The Soul Train Gang are at the tail end of a successful bus tour, with Brooks as a chaperone in Tessa’s absence. (Are Brooks and Tessa the only two people who work at Soul Train – well, now just Brooks? There’s not another black woman – black person – in the company?) Having Brooks with the kids in a random southern town is the one time we’ve felt he could be useful – but nope. He does nothing to even attempt diffusing the racial tension sparked by Fresh hitting on a young white woman (is he crazy?) and Kendall using the bathroom against the gas station owner’s warning (we already know Kendall has a habit of feeling himself at inopportune times). The bus pulls off as local men gather to have a little chat with Fresh, leaving the Clarke siblings to fend for themselves.
Simone and Kendall happen upon Nick, a peace and love-spreading musician, who not only offers them a ride as far as he’s going but suggests they pick up a gig so the two can earn bus fare to get to Chicago.
The unlikely music trio pop into a honky-tonk bar — complete with ten-gallon hats on the patrons, jump in with the house band — and win the crowd over with Motown and Donny Hathaway classics. Yay, racism is solved through good music! Post-gig, Nick leans in to tell Simone that she could be a star. Professor Haygood will probably get a call to set up a meeting with his producer-friend in the next episode.
Don heads to Chicago to spend the holidays with his family and meet the Soul Train Gang for the end-of-tour promo and taping. Don hasn’t seen his wife since the first episode of Soul Train, so the number one item on his agenda is giving Delores some much-needed lovin’. He also surprises her with the newest thing in communication technology: an answering machine. Now he can leave lovey-dovey messages when she’s not home. Next, he checks in with the owner of Soul Train’s local Chicago station, WGN. Soul Train continued as a local daily show in Chicago while the weekly version launched nationally from L.A. Now that the national show’s a hit, WGN threatens to sue Don for 25% of the profits, and he doesn’t know if he can fight them. Delores gives him a pep-talk (while doing a terrible job corn-rowing his hair), reminding him that he is Soul Train – the brand doesn’t exist without Don Cornelius. Now owning his leverage, Don spreads the word to advertisers that he’s going to walk away from the local Chicago Soul Train broadcast, prompting them, in turn, to pull their money. Check-mate, for now.
Dick Clark is still coming for Soul Train, so Don needs to hold on to that self-assurance and confidence – especially since Delores ain’t gonna be up to giving another pep-talk anytime soon. As Don is packing to head back to L.A., his wife confronts him with the latest issue of Right On! Magazine and a featurette about his relationship with Ilsa. In response, Don leaves, even as Delores warns him, “If you walk about that door you are choosing Soul Train over this family!”
Back in L.A., JT has an unexpected visit from detective Patrick Lorraine. JT thought the robbery was behind him, but his car places him at the crime scene. He ain’t no snitch, though! He’s willing to take a charge on the chin, which is stupid. Reggie’s displayed his lack of loyalty, and JT didn’t even get his rent money from the robbery! Patrick knows JT isn’t the person responsible and brings a surprise guest into the interrogation room – JT’s father (Sean Baker). After a scared-straight conversation, JT still isn’t willing to give Reggie up, but the police brass wants to let the whole thing go. It wouldn’t look good if the public learned an innocent man — the man Reggie set up to take the fall — died in police custody. They give Patrick a promotion and a pat on the head to play along, and Patrick lets JT go, but not before painting a bullseye on his back by thanking him in front of Reggie. Damn, Patrick. We thought you were down!
As the Soul Train Gang closes out the tour, Simone and Flo each have moments of self-awareness. Flo realizes individual people are more important than the exposure from the show, which has always been her focus. She unknowingly saves the day – and possibly a life – by showing some love and attention to a jilted fan just as he’s about to pull a gun on his ex. She then admits to Kendall that she likes him, which may lead to even more annoying antics from Kendall in the future, but for now, we’ll be happy for him; He needed a win. Simone embraces her star-power, basking in the adoration of her Chicago fans to the point where even Flo tells her to calm down. Kendall, meanwhile, warns his sister to stop lying about her gigs and her age, because “You don’t want to become that person.” Oh, that’s already in progress, Kendall.
What the episode got right: Racial tension in the immediate post-Jim Crow South. Also, the Reverend Al Green’s magnificent look in the old show clip Don and Phil were watching at WGN.
What we could have done without: Another awkward father/son moment between Don and Tony. We get it; Don was a largely absent and emotionally distant father. But sometimes it feels like Tony Cornelius – the executive producer of American Soul – is using the show to work out some issues with his dad, and we’re not sure what the takeaway from these moments is supposed to be.
What we don’t believe: The entire honky-tonk bar scene. Kendall and Simone just left a gas station where black people couldn’t use the bathroom, but two black kids could walk right in the front door of a country bar and hop on stage with the house band? And the house band knew “This Christmas”? Come on, now. The black staff jamming in the back of the house was on point, though. They were so happy to finally hear something they liked!
What we have questions about: The Soul Train tour’s routing. Nick has Nevada license plates and mentions getting robbed in Wichita, Kansas. It would make sense for the Soul Train Gang to be in the Midwest, having originally started in L.A. and heading to Chicago for the last stop. But Nick and the Clarkes play a gig in McClean, which is in Virginia. What kinda roundabout…?
We hope this quicker pace continues for the last few episodes of American Soul. There’s still a lot of ground to cover! We don’t know if any new celebrity guests are on the horizon, but Mama Clarke (Kelly Price) is getting her groove on next episode. We’ll be on time for that!