The drama in this episode centers on Eseni and her boyfriend, Darnell. The girls have gone to Chicago to stay and work with the Sisters of St. Mary of Providence, who run a soup kitchen and a home for mentally disabled women. Darnell follows Eseni to Chicago and shows up as she and the others are standing on a street with the vocations director, Sister Bethann.
“I haven’t confessed in a while. . . I haven’t felt so free in a long time. I just felt so good.”
Darnell is not mature enough to be a husband and father, as he makes clear in this encounter and a later phone call. He ambushes Eseni and tries to make her feel guilty and insecure, calling her discernment, “BS.” He says, “You’re saying you want your man to be all by himself.” Darnell wants Eseni to know there are plenty of fish in the sea. Well, it’s time for Eseni to cut the line and let him go. He doesn’t care about her needs, and we’re pretty clear as to the nature of his.
The other girls are jealous of Eseni’s suitor. Stacey admits that if her ex showed up, she’d leave with him. They are young enough to find his smothering behavior romantic. Eseni’s best ally in the confusion is Sister Bethann, who says, “You owe it to yourself to complete this journey,” and advises, “Tell him, ‘If you really love me, you need to let me do this.’” (Can I get an amen?)
Sister B shares her own young romance and her own realization that God wanted her not in married life, but in the convent. Her calmness and joy is a powerful antidote to Darnell’s implied threat that There Is No Life After Darnell. (Where is Sister Cyril when you need her? “Get a grip; it’s not all about you.”)
Once they are in the van (with Darnell in the rear view mirror) Sister B brings them back into focus by leading them in praying the rosary. I will admit to being shocked when I heard the words of the rosary on cable television, and not a Catholic-run and operated station. I kept waiting for it to turn into a “bit,” but it was just prayer.
Sister B takes the girls to the community’s soup kitchen. She says,”The best way for us to get ourselves centered is to get right back to work. No divas here today. You’re serving homeless people.”
And, wonder of wonders, they do, even little Francesca, who confesses her fear of touching a homeless person. “I’m such a germophobe,” she says. I expected to throw a shoe at the television at that point, but, like Francesca’s painful confession of her fear of presenting her unconcealed acne to the world, this felt honest. It’s the sort of fear many of us have, but which we are clever enough to hide.
The girls serve with hospitality and kindness and they seem to relish their day at the kitchen.
Then they spend a day at the home for mentally disabled women, and here is where we get a glimpse of Francesca’s good heart. We learn that her brother has Asperger’s Syndrome and we get a glimpse of their loving relationship. We watch Eseni giving one of the residents, Colleen, a manicure. About their meeting Eseni says, “She just wooed me. I definitely feel a connection with these folks.”
We see Christie singing and dancing with some of the residents. She says, “I feel like this could be the place for me.”
The experience leads Stacey to confide in Christie about her struggles with an eating disorder. She reflects on something that Sister B told her, “They have their disabilities on the outside. We have our disabilities on the inside.”
We watch the girls enter the confessional and hear from Eseni, who says, “I haven’t confessed in a while. For him to tell me I’ve been forgiven, I haven’t felt so free in a long time. I just felt so good.” One can see that these girls really far too much on their feelings, but, here, I think Eseni meant something much more than mere feeling. She sounded, and looked, like a person from whom a great weight has been lifted. That’s not a feeling; that’s a fact. I was being crushed, and now I am not.
Confession prompts Christie to tell Stacey that she is moving closer to a final decision, maybe with the Sisters of St. Mary of Providence. For once, Christie’s slang is endearing, as she says, “Okay, Jesus, game on.”
Sister B decides to take the girls swimming. Claire shows up in a modified burqa. The other girls show up in the usual range, from one piece to bikini. Sister B shows up in a sensible tank suit over which she wears gym shorts. The girls are shocked, but there’s nothing shocking about her middle-aged-I-work-everyday appearance (unless, of course, you believe the bodies in swimsuit ads are real.)
Discussion about swimsuits leads Sister B to give the girls some sensible advice about modesty, which she calls, ‘the first premise of being a sister.’” That conversation segues into one about chastity, which, Sister tells them, “Is all about saving our hearts. It’s not about sex; it’s about intimacy.”
Or, as Christie later translates, “We’re worth more than our boobs.”
The girls leave for their next convent, in Kentucky. Eseni has never seemed more New York than when she asks, “Kentucky? Who goes there? (Hint: Kentuckians.) I mean, where is it on the map?”
They are sad to leave Chicago, which is also not one of the five boroughs and yet exists, and so, sweetly are the sisters, who stand on the steps and blow kisses to the departing van.
I think the producers are not happy with the lack of conflict (“If it bleeds, it leads”) in this episode and so try to gin some up during a stop in Indianapolis. (Indianapolis? Wouldn’t Gary or Peoria have been a better locale?) The girls stop at a restaurant and Eseni and Francesca, Bronx and Jersey, go to the bathroom and come back wearing their “discernment uniforms” with 6” heels and the skirts rolled up so far they are, as Stacey says, “more belt than skirt.”
Ah, well, did we really think we were going to see people praying and serving without some angry grist for the TV mill? No. And the teasers for next week’s episode promise more strife. But it also promises more sisters. And that, as another female TV personality reminds us, “is a good thing.”