With half of Greenleaf’s first season in the rearview mirror, we finally get more to Mac’s story than meaningful silences and intense stares. “One Train May Hide Another” pares down story lines, removing the filler of Kevin’s hidden sexuality or Grace’s project of the week, and instead focuses on Mac’s world, offering a glimpse into his predatory mind.
On the day Mac is to be honored as Memphis Man of the Year, he fantasizes about a teenage girl named Michaela, who lives in his building with a mother. Because her mother frequently goes off her meds, Michaela spends long nights in the lobby for solace. She looks like a classical portrait Mac seems to hold dear, which also explains his fascination with fair-skinned women like Faith and Sophia. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the McCready mother was fair-skinned as well.
Throughout the day, people toss the title “Man of the Year” at Mac with varying degrees of disdain and sarcasm. Mac doesn’t want Charity to hire the new choir director, Carlton, as a full-time employee. He thinks Carlton, who has sued former employees for discrimination and wrongful termination, is too litigious. If they instead hire him as a contracted employee, it will be at-will and Carlton won’t be able to sue if he’s fired. Charity thinks Mac is being bigoted and chastises him, saying that Carlton was eager to meet Memphis Man of the Year. Her jab finds its mark — Mac knows the title is empty.
Meanwhile, auditors have set up shop in an office at Calvary, where they make frequent requests of Mac. The head auditor, Casey Eury, needs the Greenleafs’ personal income tax and inventory, which upsets Bishop. He sneers at Mac’s new honor and tells him if Mac weren’t so busy trying to find people to save, he could’ve prevented this level of investigation. Bishop reminds Mac that it would do no good to have someone go through their lives with a fine-toothed comb. Bishop’s dig at his brother-in-law’s savior role is particularly loaded as we watch Mac try to help Michaela deal with her mother’s issues.
Is this how he targets his victims? Does Mac look for young girls who are in need, then offer them help so they feel obligated to him? It’s a slimy, predatory process and it’s uncomfortable to watch, as it should be. At times, however, it feels as if we’re supposed to be sympathetic to Mac. He tells Michaela how he once tried to commit suicide because he felt responsible for his mother’s death. It’s hard to know if he’s telling the truth. We know his mother is dead, thanks to a surprise appearance by Henry McCready (Bill Cobbs), but did she die the way Mac claims she did? Or is this just another ploy to soften up Michaela? After all, she’s fascinated by his alleged suicide attempt.
According to Mac, his father left and his mother started drinking too much. His sisters Mae and Mavis were already out of the house, so he had to take care of his demanding mother. Jealous of Mac’s girlfriend, his mother threw a tantrum, making a mess of the kitchen and yelling at him to clean it all up. He refused, so she left. After getting very drunk, she approached a train on a railroad track without realizing another active train was approaching.
Her death calls to mind a moment from last week’s episode: Mavis told Bishop that he hadn’t missed his train, that there’s always another one. Memphis, the setting of Greenleaf, is home of the blues, and the blues love a good train metaphor. Sometimes the train represents death, freedom, or a new beginning. In the McCready family, it seems to represent all three. Watching Mac with Michaela felt like waiting for a train and not knowing what it’s bringing with it. When he gives her a sip of his whiskey, it makes you want to turn away. Here’s hoping Grace can save Michaela before the wrong train arrives.
Lady Mae has forbidden her father, Henry, from entering the church, but he somehow makes it inside to see Mac. He needs money to feed his vices: gambling and alcohol. He eventually causes a scene, calling Mae a “high-yella whore” and claiming she’s not even his child. It’s not yet clear if there’s any truth to that statement, but Henry obviously enjoys antagonizing Mae. She appeals to him to leave, showing a tenderness we haven’t seen before, before shutting it down and returning to her hard-edged status as First Lady of Calvary. Church members and family, including Grace, witness the spectacle go down, and Mac focuses on Grace, as if she’s the cause for so much around him coming loose.
When Jacob approaches Mac about a business plan to get Bishop back on television, Mac continues to sow seeds of discord by saying he’ll never be reinstated in the church as long as Grace is around. Mac also buys the $800 wedding cake Isabel wanted, which Noah didn’t think they could afford. This generosity at first seems like another example of Mac saving someone, but it’s an act of paranoia: He thinks Grace told Noah about his molestation of Faith. Mac tries to confront him about it, but Noah plays dumb and says Grace hasn’t told him anything. Mac buys the cake to win Noah to his side, as he continues building his personal army against Grace.
On the whole, “One Train May Hide Another” has much tighter control over its narrative than previous episodes. After a few stumbling weeks, Greenleaf has found its footing again. By focusing on Mac, the show has more focus and less filler, which allows the entire story to move along at a confident pace. Grace hardly appears in this installment, but she is the linchpin to the Greenleaf family secrets. Her presence is shaking up Mac, who’s becoming sloppy at Calvary. His potential seduction of Michaela is difficult to watch, but a necessary ingredient for the audience to become more invested in his eventual downfall. Hopefully.