For seven episodes, we got glimpses into the past that molded Mo into the savage trader he is. Episode “7042” finally takes us closer to his origin, and apparently, that leads us to Los Angeles in 1968. The Jheri curl is now a blown-out afro, and his ruthless mercantilism on Wall Street is replaced by altruism for underserved communities, as a member of the Black Panther Party. The glimpses into his past — the Church’s Chicken on his birthday, his visit with Jammer — all begin to congeal into one vision of a misguided man.
The domineering Xosha Roquemore plays the role of Candance, the woman who Jammer intimated broke Mo’s heart. Roquemore’s last recurring role was as comedian Dawn Lima on Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here, a short-lived series about the seedy side of stand-up comedy in the early 1970s. Her as Candace is another stellar casting choice. Roquemore was able to speak honey-coated bullets that can pierce any man’s ego in a way that’s both comforting and impactful as a Black woman comic in the 1970s. It’s just as mesmerizing to watch on Black Monday as a Black Panther member in the 1960s.
This arc, while entertaining, seemed to continue an awkward trend in Black Monday: the Black woman bears the weight of the man’s faults. Candace is portrayed as the person who took Mo from thinking of others and drug-free to a staunch individualist who probably has cocaine residue in his DNA. Similarly, it’s Dawn who is the cause of Mo’s Jammer Group being partly owned by the Lehman Brothers in the episode “243,” and the one who feels the obligation to blow up her marriage and future love life to save a risky Georgina Play that Mo involved her in without her say. But, then again, Regina Hall and Roquemore deliver two of the most emotionally jarring performances of the episode and demonstrate two separate, but equally as profound, ways of Black women releasing themselves from the control of men.
Taking Black Monday to the 1960s accomplishes a number of worthwhile feats otherwise unlikely in the 1980s Wall Street timeline. For one, the first 90 seconds of this episode features a wider variety of Black faces than the last seven episodes had, combined. But, more than anything, the new timeline allows for the soul music of the ‘60s to narrate the story.
Music has always played a noticeable part in the show, but more so as a reinforcement of the time period. In this episode, the sounds of the time guide the audience and take them deeper into the character than what they see on the screen.
In the episode’s opening, soul singer Harry Krapsho lets us know “I don’t care about money too much” and “I don’t have a dollar to my name, and if you don’t mind I’d like to keep it the same” on his song “Don’t Worry.” Those sentiments play as a Black man, whom we don’t realize is Mo, exits a bus in Los Angeles, California. Before we find out Mo wasn’t money-hungry in his past — and formerly known as Roland — the sweet sounds of Harry Krapsho let us know.
Candace deceptively persuades Mo to abandon his principles by smoking weed and going against the Black Panther Party’s wishes, as Sandy Szigeti’s “Make Believe World” scores the scene. After, the plot twist minutes later, the song is a shrewd act of foreshadowing by the showrunners. But, It’s the late, great Nina Simone’s rendition of the 1967 song “I Shall Be Released,” written by Bob Dylan, that expands the Black Monday world.
Near the end of the episode, Candace’s true identity is revealed while she’s looking into the eyes of the men and women who seem to have put her in such a position. When Nina’s voice wails out “I remember every face of every man who put me here,” Candace’s motives become more complex. Black Monday lets the music leave you with the thought that Candace may have been compromised by the FBI, and in order to avoid jail time, she would have to turn in her fellow Black people. The steely resolve in her final words to Mo — “I told you, ‘I got you.’”— further complicates that theory and adds an engrossing richness to Candace’s character.
Black Monday could’ve left Nina Simone’s rendition for the climax of the flashback arc and the episode would still be great. But, Nina returns for one last “I shall be released” after Mo sends Dawn packing following her revelation to Mo about who she really loves. The image of Dawn piercing her lips and steadying her gaze on the countryside instead of being shocked into submission by Mo’s thoughtless decision, while Nina belts out her hope for release, is a moment of Black perseverance we would’ve never thought a show like Black Monday would make a focal point in such an important episode.
The episode also ends with an uncharacteristically sentimental Mo reverting back to his selfish ways at the same time Ms. Simone sings about “release.” And just like that, one four-minute song helps set up the emotional stakes at hand in the final two episodes of Black Monday’s first season.