We’re halfway through the first season of American Soul, and episode 5 was a shakeup. On the Soul Train set, the Soul Train Gang are tired of being paid in two-piece chicken combos, and are on strike, disrupting taping with chants of “Don is a con.” We know by now that TV Don (and possibly Don in real life) has a very short fuse, and doesn’t tolerate people jeopardizing his dream. So, he punches the organizer the dancers secured for help. After Tessa and Brooks convince him that it would probably be cheaper in the long run and less headache to negotiate with the Gang, Don agrees to a sit down in which the organizer throws the word “picayune” at him, then proceeds to give him the definition. We also know that TV Don (and possibly Don in real life) doesn’t like anyone assuming he’s less intelligent or educated than they are (as evidenced by his obsession with solving an ivy league riddle in last week’s episode). So, he punches dude in the face again. As soon as roads are clear from the quake, Don goes to jail. Period.
Don’s personal life is headed for an earthquake of its own. In episode 4, Motown’s Ilsa Dejarnette (Shannon Kane) told Don that to get in bed with the label, he needed to impress her. Apparently, she meant that literally. Don and Ilsa are canoodling all up in her house, sharing closet space, Don’s lamping on her bed in satin pajamas talking to his Deloris (Perri Camper) and faking bad phone connections while Ilsa stands in the doorway. Isla strikes us as a woman used to getting what she wants, and the moment Don chooses his family over her, things will likely go left very quickly. For now, all’s gravy. Ilsa’s on board for Motown to partner with Don on a Soul Train bus tour – for a significant percentage of the take. Sure hope Don remembers that he also agreed to Gerald getting a percentage of Soul Train’s profits.
JT’s life has never been one of stability, but he’s on shakier ground than usual. Simone discovers he’s been keeping his family’s eviction a secret just as the quake hits, and experiences her first unedited view of JT’s reality: days in the supply room at the diner, nights in a makeshift living area inside an abandoned garage, and occasionally having to shoot his own mother up to make sure she doesn’t overdose. Simone’s devotion, fortunately, is unwavering. She promises she’s not going anywhere.
Brianne Clarke (Kelly Price) is still trying to find her footing after the tragic loss of her husband and fighting the Department of Veterans Affairs for her death benefits check. Her world – and the family’s – is further upended when Nate Barker (Shannon Wallace) the young (and fine – lawd) soldier Joseph saved right before he left his post shows up at the house looking for her husband. During the quake, he’s a help and protector, fixing the radio for access to the news and beating up attempted looters. Brianne insists he crash in the garage, but what this will mean in the long run is a mystery. In the middle of the night, Nate, armed and in dress uniform, salutes a ghost Joseph (?) promising to protect the family. Is he a blessing or a PTSD-suffering danger?
Kendall arriving home to find a stranger in his house is the last in a long day of blows. First, he sings his heart out for Martha Reeves (K. Michelle) and passes her Encore’s music – an 8-track demo-tape, for extra era realness. She praises him at the time – even dry-snitches to Don, “Did you know he can sing?” – but later a stagehand brings the tape back to Kendall after finding it in the green room trash. Then, Kendall makes an in-the-moment move on Flo, only for her to hit him with “I like you, but…,” leaving him embarrassed and dejected. Finally, there’s some unknown man sitting at his newly widowed mama’s table, and when Kendall tries to stand up to her about it, she makes it clear that his new “man of the house” role was just for play. She has the last word. Kendall definitely caught some bruises in this quake.
On the flip side, Tessa emerges from the chaos with a professional win and some personal clarity, but it might test the fault lines in her marriage. She finds a solution for the Soul Train Gang that won’t cost Don, getting the dancers back to work and earning a pat on the back from Don. After a falling stage light barely misses her in the studio, Tess decides that life is short and she wants to pursue her dance career again. She and Patrick (Phillip Mullings, Jr.) were just excited that she was possibly pregnant in episode 4 – Patrick even started decorating! He’s unsurprisingly unhappy about her shift in life focus.
What this episode got right: American Soul again did a spot-on job recreating the Martha and the Vandellas Soul Train performance.
What it could have done without: Brooks. And we’ll probably say that again before the season is over.
What we absolutely don’t believe: That a newly single mother would let a stranger stay in her garage just because he had a tenuous connection – at best – to her husband. Kendall had a point.
What we have a question about: Is Jerry ok? Do we need to take up an offering? 13 heart attacks in concerning.
The celebrity cameos have become a highlight of American Soul. It’s a great vehicle for our entertainers to showcase a different side of their talents and personality. Wayne Brady is on deck next episode as Little Richard, and we’re ready to laugh. Sinqua Walls is killing it as Don Cornelius. We’re questioning Don’s choices, motives, and tactics, but that’s a good thing.