TV Recap: American Soul – What Time Is It?

American Soul 
“Just Us” (Episode 104)
February 19, 2019

Last week on American Soul: Don’s son made a cross country trip to make a play to live with his dad. In addition to family trouble, Don faced some challenges in booking talent, filtering out riff raff, and controlling his dance troupe. JT’s world is closing in when the cops get a name on the cop killing (from the jewelry heist gone wrong), Tessa and Don argue, a lot, and the dancers are unhappy about not getting paid.

Catch up on last week’s deep dive recap here.  Continue reading to find out what happened in tonight’s all new episode of American Soul … BEWARE OF SPOILERS!! 

Still of Iantha Richardson as Tessa Lorraine from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Annette Brown/BET)

The cops are acting on the accomplice name that Jamie gave Detective Lorraine in the hospital last week. Reggie doesn’t seem fazed by the fuzz coming down on them, although JT is panicked. The cops arrest Dexter Brown (Tony Falcon),  who Reggie thinks is a good fall guy. Reggie tells JT that Latch, aka Jamie, died protecting them.

The cops get Dexter to the precinct and proceed to beat him with their nightsticks. A reporter interviews Johnnie Cochran (Jared Wofford), yes THAT Johnnie Cochran, who is representing the Brown family. Johnnie is in possession of photographs proving the LAPD’s police brutality.  

History Sidenote: This is a clever way to bring in some big names contemporary to the time to give a flavor of what was going on. Johnnie Cochran worked on several police brutality and corruption cases, including the 1972 conviction of Black Panther Leader Geronimo Pratt (also, Tupac’s godfather). It was alleged that Pratt shot and killed a white Santa Monica schoolteacher; ID’d by the woman’s husband in a police line-up. Cochran defended Pratt who was convicted and served jail time. Pratt’s conviction was vacated on the grounds that the prosecution hid evidence and used a witness who was a known informant for the FBI and LAPD. Cochran won a civil lawsuit against the FBI and LAPD on behalf of Pratt. I should note here that all of Cochran’s notoriety came after the time this show is set in, so I’m a little confused why he’s being featured here. Moving on. 

Lorraine house. Detective Lorraine is dealing with the aftermath of the officer’s death and the arrest of Brown. Tessa tells him some potential good news: she’s 8 days late. Fingers crossed for ya girl. 

Still of Iantha Richardson as Tessa Lorraine from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Annette Brown/BET)

Simone is trying on clothes when she’s interrupted by Kendall hanging an American flag. He’s man of the house now so he’s trying to figure out who he is. 

Don is meeting with a TV network executive, Brooks Donald, who doesn’t know BB King from Nat King Cole, but feels duped that Soul Train was not the American Bandstand he was promised. He needs Don to deliver A-list stars for the network to keep the ad sponsors.

JT’s momma is pounding on Willard’s door as JT comes home with some groceries. JT busts open the door and has words with Willard, who’s there with a crew getting rid of the Tucker’s belongings.

Don explains that the pipeline will yield some great acts. He plays a ruse saying that the list is wrong and Brooks goes along with it to keep the prime Saturday slot Soul Train has currently.

JT’s words with Willard escalate. JT pops Willard in the mouth for disparaging his Momma. Then Willard and his goons rough up JT. This kid can’t catch a break. 

Still of Christopher Jefferson as Jeffrey “JT” Tucker from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Annette Brown/BET)

Ma Mable’s Diner. JT talking to Ma Mable about their situation. He tells her about the back rent. He’ll pay her back, he promises, and Ma cuts him off saying she knows when a boy is lying. 

Soul Train Set. Don and Tessa are sparring in Don’s office. Don thinks the dancers were not up to par, as Tessa defends her troupe.

Ma Mable’s Diner. Ma won’t loan JT the money, but she offers him and Momma a place to stay, at the back of the restaurant. 

Soul Train Set. Tessa calls for an emergency rehearsal with the dancers.

Club 100 Proof.  It’s Your Thing, by the Isley Brothers, is queued up in Club 100 Proof with a Jimi Hendrix looking (and sounding) Ernie Isley (Roman GianArthur). Gerald has booked the Isley brothers and Don is hoping to cash in on those coattails when Gerald checks him. 

Still from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Annette Brown/BET)

“What if you invited me over to your crib for dinner? Food, wine, Delores’s sweet peach cobbler for dessert. Month later I come back with no invitation, just make my way into your kitchen, open your fridge and take whatever I want. What would you call that? First taste is hospitality, brother. Now you gotta pay to eat.”

Still of Sinqua Walls as Don Cornelius and Jason Dirden as Gerald Aims from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Annette Brown/BET)

Ma Mable’s Diner. JT’s mom and Ma Mabel are talking about Momma T earning her keep for the hospitality. Simone and Kendall walk in and JT’s stressing, asking Ma to not say anything about them staying there.  Ma isn’t about that though.

“I’ll say it til I die, don’t lie to the people you love, son.”

JT, Simone, and Kendall are talking about cutting a demo. They pool their money, all $96 of it. Simone gives it to JT to hold for safekeeping. How long before Momma T finds it and uses it to shoot up? I’d bank on that. 

Don, smarting from the rebuke from Gerald, is chatting up a young lady from the Isley crew. He’s trying to make her feel better. She was just talked to, publicly, about a mess up with the monitor. She mentions that the Isley Brothers will be at a United Negro College Fund Fundraiser later that night. 

Gerald and his henchmen are terrorizing Mikey (Aaron James) in a deserted truck stop, the same guy from Episode 2 who was being terrorized by Gerald. Mikey’s in deep shit because he doesn’t have all the cash he promised Gerald previously. Gerald is not happy and proceeds to strangle Mikey between two trucks with a chain. Bye, Mikey. I hope Don knows what kind of a cat he’s really dealing with here.

Still of Jason Dirden as Gerald Aims from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Annette Brown/BET)

Commercials. 

Soul Train emergency rehearsal. Tessa is pulling some tough love on the dancers.

Detective Lorraine is talking to Mr. Belligerent Cop who pulled Don over in Episode 1, congratulating him on the take down in South Central of the cop killer (who was his partner). Detective Lorraine, you look skeptical. Uh oh, Johnnie Cochran is back throwing shade at Detective Lorraine for being a black man climbing the “blue ladder.” Cochran is asking if the arrest and confession are clean and Lorraine is standing by it. 

Don shows up at the UNCF Fundraiser. There’s a pretentious prick, Marcus Payne (Clint Magby), who said everyone at the party was “either Ivy or married to one,” calling out riddles to impress guests. 

“So a man has two sons. The first he gives a nickel and a dime. The second, a dime alone. What time is it?”

Don is mercifully rescued by Ilsa DeJarnette, the lawyer for Motown we saw in the Episode 1&2 premiere. She’s a lot more cordial this time around to Don and flattens the air out of Marcus’s hot air balloon.

Still of Sinqua Walls as Don Cornelius and Shannon Kane as Ilsa Dejarnette from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Photo: Jace Downs/BET)

Soul Train Set. Flo is giving lip to Tessa about not being able to “talk the talk” and “dance the dance.” Tessa has had it with Lil’ Miss Attitude and baits her into a wager on who is a better dancer. Tessa starts to tear it up. When Flo thinks she’s caught up, Tessa goes full round kick over Flo’s short head and Flo gets a hip bump that sends her flying. Flo thinks she’s got in when Tessa starts moving her arms over Flo (clearly invading her dance space), and Tessa finishes with a glorious full legged split. That ends the dance off. Tessa immediately heads to the ladies room. 

Still from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Annette Brown/BET)

Ilsa asks Don what big game Don was hunting at the fundraiser. Don, as he snorts a line of coke, plays dumb saying he’s there to support UNCF. She’s not to be fooled, she knows the Isley Brothers are on the schedule and that they couldn’t make it. He comes clean and tells her that he’s under pressure to get A-list talent on his roster. She has something up her sleeve and tells him to stick around. 

Soul Train Set. Flo is hitting on Kendall over biscuits. Some of the dancers are crabby (exit Simone) that they only get paid in KFC, whereas the “Bandstand kids” get paid real money. Tessa interrupts, looking for Flo and Simone. Simone is in the wardrobe room looking for a fly outfit to borrow when Flo happens on the scene. Tessa finds them to deliver fan mail. AWWW.

UNCF Fundraiser. Don has failed to notice that Diana Ross (Michelle Williams) has shown up at the fundraiser. He’s ready for liftoff to meet Diana when Ilsa puts a ground stop on him.

“That inner circle is like a human forcefield. Allow me to freshen our drinks and I’ll introduce you.”

Don, not to be outdone in his smooth factor, asks the DJ to play a request of Ms. Ross’s. 

Ma Mable tells JT there’s some meat missing from the freezer and wants to know where Momma T is, because she was back there cleaning earlier. Momma T comes back, high as a kite. Ma is on her last nerve with her and warns JT that Momma T is gonna have to go. 

The UNCF Fundraiser.  Don’s request, “Night and Day,” comes on and he’s dancing towards Diana, charming her. She takes the bait and they chat about that song being the song she auditioned for Berry Gordy (the famous record executive who founded Motown in 1959) when she was signed to Motown. Don’s trying to show they have more in common than the surface would show, that they both struggled to get their starts, but Diana is not giving in that easily. Diana isn’t a pushover though.

“Isn’t your dream worth that kind of effort?”

Still of Sinqua Walls as Don Cornelius and Michelle Williams as Diana Ross from BET’s “American Soul” episode 104. (Photo: Jace Downs/BET)

Detective Lorraine has uncovered some new evidence. I guess his conversation with Johnnie got him thinking. He swears there’s another guy, but he’s stopped by his partner who said Dexter was found dead in his cell. Case closed. 

The Soul Train Set. Back at the dance rehearsal, Fresh, Flo’s partner from Episode 1, injures himself on a back flip, appearing to break an ankle.

Diana is collecting money for the fundraiser. Ilsa throws in $5000 for Don. Don asks how he can get the Motown label back on Soul Train. In response, Ilsa turns up the seductive pressure. 

“You want us back? Impress me.”
“You? Not the talent? Not your boss?”
“Yeah, just little old me. Impress me, Don.”
“Guess I need to bring my A-game.”
“And when you do, bring your check book. You owe me $5000.”

Cut to Gerald defending his move on Mikey; he tells Jimmy that it makes them look strong. Jimmy tells Gerald that Mikey owed lots of money to lots of people, including a mean sounding guy named Herschel. 

Commercials.

The Soul Train Set. Fresh is carted off in an ambulance. Flo comes over to say there’s a vigil that night for Dexter Brown, found hung in his jail cell.

Club 100 Proof.  Gerald is taking up a collection for Dexter, too. (Somehow I feel like there will be a siphoning off the top, you know, for his trouble). Don apologizes for taking advantage of Gerald’s hospitality. They toast to the opportunity Gerald proposes: 5% cut of the profits for the acts he brings Don, and he offers Al Green as a potential booking. Ooooh Don. I think you’re in over your head with Gerald here.  

The Soul Train Set. Tessa is in the office as Don comes in drunk and happy. Tessa tells him that Fresh got injured during rehearsal and Don gets mad because there’s only liability coverage for production, not rehearsals.  AND, he’s down a great dancer because of Tessa. He asks her if she’s “incompetent or just plain stupid.”  Tessa, however, has had enough of his bullshit.

“You care more about having a good time than making a great show.”

Exit Tessa. Don’t mess with her. She’s fed up, Don. You try dealing with Flo all day and see how much patience you have for your toxic masculinity. 

Simone is at her gig. She’s singing Aretha Franklin’s classic “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” as the scene drifts to TV coverage of Dexter Brown’s vigil.

Johnnie Cochran is there, speaking to those gathered about fighting back against injustice as Flo and Kendall watch. Kendall, you are a dumb boy, stay away from her! Bad news!

Tessa comes home to find Patrick hanging the name Alex. He was optimistic Alexander if it’s a boy and Alexis if it’s a girl, only to have Tessa say she’s not pregnant after all.

The Soul Train Set. Don is trying to figure out the riddle from the UNCF Fundraiser. All he had to do was look at the clock. (1:45 the parent gave a quarter to two.)

Before the credits roll, there is an ‘In Memoriam’ screen of those who have died, either in police custody or because of accused brutality since 1971. The names include Ron Settles, Amadou Diallo, and Eric Garner.

And scene.

***

Thoughts.

The last screen was sobering. This episode felt a little disjointed, but I think that has more to do with deepening characters and their positions. When you look back at each episode, the smaller vignettes are developing well; I’d just like it to be a little more fluid in its storytelling. This pace, though, keeps the show moving at a fast pace, and we’re starting to feel the urgency and pressure that Don is under to produce his A-list talent. The story keeps us coming back for more because the theme is timeless: the underdog struggling to make it big. That Soul Train is so iconic makes this early struggle all the more compelling. Unfortunately, I’m starting to like Don, the character (Sinqua Walls is brilliant) less and less as these episodes go on. 

Character review now that we’re almost half way through the season:

Tessa and Simone are emerging for me as the bright lights in the cast. Tessa finally standing up to Don and his bullshit while keeping the train running by keeping the troupe somewhat functioning. She’s doing the Lor’s work. And her pregnancy storyline, heartbreaking. And Simone? Daaaaaaamn, someone get her a recording contract. STAT! BET can make a mint on her voice.

Flo just needs a good bitch slap.

I’m intrigued at how the Clarke family intertwines into the Soul Train/Don Cornelius story, and eager to see how that develops. They’re a good balance for the shadier dealings we see Don involved with, given their wholesome traits.

Gerald, even though he’s a bad dude, brings a degree of comic relief. He’s worse than Don in his transgressions, so you end up rooting for Don more. Just slightly. I still stand by that Don is more of the villain in his own story because of the seismic shift in his personality from the beginning of the series to now.

I’m not entirely sure why Johnnie Cochran was interjected heavily into the episode, but I get that it delivers on the underlying message of highlighting the inequality in the justice system for black vs white, so for that, it makes sense. 

On the Cochran point, I do like how the producers and writers are framing this show’s juggernaut in the greater backdrop of history and the contemporary experiences. Don Cornelius may not have known at the UNCF Fundraiser he was building a legacy for Soul Train, but in the context of hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to make connections between the show and the history making events of the time.  

In other news, we got another Destiny’s Child as a key Motown shaker! I hope Michelle Williams, as Diana Ross, will be back. We didn’t get to hear her really sing much in this episode. There has got be a Beyonce sighting before we’re done, maybe as Aretha Franklin, or somebody Queen-like in the near future to make the trifecta complete.

And then get them to all sing together. Please? Pretty Please?

Thank you for reading! Tune in next Tuesday, 9pm/8c, for an all new American Soul. Join me over on Twitter (@SheilsMcGangsta) to Live Tweet the episode with me! We’ll have another deep dive recap on that episode too. Check out our previous recaps at popculturereview.com. 

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