Last week, Earn felt vastly uncomfortable at a nightclub. Tonight, he feels vastly uncomfortable in a rich couple's mansion.
To compound the weirdness, he meets a white optometrist Craig who is married to a snooty black woman Monique. What's odd: Craig has embraced black culture in a way that is perturbing to Earn.
Why are they even here? Van needs a job after the season six debacle. She is invited by Monique to a Juneteenth shindig celebrating the emancipation of slaves from the Confederate in 1865 and figured this was a way to network her way to a new job. She also feels she needs to bring Earn there as her "husband" to bring respectability to her situation in the eyes of the social elite. Earn is resentful and reluctant, acting like a 12 year old dragged to the dentist's office.
Van isn't enjoying it either but she is deeply annoyed by Earn's self-centeredness.
"Can you pretend for once that we aren't who we are?" she said. "Because we all know you're good at pretending!"
I love how Glover's show references actual locations. Craig wonders if Earn is part of the fancy pants Cherokee Country Club. An older black woman created a play set to be at the Rialto. The stereotype-ridden play is set in a strip club featuring a gangbanger, a preacher and a pregnant teen during Hurricane Katrina. Earn and Van pretend this is a great idea. "Black Americans have to keep fighting for good art!" the woman utters, with not a trace of irony.
Unfortunately, Van starts drinking a bit too much and finds all the chit chat stultifying. When Earn is asked what he does by a younger socialite, he says he does nothing and that Van does everything and she doesn't get the credit she deserves. It's a passive-aggressive compliment and Van takes it like a dig. She walks away from three socialites who are about to invite her to join some sort of social club and cries in the bathroom. This is not her. At all.
Earn, in the meantime, keeps getting stopped by Craig, who has embraced his white guilt by becoming an "expert" in all things African American. He has photos of Martin Luther King Jr. and Louis Armstrong in his office, along with shots of him in Africa.
He even has a painting of a black man slaying a big hawk. Earn is both appalled and fascinated. Then Craig walks in.
" Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it,' " Craig says. "Malcolm X quote that inspired that painting."
"Interesting interpretation," Earn says politely.
"It's the only interpretation," Craig says. "It accurately depicts the plight of the American black man. That's why I painted it!"
All Earn could say is "Wow."
The wife is not deaf to her husband's comical "black hobby" obsession, which also includes slam poetry and "Martin" reruns. "I like Craig," she said. "but I love my money."
Later, Craig later does some awkward slam poetry about Jim Crow. It's surreal the way the black folks watch this without rolling their eyes.
Then things get even weirder when Craig hears that Earn represents Paper Boi. Craig emotes how big a fan he is. In the meantime, his black wife has no idea who Paper Boi is and says the word "rap" with dripping disdain. When he informs her Paper Boi is family, she says, "everyone has one trifling thug in the family."
The irony: the black woman says the racist thing, not the white man.
Earn can't take it anymore. He just blows things up by saying: "This is whack. This party is whack. This party is dumb. She's dumb. You know that, man!"
Then he points to Craig and says he's broke and can't go to Africa to find his roots as Craig had suggested. Craig takes no offense, which leads Earn to say, "Stop being so likable!"
Surprisingly, Van is not upset about what happened. Earn, in a better mood, even offers to call Monique to apologize the next day. She asks him to pull over and they make out. The networking event was a failure but the two of them bonded.
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