After a solid episode in which the pacing and the tone suddenly felt right for a show that still hasn’t figured it out yet, Star feels like it has slipped into its previous pattern of being high-octane chaos or dull. “New Voices” fell largely into the latter, as the girls audition to get into the second round of the big festival, and, of course, make it to the next round. It felt like a placeholder episode in a lot of ways, continuously looking back rather than forward, especially when there are some plot threads that could have opened up some interesting avenues.

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Take the rival girl group. Star and Alexandra check out their contest competition, where they run into a girl group with a similar make up (“There’s a even a blonde one,” Star laments). But we only get a short glimpse of them followed by some bitchery that leads nowhere. The last episode had so much fun playing with rivalry and trading insults, as do the girls at Carlotta’s beauty shop. It’s less an act of aggression and more of a show of strength and smarts. But instead of this potential rivalry playing out in favor of some camp-ed out fun, Star gets in a quippy line about their potential rivals having faces for radio and that’s it.

Simone finds a tape of her and Star’s mother Mary singing a song that we learn Carlotta actually wrote for her group, and after much debate, the girls decide to update it as their competition song. The plot thread serves to flesh out Jahil and Carlotta’s background — why she doesn’t trust him, why she has such anger toward him — by ascribing a romantic relationship to their story. After their pilot encounter, but that retcon feels disingenuous, adding this layer of unnecessary drama from a relationship that ended at least two decades earlier (she’s can’t still be salty about it, especially when she has Tyrese Gibson at the ready). Perhaps, this telling of their history was to push Carlotta toward the choir and take her relationship with her pastor public. But for the sake of the pace of the plot, that’s not a good thing, and I’m not sure how it will propel the show forward.

The interesting thread that ran throughout this storyline and the episode was the Dreamgirls-esque idea of claims of charisma being used as racial subversion. In Dreamgirls, the talented Effie White (who happens to be romantically involved with her manager) is pushed aside as group leader in favor of the lighter-skinner, skinnier Deena Jones (who subsequently gets involved with the aforementioned manager). Star and Dreamgirls are, of course, taking their cues from the story of the actual Supremes, but Star shows things have not changed in the generations between Effie, Carlotta and Alexandra.

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Both Carlotta and Alexandra are pushed out of the spotlight in favor of the white girl playing lead. Like Carlotta, it’s Alexandra who is the force behind their music, but it’s Star who gets put in the middle because she has this indescribable ‘It’ quality that could in many ways translate to “She’s the white one.” It’s meta in a way: Lee Daniels has been criticized for putting a white girl in the lead role of Star, while she’s flanked by two women of color, as if the television-viewing public couldn’t stomach a show without a white woman at its center. I don’t doubt it, and it’s a totally valid criticism, especially when Star happens to be one of those characters that is constantly referred as being charismatic, but lacks an actress who can entirely back up the claims. Like many of the ways Star brings up issues like sexual assault and faith, I have to give them credit for having Alexandra talk about colorism and shoot Star down when she‘s accused of overreaction. It’s not handled in the most elegant way because this is a soap opera, but at least the issue is brought up, and I have to give the show credit for that. From the looks of next week’s preview, it seems as if this conversation will keep going, although I hope it continues to revolve around the racial issues at play in Alexandra’s seeming demotion from the spotlight, rather than an ego issue.

While there didn’t feel like much happened in this episode beyond discussion of what could happen, there were some movements forward in the plot: Jahil is kidnapped because of the human trafficking plot that should be more interesting than it is; the disposal of Simone’s foster father’s body did not put an end to the investigation (why they continuously think that it will seems monumentally naive); and Hunter is still around for some unknown reason. While these plots should have some sort of tension, they are not dealt with as if they have any sort of stakes, so I’m not invested in a character who is left for dead in an abandoned warehouse. Instead, Star insisted on looking into its past and floundering in a plot where we knew the ending before the episode even started.

Stray observations

  • Okay, can we talk about how Hunter, a character with no redeeming qualities other than his ability to be shirtless, was used by his dad as human shield. And his response to that is to say it was “not that bad.” How is it not that bad? Please, explain, because that sounds fucking terrible.

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