In previous reviews of Star, I’ve praised it for talking about issues that are rarely brought up in primetime: race, class, sexuality. At least they’re talking about these things, right? Especially when the majority of network television is white and comfortably middle class. But this is the episode where I can’t even give the show credit for using its platform to talk about difficult things. Political issues, since the beginning of the series, have been used for shock value as much as talking points; there was a rape scene in the first 15 minutes of the pilot episode after all. It’s fine, al ot of shows do this. But few times have they been handled as inelegantly as they were in “Infamous.” I yearned for Scandal‘s prime years or even a solid episode of Grey’s Anatomy. ”Infamous” was a clearly a set-up for next week’s episode, which will deal with Danielle — a character were not asked to care about until now — and the unseen Rasheed’s shooting deaths at the hands of the Atlanta Police Department. Star has a platform and simply putting it to use is not good enough.
There’s a lot going on in this episode. Star’s problem is that all these plots and big weighty issues keep trying to muscle each other out of the way. But throwing more and more plots at the wall doesn’t make the show seem more exciting. It only serves to confuse and muddle the message that the show is going for. And none of these plots land, in part, because none of these plots are fully formed. Take Jahil’s conversation with Arlene, who knows about his complex situation with the human traffickers, although we’re not privy to the same details. Arlene wants to own part of Big Trouble, but also wants its de facto leader kicked out of the band. So she essentially owns 80 percent of a product that is doomed to fail because it won’t be whole. Look, I’m clearly not the best with money, I did decide to be a journalist after all. But even I know that is a terrible investment. What is her impetus for making both of those proclamations, instead of one, which would be sufficient to propel the plot? It puts Jahil in her debt, but also forces to him act on her word. There’s a reason behind her actions, but the reason isn’t good enough to make sense
In Big Trouble land, the battle of egos continues as Jahil puts Alexandra at the center of the group in order to pay off his ridiculous debt to Arlene, continuing the rivalry between Alexandra and Star that spills out of the rehearsal room and into Derek’s barbecue (complete with rapper Sean Cross). Alexandra might be the songwriter, but Star can’t stop stealing the spotlight. I appreciate that Simone — pretty much the only character I still like at this point — mentions Star has a problem, so it’s not just chalked up to her utter talent and charisma. Tensions between the group have started up so early it’s not entirely clear why they stay together. At least Star and Simone are related, but considering Alexandra has both money, connections, musical talent beyond the other two, and chip on her shoulder concerning Star’s nascent fame, that’s not a whole lot keeping her in Atlanta.
Perhaps it’s only Derek keeping her in Atlanta, which brings up, yet again, Star’s boyfriend problem. Neither Derek nor Hunter are compelling or make any great deal of sense at this point in the show. At this point, they’re distractions to the larger plot. I can’t justify Hunter, if only because his characters wants Star to be his “street bitch.” Even if Star ultimately makes fun of him for the line, it’s still so cringe-worthy coming from this character that exists for no particular reason that I can’t forgive him. Ever.
Derek, it seems, exists so he can play this activist role that will come to fruition in the next episode that will clearly take on race issues head on. But the way they are brought into the plot was so blunt and inelegant. The beauty shop workers hear of a friends who has been shot getting groceries. Cotton immediately blames the police even though there’s no evidence of that until the news report at the end. Look, there’s issues with police brutality in this country. There’s no denying that, and something needs to change. But Cotton’s declaration was so clearly plot-driven. It wasn’t about actually putting issues at the forefront the primetime viewing populace. Instead it was about filling the next 45 minutes.
Cotton also takes part in another plot that’s ostensibly about Carlotta not accepting that she’s trans, but is once again handled without any finesse so it never sticks its landing. Cotton has a right to be who she is, Carlotta comes from a place where she had a son not a daughter. Exploring that tension in their relationship could potentially be interesting if handled well. But the dinner feels stunted and never fully fleshed out. Their showdown isn’t about looking at the complexities of coming out as trans in the setting that Cotton grew up in. It happened so Cotton could get to the bar and meet her Asian mystery man. There are a million ways Cotton could have ended up at the bar, but her sexuality is used as an exploitative plotpoint and that doesn’t make Star a complex or layered show, but a cheap one.