Out of an episode that tackled such major issues and things as homophobia in social activism, the Black Lives Matter movement and bigotry in the workplace, I was surprised to find that my biggest takeaway from last night’s “Feeling Friendless” episode of Being Mary Jane was that I never truly realized how unhealthy MJ’s relationships with other Black women have been.
This all came to me at the end of the episode, when MJ shared a sweet moment with Aaliyah, the young woman who works in public relations at Great Day USA. After helping our protagonist keep her composure following some very out-of-character moments and even cleaning up some messes that could have cost MJ her job, Mary Jane asks Aaliyah if she would be interested in hanging out some time, which the bubbly PR maven in training agrees to.
This moment is pretty substantial in the episode, well, to me at least. Earlier on, MJ told her hairstylist, Ty, that she wasn’t sure about hanging out with Aaliyah at her forced housewarming party because the young woman is always “on the clock.” MJ believed at the time that Aaliyah was not necessarily someone she could talk to and all she could relate to MJ about was work. She also wasn’t sure she could trust her with the many secrets and issues that our series heroine has. But by the end, Mary Jane sees that Aaliyah is someone who could have her back and help her use some good sense — this despite the fact that MJ is probably more close to 20 years older than the woman she’s seeking some “act right” from.
Their blossoming friendship, to me, is refreshing to see, because if we take a quick walk down memory lane of this show, MJ’s track record shows that she doesn’t have the healthiest relationships with Black men or women.
The longest and truest friendship she had was with the late Lisa Hudson, whom she’d known since elementary school. The intelligent OBGYN was the type of friend to tell Mary Jane the truth about the decisions she was making. She wasn’t one to sit back and watch MJ do reckless things. If you’ll recall, she was the one who informed David about the sperm MJ saved of his. Still, she was also the type of friend to help Mary Jane follow through with the stupid decision to artificially inseminate herself with his sperm (MJ had a change of heart at the last minute).
Sadly, after the two women fell out when it came out in the worst way (an accidental butt dial) that Lisa and David had fooled around briefly, Lisa, who had been suffering with depression throughout the series, downed a concoction of pills and wine. Weary of feeling unloved by men and unappreciated by her best friend, Lisa took a drastic step and committed suicide. But even before that sad ending to her story, their friendship had been rocky. Lisa was jealous of MJ, particularly her love life, and MJ, well, her issues always came first, as did her many complaints about the people in her life. In the Season 2 episode “Pulling the Trigger,” after sending their mutual friend Valerie some scary text messages, both women go to check on Lisa’s mental state at her home. When they find out she’s ok, they sit in Lisa’s living room while she is presumably sleeping and talk negatively about her. Lisa finally comes out and scolds MJ, the ringleader of the conversation, for being “so fake.” She tells her that despite the way she dogs her girlfriends, they are the same one who “continue to bow down to your feet” and support her.
Speaking of Valerie, she was a married friend that Mary Jane met through her relationship with David. Their friendship fell apart after MJ told her just how sick and tired she was (aka, envious) of the way Valerie only seemed to talk about things through the lens of being a married woman and mother. She also talked in a very condescending way to Valerie. That includes the time where after downing a few drinks, MJ scolded Valerie about her alleged goody two-shoes act in front of everyone, including Valerie’s husband.
Then there was Nichelle, the publicist friend who Mary Jane initially assumed was the one who told David that she had taken some of his sperm. Mary Jane tanked that friendship by verbally attacking her at an event, even telling Nichelle to “go to hell” and firing her as her publicist. When Mary Jane finds out that it was actually Lisa who spilled the beans, the best she has to offer Nichelle is a series of drunk-dialed voicemail messages, which the woman has sense enough not to respond to. It was clear that MJ never truly considered Nichelle a real friend based on the way she so easily disrespected and then moved on from her.
As for the rest, Mary Jane couldn’t form healthy relationships with the likes of CeCe (played by Loretta Devine) or Ronda because they proved themselves to be untrustworthy people. While CeCe was wise in some ways, she was also extorting Mary Jane over a car accident they were both involved in. They seemed to grow to have some form of camaraderie, with MJ giving CeCe money (through that aforementioned extortion) to start her own bookstore, but Mary Jane understandably shut that faux friendship down by informing police of CeCe’s actions.
And even though Ronda could have been a great mentor for Mary Jane, they were both gunning for one another as competitors. Mary Jane had plans to try and take Ronda’s seat at the Great Day USA anchor desk (which she would eventually do with Justin’s underhanded help), and Ronda was trying to stay queen bee by any means necessary.
With all that said, Kara has been the only consistent friend Mary Jane has had four seasons in, and MJ was quite close to losing that friendship for the common reason behind why many of her friendships have ended in the past — boy drama.
Being Mary Jane has a history of showing the ugly side of Black female relationships. The betrayal. The feelings of envy. The gossip spoken about even the closest of friends. And more than anything, how a lack of trust can really destroy a good thing. In all honesty, I’m not mad at that because it’s realistic.
What I’ve learned about this character that I find interesting is that Mary Jane treats her friendships with women in the same way she does some of her relationships and escapades with men. She has strong expectations for them, namely that they’ll put up with her shenanigans, and just when things seem to be going ok, she starts to question her trust of them and their value to her. Maybe depictions such as these are why it was so important to Issa Rae to make Insecure, although a great deal about dating, mostly about Black female friendship. And maybe that’s also why we’re also seeing Mary Jane starting from scratch, damn near friendless and trying to create a bond with Aaliyah. While Aaliyah may not be her age, have her sensibilities or all of her interests, she could be the type of person Mary Jane finally realizes in the last minutes of “Feeling Friendless” is truly valuable after a whole episode, and really, a whole four seasons of being the black sheep: a good friend.