demons. Mavis shoots back that Lady Mae knew all along about Mac, that she should’ve reported him to the police when Grace first told her 20 years ago. Lady Mae counters that Mavis is a “childless whore” who knows nothing about being a parent, but Mavis refuses to be shut down. Although Lady Mae jabs her finger at Mavis and flings her hair with the force of a thousand soap-opera divas, Mavis fires back by insisting Mae knew and did nothing. Once again, Lady Mae is silenced. When Mavis demands she leave, Lady Mae has no syrupy comeback. Her head is high, but her silence is sharp.
In an interview I did with Whitfield, she pointed out that Lady Mae is haunted by Faith’s death and constantly wonders what she could’ve done differently. Mavis knows Lady Mae’s weak spot and digs in. When Grace watches Sophia leave with her father, Lady Mae tells her, “Now you know how I feel … every day.” Lady Mae guards her feelings closely, and as such, she’s seen as icy, but it’s clearly a survival mechanism. Later, when Mac arrives at the Greenleaf house with a sheriff’s escort, free from jail, he silently kisses his sister on the cheek. She lets out a whimper of pain before quickly silencing herself. Lady Mae knows it is a “kiss of death,” Mac’s own version of Michael Corleone kissing Fredo. Mac and the police enter the house, with Bishop looking down from the window. Have they come to collect Bishop for whatever crime Mac has on him? We’ll find out when Greenleaf returns next season.
As for the rest of the gang, Kevin shows Grace a digital brochure about a program called Fortitude for Families, which sounds like some kind of anti-gay conversion program. Kevin explains it’s there to help people in his “situation.” Charity surprised me with her response: “You are what you are. You can’t change that.” He asks her to read through the material, and she does, but she eventually decides they need time apart. Though he’s distraught, he understands. Kevin really loves Charity, and I don’t understand why he doesn’t try to examine whether he may be bisexual. Maybe part of his discomfort comes from trying to think only in terms of gay or straight. He doesn’t seem to know that sexuality comes in more than two orientations. I’ve been rolling my eyes at this predicament all season, but I appreciate how well Tye White has played Kevin’s emotional upheaval, especially after he admitted his confusion to Charity.
Rounding things out, Bishop Skanks buys the plot across from Calvary and asks Jacob to lead at the Christian community center that he’s building there. (The deputy mayor sold the plot at a loss, seemingly to spite Bishop, and Skanks was glad to oblige.) Jacob is torn, so he tells his father about Skanks’s plan. It turns out Bishop knew Skanks would come after him all along — and he’s glad to have Jacob as his inside man. Meanwhile, Kerissa suggests Jacob ask Skanks if her school can partner with Triumph and the community center. Jacob assures her anything he had with Alexa is done, and Kerissa says it would be good for them to work together, but when he leaves, her face falls. She’s still struggling with their marriage troubles (and maybe more), but at this point, it’s not pressing enough to worry about.
Oh, and Noah and Isabel finally have sex in a hotel room. I guess Isabel figures the only way she can compete with Grace is to forego their chastity vow. Let’s add that story line to the “Who Cares?” column as well.
Overall, this was a solid first season. Greenleaf has been a runaway success for OWN, and it has all the proper ingredients to improve next season. But first, the show’s creators need to correct its shaggy pacing issues. Let’s see more episodes like “One Train May Hide Another,” which streamlined both story and focus. One of the dangers of an ensemble cast is trying to make sure every character has a big moment in each episode. It’s a tempting desire, but it leads to unnecessary bloat and distracted audiences. We also need to learn more about Grace as an individual, if we’re to continue to see her as the main character, but here’s hoping that won’t sacrifice Lady Mae or Bishop James’s screen time. Lynn Whitfield and Keith David are mesmerizing. The Greenleaf family has plenty of secrets, so here’s hoping that season two will be another fascinating ride.