Because you can find recaps elsewhere, and because we long for the watercooler talks of yore, two editors, Sam Eichner and Najib Benouar, will be using this space to have a weekly conversation about FX’s Atlanta, Donald Glover’s capital-I Important, intriguingly abstruse, not-really-comedy comedy. Obviously, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. This week's topic is S02E04 Helen.
Sam Eichner: Can I just start by saying how frustrated I am with Earn? Doesn't he realize how lovely she is?
Najib Benouar: Haha. Yeah. COME ON EARN!!
SE: It's really forced me to consider, like, what does Earn want? His character is almost devoid of any motivation; he can never just let himself go, or be. It's a constant baseline level of dissatisfaction with him.
NB: So, I was kind of thinking: how old is Earn supposed to be? Like, he just dropped out of college a year or two ago...meaning he's 22-ish? 24-ish? He's immature. Maybe the point is, it doesn't matter how old he is. He just still has a lot of "growing up" to do.
SE: Maybe his dissatisfaction/immaturity comes from constantly feeling like he deserves better. Either way, van doesn't deserve it.
NB: Yeah. that's a young thing too. Van is better than this, but also, I'm a hopeless romantic and will be shipping them forever.
SE: Question: did she lose her teaching job this season? Or did that happen between seasons, so to speak?
NB: Yeah. I remember she failed a drug test randomly because someone talked her into smoking weed.
SE: Right! I feel like there's been a power shift, because now he's paying her rent. Whereas before he didn't really have a leg to stand on.
NB: So this Fastnacht...was...weird? It's one of those situations that you can only play two ways: Very On-Board... Or, Very Nah. There's no in-between, which Earn tried for like five minute before realizing he just had to be like, nah, I'm gonna sit by the ping-pong table all night.
SE: Yeah, that was lame. It was the first time I feel like I was actively rooting against him. Did you think this episode worked, though? I'm not sure I liked it as much as past bottle episodes, "Juneteenth" in particular. It seemed like it took a lot of effort to arrive at a pretty foregone conclusion, i.e. that Earn doesn't really have it in him to be who Van wants him to be.
NB: It's funny, now that you mention it, Van brought him to that, too (with high hopes).
SE: That's true! And that was another sort of satirically/prototypically "white" event, if you will.
NB: Yeah. That reminds me, in the New Yorker profile, they open the piece during filming on this episode. And the writer seems to be incredulous about the decision that Van would have some German heritage backstory that they wouldn't explain at all...
SE: Well Zazie Beetz is apparently half-german (so she says on Instagram).
NB: YES. AND ZAZIE BEETS WAS LITERALLY BORN IN BERLIN, GERMANY. Seriously, that took three seconds to google. I don't work for The New Yorker. I never will. I don't fancy myself a journalist (just ask my wife who rolls her eyes every time I tell people "I write things on the internet" as my job description at adult functions), but come on dude, do some due diligence there.
NB: I know this isn't a documentary, but obviously the writers have been using real life as a basis for the show. And also, dude, she can be German, stop playing. It was a nice nod to Zazie's real life story.
SE: It does seem like, in particular, the conversation with her sister about how she more or less "chose" to be black, could've been drawn from her life, as someone who's sort of split between those two worlds (although I wouldn't deign to speak for her).
NB: Yeah, there's a lot to unpack there. The way (I think she's a friend) introduces Van to people was not cool, either. The show already deserves a lifetime achievement award for spectacular use of micro-aggressions.
SE: It's interesting to me how Atlanta can do so much with so little. I feel like some of the stuff they go to in this episode—Van's family history; the stagnancy of her relationship with Earn—would've taken other shows entire seasons to get to. And Van isn't even in every episode, nor is she ever at the forefront plot-wise. Yet it doesn't seem forced or rushed. Like, you still buy it. And I wonder why that is.
NB: Damn it. You're right. They're good. Real good. So, was it just me or did the ping-pong scenes have some very strong Love and Basketball vibes?
...Love and Ping-Pong?
SE: [Looks around to see if anyone's nearby, whispers]: I've never seen Love and Basketball.
NB: Here, this is the best I could do in 10 seconds. That opening convo felt very similar to Van's "let's play for it."
SE: Haha, thank you for that reference. I think you are correct. Also, Van Is really good at ping-pong. Possibly a tie-in to her Serena Williams joke.
NB: When Van clocked that creepy-wolf-thief thing... was there a person inside it that she actually knocked out? And they just left them for dead in an alleyway dumpster?
SE: I thought it was just the mask in the dumpster. But it was relatively ambiguous.
NB: Can someone check on that person?
SE: Haha, Fastnacht had some serious serial killer vibes. But it was ironic that wolf-monster thing robbed her. Kept the through-line of robbin' season going.
NB: Haha, yes.
SE: Here's a question: when earn won whatever the fuck that ball game was, were people actually in awe of him or were they making a joke out of it?
NB: I seriously could not tell you. I was like, "Wait, are they just going with it... to be nice?"
SE: There are so many moments like that in this show, that sort of make the viewer feel the way an outsider would to that situation, where you're like, I have no idea what the fuck is going on. That ambiguity, which may or may not be the result of simply not being familiar with a situation, but nonetheless results in discomfort.
NB: Yeah, like when they just didn't even put subtitles on that one convo...
SE: Right. And the second one, with subtitles...that was one of the deepest conversations on the show and it was in a language we/earn couldn't understand. Maybe German kind of gave them license to talk like that.
NB: I get it. Van can do better. Ugh.
SE: Do you actually think they'll stay apart?
NB: I'm sorry, I'm going to hold a torch for Van-Earn.
SE: I think it would be in keeping with the overall vibe/tone of the show for them to have this sort of blow out and then be back together the way they were before, as if nothing had happened.
NB: Yeah. Also, hey, Earn is homeless again..! Good for you, Earn. We knew you could do it.
SE: I have one more question for you: do you think this season has been flat out funnier than last season. I mean i've always found it funny, but sometimes in an intellectual way versus an "I'm actually laughing LOL" way.
NB: Wow. Yeah, I think you're right. It's crazy to think about sometimes, because last season was nearly TWO YEARS AGO. Fall 2016. The entire thing aired BEFORE election night.
SE: I wonder how the reception would've differed had it aired afterwards, like when Get Out came out.
NB: So much has happened since then. Anyway, that's neither here nor there, just thinking about at that. Speaking of... that opening scene was Get Out homage-ish right? Well, not the cold (steamy!) open, but the drive up to Georgiaermany.
SE: Very Get Out-y. But also I feel like an animal in the middle of the street is a surrealist trope by now. It's like if you want to communicate with your audience that something's not quite right, that something's just a little bit off, place a tranquil animal in the middle of an off-the-beaten-path country road, and watch what happens.
NB: Yes. We need the supercut of this.
SE: Forest animals are simply tired of getting typecast as mythical devices employed to teach HUMAN characters about themselves.
NB: Haha, so true. Oh, wait, before we go, I saw this and it's amazing: Michael Vick has been getting offers to race outside clubs after his Atlanta cameo. And I quote:
"After seeing that, I've gotten a lot of requests to come out and race guys outside of the club," Vick said. "Whether it's a strip club or a regular club, I might make that my side hustle, man. Maybe two weekends out of the month, I'll go ahead and make me some money."
SE: Michael Vick profiting from his cameo on Atlanta by hustling people outside strip clubs in Atlanta gets at the very essence of Atlanta.