Hulu's newest show The Other Black Girl turns a satirical examination of racial workplace politics into a mystery infused with contemporary horror stylings. Adapted from Zakiya Dalila Harris's bestselling novel of the same name, the show follows Nella, an editorial assistant at the traditional (and very white) publishing house Wagner Books, whose world is turned upside down with another Black girl, the cool and collected Hazel, joins the office. Nella soon notices that something strange is going on amid the everyday microaggressions, and the paranoia builds as she's sent an anonymous note commanding her to "LEAVE WAGNER NOW."
When Nella—with the help of her best friend Malaika and boyfriend Owen—begins to search for the reason behind all of the small catastrophes that came into her life with Hazel, she discovers the new hire is involved in a bigger, sinister conspiracy that's quite mind-blowing, unless you're one of the millions who read Harris's 2021 book. While the big twist has not changed much from page to screen, the added details along the path to get there, as well as the very different ending, are more than enough to intrigue both book readers and viewers who have come to the show with no prior knowledge.
Below, a breakdown of the show's ending, how it differs from the book, and how the series sets up a possible second season.
How does 'The Other Black Girl' end?
Near the end of the series, Nella learns that Hazel is a "lead conditioner" for a national "sisterhood" that seeks to brainwash talented Black women into assimilating more easily into white society. While before these women were seen as unprofessional by societal (and historically white-centered) standards, after joining the fold they easily ascend corporate and academic ladders, with the help of the sisterhood's connections and resources. The tool that the women use is a special hair grease, which works as a "social lubricant" by numbing their ventromedial prefrontal cortexes, which affects their emotional regulation. While they use the grease, Hazel and these women are no longer preoccupied by genetic trauma, and the guilt and anxiety that comes with compromising elements of your identity to fit in at work.
Though Nella first suspects Richard Wagner to be behind the scheme, it turns out that Diana Gordon, the author of Burning Heart and Nella's eternal role model, is the head of this shadow organization. Diana first attempted to use the hair grease on Kendra Rae Philips, Wagner's first and only Black senior editor, who began to speak out against the company publicly after feeling conflicted about the compromises she and Diana made in getting Burning Heart out into the world, including changing the initially bleak (like, alternate ending of Get Out bleak) conclusion. Kendra Rae escaped Diana and went on the run, but in the years since Diana has improved the hair grease formula and gathered recruits throughout the Northeast. Nella is just the latest in a long line of women to be targeted by the sisterhood, though she's one of the "involuntaries" who disagrees with the org's values.
When the entire plot is discovered, Nella is determined to expose the scheme, with the help of prominent activist Jesse Watson. However, during the launch party of the new imprint at Wagner, Diana announces that Jesse will be the imprint's first author. The activist who publicly cancelled Wagner just episodes earlier has now been brainwashed by the grease, and Diana plans to use his name to release a book that has been written by the brightest minds of the sisterhood, which will deliver the org's message of "changing institutions from the inside" to his dedicated fans.
By the finale, both Hazel and Diana have cornered Nella with pleas for her to use the grease or face imminent demise. (An earlier involuntary, Shani, was blackballed by her industry, evicted, and assaulted after she refused to join.) In the series' final scene, Nella shows up at a meeting for Jesse's book. She's in a colorful Hazel-esque outfit and her hair—which she's worn in an afro all season—is now worn straight. She's congratulated by both Hazel and Diana on making the right decision and given her former boss Vera's old office. However, once she's left alone, Nella makes a call on a burner phone to her best friend Malaika, who is busy kidnapping Watson. Nella's joined the fold on the outside, but on the inside she's teamed up with Kendra Rae to lead a resistance movement against Gordon and her grease.
What are the major differences between the TV show and the book?
The Other Black Girl TV series makes understandable choices about which elements of the story to develop and which to trim down. In the book, Shani and Kendra Rae were both given more focus, and rather than being on the run individually, they were both connected to a large organized resistance to Diana and her "Other Black Girls". Meanwhile, Hazel is more fleshed out in the TV show, while in the book she's more of a standard antagonist.
Thanks in part to Ashleigh Murray's vulnerable performance, the show's Hazel rarely crosses the line into being an overt villain. She makes more effort to bond and become a friend towards Nella over the season, which is later explained along with the rest of her past in episode 9. Book Hazel isn't given a backstory beyond what she did to Shani in Boston, and a last-minute mention that Hazel was also once an Involuntary herself. She also actively works to get Nella fired, since there can only be one "Other Black Girl" in each office to "guarantee maximum results."
The flashback episode reveals TV Hazel lived in Boston, taking care of her disabled mother and working at a bar while she aspires to working in media. After she's rejected from a magazine job for not having a college degree, Hazel meets Diana and voluntarily becomes a conditioner for the chance at a new life. Hazel does begin to oppose Diana's methods after Shani's life is ruined, but she also doesn't want to go back to her old life, so she agrees to train for the task of recruiting Nella. In return, Diana promises Hazel that she can keep the job at Wagner and work there alongside Nella. TV Hazel truly wants to help Nella and have her as a new best friend, which adds another layer of nuance (or some might say tragedy) to the dynamic between the two co-workers.
Then there's the ending, which is more hopeful than the book conclusion and provides a thread for the series to explore in the future. In the last chapter of the book, when Nella excuses herself to the bathroom during the meeting where she's faced with and shocked by a brainwashed Jesse, Hazel follows her and gives Nella a full explanation about the grease (which sports the moniker "Smooth'd Out"). During the conversation, Hazel compares the effects of the "social lubricant" to feeling free, and Nella realizes that she's never felt truly free in her life. Turn the page to the epilogue, and it's revealed that an unrecognizable Nella has used the grease and is a lead conditioner herself.
What could happen in season 2?
The season finale's open ending can be seen as a plea for a second season, teasing an interesting future for Nella as the inside man for the resistance. TOBG is strongest as a show when exploring the office dynamics that Nella—and similarly-minded Black women in the real world—have to navigate every day. In season 2, as Diana, Hazel, and Nella work together on Jesse's book and the new imprint, the latter will have to put on a performance of ease and competence with the same systemic misogynoir that drove her to anxiety everyday. Meanwhile, Diana and Hazel will arguably drop their acts, as we saw Diana become more sinister in later episodes, as well as Hazel's brief moment in the final scene where she's excited to tell Nella "everything." It will be really interesting to see what Hazel does as she's caught in between Diana's sisterhood and Nella's resistance.
Outside of the office, there will be the plot to take down the organization, and there's tons of unanswered questions to explore. What are Malaika and Kendra Rae planning to do to Jesse? Are the effects of the hair grease semi-permanent, or will Jesse go back to normal after a couple of days without? How will Nella keep the new book from getting published? After such an entertaining first season, hopefully The Other Black Girl the show will get the opportunity to keep building out its world.
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