After one head-trip of a European tour, Atlanta has finally come back to Atlanta. Season three came out this spring, dropping its characters into several outlandish situations on another continent—that is, when it wasn’t taking audiences away from the main foursome entirely. Season four, then, focuses on what happens when Earn, Alfred, Darius, and Van get back home and resume lives they may have outgrown. Based on this premiere two-parter, fans can breathe a sigh of relief that the final season will be back-to-basics yet perfectly elevated by the weight of what the characters have gone through.
By the way, this is my first time recap for The AV Club. (Hi! Nice to meet y’all.) So I should let you know that I’m one of the fans who quickly lost interest with season three’s standalone episodes. They seemed to be a way for the show to continue to comment on America without the characters actually being in America, but once the surprise wore off, the rapid pull away from the main foursome ended up being a disservice to the show. Atlanta is at its best when it shows the characters’ responses to surreal situations. Its earliest departures from the everyday (“BAN” and “Teddy Perkins”) presented Al and Darius as audience surrogates; we had a strong sense of how they would respond and could delight in them either saying what we’ve been waiting for or riding the scenario all the way to its end, respectively. When season three dropped viewers into character studies on reparations or “the culture of Black in America” without our known surrogates, there wasn’t enough to hold us in.
GRADE FOR “THE HOMELIEST LITTLE HORSE” (SEASON 4, EPISODE 2): A-
On the other hand, the plot in season’s four’s first episode (“The Most Atlanta”) between Darius and the hyper-determined property protector is so Darius that it completely works. Of course this man who we’ve seen be slightly out of sync with the world to the point of ignoring flashing warning signs would waltz into a Target stand-in during a looting to return a gift for cash. And of course, even though he’s not involved to the point that he’s ridiculous, the woman would zero in on him because he’s carrying a symbol of middle-class aspiration. Once the set-up is there (and why wouldn’t this exact set of circumstances happen in the world of Atlanta?), the sequence devolves into pure black comedy as this woman’s preternatural determination sends her all over the city to stab a man for stealing an air fryer.
While Darius is out-walking his assailant, Earn and Van are trapped among their exes. So many exurb dwellers have that one mall they won’t go to because if they do, they’ll run into everyone they know. (My dad started avoiding one mall when he was dating my mom, and it continues to this day.) “The Most Atlanta” turns that concept into a full-fledged horror in a way that’s so visceral and so Atlanta that I plan to show clips of it to anyone who asks, “So what’s that series about?” Plus, the sequence gives Earn and Van a chance to affirm their partnership, that neither of them will be sent to the ex-graveyard by the other. It’s not enough of a sequence to flesh out an entire episode, but it’s important and impressive and visually compelling, with Hiro Murai returns to the director’s flesh.
Meanwhile, Al’s journey in “The Most Atlanta” reckons with the legacy of another local superstar. Scavenger hunts designed around new music releases aren’t a new concept at all. (Glover even set up an online search for a secret Childish Gambino track in 2014.) Social-media platforms have taken the exercise mainstream and global to the point where the hunt can be a corny PR stuntaim Atlanta pulls the exercise back to its lo-fi roots to show Al begins on an exploration of what are presumably Blueblood’s favorite places in his city. A menu item at a barbecue spot, a broken dryer at a laundromat, an original comic book, and even a 3D movie set a path through an end-of-life celebration. Every part of Blueblood’s death and funeral are intentional, from the three-months-late statement to his most devoted fans taking a symbolic piece of him with them. Not that many people will see his final mystery, but the most important people will, and that’s a powerful message for Al to have as he’s approaching mainstream stardom.
If the first episode went classic Atlanta, “The Homeliest Little Horse” displays how the series—and Glover’s performance—have evolved. If I heard at any point in season one that a later episode would revolve around a therapy session, I’d have responded with a healthy dose of skepticism (and probably would’ve felt the same at any point pre-”Teddy Perkins” and “Three Slaps.” This exploration into Earn’s self-professed love of pettiness comes at a perfect time in the series and not just because it answers questions about Earn’s motivations that fans have held since 2016. It feels warranted instead of navel-gazey, and this show has always been about the slow game.
I’ll stay relatively spoiler-free about the episode’s big reveal in case anyone is reading this before watching (note: don’t do that!), but the way the episode hinted towards one possibility for the white woman’s connection to Earn before revealing the truth had me looking at his actions in a whole new light. The manager’s plan is pettiness at its highest degree, but at this point he’s been dragged as far down, probably even further, than the object of his revenge. Also, this may be the most sympathetic portrayal of a white person on a show where often white people are the villains. I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic for this woman as she’s obviously getting scammed (though that’s probably the aspiring novelist connection).
Atlanta is playing a long game with what it says about wealth and power in American society: Parts of season three showed white people having the advantage (see “The Old Man and the Tree”), and two of the standalones portrayed what could happen if Black people got a taste. Now, Earn’s the one fucking with white people and, as the show continues to explore the gray areas of cultural dynamics, that may not be good for him. Every member of the main quartet will likely reckon with the feeling that they’ve come back home different than when they left. Be it in their pockets, their mindsets, or their literal locations, Earn, Van, Al, and Darius are moving on up to…something.
- I can’t stress this enough: Darius was trying to return an air fryer he got as a gift. That’s a brilliant added layer of “oh, he got money now” behavior for this scene.
- I grew up in LA, but stories of Atlanta’s traffic strike fear into my heart.
- It’s great that Van’s ex who works at the cell phone store shows up before “The Most Atlanta” reveals the full horror of that location. Maybe his life just hasn’t moved on the same trajectory that Van’s has.
- Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed To Be Here” playing over the mall speakers is *chef’s kiss.*
- Sorry to the man who will now live with the eternal moniker, “The Last American White I’ve Kissed.”
- I highly encourage any Atlanta natives/residents to leave their stories of Atlanta Station in the comments; I’d love to learn if the mall is really the Blair Witch Project forest but for exes.
- My favorite part of the scavenger hunt is when Al has to play a shooter game for a specific amount of tickets to get the T-shirt.
- The absolutely perfect logline for “The Homeliest Little Horse” reads, “We got grown men out here being this petty. Y’all really need therapy. I don’t cuz I already know what’s wrong with me.”
- We probably won’t get the full explanation of the second incident that took Earn from Princeton student to essentially homeless person, and the therapy sequences are so good that we don’t need to know anything more. Glover’s performance leaves us with the massive effect it had on Earn.
- I fully see Darius as Al’s platonic life partner, so an interesting later storyline could explore one wanting to leave and the other wanting to stay.