‘P-Valley’ Episode 5 features rare TV unicorn of happy queer love story between Uncle Clifford and Lil' Murda
It is certainly more common to see a queer love story on screen now than it was even five years ago. But what we usually get is a queer character having their heart broken, being abused for seeking love, or facing death for being with someone they love. From 'Boys Don't Cry' to 'Brokeback Mountain' to a more recent portrayal in 'Euphoria', where a life-affirming attraction springs between Rue (Zendaya) and Jules (Hunter Schafer), we also see Jules being sexually attracted to Nate, someone who is abusive to her.
It is a common trope where queer people are supposedly so damaged that they run toward relationships where they are mistreated and abused because that is all they have known. And to ask for a better, more supportive relationship is always beyond their grasp or something they shy away from because it is in some ways 'unknown'. We also have plenty of narratives about coming out and what it does to family and friendships, and of what it feels to live on the margins. While those narratives are important to deal with, the struggle shouldn’t always be the story.
We deserve happy queer stories. This is why Uncle Clifford on 'P-Valley' is such a revelation. As a non-binary person, she flaunts her wigs and talons but also her well-groomed facial hair. She is absolutely comfortable with her identity and the power she wields as the strip club Pynk's owner.
Inside the Pynk, she is the boss and she exercises that power gently but firmly. She keeps the dancers on point while making sure that the patrons are happy but well-behaved. Most importantly she is a loving mother-figure in a way that many of the girls have never experienced in their own homes. Therefore, she has created a safe space not only for herself but for the girls too -- this is why Keyshawn can bring her baby to work, or why Mercedes thinks Uncle Clifford is more of a mother than her own mother.
A powerful queer person is an anomaly in TV story-telling. But writer Katori Hall comes bearing more gifts in 'P-Valley' by giving us the love story of Lil' Murda and Uncle Clifford. Sparks fly the instant they meet in Episode 1 and Lil' Murda starts wooing her with flirty banter in the Paradise room, which ends in a makeout session that is hinted at. After that, Lil Murda has been following Uncle Clifford obsessively, enough to get Uncle Clifford to remark, "Are you stalking me?" Now, in the queer universe being followed by someone is not a prelude to being wooed -- it is a prelude to being assaulted or killed.
Even though Uncle Clifford is in her turf, so to speak, there is always that worry in her head. But Lil' Murda teaches her how to baste chicken wings in weed and butter instead and makes her listen to his songs. At this point, you think that he is being nice because he wants his songs to become viral at the Pynk.
Then came Episode 4, where Lil' Murda revealed he wrote his song 'Fallin' for Uncle Clifford and then "proves" it to him in Uncle Clifford's office. In Episode 5, we see the aftermath of the hook up. Uncle Clifford gets up first, stares at Lil' Murda still naked before giving herself a shake as if returning to reality and slips away. Later, the next night when Lil' Murda comes to see Uncle Clifford, she is making excuses for him about why they can never be and acting cold.
But her act is obviously a defense mechanism because internally she is squealing in excitement, having adjusted her hair, smoothed her clothes, and then asked her cashier to make himself scarce as soon as Lil Murda looks up at the security camera outside the door, begging to be let in.
When Lil' Murda talks about dating and taking her outside -- that is a big moment. Between the two, Lil' Murda is the one who can 'pass' as straight and yet he wants to take on his judgemental friends who are whispering about him and Uncle Clifford. He wants to go public. And then Uncle Clifford brings up the very realities that we see onscreen and off-screen -- queer couples being killed or beaten up. Chucalissa doesn't exist in a vacuum and Uncle Clifford is very aware that the zone of safety is the one she has created inside Pynk.
And yet, Lil' Murda who is also re-discovering his sexuality, breaks down her arguments gently and with the sort of patience that indicates that he is far more complex than his general persona led us to believe. When Keyshawn sees them kissing, Uncle Clifford wants to go solve the problem by talking to her, but Lil' Murda says he'll "take care of it" and does the talking instead -- taking charge of the situation in a way that leaves Uncle Clifford feeling a bit weak-kneed.
Lil' Murda might be a fantasy come to life because how often does a man who thinks he is straight, behave like he does once he realizes that he could be queer? Uncle Clifford himself is a bit of a fantastical character. But we need their fairytale because happy queer stories are also a form of resistance. If we don't see dreams of where we could be, how do we ever get there? If all we can see are the burdens of being queer, when will we see the joys?
'P-Valley' airs on Sundays at 8 PM ET on Starz.