OPA vs. Artisan Nails
“Claws” on TNT is one of my new favorite obsessions. It follows the life of Desna (Niecy Nash) as she tries to follow her dreams of opening a premier nail shop while providing for her autistic brother Dean (Harold Perrineau) and laundering money for a local gang, The Dixie Mafia.
The show features a colorful cast of women including Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes), the protective lesbian with the golden tongue, Polly (Carrie Preston), the crazy redhead who we think went to jail for identity theft but she somehow knows the proper German commands to tame a German shepherd, and Jen (Jenn Lyon), the thicker than a Snicker white best friend who will probably end up cheating on her crackhead husband with her Jewish country two-step dance partner. And how could I forget Virginia (Karrueche Tran), the young, out of control woman who was two steps away from ending up like Ebony on “Player’s Club.”
All of these women come together to form the Artisan Nails crew. They are wild and fun, and every week I wish that I could walk into their shop and sit down in one of their chairs to have my nails done while I shoot the shit.
As I watch the show, I can’t help but compare and contrast their crew to another crew that has ruthlessly commanded my Thursday nights for the past six years: the Gladiators over at Olivia Pope and Associates (OPA). Both of these crews are focused around and led by strong black women who have been there for the people in the inner circle through thick and thin.
Desna supported Polly through several years of jail, and from what we can gather, has seen Jenn through several tumultuous relationships, including a failed marriage. Olivia, literally picked Huck up from the gutter and put food in his stomach and clothes on his back. She also supported and guided Darby after she left an abusive marriage. They have gathered a strong group of people around who, for all intents and purposes, will ride or die for their fearless leader. Desna and Olivia are almost ruthless in their protection and care of their friends but watching “Claws” has forced me to examine the difference in their methods.
For years, I’ve always said that I want to be a Gladiator. I want to wear the white hat. I want to ride into battle with Olivia Pope and go over the cliff if that’s where she leads. However, I will say that the last few seasons of “Scandal,” have forced me to reexamine this. I’m not sure if I want to be a Gladiator. I’m not sure I can even handle it. I’ve come to realization that becoming a Gladiator comes with strings; Olivia Pope never does anything for the sake of just being good. If she does anything for you, then you better believe and understand that she will come back to collect her due.
Sometimes it seems that being a Gladiator is an obligation rather than a privilege, and nine times out of ten, your life will end up ten times worse than before. Yes, you might end up the President of the United States, but that’s only after at least three assassination attempts, being blackmailed about the amount of people you’ve slept with from Tinder, and being forced to sit through five minutes of the God awful “Making Jam in Vermont” music. I mean Quinn became the head of OPA at the end of last season, but do you remember all of the awful, shitty stuff that Olivia put her through to get to that point?
Where Olivia is quick to drag one of the members of OPA into her drama if it will help get the problem solved, Desna is the opposite. Even though Roller had been using and manipulating her for months, she never dragged Quiet Ann, her pseudo-bodyguard, into the problem. She tried to figure out a way to solve it without involving anyone in her crew. Polly practically had to force herself into the situation to get Desna to accept her help. Whereas, Olivia has no problem throwing a folders with suspects at the crew at OPA and telling them to “handle it” whether they want to or not.
If you’re going to be in OPA, you’re going to have to earn your keep, no matter what shape that payment takes. Desna provides for her girls willingly and freely. When she got a huge chunk of money from Uncle Daddy, the head of the Dixie Mafia, for laundering money through the nail shop, she didn’t keep it to herself. She shared the money with the girls, especially Polly who desperately needed it. If Olivia Pope made something happen, you’re going to know that she did it, no matter who helped her. She has an ego, whereas Desna’s benevolent and magnanimous spirit completely removes it from the equation.
Desna has taken Virginia under her wing and tried to help steer her in the right direction (whether this is out of the goodness of her heart or because of their intertwined fates still remains to be seen). For all of Virginia’s mistakes and backsliding, Desna could rightfully wipe her hands clean of Virginia but she hasn’t. I know for a fact that Olivia Pope would’ve been cut Virginia out of the circle of trust and left her on the subway platform to scream 752 for the rest of her days. Desna is benevolent and transparent in her love whereas I find myself questioning Olivia and her motives more and more every episode.
The point of this article is not to say that one is better than the other. In fact, I love them both for who they are—strong strong black women trying to survive in a world that does not value or care about them. I also love them because they accurately portray black women in our society today. You know, the ones that put so much time and effort into caring and providing for others that they often neglect themselves. The ones that are constantly trying to save the world even if the world resents them for it (*cough 94% and America cough*). The ones that somehow make a way out of no way and accomplish supernatural shit that doesn’t even seem possible. The ones that inspire undying loyalty and who are always there to give you tough love in the form of “Don’t be a bitch baby, pull your panties and exit the stall now.”
So, while I may have started this article to examine the difference between Desna and Olivia, I’ve realized that they may simply be two different sides of the same coin. And no matter how you flip that coin, I recognize myself on both sides, which is the most important thing at the end of the day.