Review originally was published on Fan Fest but thought I’d post it here too because A) I dug the column and B) I wanted to get you guys some fresh content.
With a hosting gig at Saturday Night Live, the release of his haunting/captivating/breathtaking/relevant “This Is America” music video, and the upcoming role in a little film called Solo: A Star Wars Story, it seems that Donald Glover has been on top of the world as of late. There is no denying that the man has been busy this last week, and here we are at the season finale of Atlanta serving as the perfect punctuation to what has been a whirlwind week for the show’s creator, star, and sometime director. Season two almost had an impossible task following in the shoes of what was a critically beloved, award-winning, force that not only touched on important social issues but also bridged the gaps between those issues with often weird humor and layered stylized storytelling. Atlanta is anything but orthodox and its ability to test the boundaries of comfortability is delivered in a way that often leaves the viewer dissecting an episode to reach the core of the message. Atlanta has created a universe where Justin Bieber is African American, where invisible cars are both a sign of hip-hop fashion and wealth, where you can start the night trying to go to the movies with your girlfriend but end it losing a foot race with Michael Vick. Atlanta is the type of show that ends and you start up again immediately afterward just to get a full grasp of the depth being presented.
The ability to provide a second season that raises the bar from a hit first season is something we don’t see enough of. Often we see successful shows cave under the weight of their own success but with Atlanta, the show seems unwilling to bend. With a selection of episodes that were much darker than the first and stories that were even more complex and layered, Atlanta’s second season has not only avoided the sophomore curse it’s eclipsed the greatness of the first season providing an even more mesmerizing product. Atlanta has been some of, if not the, best television of 2018. With the horrific, can’t look way perfection of “Teddy Perkins” leading the way there hasn’t been a show that has come close to telling a narrative on the level of Atlanta, and if you think the show cleaned up during awards season for season one I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. With captivating performances from both Glover and Brian Tyree Henry, Hiro Murai’s directing that forces you to engage not only with characters but the environment, and writing that is beyond anything else on television right now especially with break out Stefani Robins and both Stephen and Donald Glover, get ready to watch this crew take home many awards in the coming months. All of which are beyond deserved and probably not enough.
While all the praise of the show is just and glowing, a number of these characters have gone through the ringer this season as the themes presented this year were far from glowing and just. Characters were tested all throughout the season, and at times it seemed like things wouldn’t let up. We watched as our spiritual compass, Darius, was almost killed in his pursuit of a color-keyed piano. Alfred has struggled with fame and mostly with himself and has tried to overcome both external and internal obstacles, as he’s had to discover not only what he wants but also struggled with mortality. Van has gone from a character who was incredibly put together to losing everything she’s had to learning to put her happiness first and taking back her life. And Earn… Earn has had a rough go of it as of late. His arc starts with him being kicked out of his storage unit home then finding a bit of money and success to essentially losing it all again. Earn is a character who often can’t get out of his own way and it greatly affects his ability to be successful. It was his idea to be Al’s manager, and his lack of managerial experience has been on full display in the late part of this season leaving his job in jeopardy.
These last three episodes have been tense affairs that have shown Earn as he struggles to do right by Al while also emphasizing the importance of the bond between the two. Earn’s attempt to save money by skipping out on a hotel and staying with a fan on Instagram, with a small following, completely backfires and sees the group pursued by angry college kids, partying with Confederate flag waving frat boys, and ends with their property either being destroyed or stolen. It’s a massive loss that damn near costs Earn everything as he, in a last-ditch attempt to maintain some heart and credibility, decides to fight Tracy to prove that he’s a man. This goes how you would expect with Tracy leaving Earn on the side of the highway in a bloody heap. There have been a number of uncomfortable heartbreaking moments this season but it was soul-crushing watching Earn get back in that car after getting his ass handed to him in a fight he chose. Here’s a man that is willing to fight for this job that he doesn’t necessarily have the skill set for, and his fight with Tracy is an attempt to get his cousins approval. Maybe even to prove to himself that he’s not worthless.
The thing is, Earn fails to see that Al has always had his back ever since they were kids. We see that in the FUBU episode where Al comes in like a guardian angel claiming Earn’s shirt was the real deal. In some ways, Al has always been protecting or bailing Earn out, and when you consider the fact that Earn is his manager, no wonder Al is a bit frustrated with the way things in his career have been going. He wants Earn to fight for it, not literally cause we know Earn can’t fight, but to show that he has Al’s best interest as the focal point.
The finale brought a lot of closure to this season and highlighted each character giving everyone a moment. Van is looking to start over and might be moving back in with her mother with the intentions of maybe saving money to send their daughter to private school. Darius continues to be the spiritual compass of the show and acknowledges the events of Teddy Perkins by wearing a Benny Hope t-shirt as a silent celebration of the man who saved his life. Al is touring Europe, not as a headliner, but it’s a huge step for his career and a step closer to him embracing celebrity and success. As for Earn, he’s coming on tour too still as manager. The threat of his firing has been hanging over the show for three episodes now, and it took what could have been another loss for Earn to finally get the win he has so desperately needed this season.
Earn forgetting about the gold-plated gun in his backpack brought a tension that hung over the entire finale. His discovery of the gun at the airport had all the makings of another classic Earn loss. Working so hard at trying to do everything but failing to see his own issues. It fits the formula of Earn not being able to get out of his own way. Instead of accepting his fate though, Earn quickly and craftily moves the gun out of his bag and plants it in the bag of the headlining rapper touring Europe with Al. It’s a dark move but here’s a man with his back against the wall. With his job clearly in jeopardy and his life falling apart in front of his eyes, Earn is unable to take a loss here. Going to jail would be the last straw that brings the tower crumbling down, Earn recognizes this and instead of resigning to his fate does something about it.
This doesn’t go unnoticed either, Al saw the whole thing go down and on the plane tells Earn that he appreciates him. That that’s the kind of innovative and work he wants to see out of his cousin. Chances are if Earn couldn’t go to Europe, Al wouldn’t be able to go either. Al understands that Earn has had his back from day one and they’re family and that’s why he’s going to keep him as his manager. Al needs that stability and bond. It’s a tremendous moment between the two that strengthens their bond while also giving Earn hope of a future. That maybe he can start to turn things around. Granted, some of this is tainted by the arrival of the headlining rapper who escaped customs as his manager took the rap for the gun, and could be part of next year’s conflict as it was implied that maybe he knew what was going on, but the season ends on a high note for Earn. One has to hope that he doesn’t squander it now and builds off it. Maybe even achieve some stability in his life.
The theme for this season has been Robbin’ Season. Each character has had something stolen from them over the course of the season whether it’s time, money, life, or happiness which has lead to a darker Atlanta than what we expected going in. The only ones not to have anything stolen from them this season are the fans. We were given a show that shines brighter than its first season despite the darkness of its content and has supplied harrowing, complex, deep television graced with humor and social relevance. Atlanta season two has been a work of art and worthy of our time and celebration. Now begins the wait for season three, but one thing is for sure, Atlanta isn’t looking to let up and it’s exactly the type of television we need right now.