This Atlanta review contains spoilers.
Atlanta: Season 2 Episode 11
Atlanta Robbin’ Season started out with a low-key episode mostly about Earn’s Uncle Willie. So it’s fitting that the season ends with another low-key episode and, though Uncle Willie doesn’t appear, he’s central to the plot.
In terms of what’s going on, it seems like it shouldn’t be a low-key episode at all. We’ve jumped ahead some time since the episode before last. Al and Darius are moving out and, at the same time, getting ready, along with Earn, to go on a European tour with Paper Boi as the opening act for Clark County. But even though Earn is nervous about getting everything done on time, nobody else is, and the urgency of the move and the flight fade into the background.
“Crabs in a Barrel” is actually about character interactions between Earn and the people in his life. It almost feels like three separate vignettes, tied together by the impending trip to Europe. Earn and Al look into getting an entertainment lawyer, Earn and Van meet with their daughter Lottie’s teacher, and then Earn and Darius go get Darius’ passport renewed. These are all quiet, small scenes of communication and they provide a nice contrast to the madcap antics that took place before the flashback episode and function as an overall come-down from the rest of the season.
Most surprising, but welcome, is that this finale offers some levity. It’s not crazy positive (that wouldn’t fit the season’s vibe), but there’s definitely more optimism than has been on display throughout the rest of Robbin’ Season. In fact, it’s almost a complete reversal of the rock bottom that Earn hit in “North of the Border.”
He and Van aren’t back together, sure, but it turns out their kid is gifted, and they share a very sweet moment where they acknowledge their respect for each other. Darius and Earn have a good heart-to-heart at the passport office, in which some of the show’s themes about race are straight-up spoken out loud. Darius says of Al and Earn, “Y’all both Black so, I mean, y’all can’t afford to fail.” Then there’s the nice Jewish guy who explains that there are definitely Black lawyers out there who are as good as Jewish ones, but Black people just don’t have the same connections “for systemic reasons.” I would maybe call this stuff heavy-handed but it’s rare you hear anything like this openly discussed on television at all, so it was refreshing.
The biggest surprise is that the season ends with Al keeping Earn on as his agent because he’s family and because they understand and care about each other. But it fits with the themes of Robbin’ Season that to get there, Earn had to become more cutthroat, planting Uncle Willie/Checkhov’s golden gun in Clark County’s luggage and he, in turn, plants it on his agent, who takes the fall off-camera. (Incidentally, the only reason I’m not giving the episode a perfect score is because all this gun-planting business lost me and I had to read people’s tweets to understand what happened. Arguably my fault, but I found it a bit tough to follow.)
It’s a brilliant ending, because the gun brings everything back around to the season’s beginning, but with Earn having changed. What he’s done isn’t “right,” but for this season of Atlanta, it’s about as right as right can be. Oh, and it also turns out that Tracy was never really that important. They moved and didn’t even tell the poor bastard. We don’t get any clarity on why they moved, so it almost feels like they did it just to get away from Tracy.
In the end, this was a much more solid, consistent season than Atlanta’s first and I’d be eager to see more if the cast and crew wanted to do it. However, Donald Glover has a tendency to end projects before they get stale, Lakeith Stanfield just tweeted “Bye ATLANTA,” and the scene with Earn, Darius, and Al hanging out on the couch was an obvious nod to the series’ very first episode, which is the kind of thing you do when you’re ready to move on, not to mention the fact that in the episode they literally moved on.
It would make sense if they left it here, with Paper Boi on the precipice of becoming a much bigger star. I don’t think Glover ever set out to do a series about making it big; it was more about the awkward and difficult journey getting there. So, if this is all we’re getting, I’m good with that. But if there’s more to come, I’ll definitely show up.