In an appropriate parallel, the American Soul season finale centers around Soul Train’s final taping of its premiere season. Don’s announcement of Soul Train‘s renewal also mirrors BET’s announcement of American Soul being picked up for a second season. And thank goodness, because as we guessed, there are questions left unanswered.
The episode opens with an Ike and Tina Turner-driven montage that’s just a little too neat and cheerful to be believed. Don pops bottles on the Soul Train set to celebrate the show’s renewal, Tessa and Patrick learn she made the dance troupe and is going on tour, Gerald kicks his feet up on the desk in his new office at Soul Train, Encore opens the first box of their fully packaged and professional demo, and… Delores and the kids moved to L.A.? Oh, nope. Don’s experiencing blackouts accompanied by strange dreams about Delores – and a speeding train. All isn’t well, after all.
Encore is excited for their big moment of opening for Ike and Tina at Club 100 Proof, but Simone is even more excited as she’s decided to take JT up on the offer to leave town with him; In fact, they’re going right after the show. But first, JT has to handle business with Reggie and the Crips. We were looking side-eyed at show writers for leaving all the mentions about Simone’s inevitable stardom without follow-up, and then Simone walks into her home to find Professor Haygood having coffee and cake with her mom. And snitchin’ about Simone’s gigs at the jazz club.
Professor Haygood makes good on his promise to introduce Simone to a theater producer, and the producer offers her a role in a new show, complete with a scholarship to finish school and a salary to cover her expenses. Ok, Professor Haygood! Tessa had us thinking you were outchea selling dreams to young dancers, and you’re looking out. Our bad. Simone assumes Brianne is going to shut the New York opportunity down, but her mom surprises her by saying she’s the only one who can decide what to do with her dream. Brianne’s recent revisit of her own dream was probably fortuitous.
JT is a no show at the club, so Encore takes the stage in a new configuration featuring Flo. Simone is skeptical, but they kill it. They even impress Ike (played to scary perfection by McKinley Freeman). After touching base with JT later, Simone starts packing for New York. When Kendall discovers she’s leaving town just as Encore is taking off, he’s salty (as usual). Simone tells her brother she has to do this for herself, and he claps back saying that’s all she’s ever done. In the flash-forward that closes the show, Simone prepares to perform in New York as Kendall and Flo are performing in L.A.
Over at the Lorraine household, now that Patrick’s on board supporting Tessa’s pursuit of her dream, she realizes she doesn’t have to choose between dance and a family. She suggests they consider adoption (a sly nod to Iantha Richardson’s other Tess character on This is Us, perhaps?). Don asks Tessa to come by the set to talk and immediately realizes how much Tessa’s energy is missed when the entire Soul Train Gang runs to her in excitement. He wants her to come back to the show, but Tessa is more confident and self-assured than he’s used to. When she challenges Don about the jab early in their working relationship that he only hired her because she was “cheap,” Don admits he was wrong. Have we heard Don say the words “I was wrong” before? Looks like the threat of losing Delores plus fear of his health has Don reassessing how he handles business with people who ride for him. We’ll come back to that later.
Tessa asks for a raise, creative control, and a production credit — with the responses of yes, maybe and absolutely not — and tells Don she’ll consider his offer when she’s back from her tour. Now it’s time for Tessa and Patrick to celebrate. Tess puts on a private show people would pay for, but the mood is killed abruptly. Patrick thinks he hears an intruder, and he’s right. We’ll come back to that, too. In the end, though, the Lorraines dance out of season one happy and on one accord.
JT is a no show at Club 100 Proof because he’s at the Lorriane house with Reggie. Killing Patrick – a detective – is the only way JT can prove he’s “down.” If he fails, the Crips will kill him, his mom, his sister, and maybe a few other people if they feel like it. It all feels extreme, but this is Patrick’s fault in the first place – he’s the reason Reggie thinks JT is a snitch.
JT’s not a killer, and definitely not a cop killer, but he wants to protect the people he loves. He almost catches Patrick while he’s hypnotized by Tessa’s show, but Patrick’s detective ears kick in. JT leaves the house without being discovered, only to walk right into Reggie – who makes him surrender his gun (but if you have a gun and he has a gun, why are you giving up your gun?).
Reggie takes him to a random alleyway to kill him when shots suddenly hit Reggie and his accomplice. Oh, hey, Private Barker! We saw you spying on JT and Simone earlier but we weren’t sure what that was about. Good lookin’ out! Nate gives JT a little heart-to-heart, tells him he needs to go ahead and get out of town, but first, he should call Simone. On the phone, Simone tells JT about New York, and he gives his blessing. He tells her one day she’ll look up from the stage and he’ll be there cheering her on. It’s the sweetest, most genuine moment we’ve seen between the two young lovers all season. And then Nate…stabs JT? Son, what is happening?! Nate killed two whole other people just to kill JT himself? He apparently still thinks he’s taking orders from Joseph Clarke’s ghost. We’re left not knowing Nate’s fate, so keep him lifted in your prayers until season two.
Just as Gerald is getting settled in his new digs at Soul Train, Herschel stops by to pay a visit. He puts Gerald on notice that he’s planning to cut into the Soul Train business just as Don walks in. Don finally realizes Gerald works for the mob (you were a little slow on that one, Don), and he asks Gerald if Herschel is going to be a problem. Gerald gives his word that he won’t be, and we know by now that Gerald is a man of his word.
In a very mob-style abandoned warehouse meeting, Gerald tells Herschel he’s using Soul Train to break free of the gangster life. When Herschel tells him there are only two ways out – both of which involve somebody dying – Gerald takes him up on it. Gerald and henchman Jimmy have conspired to take Herschel down, and the boss is caught slippin’ when everyone in the warehouse turns on him. Once Herschel’s taken care of, Gerald tells Jimmy he’s done his time, and he’s out of the game. We don’t want to be cynical, but Jimmy’s “if you say so” sounded a bit ominous to us.
Later, at Club 100 Proof, Don learns Gerald’s been getting a little too comfortable in his new offices; he’s been pitching the concept of a Soul Train club without Don’s knowledge. He has a building model and everything! Don is rightfully outraged. As hard as he’s been fighting to keep his ownership of Soul Train, and Gerald – a minor stakes partner – is expanding the brand without consulting him? Gerald thinks Don’s just mad because it wasn’t his idea (we’re inclined to agree). The two have an all-out brawl in the club’s office, but it’s not beef — just friends shooting a fair one to get some frustration out. What drew Gerald to Don in the first place was his willingness to scrap for his. Based on the flash-forward at the show’s closing, plans for the club come to fruition, and Gerald is there to break ground – but where’s Don?
Don’s headaches are amplifying rapidly. He’s blacking out and losing time. The once strict professional is missing his own tapings. His doctor makes a reference to tests that were run, but we wonder what kind of tests. Doc still insists Don is simply fatigued and stressed, and we all know it was much more serious than that. Don shares with the doctor that cocaine is the only thing that makes him feel better, a revelation the physician only mildly blinks at (what a time). We have a feeling that coke use is about to ramp up.
The anniversary trip Don has been promising Delores since he moved to L.A. is on the horizon, but Delores still isn’t responding to his calls. He pushes through the final show with his eyes on getting his marriage back on track. He’s secured his dream, but it feels empty without his “Red” actively having his back.
After Don and Gerald’s dust-up, he runs into Tina (excellently played by Gabrielle Dennis, who had practice with on-screen volatile relationships as Whitney Houston in The Bobby Brown Story) in the parking lot. She looks at his busted lip and remarks, “Looks like you became friends with Ike.” Don has been watching Ike’s abusive behavior silently and takes the opportunity to encourage Tina to get out, but Tina’s question is, get out and go where? “It’s Ike and Tina.” She tells Don that if he loves his wife, he needs to make sure she knows it, and that’s still ringing in Don’s ears when he tells Brooks he can’t go to Atlanta for a last-minute opportunity with his most coveted potential client, Coca Cola. Don hasn’t been physically abusive to Delores, but he’s becoming aware of how hurtful he’s been. Whether Delores is at the Falls or not, he’ll be there. For once.
Delores does show up, and Don immediately lavishes her with a fur coat, telling her he wants the world to see his wife reap the rewards of his work. Delores reminds him she never wanted the material trappings; she just wanted him. After noticing he’s not wearing his wedding ring, Delores slams the big joker on the table – a legal separation agreement. She leaves Don there with the paperwork, the fur, and her wedding ring. She’s not going to play the wife role back in Chicago while he’s being single in L.A. anymore. Perri Camper is fine, too. Don messed up.
Don’s reached the end of both his show’s season and a personal one. He fought for his dream and won, but at what cost? In a flash-forward, Don awakens, groggily, in a bed full of women. When one wishes him Happy New Year, it’s immediately clear that Don is still losing time. Maybe days at this point. Is he on a spiral, or just being single, single? Is he going to jeopardize the business he worked so hard to build?
We’ll be tuning in for season two. As for this season, we have some takeaways…
What we want to see change: We would love the show to lighten up just a bit. The pace is sometimes slow and the storylines get heavy, but when the show turns the energy up it’s incredible.
What we want to stay the same: We hope they keep the outstanding guest performances.
What we could do without: Can we ditch Brooks? Why do we have a token white character (because let’s be real, that’s what he is) on a series about the first all-black-everything entertainment show that airs on Black Entertainment Television?
What we don’t understand: Why they didn’t utilize Kelly Price more this season. Brianne got everybody out of the house and is ready to get it poppin’, so let’s hope she has real storyline in season two.
Until then, we wish you peace, love, and SOUL!