(Brandee Evans as Mercedes. Courtesy: Starz)
Mercedes isn’t a stripper, she’s a superhero.
Close to the end of P-Valley’s premiere episode, Mercedes (Brandee Evans) takes a moment to pray silently.
Then our heroine jaunts to her awaiting platform, clad in shiny, bright red, thigh high heeled boots, and matching attire.
After making sure the appropriate theme music is accompanying her, she takes flight, swinging across the pole and landing in a full split. She mounts the pole upside down, pulls herself upright, climbs the pole, and flips upside down again, while still attached at the waist. When she gets to the very top of the pole, she sprawls on the ceiling, her body parallel to the floor.
The crowd cheers and chants her name.
It’s Sunday. Mercedes Sundayz. On this night, she performs feats that dazzle and cause humankind to be transported from this earthly realm.
That’s what kind of strip club show this is. There’s twerking, but the pole work the women at The Pynk do is athletic and high wire. It’s more akin to watching a gymnast’s routine than mere striptease.
The shots of the dancing are often tight closeups — you see hair whipping around, glossy platform heels, skin lit by blue and pink hues, glitter-clad bosoms — the effect is more sparkly and soft, than salacious.
The show features all-women directors; this episode is helmed by Karena Evans, who directed music videos for Drake (God's Plan, Nice for What, In My Feelings) SZA (Garden), and SIR (D’Evils), among others.
Despite the episode beginning with Autumn Night (Elarica Johnson) and her journey, Mercedes quickly takes stage as the main character. Mercedes is the club’s OG, but she’s decided to leave after a seven-year run. There’s even an event planned with flyers featuring her visage.
To Mercedes, her profession is art, as she tells her devout mother, over her objections to her work (but not the cash it brings her church).
“You got your pulpit, I got mine,” Mercedes says.
Enter her protege/usurper Autumn, an amateur-night-winner-turned-dancer that has quite literally swept into town and into the bright lights of the club.
Besides the central conflict between the tough, seasoned Mercedes and the green, awkward Autumn are a few secondary plots:
The Pynk owner Uncle Clifford and the club being in financial trouble
The abusive past that Autumn is running from, which also includes a daughter, apparently(Video) Uncle Clifford & Her Girls; Autumn Night, Mercedes & Miss Mississippi #PValley S2
Miss Mississippi’s (unseen) abusive partner
The “inter-office” dynamics between the rest of the group
Andre, who Autumn catches photographing the club late (and who continues to photograph the club)
When Autumn has flashbacks of being physically assaulted, as the viewers see the images, ringing in the ears is heard. The same technique is employed in HBO’s I May Destroy You, when Arabella (Michaela Coel) has flashbacks of being raped.
In P-Valley’s first episode, we see the women in the club, but we also start to see their lives outside of the club, where they are mothers, daughters of aspiring preachers, and dance team instructors.
This gleaming club is located in a decaying town, where faded pastel abandoned buildings dot the landscape. There are clear markers of eviction and dumping sites and bullet-ridden street signs.
But there are also lively churches, neighborhood corner stores, old school cars, and Black cowboys with gold teeth that twinkle and glisten.
Memphis Easter Eggs:
The theme song is by Memphis rapper Jucee Froot. You might have also heard her original song created for Season 4 of HBO’s Insecure called Eat Itself. Eat Itself samples Memphis classic rap tune Looking 4 Da Chewin.
(You can find more original music from the show below. It includes gospel, by the way. Click here if you use Tidal, Apple Music, or something else.)
There are three other songs by Jucee in the first episode: Life’s A Bitch, Make That Money, and No Broke Dick. (The show’s soundtrack is 50% female.)
Among Memphis music played is Memphis anthem, Nobody by Playa Fly, used in an extended sequence.
junt (a person, place, thing, or idea, similar to how Philadelphians use “jawn.” A junt can also specifically mean lover.)
stout junt (a very curvaceous person — typically a woman. Stout is used the same way that “thick” is.)
flodging/flauging (a synonym for the episode title — AKA faking, derived from the word “camouflage”)
Other odds and ends:
Pussy Valley (P-Valley is short for Pussy Valley. Pussy Valley AKA PV was the nickname of a former housing project in Southwest Memphis, not terribly far from the Mississippi state line. It has been referenced in Three 6 Mafia songs. I’ve heard two versions on where the nickname originated. One involves the project being home to a multitude of women; the other involves sex work/workers in the area.)
Chucalissa (I don’t know if it’s actually mentioned, but the fictional town The Pynk is located in is Chucalissa, Mississippi. Chucalissa is a historic indigenous site and museum in Memphis.)(Video) NOT DIAMOND.. TAKE ME INSTEAD!!!!! | P-VALLEY 2X10 FINALE REACTION
Al Green/hot grits reference (this time for an abusive lover)
Southaven (Mercedes’ dance team’s rival is the Southaven Sizzlers. Southaven is just across the state line from Memphis, and is a part of the metro area. So we can surmise that Chucalissa is not far from Memphis.)
Pussy Power Rankings:
1.) Mercedes: Did you see this woman’s pole work? Also, she has a whole night named after her. Mercedes teaches a girls’ dance team in her non-club life (+1 for community service). After Lil Murda decides he wants Autumn instead in the VIP section, Mercedes negotiates for her and Autumn to be there, earning them both money (+1 for entrepreneurship). She visits her mother’s church service and even gives her “booty money” to the church/its building fund, despite her mother’s shaming of “having a ho for a daughter” (+1 for tithing). She also earns kudos for listening to Lil Murda’s struggle bars in the Champagne/Paradise Room *and* telling him how struggly his bars are (+1 for artistic integrity).
tied at 2.) Uncle Clifford: Uncle Clifford has exquisite hair/makeup/nails/outfits (+1 for the fashions). And she can handle her way around a bribe to get around the “no tequila and titties” ordinance (+1 for governance). And flirting with rappers to get their funds (and maybe more) for your girls/yourself is a boss move (+1 for strategy). That cloud panic room that looks like Issa and Lawrence’s art walk scene in Insecure is lovely (+1 for interior design). But being in danger of losing the club is a demerit; what happens if we lose The Pynk?
tied at 2.) Diamond: Our handsome security guard is a stickler for the club rules, including quickly handling touchy-feely clients. But that’s a part of his duties. Outside of his duties: babysitting (+1 for being supportive) and offering to “take care” of someone’s abusive lover (+1 for reinforcement). (I think Diamond’s name is a nod to the main character of the 1998 strip-club-set movie The Players Club.)
tied at 2.) Keyshawn/Miss Mississippi: Despite a turbulent home life, Miss Mississippi makes sure her kids are taken care of. She has the best intro: M-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter-I-Crooked Letter-Crooked Letter-I-Humpback-Humpback-I (+1 for regionalisms). Also, Miss Mississippi’s pole work looks to be second to only Mercedes’ (+1 for pole skills).
5.) Hailey AKA Autumn Night AKA Miss New Booty: Autumn starts off the show being literally washed up. However, she rapidly ascends from winning the amateur night “booty battle” to becoming a Pynk dancer (+1 for job promotion). But she gets a demerit for correcting people’s pronunciation of Yves Saint Laurent/reminding that champagne only comes from Champagne, France. Also, Hailey/Autumn is living like the stereotypical Instagram model with money coming in, but sleeping on a bare mattress on the floor.
6.) Andre (the Creep): Andre is cute, and he seems genuinely concerned about Autumn, which is nice. But why is he lurking around past midnight taking “real estate” photos? And Autumn is correct in her assertion that having absolutely no vices is a red flag. Andre is either a creep or the Feds. Possibly, both.
7.) Lil Murda: Hopefully Lil Murda is carbon offsetting his gas emissions since he has a full size Hummer in this day and age. Although Lil Murda purports to be a (local) celebrity, he isn’t able to skip the entry line at The Pynk. He also gets caught perpetrating about the amount of “coochie coupons” in his Louis Vuitton duffel. And his rapping is lackluster.
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