Is Mary Jane Heading Into An Abusive Relationship?

Photo: Courtesy of BET.
Mary Jane Paul (Gabrielle Union) is dimming down instead of glowing up. The second half of Being Mary Jane's fourth season sees its protagonist hopping from one relationship to another and upsetting the peaceful life that she had built with Lee (Chiké Okonkwo) in favor of a less stable "situationship." At best, she is approaching 40 and still distracted enough by sweet kisses and good sex to compromise her career, friendships, and intuition. Fans of the show seem to be in agreement that Mary Jane is walking into a relationship with Justin (Michael Ealy) that is simply ill-fitting. But at worst, it could be an abusive one.
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Intimate partner violence is not limited to physical violence. Emotional and psychological abuse is just as hurtful and damaging to the person on the receiving end. Last week, Justin crossed major boundaries when he showed up at Mary Jane’s house unannounced and initiated sex with some less than enthusiastic consent. He put his possessiveness on display in that scene when he expressed how disturbed he was by the thought of Mary Jane being with another man. This is before they agreed to be in a relationship and after he told her he didn’t want to be seriously involved with her. The flags here are bright neon red.
Now that they are officially a couple, Justin is asking things of Mary Jane that also put his tendency to be controlling on full display. He wants her to keep their relationship a secret at work. This makes sense to some extent. No one wants extra attention from their HR department. But his insistence that she doesn’t tell her best friend, Kara (Lisa Vidal), about them is another issue entirely. Kara has never liked or trusted Justin, remembering how he threw Mary June under the bus earlier in her career and undermined another senior correspondent at their network to get her axed as well. Given that they’re adults; however, you would think that Justin would be open to bridging that gap now that he’s cozying up with Kara’s best friend.
Clearly, he wants to dictate the terms of his relationship with Mary Jane, even if it means she has to hurt those closest to her. Another one of the ground rules he set with Mary Jane is that they stay on the same page regarding work decisions. He produces her show at the news station, and her success dictates his. For him, their relationship is a power move, and he’s already sold Mary Jane on the idea that they are going to be the Jay-Z and Beyoncé of the news world.
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At the end of the episode, Justin gets Kara her job back at their news station. She was fired and undergoing an ugly arbitration with the network. Justin suggests they give her a promotion and parity with his salary to save money. Because my antennas are up in ways that Mary Jane’s clearly are not, this too, is a red flag. I know that abusers sometimes provide the people they abuse with gifts and favors to keep them confused and engaged in the relationship.
Perhaps, I’m wrong. I could very well be jaded by Ealy’s role as a crazy stalker in The Perfect Guy, but Justin is triggering. He reminds me of all the ways women are encouraged to bend and twist for the men in their lives. Sometimes they end up broken. Being Mary Jane has touched on a lot of controversial topics. Intimate partner violence is not one of them. Should our leading lady be heading in this direction, I trust that they’ll handle it responsibly — and remind people that violence does not always involve bodily harm.
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