This Atlanta review contains spoilers.
Atlanta: Season 2 Episode 7
With only ten episodes to a season, it’s a bold and risky move for Atlanta to break up the cast and devote four episodes (so far) to following each of them dealing with individual concerns. Luckily, it’s a move that’s paid off because, in the end, Atlanta is an ensemble show with an ensemble cast. Very early on it established that this was not at all just “the Donald Glover show” and it’s cool to see Robbin’ Season confidently reaffirm that the series rides on the strengths of its entire cast.
This time it’s a Van episode. (She was in Earn’s a lot too, so she technically got two episodes, but who’s really complaining about more Zazie Beetz?) Fresh off her seemingly final recent break-up with Earn, she heads to a New Year’s Eve party at Drake’s house (or one of his houses anyway). What’s interesting about this is that, even though we’ve only just met these friends of hers, “Champagne Papi” fleshes out all these characters, giving them each a little plotline (the only exception is Candice, who quickly disappears and then says by text that she’s ditching the party).
Van’s plot—ostensibly the main one—is about her trying to get more Instagram followers by getting a selfie with Drake, so the stakes aren’t all that high. Plus, in a season where disappointment for the characters has been established as the status quo, nobody expects Drake to actually show up. Making the core plot inconsequential seems to have been a deliberate move, because it changes the focus of the episode to the smaller moments, which are all engaging and feel extremely realistic.
Most of the events of the episode serve to highlight the general unease that comes with being a woman on a night out. Ultimately, nothing all that terrible happens to Van or her friends, but it’s amazing how the possibility of it, a specter of fear, hangs over everything. I know “Teddy Perkins” was the horror movie episode, but this one is far more effectively scary.
It starts before they even get to the party when the girls load into a van, sketchily located in some random parking lot, and the driver says “Y’all pretty. I’ma take y’all home with me. Just kidding.” The “just kidding” isn’t all that reassuring. When Van meets a guy who seems decent, he turns out to be weird and a bit too clingy, following her down into the basement and talking to her outside the bathroom.
In both cases, everything turns out okay, but it’s impressive, thanks to the direction and Zazie Beetz’s reactions, how well we’re put in Van’s shoes. These guys might just be socially awkward and say the occasional off-color thing, but there’s no way of knowing if they’re dangerous, so she’s understandably wary.
Most harrowing is what happens to Van’s friend Nadine, who is basically forced by her friends into taking edibles. Her high immediately goes south and then she wanders off to parts unknown. I felt so badly for Nadine; having a bad high (especially one you weren’t sure you wanted) at a party is such an uncomfortable feeling. It’s incredible what a relief it is when we find out that Nadine managed to locate Darius (who is just at the party by happenstance). It’s such a contrast to all the strange guys we’ve met up until that point; the moment we see Nadine with Darius, we know she’s safe.
Tami has the more comedic plotline of the group. Her focus of the night is to tell off a white girl for dating a black guy she’s interested in. When she finally does, it’s funny how what she says isn’t wrong (try Googling “beautiful woman”), but saying it accomplishes nothing. It was the least affecting plot for me (in part because I was down on Tami for being the most aggressive one to force edibles on Nadine), but it felt real in its own way. You can give someone a piece of your mind, and do it well, and still come out the loser.
“Champagne Papi” meanders a bit. As I said, it’s not deeply concerned with following its own main plot and that makes some moments less strong than others (Van meeting Drake’s Mexican grandfather is pretty random). However, it also makes the party setting feel real. Like any party, people just wander from room to room, interacting with strangers, and there’s always the fear that something could go horribly wrong.
Here, however, it just turns out to be a shitty New Year’s Eve.