When Greenleaf premiered June 21, 2016, it signaled a new direction for OWN beyond reality TV and Tyler Perry shows. As it embarks on its fourth season, the Memphis-set megachurch family drama, led by seasoned actors Keith David as Bishop James Greenleaf and Lynn Whitfield as Lady Mae Greenleaf, is still going strong. Grace, their “daughter,” whose return to the family after many years being gone is the catalyst for much of the show’s drama, ended last season in a better place with her mother after finding out her true paternity.
Jacob, the Greenleaf’s only son, once again found himself in a thorny situation. While leading Triumph as the head pastor, he missed that he was being set-up. Not only did he and Tasha, former Triumph pastor Basie Skanks’s wife, get too close, but he was implicated in an FBI-scale scandal in Skanks’ grand plan to get back at Bishop for Skanks’ father’s death. Not surprisingly, Jacob and his wife Kerissa aren’t so good, plus their teenage daughter Zora, who emerged out of an abusive relationship, is still a handful. Charity, the youngest Greenleaf daughter, was emotionally distraught during much of last season.
Each new season comes with new challenges and one of the major ones is that Calvary, the Greenleafs’ church, is in the hands of white Harmony and Hope megachurch mogul Bob Whitmore. Even though Grace is the lead pastor, she and her family are clearly not in control and that’s a major source of drama and tension.
Speaking to The Root on the show’s Atlanta set back in April, Beau Bridges, who plays Whitmore, shared that his character “would really like [Grace] to join him in making Calvary a part of his vision, but he finds out pretty early on, that’s going to be a problem because she’s more involved in her family, the Greenleafs and making sure that they’re in good hands and if they’re doing well, and that doesn’t serve his purpose.”
But Grace has other problems all her very own. After seasons of calling Lady Mae out for her hypocrisy, it turns out Grace has been hiding a huge secret of her own, which also causes problems with her daughter Sophia. Given her track record for calling her mother and others out for their hypocrisy, it will be interesting to see how and if the tables turn on Grace.
Speaking on Grace’s storyline with The Root on set, Lynn Whitfield, in Lady Mae fashion, shared that “sometimes wounds and scars and disappointments and mistakes are great equalizers to just have people look at each other in all that nakedness and say, ‘You know people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.’ So hopefully it’ll humanize their relationship because they both have made mistakes.”
Lady Mae’s other complex relationship is the one she and her now ex-husband share and that, Whitfield admitted, personally intrigues her. “Two mature people negotiating a relationship is interesting,” she shared. “So, I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out.”
Given last season’s huge reveal that Lady Mae’s own affair left a permanent mark (Whitfield said she and the cast only learned of this roughly two weeks prior to filming), there are many who might question whether she and Bishop even deserve to try to move on together. But Whitfield understands Lady Mae’s transgression and believes there is a teachable moment in it.
“If James hadn’t betrayed her with her own sister (Mavis played by Oprah herself),” Whitfield doubts that Lady Mae’s affair with Lionel would have happened. It’s a common situation, she shared. “That happens with a lot with people. It’s like you’re dealing with a certain hurt, and that hurt moves you emotionally to make a mistake yourself. As opposed to removing yourself [from certain situations], as opposed to figuring things out for yourself, you act out. And she acted out. And that’s why I think it’s a great lesson our audience can look at and learn from.”
During the Greenleaf press conference at this year’s Essence Festival, Deborah Joy Winans dished on her character Charity, past and future. “What I love about Charity is that we’ve seen her grow up. We’ve seen her with her husband, we’ve seen her make mistakes. We’ve seen her go down that rabbit trail of drugs and drinking just to kind of figure out what’s really going on with her,” she said.
Winans suggested that “once you go [through] that and get your healing with Dr. Iyanla Vanzant,” change is inevitable. And big change is exactly what is in store for Charity. “This season she has decided to stand up for herself and to make decisions that are going to better her future no matter the cost,” Winans teased.
Some of those changes come with an admirer in the form of Sean Blakemore, the former NFL player who won a Daytime Emmy back in 2016 for his role as Shawn Butler on General Hospital. On Greenleaf, Blakemore who was also Coach Hardwick on BET’s short-lived HBCU drama, The Quad, plays Phil, Whitmore’s right-hand man at Harmony and Hope who is a thorn in Grace’s side. So him pursuing Charity comes with ulterior motives that may give him a vindictive advantage against Grace even if his feelings for Charity are sincere.
While Merle Dandridge didn’t dish on her character, Grace, during the Essence Festival press conference, she did offer her insights on why Greenleaf continues to resonate with its largely black female fanbase. “I think what our show has done such a beautiful job of is putting our finger on certain situations or issues or life journeys and the way that one must go through a phoenix process out of the ashes and everything that goes into that really painful transformation when you go through that ugly time to a place of…‘wholeness’ and really living and being in your destiny. And we rip that wide open and let you see the ugly process of that,” she said. “We open the conversation to a healing.”
Greenleaf is set to premiere Season 4 tonight, Sept. 3, 2019, at 10 p.m. ET and airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET.