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'Being Mary Jane' director on the big blow-up: 'It sets up the finale'

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Daniel McFadden/BET Networks

In this week’s episode, Mary Jane’s stint in the anchor chair during the highly sought-after primetime slot didn’t go as hoped: Her round of questions with a conservative guest escalated into an on-air brawl and in the process, the “Talk Back” anchor’s sound bites went viral. Now, Mary Jane’s future at SNC hangs in the balance, as does her relationship with Kara (Lisa Vida). There’s also the matter of Sheldon’s (Gary Dourdan) kinky sexual escapades. Can Mary Jane get used to the idea of having sloppy seconds? What does it all mean—and what happens next? We turned to guest director Rob Hardy (who’s helmed episodes of Empire, Power, and Grey’s Anatomy) for answers ahead of next week’s two-part finale.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One thing I think struck viewers most about this episode is a roundtable on Mary Jane’s show, where a guest says “Today’s black women want more support from black men.” How does that sentiment fit into the scope of the episode, especially given that the men assume traditionally feminine roles in “Primetime”?

ROB HARDY: I think that it’s the great irony. I think that black men and black women often times have different perspectives. We’re unified, but black men and women have sort of, their own perspectives and ways. Obviously, I’m generalizing, but the episode represents that dichotomy. We each have things we experience that are different from the other. The fact that you have a successful and powerful black woman—that only increases the situation where she feels she has the weight of having it all. Trying to be a strong woman in this world, but a contributing partner in his world. The idea is that women aren’t acknowledged and people don’t understand their plight. But the irony of that is that you see black men who are actively trying to share in that experience, as we see in the episode. You didn’t see that on TV years ago. It’s almost like a role reversal: on the one hand, you have the sentiment that “Nobody understands me and nobody understands what we’re going through,” but that’s not entirely correct given what we’re seeing visually.

Is it true, as Sheldon says, that men can be “ugly black women” too?

Sure. Sure. Absolutely, because I think what that means is that we all deal with our demons, whatever they are—we all deal with our insecurities. And we all have to fight through them so that way we can be strong and keep moving forward. Women may think, “Men don’t have to deal with post partum or weight issues or whatever it may be,” but we do. Just in our own way and with our own style.

I’m dying to know—what is Lisa (Latarsha Rose) hiding? What does she want to reveal?

[Laughs] You know, without giving away what happens down the line, I’ll say this: Lisa, generally speaking, feels contained. She wants to be able to do new things, and based upon the role she’s had, she does not get a chance to spread her wings. She’s dying to make a change. And on some level that parallels Mary Jane. Mary Jane feels a little stuck and she wants to grow, she wants to advance, she wants to move to the big leagues and she wants to soar. Only in this instance, she gets her opportunity to do that.

Mary Jane had the opportunity to end her relationship with Sheldon given some surprising things she learned about him. Can you explain why she decided to give him a chance, and “take things super slow”?

I think that the dating world. It speaks to options. You’re dating a guy who used to be a player or have a lot of ladies. And you know, you’re not into that and it makes you feel uncomfortable but on the flip side, that’s not necessarily what he’s trying to do now. But you have to look at your other options, like “Who else am I dealing with, and how does he make me feel at this stage in the game? Have I done some of the same things? Do I want to be alone, or do I want to talk to someone? Do I want to be in a situation where I’ve had a bad day at work and don’t have anyone to talk to, or do I pick up the phone when he calls (an act which proves he cares)?”

At the top of the episode, Kara effectively breaks up with Mary Jane—and later, takes it back and blames her earlier decision on PMS. What was the point of that exchange?

I think the whole notion was “Mary Jane, when we first started, we were a team. We had a vision together and we were the dynamic duo, you and I. But over time, its become your show and its almost as if you’re my boss. That’s not what I signed up for. I feel it’s hard for me to take a secondary role when my voice isn’t being heard. And you and I did this together, but now, its almost as though my voice no longer matters so maybe I should do something else and I should allow you to do this your way.” But then when they had the primetime opportunity, it overshadowed that thought because it took them both to their original dream of the big leagues. I think Kara thought, “I don’t want to jump ship when the big leagues are in sight, so let me retract that and see where this leads.” That was kind of my take on the situation. And I don’t think that means she wasn’t being sincere. She was being honest about where she was, but that honesty didn’t overshadow the opportunity they’ve been fired.

Still, there was a point where I thought Lisa Vidal leaving the show. Does this mean she’s staying put?

As far as I know, she is.

What was the most difficult scene in “Primetime” to direct and to put your thumbprint on as a director?

I paid special attention to the back and forth between the ugly black woman monologue/interview with what was happening in the control room. I wanted to create a world where we see Mary Jane do a full 180 in her conversation—where she’s being a great journalist and then really getting into this woman.

“Primetime” is the last episode before Being Mary Jane’s two-part finale. Judging from your work as the director of Empire‘s finale, it seems you’re the master of leaving people wanting more. How do you think what we’ve see in last night’s episode sets up what’s to come?

I think that what it does, it sets up the finale because it puts Mary Jane on a primetime stage. It sets up whether she and her partner will go their separate ways. They’ve reunited for this opportunity, but now Mary Jane has gone out on a limb, what does that mean for their careers and that dynamic? Also, now that we have the Twitter world on fire because of this story—how does that affect her in general, how she’s perceived. Will there be backlash? And if so, how will she handle that? All those things are hanging in the balance in her world and of course, there’s Sheldon. He’s stepped in to be there during this time as a confident, friend, and a convenient distraction. So we get to see where that leads.

Now, here’s an exclusive sneak peek of Being Mary Jane‘s explosive finale below.

Being Mary Jane airs Tuesdays on BET at 10 p.m.

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