Another week, another dive into Showtime’s Black Monday. On this week’s episode, “339,” Mo takes Blair out for a night on the town, Dawn gets a wake-up call about the effects her career has on her family, and Jammer Group trader Keith has the biggest character development in one episode than any character in the entire series.
The Woman Is The Man
On Black Monday, the only people who exhibit morally reprehensible behavior are men, except for Dawn. Regina Hall’s award-winning penchant for playing comedy and drama with the same temerity helps make Dawn’s mercurial personality, which can go from tearful to terrifying in an eyeblink, engrossing. In episode “339,” the show makes a conspicuous statement that the women of Black Monday are as important, if not more, as the men.
Dawn thinks her husband affectionately referring to his mother and father-in-law as mom and dad is a little “incesty” and doesn’t want him to be one of those guys who says “we’re pregnant.” During a family dinner with her husband and parents, Dawn happily announces she’s made partner at her firm, to the bemusement of her father and husband, who suggest she should give up her career to become a mother. Dawn’s mother (played by Coming To America icon Vanessa Bell Calloway), saying she’s “happy for” her daughter’s decision was a beautiful sign that Black Monday is invested in woman solidarity, but it was only the beginning.
Later in the episode, Dawn’s mother clarifies that while she is proud of Dawn, as a woman, for making her own life decisions, she’s not happy with her decision. Dawn’s mother implores her to “make something of yourself other than money,” Dawn replies that she’s happy being a “barren robber baron,” the brilliant and nuanced the writing was for this episode made us yell at our screens. Instead of making women a monolith, Black Monday showed the women of the show not only can swear like the men, but they can also be as varied as them.
This sort of character development was due, in part, to how integral conventions of the 1980s figured into the plot of the episode.
The 1980s Is Everything
Up until episode “339,” the 1980s was an aesthetic for the show; the unseen force that dressed the characters and justified their actions. Within the first two minutes, Black Monday shows Mo sniffing cocaine off of a Nintendo Duck Hunt gun while playing the game and discussing Michael Jackson’s underage relationship with Brooke Shields and Muhammad Ali’s children. The only thing that could’ve made this a more authentic ‘80s moment is if Prince’s Purple Rain pulsated the walls as the team watched G.I. Joe and snacked on Jawbreakers.
The 1980s also catalyzed character development in the much-needed episode. As pointed out in a prior episode, Jammer Group trader Keith (Paul Scheer) was nothing more than a one-dimensional, glorified dirty joke excuse. Episode “364” treated Keith’s homosexuality as a joke punchline and narrative misdirection. In “339,” we meet Keith’s secret male lover who helps reveal a softer side to the once cold-hearted Wall Street mongrel. In what can be considered the most ‘80s moment of the series, Keith explains why he can’t reveal his homosexuality by telling his lover, “In your world, they look at you like it’s expected. In my world, they look at me like I’m infected.”
Not only was this another prime example of how Black Monday’s script writing is the show’s biggest strength; it was also the viewer’s first, and most salient example on Black Monday of the disease that is Wall Street.
The Wall Street Disease
In episode “339,” Keith’s character is tender and thoughtful in the bed with his love, and outside the confines of Wall Street. It’s only when his male lover has something that’ll advance Keith in his Wall Street job that Keith changes from the caring soul that could recognize his lover’s legs anywhere to the crazed megalomaniac that will steal a Nintendo game system from his lover while decrying their entire relationship.
This episode did a fine job of elucidating the emotional stakes involved in the work these seemingly amoral individuals undertake. Mo has sniffed coke off more surfaces than I can count in the last three episodes. But, Dawn takes her first on-camera sniff near the end of the episode after using her husband’s blind love to entangle him in her illegal activity. It was the first time in Black Monday where inhaling cocaine seemed therapeutic; a way to manage the Wall Street disease.
So far, episode “339” is Black Monday’s best episode and a great example of the potential this show can reach if it stays committed to character development, mining the ‘80s aesthetic for storytelling and pushing the women of the show closer to the forefront.