Have you ever felt pangs of jealousy while reading Baller Alert, Lipstick Alley, or The Shade Room? During Van's awkward and (somewhat) contentious dinner with an old friend, I certainly felt that way. In this world of wage stagnation and student loans, who wouldn't want to be like Teairra Mari and boast about having a sponsor?
We learn a lot about Van through Jayde, a friend she's known since childhood. As "Value" makes clear, these women have taken entirely different directions with their lives. For Van, it was making a baby with the Princeton dropout who manages a guy who's the Coke Zero equivalent of Rick Ross. As for Jayde, she's pretty much guaranteed to land a spot on WAGS or Basketball Wives L.A. She only does two things: date rich athletes and enjoy the perks that such a life entails.
We meet Jayde at an upscale Thai restaurant — presumably of her choosing — as Van arrives late. When Van sits down, Jayde compliments her hair before asking if she got it did at Fernando's, as per her recommendation. Van did not, noting that Fernando's is probably too expensive anyway. While the two settle into small talk, we learn that Jayde flew into town on a private jet. "Not like the nice PJ," she adds. "One of those rent-a-PJs." How humble of her to play down the fact that she flew private, but not the premiere way to fly private.
Jayde is in town to see a special NBA friend, but no, not that last NBA guy she mentioned to Van. This is new booty, a new line of credit. After she leaves Atlanta, she'll be heading to London, though she hates London because the rainy weather makes her hair frizzy. She loves Paris, though.
Beginning to get the idea? The waiter comes by, and Jayde orders a bottle of wine rather than drink by the glass. Van rolls her eyes as soon as the words leave her friend's mouth, but, girl, if she's paying, enjoy that free liquor. That said, Jayde is quite snooty. When Van requests chopsticks, she snickers and explains that Thai people don't use chopsticks — only Americans think such a silly thing. The condescension practically drips from her voice. Van should've told Jayde to shut her black ass up then and there.
Van's patience does wear thin when the subject of Earn comes up. Shady or not, I was with the homegirl when she quipped, "Y'all are funny. You two are funny." Sorry, but it's true. Van and Earn are funny because they aren't together, but they sleep and live together. It would seem wise to honor the "no sex in the champagne room" rule for such a situation, but different strokes, I suppose.
As Van gets defensive, Jayde gets a bit more lethal. "You used to make fun of girls like you," she says. Then comes the sermon: "Women need to be valuable. Black women have to be valuable." Bring it home, Janye! "Why are you messing around with this broke-ass nigga?" In this moment, she sounds like so many Kandi Burruss songs penned for TLC and Destiny's Child.
Jayde also flips her bang and gets cocky as she defends her way of life. Van seems skeptical, so she lays it all out. "The NBA players I fuck with fuck with me because I provide a service and I am worth it," Jayde says. "I am cultured, intelligent, and beautiful and that is hard to come by."
Okay, now she sounds like the woman who Jazmine Sullivan was singing about on "Mascara."
Van pops back, reminding Jayde that not everyone shares her values. It is like watching a Kardashian group chat try to take on Solange's new album. An awkward silence follows, as Jayde carefully takes her phone, checks for good lighting, and snaps a photo of the meal for Instagram. Earlier, she pulled up her IG account to show off photos from all the places she's visited. Girl, you know damn well Van saw them already.
Anyhow, Van dips after the NBA friend and his not-so-cute buddy show up. ("He's like a lawyer or something, I think," Jayde offers.) As she walks through the parking lot, Jayde rolls up and tries to convince her to stay. Van reminds her that she would always fix her up with the ugly one. Yeah, she seems like the type. Why are these two people even friends?
After Jayde begs Van to stick around and hang out — despite her pleas that she has to go to work the next day — she hops in the car and they smoke weed together. When Van wakes up in the morning, she is greeted by a very specific phone alarm: "Drug Test Today." That's when things really get interesting. While Earn adorably plays with his daughter (these two are very cute together — I wish Atlanta would show us more instances of black fatherhood) while she tries to figure out what to do.
First, she calls Jayde asking for help. Jayde says she'll ask one of her athlete friends for advice, but we all know she's lying. With her options dwindling, Van turns to Alfred, who answers coldly before mentioning her judgmental jabs about weed and what he does for a living. Van reminds Alfred that they both know he won't be paying Earn anytime soon, so he needs to help. "I can't lose my job because I am all that we have," she explains. He suggests that she buy some piss to pass the drug test.
With Alfred's advice in mind, Van spots a bag of her daughter's dirty diapers and hauls them back into the apartment. Though a very elaborate procedure, she extracts urine from those diapers, funnels it into a condom, and tapes that condom to her leg. It is disgusting as hell. When Van actually takes the test, it gets even worse: She struggles to open the condom (with her teeth!) and the piss blows up in her face.
"Value" reveals that Van works at a school, where she deals with an interesting set of characters, like a black student who shows up to class in white face. When she fails to produce a urine sample for the drug test, she's called into her boss's office and immediately blurts out the truth.
And this is where she does herself in.
"Well, urine samples aren't sent off," her boss says. "The county can't afford quarterly drug tests for its employees so after the first one, they're really just to keep people on their toes. Listen, everybody smokes weed. The system isn't made for the kids to succeed and you gotta shake it off somehow. I get it."
Coolest boss ever, right? But as Van sighs relief, the woman continues: "But unfortunately, you have admitted the use of an illegal substance to a superior, so I gotta fire you to cover my own ass as well as the school's."
Damn, homie. At least the boss offers a sliver of compassion. "Okay, let's say we had this conversation Friday. That'll give you the week to get your things together, okay?" Then she goes, "You alright? Come here." They hug. "Yeah, you are."
But I guess Van didn't shower well, because her boss pulls back with one last observation. "Whew! You are loud," she says. "It's all in your hair." I love this woman. It's a shame Van got herself fired because I want her former boss to be a series regular.
As Donald Glover has made clear, Atlanta doesn't go out of its way to offer grand statements about race or class. Nevertheless, Van's ordeal in "Value" tells an especially smart story about the burden of single mothers — especially black mothers who hold their families together. It's easy to understand why Van desires a night of release, and it's sad how quickly she gets punished for indulging such a momentary pleasure.
On the other hand, Van needs to check her impulsiveness. You don't walk in with omissions of guilt, beloved. She has every right to be stressed out, but she has got to think more rationally.
Right after getting fired, Alfred texts her, "How did it go?" Her response? "Fine. How much for an eighth?" Alfred doesn't budge: "I don't sell. Save my name as someone else. Girl, you sloppy af."
It's fine that Van doesn't want to be like Jayde — she's certainly free to judge her friend for sleeping with NBA stars to fund her lifestyle — but at least the woman knows what she wants her life to be. At least she executes that vision. I'm sure Jayde's life has its own challenges, but she is definitely playing better than Van is right now. At the very least, she'll become a reality star. What is Van's life going to look like in a few years? Bless her heart.