Netflix's She’s Gotta Have It isn’t exactly a show prone to mysteries. Heroine, artist Nola Darling (Dewanda Wise), is so frank that she once had all of her lovers over for Thanksgiving at the same time. And, it’s not like ruminations on gentrification or the meaning of art always lend themselves to Lost-style twisting riddles.
Yet, the Spike Lee-created Netflix show’s season 2 finale, “#IAmYourMirror,” runs on a single enigmatic secret: What is behind Nola’s maroon curtain? It’s a question that fuels praise, protests, and pain from everyone around Nola throughout the season finale. Despite all the commotion, viewers don’t get to see what’s hiding in Nola’s I Am Your Mirror show until the last two minutes of the episode.
That’s when we learn the much talked-about mystery piece is a painting of a nude Nola being lynched by her own braids. Her body is painted with the American flag, and the red portions of the image look a lot like blood. Immediately, you understand what all the turmoil was about — and that realization perfectly sets in motion the next chapter of She’s Gotta Have It, if Netflix does order a third season of the series, inspired by Lee's 1986 film of the same name.
So much of Gotta Have It’s 2019 run is about Nola feeling adrift in her art. The earWave ad campaign, which took on as a freelance project, took all the vibrancy she put into the work — into the blacks and browns of her subjects’ skin — and flattened it into a monotonous black and white mess. She was slyly excommunicated from the Nation Time retreat (held for Black artists) for calling out its appropriating benefactor Dean “Onyx” Haggin (Danny Hoch). Even all of her romantic-sexual relationships — which usually serve as a powerful inspiration for Nola — fizzle.
But, the tides change after Nola’s trip to Puerto Rico with Mars (Anthony Ramos), Shemekka (Chyna Layne), and Winny (Fat Joe). Mars’ mom Doña Lucy Christina (Spike Lee muse Rosie Perez) urges Nola to serve her “spirits” and “ancestors” by leaning into her convictions; to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. At the time, Nola tears up, admitting she is “lost.” The artwork of I Am Your Mirror proves Doña Lucy’s words worked — Nola is embracing the destiny that has always been there. That’s why Nola’s friend and fellow artist Dutch (Olivia Washington) is so happy to see her finally get political.
Something as polarizing as “the strange fruit piece,” as Nola’s therapist Dr. Jamison (Heather Headley) calls it, signifies this growth. It’s the kind of growth we can expect to see continue in season 3, as Dr. Jamison herself hints with her finale monologue. As an introduction to the painting reveals, the therapist theorizes that Nola is in the process of “individuating,” or separating one's desires from those of the people who influence their life the most. Only then, Dr. Jamison claims, can you become your true self. It’s harrowing, but necessary. “Who wants to see, or be a black orchid that never opens?” Jamison asks. Nola is that mystifying flower in the midst of bloom.
If there is a She's Gotta Have It season 3, we’ll see what “individuating” reaps for Nola in both her internal life and her relationships. With the close of “#IAmYourMirror,” she is closer than ever with best friend Clorinda (Margot Bingham), who is now going into the critiquing space, after creating healthy boundaries. There is also some romantic promise between Nola and British artist Olumide Owoye (Michael Luwoye). Nola shrugs at his “Bloody hell!” shock over the painting.
On the other side of the spectrum, Nola and Shemekka come to a weepy confrontation over the flag art. Shemekka is deeply hurt by the piece, and tells Nola as much (after rewatching, you'll notice Mekka is noticeably disturbed after seeing it for the first time). It’s a conversation that questions who owns Black pain, Nola’s purpose in the art community, and the reason for the painting in the first place. It ends on an unresolved and extremely painfully note, as Shemekka pledges to support Nola in public while privately believing her art is wholly wrong.
It’s the kind of deep emotional wound that is sure to bleed into all of Nola Darling’s future adventures. There’s a reason Dr. Jamison said all of this individuating is painful, painful business.