The premiere episode of Greenleaf season 5 is aptly titled “The First Day.” It’s the first day Calvary Church is completely out of Greenleaf control and Phil (Sean Blakemore) is head pastor with Charity Greenleaf (Deborah Joy Winans) as his seemingly powerless associate pastor under Harmony and Hope Ministries. And it’s the first day of the end for the building that houses Calvary Church. It’s simultaneously a beginning and an end for the Greenleafs as a family, and the entire explosive episode is set in just one day. Let’s get into it …
Bishop and Lady Mae: The episode opens with Bishop (Keith David) standing at the pulpit looking onto an empty sanctuary, and then he is joined by Grace “GiGi” Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge) who has accompanied him to Calvary for the first day of the move out. Harmony and Hope is throwing away or packing up everything, including a large cross, that isn’t part of the physical structure of the church. Lady Mae (Lynn Whitfield) is at home while all of this is happening, and it’s obvious the patriarch and matriarch of the Greenleaf family are still at odds after Mae accepted Bob Whitmore’s (Beau Bridges) offer to pastor Calvary, only to be out-schemed.
Mae is fasting in the hopes of seeing a sign from God on how the family should proceed. She seems a little delirious, or maybe unclear is a better phrase, from only consuming lemon water. She’s still mad at Charity Greenleaf (Deborah Joy Winans) for betraying the family and calls her youngest daughter Benedictine Arnold. I think Judas would’ve been a better insult, but whatever.
Bishop and Mae are barely in the episode, but help to drive the plot nonetheless. Bishop meets with church board members Misty and Clara, as well as his former secretary Karine (Chevonne Hughes). Clara and Misty have finally realized Harmony and Hope is not to be trusted, and seek guidance from Bishop. He begins hatching a plan for the Greenleafs' future, but he knows he needs Mae’s help. He tells Mae that he wants the two of them to found a new church side-by-side. Bishop also admits that he was jealous of the way Mae’s preaching roused the congregation during her event, because he knew he no longer could do that. Bishop says he knows Calvary is done, but the sheep still need a shepherd and that isn’t Harmony and Hope. It’s the two of them together without scheming. Bishop says the first step towards their future is to immediately go down to city hall and get remarried. How’s that for a sign, Lady Mae?
Jacob and Kerissa: Finally, Kerissa Greenleaf (Kim Hawthorne) showed her hand and is blackmailing Jacob Greenleaf (Lamman Rucker) with the will of the woman who bequeathed the estate to Bishop and Lady Mae. The woman died shortly after creating the will. Kerissa is smug as hell while she discusses their impending divorce and getting the money she wants from Jacob. She remains living in the Greenleaf mansion and eating Greenleaf food, while threatening to expose the underhandedness of Bishop and Lady Mae. Kerissa has been too much!
Jacob asks family friend and attorney Aaron Jeffries (William H. Bryant Jr.) if the will can be interpreted any other way than the Greenleafs had the woman killed to inherit the property, but doesn’t reveal who is threatening him. Aaron says it’s something to worry about because Mac McCready, who was involved with the will, is unscrupulous and did a lot of dirt for his sister Mae and Bishop. Aaron advises Jacob to find the original will, the one the known will superseded. He also says he’ll pray Jacob and whoever is threatening him come to peace. That's ominous.
The one person Jacob knows he can call about this who isn’t family is Alexis, the former church assistant with whom he had an affair. The audience sees Alexis’s apartment before Jacob does and there’s a shit-ton of kid stuff all over. (Seriously, Alexis is one of those parents who let their child take over their entire home, even if the child has their own bedroom.) We, the audience, start adding two and two. Then, Jacob knocks at the door and is immediately hit in the face by Alexis’s bitterness. You may recall that Alexis was fired from Calvary when the affair was revealed, and then Kerissa made her leave Basie Skanks’s congregation when Jacob took over the church as pastor. Alexis tells Jacob her faith made her accept him into her home. She tells him that Mac kept a storage room that may have the information Jacob needs. Jacob asks Alexis if he’s the father of her daughter, and she says she wouldn’t have kept his baby. When I interviewed Lamman Rucker, he said a surprise someone shows up in Jacob’s life, so I suspect that Alexis is lying and he is the baby’s father. Of course the surprise could also be Tasha Skanks because she and Jacob did have a real connection.
Rucker also said Jacob has finally found his place in the Greenleaf family and the outside world. So it’s admirable that he is trying to solve this blackmail problem on his own and not involving his parents who are already overwhelmed with losing Calvary. Once Jacob goes to Mac’s storage unit and sees how many boxes of paperwork his uncle had, he seems to acquiesce to his fate of having to pay Kerissa to keep quiet. Towards the end of the episode, Kerissa begins to realize that she’ll get her way and Jacob won’t fight her in the divorce, but it comes at the cost of Jacob being indifferent towards her. And we all know indifference, not hate, is the opposite of love.
Charity and Phil: Charity is trying to put some distance between herself and Phil now that they’re no longer engaged and he’s her boss. She is determined to undermine him, though. She announces to the church board that she will be preaching one Sunday per month, and reveals her sermons will focus on the Black woman as the cornerstone of faith, until Calvary finishes merging with the uber-white Harmony and Hope, and Phil marries Bob’s daughter.
It’s obvious Phil still loves Charity, but his goal of having his own church is more important. He tells Charity about Bob’s ultimatum — marry Judy or never get a church — and it becomes obvious to Charity that she means less to Phil than his ambitions. It’s refreshing to see Charity standing up to Phil, especially after sacrificing her family for him. Her subliminal jabs stung, and I nearly cheered when she called Judy Phil’s “great white ho.”
But one thing I don’t like about how Charity is written is that she seems to always forget she has a son. Charity says she has no family and no love life, and all she has is her job as associate pastor. Hmmm … I don’t even remember what her son’s name is.
Grace and Darius Nash: Grace gets back in touch with Darius Nash (Rick Fox) after suddenly breaking up with him because she needs a favor. Darius is surprised, but is obviously still heartbroken GiGi ended their relationship. When their scene opens, we learn that Darius is working on an article about Bob Whitmore and Harmony and Hope. Later, Darius reveals why he thinks Bob has moved from Arizona to Memphis. Bob is getting ready to run for U.S. Senate. Grace and Darius surmise that a white Republican senator with the support of a multiracial church will be “one helluva unicorn” and “basically unbeatable.” GiGi informs Darius that Calvary is set to be torn down in a week, and he tells her to have faith the church isn’t lost yet.
Grace and AJ: Aaron tells AJ Delajae (Jacob Gibson) and Grace early in the episode that the police’s case against AJ for the pharmacy break-in has been closed. The police have settled on another suspect who supposedly had committed a string of robberies in the area, and was killed in a shootout after robbing a store near the Greenleaf estate. When Grace sees the photo of the suspect, she realizes he’s the same man she met at Faith’s grave — the one who knew so much about her even though she had never seen him before. We were led to believe the man was some sort of angel last season. I remember wondering why the show needed two characters who looked so similar. Well, now we know.
AJ still has the usual chip on his shoulder and isn’t relieved by the news. He tries to make sense of a man dying for his sins. Aaron tells GiGi that AJ should be thanking God for his freedom. Later in the episode, GiGi asks AJ if he can accept that God gave him a way out of trouble, and he says he can’t because it isn’t real and they both know he did the crime. AJ can’t celebrate his freedom because it came at the price of another’s death. He has a pained look on his face as Grace leaves his room and he begins packing his things, presumably to leave again. Then, he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and despair flashes across his face, but then he seems to realize what he needs to do.
As the family gathers to accompany Lady Mae and Bishop to city hall for their second wedding, AJ is nowhere to be found and Grace goes looking for him. She bursts through his bathroom door and finds him laying on the floor bleeding from the wrist he slashed. Grace screams, “Why did you do this?” But she’s not talking to AJ, she’s yelling at God.
We don’t yet know whether AJ is actually dead; he only slashed one wrist horizontally, not vertically. But I can’t say I’ll miss the character if he did die. I never liked AJ nor felt empathy for him growing up without Grace and in foster care. He wasn’t likable, and I don’t think his character was developed enough for the audience to appreciate him. The best part about AJ was the read Lady Mae unleashed on him last season. He was always disrespectful and unsure of whether he wanted to get to know Grace, his sister, and his other relatives; guilt them into giving him money; accept them; or punish Grace. All that being said, I don’t see how the season would progress without him. His (attempted) suicide will cause Grace to question her faith again and that will not lead to the happy ending of the Greenleafs rebuilding another church as a family … But maybe a happy ending isn’t meant to be.