After five seasons, the scandalous megachurch series following the trials and tribulations of the Greenleaf family has come to an end.
Since the church of Calvary is a central premise point throughout the series, it is only fitting that the production of season five is strewn with Christian references right down to the episode titles. The first seven episode titles reflect the seven days of creation, with the finale episode entitled ‘Behold’. This is a direct reference to Isaiah 43:19 in the Bible that starts, “Behold, I am doing a new thing…” and this ties into Lady Mae’s final sermon about making things new.
Usually when a series comes to an end, we look for loose ends to be tied up and story arcs to be completed. Ending on making things new can arguably create room for a spin-off series, but does season five tie up all the loose ends we started with? What ever happened to Aunt Mavis? And Kevin?
One thing that must be commended is Greenleaf’s attention to detail in bringing the characters’ stories full circle. The driver who brought Grace into the Greenleaf premises in the very first scene of season one, is the same driver who drives her out at the end, echoing the first words he asked her “You’re Pastor Greenleaf aren’t you?” Similarly, Lady Mae’s first and final words to Grace are almost identical, regarding sowing “discord in her fields of peace”.
When AJ gives his life to Christ in the finale episode, he kneels in the same spot Grace kneeled in when she first returned to Calvary in Season One. A stretch perhaps, but Grace’s return can be interpreted as a metaphor of Jesus coming to Earth to save God’s children. In the same way, Grace returned to Calvary and her work was done once her child was saved. This does make me wonder why they didn’t explore Sophia’s spiritual journey further, as I feel this was a loose end that wasn’t tied up. Considering Bishop put a lot of focus on bringing AJ to salvation, it’s peculiar that Sophia’s divorce from Christianity is left unaddressed in the final season.
Themes of death, resurrection and redemption were pivotal in ending the Greenleaf series. Some may have been frustrated by how little we learned about the mystery man who met Grace at Faith’s graveside. Reflecting on the Christian themes of the show, I’m convinced that his character served as another Biblical allegory to further the plot. Grace praying for an answer to AJ’s troubles can be likened to Jesus praying to God for mercy in the Garden of Gethsemane before his upcoming arrest and crucifixion. The mystery man appears as a spiritual illusion to Grace in answer of her prayers. In taking the blame for AJ’s crime and dying for it, we can draw parallels with Jesus dying for the sins of mankind, allowing us to live freely.
One thing the Greenleaf family encapsulated well was the concept of imperfection. Everybody in the household is flawed in some way. Charity Greenleaf, annoying and naïve as she can be, I think is judged too harshly. Sharing her poem with Grace was well-intended, albeit misguided, and sometimes she isn’t shown the compassion somebody who has lost a child and husband almost simultaneously should be shown. Throughout the series she became the Meg Griffin of the family to the extent that it became enjoyable to dislike her.
I’m wary when shows are quick to vilify dark-skinned female characters such as Kerissa who had almost zero redeemable qualities and Rochelle Cross who was a fantastic femme fatale in a world where most of the heroes/victims were light-skinned women. It was a breath of fresh air to realise that Tara James was not going to continue that trend, but it did evoke the Madonna/whore complex where women are either inherently good and in Tara’s case a literal saint, or inherently evil. The dichotomy between the two sisters prevented a more interesting character development for either of them.
On the topic of limited character development, Judee Whitmore was a sorry excuse for a villain. She was very one-dimensional and every moment she was on-screen felt like being prompted to boo the baddie in a pantomime. An interesting villain is one who is complex and displays certain vulnerabilities so that the audience can understand their madness to an extent. Every one of Judee’s lines could’ve been replaced with “I’m a bitch,” and had the same effect.
Let’s talk about the audacity of Jacob Greenleaf. A man who has run his wife ragged with adultery and selfish behaviour now wants to take the moral high ground against Kerissa’s transgressions. Even with the knowledge that his father forgave his mother’s affair, even with a potential lovechild out in the streets of Tennessee, and even while he makes googly eyes to both Tasha Skanks and Tara James while still legally married, he is unmoved. God forgives, but Jacob Greenleaf does not.
For those who don’t know, Calvary is the name of the hill on which Jesus was crucified. It’s a fitting name for a church owned by a family who have faced persecution from all directions, sometimes even their own congregation. It connects with the ongoing themes of life after death; the Greenleafs surviving after H&H’s attempted takeover, AJ recovering in health and spirituality despite a rough start to life and retaining the church even after Bishop’s heart-breaking passing. These central themes alongside the gripping melodrama of it all, made Greenleaf a staple show in network television and while it is sad to see it end, I feel this was the appropriate point to conclude the series.
I cannot end this review without acknowledging the impeccable performance Lynn Whitfield gave us for five seasons as the formidable poet and wordsmith that is Lady Mae Greenleaf. Lady Mae is a shining example of a well-written, well-rounded character. She is a master of expression and nowhere was this exemplified higher than in her final sermon that would fail to touch only the coldest of hearts. Lynn Whitfield needs an award for bringing this character to life with such grace, nuance and quiet power. I will miss Lady Mae serving a look and a word that leaves you thinking about it after she’s left the screen.
Watch all five seasons of Greenleaf on Netflix now.