This Atlanta review contains spoilers.
Atlanta Season 2 Episode 3
Robbin’ Season is meant to feel like one continuous story and this episode in particular feels like a sequel to the previous one. It’s not that the story picks up exactly where it left off last time. It’s just that Earn is dealing with the same exact problem: money.
Atlanta has always been about people struggling to move beyond the situation forced upon them by a racist, capitalist system stacked against them, but in Robbin’ Season the depiction has only gotten starker. In last week’s “Sportin’ Waves,” Earn attempted (and failed) to game the system to stretch his income. In “Money Bag Shawty,” he’s simply trying to enjoy the money he’s rightfully earned, but even that proves impossible. It’s a brilliant and telling line that Van delivers the moment she lays eyes on the check Earn’s been mailed: “You’re gonna get us robbed.”
Earn’s plight is clearly and methodically structured. It’s arguably almost cartoonish the way his attempt to use a $100 bill goes wrong again and again and again. Despite his tragically weak refrain of “it’s legal US tender” nobody trusts that Earn has gainfully obtained and has the right to spend the bill. The show interestingly presents different contexts that demonstrate the different and unexpected forms discrimination can take. Van herself isn’t convinced that the first place they aren’t welcome at, a very fancy theater, is because of their race and chalks it up to an undefined weirdness. At a hookah bar they get kicked out by the owner who himself is black and, judging by his accent, most likely an immigrant.
There’s an amazing poetic tragedy to how Van and Earn’s night gets less and less classy (in the very literal sense of the word) as they’re denied until they finally resort to a strip club, a business that’s very function is to bleed money out of you at a shocking clip. Earn can spend his $100 here, but he must spend $200 at minimum and they take twenty percent. It’s a smart reflection of how our society exploits those who are already struggling (it made me think of how banks punish people who have run out of money by charging them more money for not having any money).
There’s another plot in here, though it kind of ends in the middle of the episode. Darius and Al sit in on a recording session with Clark County, who the show seems to be setting up as an integral character and the main competition for Paper Boi, not to mention really every other rapper out of Atlanta. Despite his genial appearance and goofy Yoo-hoo commercial, he’s evidently also the type to have someone beaten up when things aren’t going exactly how he wants them to. He also doesn’t smoke weed or drink, but he raps about both. I guess this plot is mostly here to further develop Clark County and showcase his duplicitousness and ruthless nature behind the scenes. It also plants the potential for a future conflict for Earn, as it’s hinted that Al might try to get Clark County’s agent to represent him.
There’s a lot of funny stuff in this episode. The way it begins with a white mother recording a Facebook video about the horrible Paper Boi lyrics she’s discovered her daughter’s been exposed to. As always, whenever Atlanta brings in the internet, there’s a hilarious authenticity to it and a white lady crying into a camera while she recites “Baby, slide on the dick” is glorious stuff. Another great moment that feels very much of our current culture is Van trolling Earn by telling him the phrase “caught red-handed” is outdated and offensive to Native Americans, following which they both question if she might have, accidentally, landed upon the truth.
About as surreal as Robbin’ Season has yet gotten (except maybe for that alligator in the premiere), the episode ends on a funny non-sequitur as Michael Vick is outside the strip club racing people (and, yup, it’s really him, according to the credits). It’s absurd and sounds just plausible enough to not be totally random. And, out-of-left-field though it is, it’s a solid capper to “Money Bag Shawty.” It’s the last indignity Earn must suffer for the night as, because of his pride and a society that works against him at every turn, he’s scammed out of more of his hard-earned cash.