Because you can find recaps elsewhere, and because we long for the watercooler talks of yore, three editors, Hadley Tomicki, Najib Benouar and Sam Eichner, 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 S02E07 Champagne Papi.
Sam Eichner: Was this the first Van solo episode?
Hadley Tomicki: I didn't think it was, but I'm probably wrong. What struck me was how similar this was to the previous episode, and how that previous episode about Teddy Perkins actually changed how I watch Atlanta. I felt on-guard the whole time as we watched Van explore another huge southern mansion of a musician, this one full of life as opposed to Perkins's place. But she was still a captive in a way.
SE: Atlanta does have a predilection for large southern funhouse mansions. I felt the same way, in the sense that this felt like a corollary or whatever to last week's episode. Drake is also this enormously talented person who was also famous from a young age, à la Perkins's brother. He's also mixed race, where Teddy Perkins had a Michael Jackson-like conversion, straddling being both black and white, though I'm not sure that matters here.
HT: Interesting. Think there's anything to the fact that Benny is an under appreciated virtuoso and Drake is one of the most famous people in the world, for being Drake.
SE: Well there's also this sense that Perkins wants to disappear his brother while Drake is almost mythically visible, even if he's not actually there.
HT: Haha, right. Drake wasn't anywhere near that house. And it may not even be Drake's house and it may not even matter, as long as you get your picture with him.
SE: Via his fame, Drake becomes this abstracted thing not necessarily attached to a corporeal being.
HT: Atlanta took on cellphones and cell culture yet again, with a Spanish-speaking abuelo. "Gotta meet Drake. Gotta meet Drake." He becomes more of a goal than a person.
SE: Yes. And the Instagram stuff served as a natural tie-in to the high conversation Darius was having with Nadine by the pool, about everything being a simulation.
HT: Darius is definitely the guy you want to run into when you're too high at a party filled with "influencers."
SE: This was a sort of unsubtle investigation of what's real/fake in the Instagram era, and generally much less obtuse than last week's episode. What did you make of the last line? When Van says, and I'm paraphrasing, "Oh, Drake's dad is Mexican."
HT: I think she is buying into the bullshit. Like, maybe that wasn't even Drake's spot, but one will believe what they want to these days. It's part of the social-validation media loop, right? Believing whatever fake shit you want to believe.
SE: See, I kind of thought it was like she took away a shrapnel of the real from an experience that was totally fake. Like she believed she had found something real hiding amongst all the bullshit. But I don't think my view of that and yours are necessarily mutually exclusive.
HT: It was a cute moment in that way. She had a moment of genuine surprise and happiness after a shitty night. Shifting gears, though...did you feel this episode was trashing women at all? Or perhaps trashing a system that devalues women?
SE: I honestly didn't consider this episode much in those terms. What are you referring to specifically?
HT: The whole idea that Van is so fucked over Earn that she's going to put herself through this fake celebrity bullshit was disempowering, while he's hanging out with some chick. Earn is a scrub; Van is so out of his league. Even Darius, in the midst of all this fakeness, was there telling a woman she's "nothing." And, of course, the whole idea that these ladies would go through this shit, the sketchy van driver, the boots...they were totally humiliating themselves for the chance to meet Drake. Not an implausible scenario, by any stretch, but it seemed to keep harkening back to women cheapening themselves or compromising for status or self-regard.
SE: I see what you're saying. I read it a little more as a commentary on fame, Instagram, etc. But I think what you say about women compromising themselves for status or self-regard is something all the characters reckon with on Atlanta. Paper Boi, especially, and Earn, too. How much of themselves do they have to sacrifice to succeed in a world that doesn't really want them to? Or won't accept them at their most genuine?
HT: True. I just felt there was something heavy going on when Darius was telling a girl she didn't exist.
SE: But in the context of their conversation he was suggesting nobody existed, right? I guess, still, the fact that a man is telling a woman that she doesn't exist is sort of subtly telling, even in a high conversation like that.
HT: He was kind of fucking with her head on some Black Mirror shit.
SE: In the context of the conversation, him saying she doesn't exist isn't offensive but the act of it is somewhat condescending.
HT: It may have been nothing at all, but it caught me up for a second. How'd you like the scene where Tami went off on the white wife of the black actor?
SE: I found the Tami and the actor's white wife sequence pretty startling. There was the initial shock after the confrontation, when the wife defends herself by saying she was with him before he got famous but then the secondary twist when Tami still says that isn't good enough—that no black woman would be able to bet on a rising star (I'm paraphrasing). Most shows, I think, even the savvy ones, would've had Tami take her medicine after that first twist.
HT: Yeah, that was fucking amazing. As I felt the wife made a strong point, and Tami ripped her apart. "Search for 'beautiful' in Google Images." Ouch!
SE: Did you think Tami was at all justified in her response? Not that we're really qualified to arbitrate...
HT: Yes, she's justified in her anger. Maybe not in singling out a specific individual at a party and yelling at her.
Najib Benouar, who has just returned from a quixotic search for Drake: Tami had a good point in there, I swear. I don't exactly remember how she worded it, but it was poignant. And then "Devyon Johnson" just kind of apologizes and scampers off, haha.
HT: There was a house full of black women trying to meet Drake and one white woman with a star. That's tense. who was the actress who played Tami?
HT: While we all search for her name, I thought the episode also made a good point about friendship. Van was concerned about her stoned friend, while that other chick left them the second she got to the party and then stranded them there. That walk home, those are the moments after a shitty party that are truly great, when you've shed the people who don't have your back and bond with the people who do. It was a nice morning-after moment.
SE: Yeah it was. I was glad Darius was there ha.
HT: I sort of felt Darius being there was shark-jumpy, like the moment in Teddy Perkins when we had to see "the gang."
NB: Yes, that kind of camaraderie in a walk of shame is special. Somebody needed to take care of the high friend while everyone else was on their own missions, and I really see no better person to do that than Darius. He did come way out of nowhere, though.
HT: Yeah, he's that guy who'll walk you through a bad trip or confuse you even more.
SE: I like that when she asked him if he could help her stop thinking he threw her an apple, and also that he was eating an apple. Which, given Atlanta's thing for iconography feels like a biblical allusion.
NB: Haha, so true. I love that he knows Drake's chef, from "the glorious days of pickup soccer." Fun fact: I had a standing daily pickup soccer game my friends and I held every evening in an abandoned roller hockey rink behind our college rec center and played with guys like chef Guillermo and Darius all the time. Every so often this show will drop something like that where I'm just like wait, how did they know?
HT: Ha, I've been stranded at a mansion party and had a few of those moments in this episode. Like one time, I hung around this cachaca party for like 4 hours just to meet Snoop. I got the picture and it felt so empty, so very empty.
SE: You guys are way cooler than me. Real talk, though, were you guys disappointed you didn't actually get to see Drake in the episode? The first 15 minutes or so I was like I really hope Drake is in this episode. Or at least a bizarro Drake, à la the first season's Bieber.
NB: I assumed it was going to be a fleeting thing if anything... like you'd keep seeing a figure duck out of a room. And I did make a joke last week that if "Drake" did show up in this episode he'd probably be played by Justin Bieber.
HT: It would have been cheesy as fuck to see Drake appear.
NB: The cutout photo room was pretty great, though.
SE: But Drake's a good actor! I would've loved to see him do a self-effacing type thing.
NB: I know. That crossed my mind for five seconds: like HE DOES ACT.
HT: That's what SNL is for, right?
SE: If he came out in his old Degrassi wheelchair I would've flipped.
SE: Just like in Teddy Perkins! Benny in the basement! Except, like, Jimmy on Degrassi.
NB: I could've seen Introspective Drake sitting alone up in that dark room with a beat loop going, caught up his thoughts, inviting Van to come sit next to him to have the same "it's all fake" conversation they were having by the pool. Just up there, hidden away from everyone. Sitting in his old Degrassi chair. I imagine that's how he usually enjoys all his parties, anyway.