‘One Mississippi’ Dives Deeper into Heartbreak and Humor in Season 2

one-mississippiWhile One Mississippi’s first season dealt with a number of huge transitions, like the death of protagonist Tig’s mother and Tig’s moving back to Mississippi, its second season is more focused on the questions these transitions bring up: How much can a person change, and under what circumstances will they do so? What does it take for a community to change? Does conversation create change? Like its first season, this season of One Mississippi raises issues it will leave uncomfortably unresolved, at least for now. Like its first season, this season is also funny, charming, and heartbreaking.

In One Mississippi’s first season, radio host Tig Bavaro (Notaro) returns home to Mississippi after the death of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer and C. diff. While these elements, borrowed from Notaro’s real life, provide the arresting setup for the series, they are almost incidental to what One Mississippi really wants to talk about: sexual assault. Returning home causes Tig to revisit her childhood, where she was regularly molested by her step-grandfather. In the first season’s finale, she visits her mother’s grave and imagines a girly slumber party with all the women in the cemetery giggling and recounting their first times being raped. This theme — that sexual assault and harassment are unbearably common but are stigmatized to the point of shameful secrecy — returns in One Mississippi’s second season, now streaming on Amazon.

This season also picks up in earnest where the first season left off with Katie (Stephanie Allynne) and Tig’s will-they-or-won’t-they dynamic, a charming and moving recreation of some of the details of Notaro and Allynne’s real-life courtship and romance. The two performers met while working on the movie In A World…, when Allynne identified as straight and couldn’t imagine falling for a woman. This year, they celebrate their second wedding anniversary. On One Mississippi, Katie is Tig’s radio producer (setting them across a mixing board, like their characters in In A World…), identifies as straight, and cannot imagine falling for a woman, and the two spend the season beating back at the barriers to a relationship.

For Tig and her family, this season uses romantic storylines to force characters to confront their own limitations and ability to change. Tig’s brother Remy (Noah Harpster) finds transformative love through his newfound engagement with church; even Tig’s tightly-wound stepfather Bill Flanagan (John Rothman) encounters a woman (Felicia, played by Sheryl Lee Ralph) who could be described as the only character more mature and taciturn than Bill himself. In both cases, the show digs deep into some uncomfortable racist undertones in the family, and white Mississippi society. After Vicky gets into a fight with Remy’s racist white friend, Remy leaves her church for his white friend’s. Bill makes an offhand comment defending a historical slaveowner, and with Felicia’s encouragement to learn more, becomes a sexagenarian Matt McGorry, bringing up The New Jim Crow at weddings. These stories deliberately echo this past election cycle, letting the show’s mostly white core cast bump up against their own unexamined prejudices and those of the white Mississippi community around them.

All of that, too, is secondary to the show’s exploration of how damagingly ubiquitous sexual harassment and assault are. As Tig gets more comfortable sharing her story of abuse, her neighbors, friends, and family grow more comfortable sharing their own traumas. In this way, the show dives deeper into its first season theme of the importance of talking about feelings. Tig tells Kate in one episode, “I think I’m a little more in touch with my emotions than you are,” but that’s how she feels about all of the characters. As these core traumatic experiences stay bottled up within them, they struggle to engage with the world in ways that transcend superficiality.

Much of the show appears drawn from Notaro’s real life, and her character’s belief in talking openly about sexual assault is no exception. In interviews leading into this season, Notaro has distanced herself from in-name-only executive producer Louis C.K., who mostly refuses to acknowledge the numerous accusations of sexual assault and harassment against him. To wit, in this season, a man masturbates in a business meeting with a female subordinate. That this behavior should be so ambiguously easy to link to Louis C.K. is itself fairly damning; the event’s fallout is further excruciating, putting the victim on the defensive and exacerbating her hostile work environment.

Though it’s hard to imagine from just these descriptors, One Mississippi is also very funny. Notaro hasn’t always been offered roles that take advantage of her idiosyncratic deadpan, but in One Mississippi she’s written herself a perfect role, and the rest of the cast are excellent foils. Bill, Tig’s stepfather, is a particularly great foil, as someone who cares passionately about things Tig can’t be bothered with. But Tig’s affectless delivery and Bill’s self-seriousness also serve character. As Desiree (Carly Jibson, given much more to do here than on TBS’s terrible The Guest Book) observes, “I’ve just never seen a family that doesn’t… use their home all together.” The Flanagan-Bavaro household struggles with communication in part because they’re afraid of instigating discussion of the sexual trauma they share.

As a gay woman in Mississippi, Tig also explores secret worlds outside of her home. She briefly dates a closeted woman who literally runs away when Tig celebrates circumventing a homophobe by shouting “I’m gay! I’m gay!” She also explores the world of the Power Gays, a scene of mostly wealthy white lesbians trashing each other. Both situations are uncomfortable fits for Tig, who’s looking for something particularly rare on One Mississippi: a stable relationship without any secrets. As she and Katie flirt on the air, we see why Tig’s falling for this woman: they can speak openly and honestly (with Katie’s growing feelings for Tig being a major exception).

Tig’s radio show, and her radical post-cancer honesty, are responsible for a great deal of her best difficult encounters on One Mississippi. Her on-air discussions of sexual assault allow others to realize for the first time that they were assaulted (though some audience members may cringe at how often on the show Tig tells someone “You were molested!”). The culture of secrecy is necessary for propping up rape culture, and by the end of the season, Tig and Katie are exploring ways to improve communication between women about which men aren’t safe. If next season borrows heavily from Sweet/Vicious, we shouldn’t be surprised. (Incidentally, this show should remind us that we still haven’t lost that other great semi-autobiographical streaming comedy about queer women in love.)

The season only has six episodes in it, and like last season, things tend to heat up in the last two episodes. Time moves imperceptibly on the show, so months can pass in one episode, or mere hours across several. While the finale offers moments of catharsis, the characters all have a long way to go on their way to emotional wellness. But talking it all out is a great start.

Harry Waksberg is a writer and lazeabout based in Riverside, CA. He is the creator and writer of the web series Doing Good.

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