Last we saw Lena Adams Foster on Good Trouble, she and Stef were descending down the Coterie elevator. She was wearing a stylish pair of dark blue jeans, a marigold print top and a yellow blazer with floral trim. Her signature curls tied up in a messy bun, she looked lovingly at her wife and they shared a gentle kiss. They’re united, determined to continue Lena’s campaign for State Assembly.
But this week, when we first see her, Lena’s wearing a brown pantsuit with a plain white blouse. Gone are the signature curls; instead, Lena’s relaxed hair is impeccably colored and styled. Though you could chalk Lena’s new look up to the night’s plans — she and Stef are joining Callie, Mariana and Jamie for pre-dinner drinks with Judge Wilson — the chill between Stef and Lena suggests something else is afoot.
Once they’re back at the Coterie, Mariana and Callie sit their mamas down to talk about whatever’s going on between them. Lena explains that Stef recently gave an opinion during an interview that contradicted hers. Lena’s campaign manager, Cindy, flipped out. Stef feels like Lena didn’t stand up for her enough but Lena assures Stef that she did when she discussed the issue with Cindy. That’s part of the problem, Stef points out: Lena persists in having conversations that concern them — their relationship, their future — with someone else. Lena promises that she’d never make any decisions that affect them without her. Stef is convinced that she already is.
“It honestly feels like [Cindy’s] your partner in this, campaigning together and strategizing together and I’m just the wife that’s asked to stand by with her mouth shut, if I ever am asked to stand by because we certainly don’t want the former cop wife to scare off the progressives,” Stef rants.
Mariana tries to dial back her mama’s anger, but Stef continues with criticism about Lena’s straightened hair and the suits she’s being made to wear. This time Callie interjects, hoping to redirect the conversation to nicer territory, but Lena sits silent and Stef is undeterred. She adds, “Run for office, I want you to, I do. Run for president for all I care. You can do it with Cindy. She can be your partner because I am out.”
Later, Lena finds her wife on the Coterie rooftop and apologizes. She didn’t realize that Stef felt so isolated from the campaign. It wasn’t the campaign, Stef points out, it was Lena that she felt cut off from. Lena offers to make Stef her campaign manager but she declines. Stef apologizes for the things she said and acknowledges that the root of her concern lies in the fact that their communication issues will only be exacerbated if Lena wins and they’re forced to spend more time apart. Lena promises that they’ll maintain their connection, whatever comes next, and the couple kisses and makes up. It’s a nice ending — Stef and Lena still warm my heart and, when Mariana and Callie join their mamas on the roof (adorably dressed in their pajamas), the scene is picture perfect — but one that, ultimately, left me disappointed.
There aren’t many shows on television that offer insight into the experiences of women of color quite like Good Trouble has. In “Less Than,” the show manages to do it on a few different fronts. First, Malika grapples with defending Jamal Thompson after videos exposing his animus towards black women come out. Then, Mariana confronts the racial pay gap that exists between the women at Speckulate and the reluctance of her white peers to address it as part of their fight for equity. Both those storylines are done exceedingly well. Malika’s story recalled my feelings the moments after the Internet unearthed Stephon Clark’s tweets about black women and Sandra Bland’s homophobic video. Mariana discovering the Byte Club was interested in equity, specifically, but not equity generally, felt resonant, echoing the feminist movements willing to sacrifice women of color to advance their cause. It all felt very real.
But Stef’s gripes about Lena’s campaign felt divorced from the realities of what political work might look like for a woman of color, a reality rooted in the same anti-blackness that causes Jamal to say that the only black thing he wants is a “black-on-black whip” and the same white supremacy that causes the other members of the Byte Club to resist addressing racial disparity.
Lena straightens her hair because relaxed hair is more palatable to the electorate. Natural curly hair is viewed as unkempt and unprofessional, while other black hairstyles read as too “urban” or “ethnic.” Though things are changing — women like Stacey Abrams continue to push the envelope — about 75% of the black women in Congress still wear relaxed hair… and that’s happening for a reason. Good Trouble does Stef (and its audience) a disservice by not addressing it directly.
Elsewhere at the Coterie, Joey stops by to talk things out with Alice. Usually, she wouldn’t date someone that’s in the closet but, for Alice, she’s willing to make an exception. They kiss to cement their new situationship. Before things can get too heated, Sumi bursts through the door. She excuses the intrusion by returning Alice’s hair tie and then invites the newly minted couple to join her and Meera for dinner later that night. Before Alice can come up with a reason to say no, Joey accepts on their behalf and Sumi gleefully sets dinnertime for 8PM.
So, let’s review that dinner party invite list, shall we?
+ Alice, firmly in the “fake ’til you make it” stage of getting over your ex by starting a new relationship with someone else;
+ Joey, enjoying this new relationship, despite having initially expressed doubt that her new boo is over her ex;
+ Sumi, engayged but flirted with and kissed her ex when her fiancée was out of town;
+ Meera, engayged but weary of the lingering feelings of her fiancée’s ex.
Yes, this is going to go just fine.
Sumi sets up a pop-up Italian bistro on the Coterie rooftop, complete with spaghetti and meatballs, panzanella, red wine and breadsticks. She even got some of Alice’s favorite candles! Her voice dripping with disdain, Meera asks Alice about her time with Sumi at Davia’s birthday party. Sumi jumps in and notes that it was just one of many good times she and Alice have had together. Sumi asks Joey what she does for fun but before she can answer, Meera interjects and mentions Joey’s radio show and Alice’s recent appearance. The news comes as a surprise to Sumi and she wants to hear all about it. Every time Sumi affirms Alice, Meera gets a bit more annoyed so she pushes the conversation towards the hurtful jokes Alice told at her expense. Alice tries to avoid the conversation — while Joey gulps her red wine in silence — but Meera recalls the joke about Sumi looking at herself in a fork. Surprising absolutely everyone, Sumi recalls the moment and laughs at her own display of vanity.
The entire dinner is tense: Sumi reveling in nostalgia, Alice doing whatever she can to thwart Sumi and Meera becoming increasingly annoyed all the while. After dinner, Joey and Alice return to her loft to decompress from the night’s fireworks. Alice assures Joey that the tension between Meera and Sumi was just for show and tomorrow they’ve be back to their normal, lovey-dovey selves. Joey’s skeptical. She’s convinced that Alice is over Sumi but she’s not at all convinced at all that Sumi’s over Alice. I’m not sure I believe that — I think Sumi values Alice’s attention, not her heart — and Joey’s pronouncement is met by stunned disbelief from Alice.
Next week on Good Trouble, it’s time for Gael’s art show and the return of his sister, Jazmin.