“Payback’s A B*tch” found Carlton learning just how much Black people of his generation suffer from racial profiling. The theme this week centered around identity. Will and Lisa continued to struggle with the idea that both of their paternal influences were at each other’s throats. As a result of this conflict, the new couple decided the best way to spend romantic time together was at school. This decision proved to be a wise move, but Lisa was still afraid of upsetting Carlton. Honestly, who could blame her? She knows a lot about Carlton’s anxiety and what would push him to the limit, and a new relationship with his cousin certainly would.
Elsewhere in the episode, Vivian continues pursuing her art without Phillip making some financial choices, causing the couple to conflict. This conflict pushes Vivian toward Reed Rodrick. She attends an art show in LA and Phillip utilizes that event to spy on his wife.
Back at Bel-Air Academy, Carlton finally has it out with Connor because he realizes the things Connor continually says about non-white people are offensive. In a practice lacrosse match, he gives Connor some well-deserved payback by being rough with him. This event fractures Connor’s wrist and causes Carlton to conflict with his Caucasian peers at school.
Lastly, living in the influencer house is not going well for Hillary. In the previous episode, she made a video of herself making a crème brûlée in lingerie. This content was published without her permission because she didn’t read her contract well enough to know that everything created in the content house goes on a cloud and can be posted.
Frankly, I love this episode because it addresses the issues going on with not just Will but also Carlton and the rest of the family. I specifically loved the small spotlights on Carlton. We never really knew where his anxiety came from until this episode. Knowing that the pressure is triggered by continually having the expectation to “act white” to “pass” with his peers must have put a tremendous strain on his mental psyche.
Hillary has the same issue but in a different form. She’s being told that her content has to conform to what would make the most viewers come her way. She compromises herself by making that video, but also, the flip side is that people are saying that she is owning her sexuality. She realizes that what she’s doing is not in her brand but it is getting her notice by companies that she feels are prominent and could get her the money she needs to continually be successful, so it comes down to whether or not she’s willing to morally compromise.
Integrity used to be a thing that was important to her, but I think fundamentally, she just wants to be seen as her own person and realizes, in the moment, this is the only way to achieve that, or at least that’s what she believes. Is it emotionally healthy? Absolutely not. However, I am curious to see what journey this takes her on, and no doubt the audience will be invested to see if she makes positive changes in the future.
The moment that surprised me the most during the episode involved Will and Lisa consummating their relationship. I was thrilled to see that consent was at the forefront of the conversation throughout the entire exchange. Jabbari Banks played the moment perfectly and highlighted for other viewers watching the importance of knowing whether your partner truly wants to do something or whether they’re doing it out of the desire to make you happy. He was extremely clear about her emotional state and that they weren’t rushing into anything. It’s such a good lesson for younger viewers. I’m glad a television drama is taking time to address something so significant in the lives of young people today. I hope more shows follow its lead.
This was a particularly strong episode because it addressed identity and issues of self. This show’s best thing going forward is how these issues are continually addressed. It’s never the same old problem. It’s always something incredibly diverse and challenging. This is what we need on television. Audiences need an uncensored and unfiltered discussion on the topics so hidden from society, and Bel-Air may just be the best at highlighting invisible struggles. I can’t wait to see what they do next.