Atlanta Recap: And Season One Comes To A Close In Glorious Melancholy Fashion

***While not a conventional recap for BNP as we discuss the impact of each episode, please note there are full spoilers for episode ten, “The Jacket” ***

Nicole: Can I just start by saying that this episode is not the most I’ve been entertained by Earn, but it is probably the most I’ve liked him?

William: What was interesting about this episode is that, frankly I found it pretty dull for the first 3/5ths of it and I assumed it was because we Earn was the focal point with small variations and jokes scattered throughout. But it was mopey Earn, which we’ve been subject to before, but rarely as the focal point. Progressing through the episode, it seems that was deliberate for the show to carry on in such a low energy state to be shocked into alertness with Fidel being shot in the back and killed right in front of them. I’ll definitely want to talk about the shooting more but I agree, this was Earn at his most likable. He was very much himself this episode, motivated, but sheepishly so. Enough energy and wit to rebut certain claims (the dancer’s categorization of “titty size” in the club, Darius’ assessment of Black people’s biggest problems), but not enough ambition to throw a stake in the ground about anything. Of course, the last 5-8 minutes of the show probably had the most heart of the whole season for a show that hasn’t lacked that specifically. It was a pretty naturalistic and yet heart warming display to see Earn’s unfiltered and default state without the pressures of other elements, per se. And the Outkast outro to close out the episode could not have been more perfect.

Nicole: I didn’t see him as mopey exactly. For me, this was Earn at his most focused. He had something he wanted: that jacket (kind of) and he doggedly pursued it. He was resourceful and determined. He was willing to be inconvenienced (and out some money) to achieve his goal. We’ve seen Earn easily put off before so to see him, in his perhaps sheepish way, persevere was refreshing. So yes, the pacing was very slow but it worked.

I felt frustrated on Earn’s behalf at every turn and setback. Even though I thought, until right after the shooting, that the jacket was just a McGuffin. It didn’t matter. I was with him on this hero’s quest. He literally wakes up in a strange place alone, finds clues, ventures into foreign lands, enlists the help of his team, encounters setbacks, etc. The audience is finding out about Earn’s night as Earn is. Save for one piece of information, we have the exact same information he does. That, for me, was a great choice by the writers because the episode was slow, but so is life and both are offset by the many small revelations we get/make in a day.

One thing that I really liked in terms of devices that the show uses well is that we keep waking up with Earn. Last week, he woke up in the faceless woman’s bed. This week he woke up on a beanbag chair after the afterparty. We’ve seen him wake up in Van’s bed and on Alfred’s couch. (We also woke up with Van during what shall forever be known as the “Sloppy AF” episode). This has been used to communicate disorientation and domesticity equally effectively. I’m not sure what it means 100%, but I like it.

But to the moments of levity, I died at “I don’t know the titty median here.” Everything about that line is perfect, especially Glover’s delivery.
And for me the book ends of where he wakes up versus where he goes to sleep is what made this worthy of being a season finale. We got the cliffhanger in episode one, we didn’t need another version of that.

William: I also like the mechanic of “waking up” throughout the episodes. It very much puts the audience with the protagonist in the mode of “ok, this is the beginning of the day / something / quest and now I need to figure out what comes next.

I too, felt like the jacket was a Mcguffin and the way that this show goes left so often, was surprised the actual jacket even showed up again. Like a RPG video game, the keys ended up becoming a quest item of sorts. If Earn remembers who he gave his keys to, the quest never happens and the crew probably never experiences the raid or witnesses, let’s call it what it was with an unarmed man running and shot in the back: straight sanctioned murder, because he probably wouldn’t have pursued the jacket that hard. Also, if he never receives those keys, does he end up staying that night with Van for no other reason than he didn’t have another convenient place to crash? For the discipline or principle or whatever Earn prioritized to not stay with Van that night, it seems like that would’ve have been a large compromise if he had to choose differently due to lack of options.

Then again, I wouldn’t have previously thought that the storage locker was an option. I think it’s important to note that Earn is an Ivy League dropout for which we still don’t know the “why” behind. Not because he should be shamed or looked at like a failure or any shit like that, but because for all the suppressing of Earn’s character that exists to make way for other characters and storylines (by design and credit to Glover for that), Earn is still a fascinating and interesting dude that has pursued a pretty unconventional path. That’s fun to watch.

Nicole: The Van/Earn exchange on the porch had me in full head tilt mode. Especially after last week’s tryst in the car. Which came after Earn’s perhaps hurtful perhaps honest read of Van for the women present. I have to ask, as the writers want me to, what is going on with their relationship? I’m glad that’s a real question in this universe. Sex doesn’t mean relationship. Hell, sex with someone you care for deeply doesn’t mean relationship. To see that play out in a weekly series as it might in real life with all of the nebulous feelings and blurry boundaries is reaffirming: shit is messy and not easily solved in the front seat of a car.

That said, it seems very purposeful that he’s not staying with Van after having what seemed like a lovely evening – and being invited to. He’s choosing not to stay with his cousin and friend either – even though he’s invited to.

Neither, however, knows where he is. Earn simply told Paper Boi that he wasn’t even mad about the jacket and left it at that; he said nothing about the key. When he got it back, he said nothing about it to Van, either. He’s choosing to be alone on his own terms. The question then is why. I’d argue that this is what his father meant all those episodes ago when he said that Earn does everything in his own way. We see him at his most successful this episode, having achieved what he set out to; he’s officially a manager, he’s compensated to be a manager, he’s lined up a possible tour for his client, he’s providing for his kid, and he has a roof of his own over his head and two bills to rub together. He’s still enigmatic and I’m still heavily invested in the other characters, but this does seem like a fitting end to the chapter.

William: I love these characters enough where I don’t want this to happen and I think there’s only a 10% chance that it does happen, but I think it’s wholly possible for the story to end right there. With Earn, flailing yet succeeding music producer, listening to an appropriate Andre 3000 verse (one of my all-time favorite verses by the way) while laying it down for the night in a storage locker on his own terms. If they really wanted, Atlanta could be a show about completely different characters in the same magical realism universe with different characters for season 2. I don’t think that will happen, but it most certainly could.

So let’s talk about the shooting. Well, I guess I want to talk about how normalized it was for Alfred, Darius, and Earn. There’s the initial shock. And Paper Boi’s comment of “Did y’all have to hit him with all them bullets, man?” But notice he didn’t say, “Did you have to shoot him.” Which…they didn’t, it would seem as if he wasn’t in that moment an immediate threat to anyone. But it is striking how desensitized to the most fatalist pledge of violence these guys are. And by striking, I mean completely relatable. It’s not so far a leap to connect their nonchalant attitude about witnessing a police shooting death to all the other police shooting deaths that happen every day and how we notch another hashtag in our notebook of unmentionables. I’m almost ashamed to say that I don’t remember all the hashtags off the top of my head from two months ago. It is trauma, outright with multiple ways it can affect you. Normalization, being one of those and I, unfortunately (with some very personal history of proximity to violence) relate to their reaction in an unsettling way.

Earn’s specific reaction though speaks more to what your point was about his singular focus and determination. It feels like a dark humor trope when he’s like ‘there’s actually a hidden pocket’ to the cop who has already checked the coat on a dead man in front of them, but it’s also pragmatic. If there’s something Earn needs to retrieve, nothing but sensibilities is hurt if he makes a push to get his stuff back. Him pursuing the quest ain’t making the dead man’s partner cry any more or less. Then, of course, there’s the “That was crazy. / yeah, but that was kind of cool.” Which is both an identifiable reaction and a whole other can of worms. I’m sure part of the reason it’s “cool” is because they survived it. Their second such survival this season, I might add. Third if you count the club episode.

Nicole: Shhhhhhh. Don’t let the writers hear you say that! Which is to say, you’re right, they could; it feels very complete. There is so much more left for these characters to do and go through, but we did get a full – not story exactly – view into their world and lives and struggles and triumphs. But please, universe, don’t do that.

The shooting was all that you described; everyone, characters, and audience, are desensitized to the intrusion of state violence that it wasn’t as remarkable as it would have been even 5 years ago. The image that stuck with me was that of the woman who is crying over her dead loved one and is held back by one of the cops’ arms. It is so nonchalant, the movement with which he denied her access to her loved one after casually saying, “He’s dead.”

I know that Earn’s plea to check the dead man’s pockets was supposed to be humorous, but it demonstrated not only his focus but also his callousness. This is the third shooting in 8 episodes that he’s seen. And I’m not including his Facebook page where scenes like that autoplay.

It is a complicated feeling to be rooting for the survival of these characters the same, albeit less intense, way I root for the survival of my friends and family. It is uncomfortably close to home. That’s probably why I’d be disappointed if the show switched to different characters in the same universe [looks coldly at Season 2 of True Detective and shivers].

William: Last random tidbits from me:

Look, your boy was wrong for all the “Heyyyyy Vanessa” and asking Earn if it would be weird if fill in the blank fill in the blank. But he ain’t WRONG. Van was looking, as we say in the hood, right. Can’t fault a brotha too much for the inquiry. The thirst comes for us all, sometimes without warning or preamble.

I like the last interaction with Paper Boi before Earn left. There’s a joking and busting balls with Earn about him doing “Daddy Daycare” but there’s no question that he respects Earn for doing it. It’s playful jabs and comes from a place of understanding between the cousins.

At the start of the season, I felt like Darius was going to be my favorite person on screen and he often was, but Paper Boi won me over. And obviously, he got more point time than most of the other characters, but I just loved the complex emotional spectrum that he provided. They really threw an aspiring underground rapper with a perceived gangsta persona into every situation and it was never awkward or misplaced for me as a viewer. That’s a hard-fought achievement and both the writing and acting deserve a ton of credit for that.

If we get these characters back next season, I want to see the parents again and I want to see in person interaction between Van and the rest of the crew. The call and text conversations between Van and Paper Boi were priceless and selfishly, I want to see more of that or at least learn how they got this point of their interactions.

What about you?

Nicole: Nah, your dude was so wrong for the whole Van exchange. So wrong on every level. I’m not saying I wouldn’t buy the Van 2017 calendar, I’m just saying I probably wouldn’t ask Earn to get her to sign it for me.

I don’t have a clear favorite character which is what I like about the show. I’ve enjoyed seeing them all respond to their respective pressures and grow because of it. The relationships feel authentic. When Paper Boi acknowledges Earn as his manager, it feels earned and I’m lowkey proud of Earn. When Darius tells Earn that they’re friends now (after their epic trip across the wilds of ATL), it makes sense. When Van succumbs to peer pressure and makes a bad choice, I sigh because that’s how that shit happens. When Earn falls asleep satisfied, I’m nodding my head because he deserves it. The writers caught me with the unflinching aspect of the story; all these people are deeply flawed and lovable (because of it). Next season, I want to see the universe expand just a little. I want Earn’s parents, maybe Van’s parents to make an appearance. I’d like to see Darius in various states of undress a relationship. Paper Boi, too. As you’ve said, we’ve seen a spectrum of emotion from Paper Boi and that’s one we haven’t encountered. I’m wary of Darius becoming my favorite mystical negro so I’d like him to be a little bit more humanized (and yet, still magical).

I can honestly say that next Tuesday night, I’m gonna be looking longingly at my television.

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