Review of Episode 5 after the jump. Check out previous reviews here.
So I ended last week's review with the assertion that this season of The Game is a wash. Well, this week's episode is making me eat my words. This episode is, by far, the strongest of the five that have aired so far. The scenes have the right balance of humor and drama and the rhythm of the episode overall just worked.
Given how poorly the writers set up the "Derwin is not the father" story in the season premiere, it is truly astonishing how well-done this resolution was handled. It made total sense that Derwin would try to have it both ways with Janay and DJ and with Melanie. It made total sense that Melanie would confront Janay like Janay is the bad guy and end up looking foolish. And it made total sense that Janay would be the one to force Derwin to own up to his shit once finding out from Melanie that he'd been playin' them both. Because this is the way the characters we know and love would behave.
In the case of Janay, this episode's treatment of her was really critical. They had to honor Janay as the character that we've known for three years because they had so foolishly compromised her character in the premiere by insinuating that she would lie to Derwin about DJ's paternity. That was never who Janay was, the audience knew that, and the show just had to fix that truly awful and offensive treatment of the character.
And boy – did they! Janay's last speech to Derwin was spot-on and the scene was really well-performed by both Pooch Hall – rather surprisingly actually – and Gabrielle Dennis. Janay isn't the wronged party. Her relationship with Derwin took place after Derwin had cheated on Melanie and destroyed that relationship. She was always the more mature of the two women. And the Derwin-Janay relationship was always presented as a faithful relationship that was very real for both parties. While we the audience understand that Derwin always loved Melanie and would take any opportunity to rekindle that great love, we also know that Janay was a serious contender for Derwin's love. That knowledge is what made the love triangle so dramatically compelling. It is no fun to watch a love triangle if one of the two possible partners is not worthy of winning out. We could always see why Janay was, in some ways, a better match for Derwin than Melanie. All of that was fully realized here and it was really wonderful to see after four episodes of bad writing and character manipulation.
Similarly, watching Derwin and Melanie acknowledge that they got issues, that they need to get it together, was refreshing. So much of what is great about this central relationship is watching how these two deeply flawed people think they know better than the other, knowing that neither one of them have any damn idea what they are doing, and yet watching them struggle to be better people for one another.
Now we know that there is still plenty of potential for drama for the three of them because Derwin still has a wife, a baby mama, and a child. But it was important that this storyline be resolved in a way that recalibrated the characters so that they were once again the same characters that we have known and loved. The show did that rather beautifully.
The "emasculating Tasha" story though was problematic, though the problems have more to do with the subtext of what is being conveyed in the story than anything else. It has long been established on The Game that Tasha is often so big a personality that she frustrates and runs men away. But it bothers me that we are constantly being asked to look down on a self-determining black woman who "emasculates" her man by doing what the hell she wants to do – and doing it loudly. There is actually nothing wrong with Tasha spending her money how she wants to spend it and Donte, no matter how much he may love her and how rational he may be in his concern, really has no right to tell her a damn thing about her money. On a story level, I'm not sure they've established the Tasha-Donte relationship enough for the audience to buy that they are in love, or for that love to really be strong enough that Tasha would just crumble when he put her in her place.
I also didn't really buy that Donte is so mature at 24 that he could have given that speech to Tasha and she just respond with "you love me?" Donte, as a character, is still not well-established and the resolution of this particular story felt too abrupt. I don't know enough about Donte to know if he really is that smart. Last time we saw him he was basically just a young cat who likes older women. Now he's so sophisticated that he understands Tasha's finances better than she does and feels comfortable enough to confront her in so public a setting?
It wasn't that the story was poorly written so much as the whole thing played out far too quickly given how little time we've spent with this couple. As such, it relied almost solely on our previous knowledge of Tasha as an emasculating figure to carry the story and so the writers sort of convienently failed to establish Donte as a character who could talk to Tasha in the way that he did. Without fully developing Donte, subtextually, it just reinscribed this notion that any man can and should feel real comfortable telling a woman what to do with her money and her life – and a woman must accept this in order to be loved. And we the audience are expected to be like "yup, he right." It may be something that Tasha needs to learn, but I'm not sure that Donte earned the right as a character to teach that lesson.
Think back to Coach T. We saw Tasha's relationship with him over a series of episodes that so developed him and their relationship that when he couldn't deal with her we could understand why. It wasn't just that Tasha talks too damn much and is confrontational. It was also that Coach T didn't really feel like he could do what she needed to feel supported. That was critical to making that storyline dramatically compelling. Donte is just presented as naturally right without any set-up of his character to support that (other than, again, him being a man).
Ultimately though this episode just felt like the old Game. It may sound like I didn't like half of the show, but while the Tasha-Donte story made me uncomfortable it was still more effectively written and performed than the entire Malik storyline, the ongoing Jason-Kelly storyline, and the Jason Pitts story in previous episodes.
The jokes in this episode all landed – in particular, Tasha's query about Malik being raped and the Juvon/Derwin/Tee Tee scene were both hilarious – and the rhythms of the scenes were on. It was nice to see Brittany Daniel again and always a pleasure to watch just how great she, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and Tia Mowry Hardrict can be when they are in scenes together.
At this point, one should note that the strongest episodes this season so far – episode two and this episode five – are the ones that make full use of the core cast (though really missed Coby Bell in this episode). This only reinforces that The Game's strength is in the ensemble of actors and the relationships between the characters. While Robinson and Coby Bell, have been standouts, the show simply doesn't work without all of the characters, the relationships. We need to see Tasha and Kelly telling Melanie she's full of it. We need to see Derwin and Melanie stumble through their relationship. We need to see Tasha's complicated relationship with Malik, which got a short but effective scene at the end. We need all of that. As long as the show can make use of all of its actors and characters and not be forced to do showcase episodes like last week's sole focus on Malik, it seems that the writers are still capable of delivering the show that we all wanted back.
Here's to hoping it continues.