The 34-minute episode was conspicuously devoid of almost any acknowledgment that two of the show leads are black in a historically non-inclusive industry, but that all changes in episode two. In episode “364,” Maurice “Mo” Monroe (Don Cheadle)’s disrespect pushes Dawn (Regina Hall) to quit, moments before his investment firm takes on a problem only she can solve, all while he’s being shadowed by a white filmmaker aiming to do a biopic on “a black man trying to break into the white boy’s club” known as Wall Street.
Within the first minute, Mo educates the filmmaker on Black people’s colloquial use of the word “bad,” asks that the star of his biopic not be whitewashed, and lets the filmmaker know a Black man breaking into anything, even metaphorically, is nothing he wants to be associated with. Blackness is still more or less a punchline for jokes rather than a talking point for deeper discussion, but it yields some of the funniest moments. Though the scene lasts for about 45 seconds, Dawn is followed (and addressed with stereotypical Black slang) by white employees in a high-end clothing store and becomes one of the funniest sequences of the entire episode. She derisively asking a white woman who mistakes her for an employee of the store if “you see a name tag on my titty” before death glaring her into submission is so scintillating, it should be the opening sequence of every episode.
Black Monday’s somewhat nonchalant approach to race could be due to it being set in the 1980s. The mere acknowledgment of the characters’ blackness through racial prejudice while not letting it derail their everyday lives adds authenticity to the 1980s aesthetic of Black Monday as the decade was a time that saw Black executives rise in the ranks on Wall Street. In the mid-1980s, Wardell R. Lazard founded WR Lazard Securities Corporation, one of the earliest minority-owned firms, and expressly stated the firm’s “aim is to be a highly professional firm that just happens to be minority-owned.”
Black Monday may never dive deep into blackness in order to free its characters to grow in ways not confined by race. The results have been excellent, so far.
The Dynamic Duo
The premiere episode only gave us glimpses of what the second episode revealed to be the fulcrum of Black Monday’s narrative momentum: Dawn and Mo. The second episode lets the star players shine with most of their scenes being together or referencing the other. The intraoffice chess match Dawn and Mo engage in wavered between romantic comedy and the meticulousness of a procedural drama. Cheadle and Hall turned two characters walking in and out of an office into a masterclass of emotional command, comedic timing, and solid script writing.
Interestingly, episode two shows how Dawn and Mo’s chemistry is more than an incubator for a reignited romance as the premiere episode intimated. It’s through Dawn that we get to peek through the cracks of Mo’s vulgar and volatile protective shell housing the narcissist that refers to “needing” someone as the “N-word.” She inspires Mo to admit to the filmmaker he’s a “tortured hero” since he can’t say he needs Dawn, yet acts as if he does.
In the end, it’s Dawn who shines the brightest in the episode, after being given extra screen time compared to the premiere episode. The second episode did a better job of pacing than the premiere, but still faced issues that, if they persist, could prevent the show from reaching its full potential.
Black Monday has a bit of a time issue. Both of the first two episodes clock in at under 35 minutes, with episode two clocking in at just over 29 minutes. The first two episodes often feel as if the show doesn’t have enough time to give important aspects of the narrative enough time. Mo’s self-reflection only appears near the tail end of the first two episodes, instead of meticulously woven into the episode’s primary story. That’s fine for now, but this manner of rolling out a character’s emotional depth after an episode of being the opposite could quickly look like a cheap way to add a redemptive quality to the objectively obscene things Black Monday gets away with.
Then again, Mo jokingly saying, “So, while Nancy Reagan was telling everyone AIDS was no big whoop, I bet long on condoms because I knew that sh*t had legs” may be the type of humor to keep us watching faithfully every week.