Atlanta Recap: Van And Earn Attend The Great Awokening

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

Nicole: What is this show trying to do to me? Between the come-to-Jesus moments and the not-today-Satan situations, I almost got whiplash.

I want to start at the beginning, but since that’s tied so closely to the end, let’s start right in the middle of this shit. No use in wading in slowly.

Earn and Van are on their way to a Juneteenth party [note my voice rising towards the end of that sentence because “party” don’t capture what that was]. So Earn and Van are at this gathering, pretending to not only be together, but to be married. What in the respectability politics is going on here? We get the context in the car ride over: whoever is throwing this party knows people and can help Van (and therefore the daughter she co-parents with Earn). Okay. But they have to pretend on so many levels to be other people.

First, not only are they not married, but Van scooped Earn up at some other literally nameless and faceless woman’s house and took him to this party knowing he smell like a mix between weed and one night stands. (Let me just take a moment to appreciate the placement of the show’s title on the small of the back of Earn’s playmate. It’s the little things that keep me excited.) Second, it doesn’t seem like Van warned Earn at all about any of this. Especially not about playing the role of “Mr. Hubby” and I know I’d need at least a day to go into deep meditation to prepare myself for the African American Studies meets White Guilt Bonanza with a heavy sprinkling of Bougie that was Monique’s Juneteenth Party [again the voice rises]. Who does that?

William: Can we unpack the “Van scooped Earn up at some other literally nameless and faceless woman’s house?” I think I like the maturity in that they aren’t together or monogamous by Van’s own words earlier in the series, so this isn’t a “caught Earn with another woman” kind of moment. But I can’t tell if Van is annoyed that Earn isn’t completely prepared to go to this Juneteeth party (sidenote, I’m Black AF and I’ve been to plenty a Juneteeth festival, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a Juneteeth private party, still can’t wrap my head around that) or because she has to pick Earn up from another woman’s home because of what she feels is the necessity of this visit. But that makes Earn’s testimony to the women at the party about how amazing Van supposedly is probably even more cruel. We don’t know if she would exclusively want to be with Earn or not for sure, but we do know that she wants him to be better than what he currently is. So I at first thought his soliloquy about her was flattering, but now it just seems mean as hell.

To your point about the respectability politics of their charade, Van even ponders about being someone else at some point. It’s pretty evident that from her interactions with Earn, her loss of job, and attitudes towards just about everyone that she isn’t living what she considers to be her best life. She don’t want to be Jayde, but she seemingly doesn’t want to be this version of Van either. I thought it was a pretty cool moment when Van says to Monique something to the effect of “don’t you want someone to confide in” once Monique breaks down her marriage to Craig. I think she realized that she wants to split the difference between Monique’s seemingly empty life of extravagance and the very rooted unfiltered relationship with Earn.

Nicole: I didn’t interpret Van’s impatience with Earn as anything other than typical Earn fucking up impatience: he’s late, he’s high, and he don’t smell great. This party is important to Van professionally (and socially since they’re obviously linked in this episode) and Earn’s presence is necessary. I like that they have a working relationship. I like that it’s nebulous and seemingly flexible. Early on in the series, we see them in bed together; we also know Van is going on a date. The faceless young lady in this episode isn’t a love interest; she asks if he’ll be back later that night and he bluntly says no and adds a weird “thanks” just to up the level of awkward. Whether or not they want to be together, we can’t know, but who they are now – both lost, struggling with who they are and who they are pretending to be, and steeped in a history that we as viewers don’t fully know – just can’t seem to make it work. [flashes back to the date they went on that was painful to watch]

As for his spontaneous “Ode to Van,” I see how it could be mean, but I saw Earn in that moment as a dude who can’t say anything sincere unless it’s cloaked in sarcasm, wrapped in a joke, and dipped in “I’m just playin'” because he’s emotionally stunted. I mean under what other circumstances can Earn say these things to Van and have her listen? I mean, what did he say that wasn’t true? She’s supporting him and their kid; she’s going through what I can generously call growing pains – though Paper Boi called it being sloppy AF – but she’s held it together for this long.

Which brings me to her wondering about being someone else. Monique starts off by telling Van that she can have anything she wants (and points out people at the party who can help her get those things). Van drinks too much. We don’t see her networking or whatever the fuck one does at a Juneteenth party while pretending to be someone else surrounded by people she doesn’t know to achieve those dreams because it seems like she has no idea what she aspires to. Earn, at least, has that. He’s thrown himself into managing which is not a job performance review or anything but my dude gets an A for effort. I think that’s how we end up at the end of the episode on the side of the road: Earn stood up to Monique in a way Van wasn’t going to despite seeing behind the curtain.

William: Yeah, it was a pretty interesting juxtaposition of seeing Earn socialize in a place where he was definitely not the person people thought he was in the “Its the Biebs” episode against Van’s lack of real socialization in a place where she was somewhat who she really was. Earn definitely felt more comfortable “performing” than Van did. Van just dulled the experience as much as she could and let Earn do the heavy lifting, which is probably another statement in itself.

Yes, I’m putting off THE BIG THING for just a bit longer…

…Ok, no I’m not. Where do we even start with Craig, who wins the award for most woke White person since William Lloyd Garrison? Every time he said something I thought we were at the mountaintop that MLK spoke of and then he found another level. I also can’t stop laughing that his private stock included Hennessy.

And obviously, I’m mining the humor of it, but this is hyperbole of a very real thing obviously. There’s the conflict of analyzing Craig as the White person that finds a way to make the oppression cloak fit their shoulders in some fashion and also the acknowledgement of Craig’s investment in “The Black Experience” that is both troubling to Earn and possibly makes him somewhat insecure about his own knowledge of his culture. Even though I think he (and we) all see how bullshit it actually was.

Nicole: It was the painting that got to me. Earn says “That’s an interesting interpretation of that [Malcolm X] quote” and dude has the unabashed gall to say “It’s the only interpretation; that’s why I painted it.” You ain’t woke, Craig. You are really standing in your office, stocked with Hennessy and photos of your trio to the motherland, telling this actual Black dude the one and only true way to interpret a Black Nationalist’s words? What step show were you injured at? Which Martin episode hurt you, Craig? And where in the healing process did you go so terribly astray?

Throughout that entire office scene – and again later when Monique talks to Van – I couldn’t shake the great white hunter ™ vibe. Everything was a trophy – including Monique. All of these thing were supposed to do what? Get him closer to blackness? Assuage his industrial sized white guilt? It was so much. Too much. And then Earn, my dude Earn, in response to the ‘what part of Africa are you from’ question hits him with that “This spooky thing called slavery happened and my entire ethnic identity was erased.” Yes, Earn. Yes, All the posturing, all the reading and interpreting and visiting Africa can’t erase the glaring blindspots that are supported by his race and class. For me that was such a satisfying moment in the show. And yet…
And yet, later when Monique is on the balcony with Van she credits Craig with making her read the words of wisdom she imparts to Van: It’s redundant to be both black and sorry

William: Wait…so you not gonna talk about the poetry performance? I just want to know if we are going to talk about it or not…

Nicole: Craig is situated as both comically and tragically woke (as fueled by the Red Bull of the White Guilt) and more woke than his black trophy wife.

Damn. Damn. Damn. I was trying to forget that ever happened.

William: Ok, we can put off the poetry for just a moment then because you bring about another huge plot point at the end…

When it is discovered that Paper Boi is the person that Earn manages, which of course brings about the shooting. Most shows that had the gall to have set this precedent thus far would’ve had that be the deal breaker of sorts for Craig, right? Like Craig could’ve devoured every piece of Black culture possible from his comfortable house on the hill, but learning how Earn really was (or was by proxy) might have exposed him in some way. So when it was Monique that suddenly pulled back, became the wagging finger of judgment and shame, I thought it was both fascinating and just good TV for its surprising turn (for me at least). But maybe I shouldn’t have. She talks to the servers earlier the same way the mistress of the house would’ve talked to the house slaves. Then, when the valet guys are in the house, she says something to the effect of “did you get fed.” She is is very much the madam in this scenario and Earn, who she had lavished upon throughout the whole episode, seems to become a threat to…something. Even though Craig is actually thrilled about the discovery.

Nicole: Yes, but that talks to the actual race dynamic at play in the house. When she says everybody has at least one triflin’ thug in the family, she means everybody black. Craig’s triflin’ thug cousin is triflin’ because he didn’t go to an ivy league. But Monique, who sees so much of herself in Van, who marriage is an exchange of racial credibility for financial stability, probably does have a triflin’ cousin and Earn being in her house – her doting on Earn to some extinct – means she invited that cousin over with open arms. It means that she didn’t leave behind all she meant to. It means that her respectability radar ain’t as on point as she imagined it to be.

For Craig, it’s another punch in his “Please Let me be Black/Authentically Black Adjacent” card. He already has the wife, (I’m guessing) the minor in African Studies, the official Black syllabus/reading list that we voted on at the last meeting, the liquor, the trip to Africa. Now he has an actual underground rapper(‘s manager) in his home. This is the jackpot for him.

William: Ok, Nicole…my homie…my friend and confidant…you know what time it is before we leave.

Because we are both writers and poets and performers, us NOT talking about this would be like leaving off the gaps in our employment on the resume…

Nicole: Don’t…

William: I’m sorry it has to be this way…

Weirdly, I must have put this mostly out of my memory because I can’t recall as much as I thought I would, but yes, Craig did his “poem” and performed his “poem.” So let’s start here, for the 1000 sitcoms jokes we’ve had to endure that pokes fun at performance poetry, when he said he was going to perform a poem…what were your first thoughts?

Nicole: Michael Myers in I Married an Axe Murderer because I knew what was coming.


William: I was thinking Randy in South Park.

Nicole: If I can hate on what is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows; this is a lazy trope.

William: I thought there would be drums and everything? Were there drums?

Nicole: But… but… I understand why because I’ve seen this poem performed live. He made his own drums by. beating. on. his. chest. He had the rhythm within him.

William: I don’t think I’ll ever be the same after watching a rich white dude beat his chest while saying “Jim Crow is haunting me.” I feel like there is no where else to go after that besides the afterlife.

Nicole: We have to make a deal right now: we never speak of that “poem” again.

And next week is the season finale. I’m not ready, Will.

William: 1) Deal. I actually have no idea what spoken performance you’re referring to.

2) Me neither. I know we’ve said it before and there’s a lot of TV I enjoy, but the surprise of how much I’ve loved this show means I’m going to feel the withdraw with a violent swiftness when the season ends.

Nicole: And there’s nothing on the horizon picking up that mantle [gives a cold, hard stare at TWD].

I’m curious about the aftermath of the spontaneous roadside lovin’. We haven’t heard anything about the initial shooting or the armed robbery at the club. There’s definitely threads that could be picked up, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they left them in the wind for a bit.

William: I think through 3 episodes or so, I was more interested in the results of the shooting. Now, that the world has been filled with so many other things that are, frankly, more interesting, I’m OK with it sitting on the back-burner. Now, if Paper Boi starts blowing up, THEN I would would want a resolution. But you know what else is intriguing? The passage of time. It may have been said, but do we know how much time has passed from the first episode and this last one? Like obviously a few months, maybe? But are we talkin’ 6 months? 10? A year?

Nicole: Our only unit of measurement for time is how long it takes Darius’s (and Earn’s) dog to have puppies, so…. less than that? [shrugs]. It’s notable that I’m not even remotely worried about time either because I’m so curious about these people. I wouldn’t mind just a little bit more of that magic that pops up occasionally.

William: Any predictions for the finale? I see that they are on the couch again so it feels like there’s something full circle coming here. Maybe we get some resolution on the shooting? Maybe we see Earn’s parents again. I really have no idea.

Nicole: I’d like to know the state of Paper Boi’s music career. He’s doing appearances at the club and on television shows and local celebrity PR appearances, so I’m curious about his that. But for real, if Darius gets to measure that tree, I’ll be satisfied.

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