""Black Like Monica""

A review by Jenni:

What I love about this episode:
I think it's good that it draws attention to the book Black Like Me.  I read it one summer during my college years and thought it very worthwhile.  I wish I remembered more.  It's a good candidate for a reread.  If you watch the DVD version of this, Martha Williamson plugs the book and explains how it inspired this episode.  But even with out that, I'm sure most people assumed as much given how similar the titles are.

Beyond the important themes of this episode, I enjoy it because of all the questions it raises about the nature of angels.  But I'll get more into that two sections from this one.

I like when the episodes involve voice overs.  It gives us a glimpse into the angels' psyches and how they think in ways that your typical episode does not.  Plus, since they employed the tactic so seldom, it makes those episodes seem all the more special.

The conversation about "negro spirituals" was spot on.  I've totally been party to conversations wherein the participants were hugely worried about misusing words like that even when they're the appropriate historical terms.

I think my favorite scene in the episode comes when the "committee" discusses their plan.  Their conversation reveals so many of our human frailties.  In a few brief minutes they manage to hit on our angst at opportunities missed because we were just too busy, the unfortunate preference for reputation over justice in some cases, the subjugation of basic rights in the name of profit and business, and, of course, the tendency to deny others' rights.

Nice quote from Monica: "God is not the author of confusion.  God brings order out of chaos and light out of darkness."

Whatever else, I'm glad Monica received a new appreciation for Tess' strength.  One does wonder, however, what she'll need to experience to stop taking Andrew for granted...

Gotta hand it to this episode: it's definitely interesting and really turns the tables on some TBAA staples.  An angel worrying about dying???  Holy cow.  Such stuff is fanfic made from.

Another good quote, this time from Tess to Monica: "You can't go on preaching against the darkness until you've seen it in yourself first."

So before I move on I just want to say that I really do like this episode.  I think it brings up some great points.  I just can't help but think that portions of it were subpar.  Which brings me to...

What I didn't love about this episode:
I'm confused by the introductory scene.  I'm not sure I like the image of God it gives us.  Tess tearfully wonders aloud at God asking her to do this again.  What does she mean?  If Andrew was with Mooney when he died, which seems pretty clear, then why was Tess required to be there?  What did she do?  Why would God apparently repeatedly make her a part of such a thing, especially when Andrew was already working?  For that matter, why was Andrew still with the dead body when Tess was so upset?  The whole staging of the scene seems off to me.  It's like the viewer is being asked to fill in too many blanks.  Perhaps Andrew remained by Mooney's body as a show of respect.  I could definitely back that idea.  But then they should have made that clearer by briefly showing Andrew walk away once it was obvious Mooney's body was being taken care of.  But that still doesn't answer why God would seem to deliberately give Tess cases that would hurt her.  If He has countless angels, why would He not divvy up assignments with more of a view of how they'd be impacted? 

I want to love this episode.  But I can't quite shake the feeling that it was written theme first, plot second which causes about every problem I have with it.  It made me feel like I was being asked to dispel my disbelief waaay too much, for one.  Locking Monica up was a stupid, stupid idea.  I can't believe that 6 non-deranged people would back that.  I can't believe that not a single one would be "Yeah, that's an awesome idea.  Then a week from now she can go screaming to a civil rights lawyer and we're all going down in a big way.  Wake up, people!"  Tack on the fact that they did it to cover up the hate crime murder of a black man... how did someone not have a vision of their mug shot showing up on World News Tonight?  Sure, their plot may have bought them some time but it was so stupid and so illegal that I refuse to believe six functional people would back it in real life.

No offense to Ms. Downey cause God knows I can't do alternate voices but a time or two I found Monica's voice while black to be very reminiscent of Monique's voice which was kinda eeek...

I definitely believe racism still exists.  However... I think this episode's means of demonstrating it were sometimes totally off in the sense that what they highlighted may be annoying but not necessarily indicative of racism.  Like Monica talking about how no one noticed her or asked her name.  I'm white and I have to say that I seldom feel like strangers notice me and they certainly don't make a point to ask my name and be chatty.  If they wanted to go that route, show Monica entering the restaurant then show a white woman entering after yet being served first.  But as it was it just looked like a day in the life to me.  Further, usually Monica is smiling as she walks around so maybe people do chat with her more then.  I dunno.  But who does she think is going to strike up a conversation with someone who looks upset and paranoid?  And while the episode makes it obvious that Tom does harbor racist feelings, that he calls James Jimmy is a really bad example to start that off with.  It undermined things James said after that point cause it just seemed so unconnected.  Much like Eric dubbing Andrew "Andy" in "Angel of Death," there are simply some people that will shorten your name however they see fit.  I've had so many people start calling me Jen even though I don't like being called that.  They just gravitate to it for some reason.  So to just throw that in as proof of racism seems like someone looking to be offended to me.  And, like I said, it's unfortunate they wrote that because later on James makes some more solid points but starting his dialogue off with something that ambiguous wasn't a good idea.

Maybe I'm completely off-base here but... I find it galling that Monica needs to talk to Mrs. Parks... in the middle of the night.  I mean, yes, she did happen to be awake and offered to hear Monica out.  But that was only after Monica was demanding to speak to her.  It's wonderful that Monica had an epiphany and I can understand her needing to talk about it.  However... it gave me the bad feeling that Mrs. Parks was somehow obligated to listen to Monica's saga.  It seemed less about honoring Mrs. Parks and more about helping Monica feel better. 

Frankly, I just found Monica's angst woefully misplaced in this episode.  I'm sorry but I just can't get all indignant about her wanting to be white when, while black, she was nearly killed.  If I was being targeted for being female or Catholic or blonde or white, I think I could be forgiven for, in a weak moment, praying to be male or Protestant or brunette or black.  The problem, as I saw it, wasn't her wanting to be white.  Self-preservation is not a sin.  It was that a culture exists wherein she would be made to feel that way.  The episode spent so much time with Monica's great awakening that it seemed like what Mooney suffered and legitimate questions about race took a back seat for far too much of this episode. 

I wish they'd done a better job of pointing out that James, too, is racist.  To believe that all white people are anything is racist just as it's racist to believe all black people do this or all Mexican people do that, etc. 

Finally, the episode really lacks subtlety.  Maybe it's a generational thing but it seems to me that racism now is far more insidious.  And it can be felt by people who otherwise have no qualms dealing with people of other races.  Someone who feels the need to wipe their hand after shaking a black person's hand is not in the least relatable to me.  That doesn't speak to me.  That's hateful crazy talk.  I feel like TBAA was wanting its viewers to acknowledge prejudice in their own hearts and that we were supposed to make that journey with Tom but the minute he said that I went from a contemplative place to "What the bleep is wrong with you!?!"  I hope to God that that type of thinking isn't what the TBAA writers think lurks in us cause to me that's completely abhorrent and I by no means think myself particularly enlightened. 

Lingering questions:
Are angels technically a given race?  Is Andrew really white?  Is Tess really black?  (To go even further... are white and black real concepts or just our inventions?)  Are they actually even male and female respectively?  This episode makes me ponder what the angels are like in Heaven and how they actually identify themselves.  And if Monica can change skin tones, what else can change?  Does height change as we humans have grown taller?  Since they appear as different races does that mean that prior to means of expansive travel angels were restricted to cases in areas whose inhabitants mirrored their skin tone because otherwise they'd really stand out?  Seriously, a person could really go a lil bit crazy pondering this episode too much. 

Did Tess get in trouble for walking off the case?  Can angels ask to go Home, with out repercussion, if a case is too much for them?

When is it permissible for angels to report a crime?  Assumedly they can't always or else Andrew and other AODs would be famous.

Monica says that angels don't need to sleep.  Really?  Or is there an addendum on that?  If they're earth bound for a particular length of time, do they sleep?  Cause I think of Tess wanting to get to bed in "The Homecoming."  I would assume that in such a case where they were living under the same roof as humans, they would sleep.  But then sleeping and needing to sleep are two different things.

Parts that made me feel swoony:
This episode doesn't really have swoony moments for me but there are a couple heart string pulling moments like when Andrew's voice breaks when he says "Yeah, ya do" in response to Monica not knowing what her assignment is.

Since Andrew was largely absent... I couldn't help but get really taken in by James' eyes.  They are really striking.  And I couldn't shake the feeling that I recognized him from something beyond this role.  Turns out Rick Worthy appeared on "Medium" this season and I remember thinking he had really nice eyes then, too. 

Random thoughts:
Music: The town choir sings "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as they rehearse.  The band plays something I can't place when Mrs. Parks arrives.  Then the group chants "Her Name is Rosa" which I'm going to guess was not created by TBAA.  There's a country song playing in the bar Monica enters.  All I could make out were the lyrics "Sometimes I... makes me wonder what went wrong" sung by a female.

Scenes Hallmark cut:
Since I watched this on DVD, I dunno.  But if you're a TBAA on Hallmark viewer and want to check up on something, lemme know.

Further on down the road...
I still wonder what consideration God does take as far as doling out assignments?  Why give an assignment to Tess that she's going to find especially difficult?  I still don't really get her role in the assignment.

While my heart goes out to Tess, it does bother me that she gets to decide to go Home when she's hurting and at times Andrew's gone no further than wander a bit away and gotten reamed. 

It always makes me sad when Andrew holds onto people so tight when he's upset over assignment as he does here when he and Monica are near Mooney's body.  What did he do after the finale?  I like to think God sent others to be with him after Monica and Tess moved on.

This bar scene bothers me.  Yes, all the men stare at Monica as her monologue talks about being black and how it feels.  And maybe that was why they were staring.  However, the point might have been made a lil bit better if she didn't appear to be the only woman in the bar.  Newsflash: If you're a woman and walk into a bar filled only with men... it doesn't matter what color your skin is.  You will be stared at and there's a good chance you're gonna feel uncomfortable.  True, I could see it being even more worrisome if you're
a black woman and it's all white men.  Still... it's another example of how a point could have been better made with only a slight change like putting more women in that bar.  But if they think any woman white, black, pink, or turquoise that was new to the area would have felt comfy in that moment... maybe some of the men involved need to become women for a bit. 

"God is good, Monica.  He forgives and heals."  Always nice when a human gets a great quote.  That's from Rosa Parks.

Tess does mention that God forgave her so I guess she did face some sort of less than thrilled response for walking off.  That makes me feel like it's not quite so double-strandardish so that's good.

Actually... I wonder how this episode would have played differently had Andrew become black?  Personally, I don't think he needed to learn what Monica did so it wouldn't have had much of a point.  But it may have helped with some of the issues I had like with the bar scene and other parts. 

A Word from Travis:
Jenni, I also remember reading “Black Like Me” while on summer break from High School. This episode is so special to me as an individual who’s Black. What a poignant quote when Monica says she finally realizes how Tess has to be stronger as an angel in black skin. It was interesting to Tess vulnerable side in this episode as she decided to return to heaven as she was so saddened by Mr. Mooney’s murder. When Tess returned, she was able to encourage Monica to reach out to God as she (Tess) admitted that she failed God but as He forgave her, He’d also already forgiven Monica. So many special moments in this episode to even mention. It’s so lovely that Mrs. Parks was able to make an appearance in this episode. All the actors involved in this episode did a splendid job, especially Rick Worthy (James/Jimmy), John Ritter and Davenia McFadden (Lavonda).The actors I mentioned brought a mixture of assertiveness, vulnerability and strength to their respective roles. Other than John Ritter and Rosa Parks, I wasn’t familiar with the other guest stars.

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