This Atlanta review contains spoilers.
Atlanta: Season 2 Episode 9
The general idea of Robbin’ Season is meant to be that the episodes feel standalone, but, when looked back on in full, they tell one, long coherent story (a la Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation, according to Donald Glover). And I have to say they’ve managed to pull this off a lot more craftily than I could’ve anticipated.
When you hear that a season is going to hold together as one long story, you tend to look for clear indicators of where the plot is going: signposts or the introduction of elements that are going to payoff later. The new character, Clark County, for example, has been threaded into the season over a few episodes (including this one). There’s also been the repeated suggestion that Paper Boi might need to ditch Earn for a more proficient agent, very probably Clark County’s.
Indeed, it’s been a slow build that, in “North of the Border,” finally results in Earn’s firing. Though that’s a big deal for Earn and Al, in the end, it’s just a character moment. I guess hearing this was one big story made me think some truly over-the-top shit was going to go down (frankly, I think that already happened out of nowhere in “Teddy Perkins”). But the brilliance of Robbin’ Season is that this has been a more subtle, emotional journey for all the characters.
Truly, it’s been Alfred’s journey, far more than Earn’s. Al got two episodes all to himself, one of which felt like a throwaway farce, but both led him to the realization he can’t continue to be so passive if he wants his career and his life to improve beyond where they are now.
Part of that strategy moving forward is that he must shed Earn, who Atlanta has quietly and fascinatingly transitioned from the assumed protagonist into the dead-weight loser. He’s felt often like a background character, which was evidently a calculated choice. He’s present throughout this episode with the rest of the guys, but he’s often the silent observer, just letting things happen. He’s constantly on Tracy’s case because he obviously dislikes the guy (remember, he lost a chunk of change early in the season because of him). However, in the end, he still comes across as the useless one. Tracy might be an impulsive idiot, but the simple fact that he takes action makes him feel like a more integral part of Paper Boi’s crew.
As an aside, I will say I feel it’s unfair it’s overlooked that Earn did, in fact, act to lessen the fallout of a bad situation, catching a girl that Tracy had callously pushed down the stairs. It doesn’t feel right, though it follows, that Earn is blamed for the overall situation, overshadowing the fact that he stopped it from potentially getting far, far worse.
What’s really great is that, for an episode about such a dramatic, major shakeup between the lead characters, “North of the Border” is straightforwardly comedic almost throughout. Tracy is regularly laugh-out-loud funny (“I think somebody tailing us. Oh, no, we good, we good, they turned, they turned, it’s all good”). Brian Tyree Henry’s expressions in awkward situations continue to be reliably hilarious. And then, of course, there’s that scene of naked frat pledges dancing to D4L’S “Laffy Taffy.”
The creepy, introspectiveness of last week’s “Woods” was more my cup of tea, but “North of the Border” is an undeniably well-constructed comedic episode that gives way to something much more tragic. The true brilliance of it is that it’s the payoff of all the emotional developments we’ve witnessed these characters go through over the last eight episodes. Paper Boi knows he has to be more active in getting what he wants. Earn is a multi-proven fuck-up. And Darius is, uh, considering joining the NRA. Fair enough, I guess.
And the continuing theme of Robbin’ Season, the theme of everyone just trying to get theirs however necessary, is tragically summed up by Alfred:
“Look, you family, man, and I’m trying to ride with you, but sometimes that shit ain’t enough, bro. ‘Cuz money is important.”