***Atlanta is back for season two, ROBBIN SEASON and we couldn’t be more excited. While not a traditional recap for us, Nicole and William get together each week to talk out the great, the innovative and the utterly bizarre of the latest episode. All the spoilers ahead.***
Nicole: I asked for a Van episode… [stares into the abyss]
There’s an absurdity achieved in this episode that I’ve missed but this was a really, really sad episode so a lot of what would’ve been my joy at that was tempered. First I have to acknowledge that the German festival and all of its costuming, games, and roaming demons brought me back to my good old Grimm days.
William: yeah…no matter how folks have tried it, even in comedies, rarely are things more stressful to watch than an active break up. And while I didn’t know it was going to be that at the very beginning of the episode (I mean, Earn’s more confident, ahem, facetime doesn’t foreshadow that), there was a part early on that I said out loud “I’m not sure they are very healthy for each other.”
Also, true to a mutually unhealthy relationship, it did ping pong back and forth about who was being hurtful to whom until it was painfully obvious that the end result should probably be them not being together anymore or…whatever the hell they actually were.
Nicole: See I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen so I was mostly in shock and awe. I like that these characters are true to character. We’ve seen Van take Earn to a party without the proper briefing before (the Juneteenth episode). We know that this is a shitty thing she did to Earn that she shouldn’t. We know Earn is—if not indecisive—hesitant to make a change. They were both very much themselves. While they did take turns holding the “be a horrible partner” conch, it felt authentic; Van’s hurt was palpable as was Earn’s frustration.
There was a very short scene that stuck with me: Earn is talking to Van’s (not) friend’s partner and asking what women want and the dude says, “They just want to do stuff with you” or something to that effect. Later, Van brings up the strip club saying that she went just to be with Earn. For me it felt like an attempt, on this very masculine show, to understand and communicate a feminine intimacy.
William: I’m sure this feels like a predictable response, but my god, I would’ve hated being Earn at the beginning of this episode. German Festival stuff aside, just the lack of preparation given and the expectation of performance. All roads lead to embarrassment and discomfort and I don’t know who Van thinks wins in that situation, especially as she shows frustration from Earn’s lack of festive buy-in and also specific competency of this event.
Having said that, we can do the 50/50 split if anyone is hard pressed to do so when assigning responsibility, but I walked away from this thinking that Van can often be inconsiderate where Earn is more in line with just being an asshole. The distinct difference in them warring with German Festival vs. Strip Club is that this was Van’s attempt to bring Earn into her world (and succinctly out of the one we are defaulted in, in this world), where Van going to the strip club was very much a tag-a-long procedural. Van didn’t need to be there for Earn to attempt what he was trying to do. It’s evident that Van could have very well gone to this on her own and had a great time, but she actively wanted Earn there, even if she did a horrible job in preparing him.
Nicole: Let’s underline that: she did a horrible job preparing him. I keep wondering about the start of their relationship because neither of them seems very good at relationship-ing. But, I have to agree that she is trying g to bring him into her world and he’s not. That said, the extended speaking German in front of him was too much. You can’t have it both ways: I want you here and I’m going to make you feel excluded. Which is pretty much how they both ended up acting even if we can argue over how each character might feel or what they might think.
But the mechanisms of the actual breakup are fascinating: Earn’s text… saves her (I don’t know if this is the right verb but let’s go with it) from the roaming festival demon. But since he didn’t want to break up, what does he want to talk about? We’ll never know because he, in classic Earn fashion, lets Van go first and then follows her lead to an extent by having the conversation according to her framework.
Then the game. [still looking at blank tv screen and blinking].
William: It very much speaks to a relationship that probably only exists because Van got pregnant with Lottie. Hard to see them lasting this long with them both being terrible at this without some other larger tether. Also, the German-speaking in front of Earn on purpose was malicious and mean-spirited. The German-speaking in front of Earn unintentionally might have hurt even more. Earn can’t understand what is being said…but he understands. Your partner is talking to another dude in an intimate moment after they’ve had a fight for what is literally a secret language (for Earn)…he understands enough. Which is why I think he texts her. I think he felt like, ok, we fought, let me see if I can smooth things over by letting her destroy me in a rematch to show I’m ok now. But that’s the meta, it’s bigger than that for Van.
Also…I know Atlanta operates in the land of magical realism (which I love), but I’m not sure that applies to basic human interactions and movements. Van’s proposed deal about the game was…a lot. As in not believable. Unless the point was that she was so confident she would win (as she should be) that the alternative of her just being Earn’s convenient jump off that included no desire or agency on her part wasn’t even possible. Even still, it didn’t ring true to what had been a brutally true narrative to that point.
Nicole: So I loved the game because there was no way Earn could win. That’s the unapologetic agency on Van’s part. She was the one that wanted something more, something different and could’ve let him win but more to the point he could have refused to play. He could’ve said the relationship meant more to him than a game he knew he could not win. If, for example, they were playing basketball, Van would’ve known she was losing from the start. Earn knows she’s better than him; in fact, part of the argument they have before isn’t that he lost but how he lost. He says he wouldn’t have been as unrelenting and merciless as she was. Earn knew what it was and played anyway.
And it was a parallel to last week’s Earn plays a game/makes a wager we all know he’s gonna lose? I love that echo.
William: I don’t mind the echo, but the stakes are much different. I hear you, but that more than agency feels…a bit cruel then? I dunno. But the big lasting effect to me is this: we can’t afford to lose Van from the show or at least minimize her presence even more. We have said countless times, there are basically no women on the show. To increase Van’s presence after that would be…weird (which is totally possible for this show) since Earn is the main character. So…now what?
Nicole: I’ll concede that it was cruel, but it felt in line with the conversation. She said she didn’t want to be just a reliable piece of ass and he said he liked the way things were. Cruelty was par for the course. To me it emphasized choice. But I agree that I don’t want to lose her already slight presence in the show. I don’t think will be that exactly. If I had to guess, I think we’re gonna see some Eric Benet moment for both of these characters.
William: And maybe this is fucked up but…I don’t know if I care about that per se. I care about Van being a functional part of the show and I’ll take whatever vehicle that takes. But Earn and Van’s relationship is among my lease favorite aspects of this universe itself from an entertainment standpoint. So, I think you’re right, but from an economy standpoint, I’m not sure I want to devote another episode to any reconciliation. Because an episode of Atlanta without Al or Darius better be really, really good. This was affecting for sure, but I wouldn’t want to do it again any time soon.
Nicole: I think Van and Lottie are a litmus test for Earn’s growth so I’m interested in it from that perspective, but I’ve managed my expectations: this is a show about masculinities, so narratives outside of that aren’t treated with the same care and daring and exploration.
So, yeah, the interactions between Al and Darius and Earn are what drives the show’s most interesting stories.
Which maybe is worth discussing in the context of “these male friendships are complicated and nuanced but the second friend of Van’s we meet is, once again, trash.”
William: I almost forgot about that. You chose Black…I..I’m not qualified to speak on that and its many nuances, but I cringed through that whole thing. I just don’t think I have any helpful commentary on that. Except maybe as an aside…can we find a different white dude to play Earn’s foil? This is the radio show host / the manager / the supportive partner of the partner’s friend as the same dude, right?
Nicole: Wait, what? Was it? I… I… didn’t notice that, but it seems reasonable.
But also the irony of saying you chose Black at the German festival she dragged Earn to gave me a headache. Let Van be a whole ass person.
Van’s response was pretty perfect from the callout about motherhood to the “you said you were jealous of our kinky hair which was weird because you have it too.” I’m not saying relationships like that don’t exist between Black women, but those are not the only kind that exist. While we see a spectrum of relationships between the masculine folks, we’ve so far only see ridiculously toxic relationships between the women and every time we see Van in conversation with another black woman, there’s a loss attached: her job and, now, her relationship.
William: Which would make this the perfect opportunity to go left of that, if we were to see episodes of Van completely independent of Earn and his world. I’m just not necessarily convinced we’ll get that. So, to put a bow on this, what do you want to see regarding Van moving forward? If we still get to see her in motion, do you even want to see her and Earn get back together?
Nicole: I think I’d like to see a Van-centric episode where she makes the same mistakes that she made with Earn and then learning or reacting differently to the lesson. I’d like to see her acts on the advice the German side gave her: fall in love with yourself. I wonder what that looks like for her. Honestly, I don’t know if I want to see them together again. I think I do, but Earn is kind of an asshole right now and I don’t wish that on anyone so [shrugs] iunno. I want to see Earn interact with the feminine in a way that isn’t relying on them to be his conscience or to help him understand things or to be a prop to his ego. That doesn’t have to be Van, though. His mom, his daughter, someone.