Previously on Atlanta, “Juneteenth”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
After delving into an Atlanta that dipped into the surreal, lambasted the media, and deftly critiqued the white liberal agenda as well as the archaic views of sexuality and colorism in black culture, “The Jacket” bookends the FX series’ inaugural season in a fashion similar to its premiere. Earn, Al, and Darius continue to chase the dream and nearly have it by their fingertips. After a number of setbacks – jail, bizarre drug deals, a weak-ass fight at a charity basketball game, losing a job, a shootout at the club – Atlanta kept an air of whimsy in the midst of some surprisingly stark imagery and dropping harsh truths.
Like “The Big Bang”, most of the finale had an odd sense of detachment as Earn wandered from one fantastical situation to the next. From the moment he woke up in a trashed apartment and had a delusive walk among people dressed like cows (anything for free chicken, I guess), to his frustratingly specific-but-not-too-specific conversation with a stripper, Marks faded in and out of scenes like he was observing a world he barely recognized, occupied by people he couldn’t understand. From the story posted on Alfred’s Snapchat, it’s been pretty damn established that Earn can’t handle shots and will never, ever accurately describe a stripper by her breast size.
The finale, like most of the episodes, was a offbeat combo of satire and grim criticism. As Earn attempted to connect the dots with assistance from bouncers and aspiring video vixens, he, Alfred, and Darius once again stumbled into the cross-hairs of the police, only to witness them gun down their Uber driver from the night before. Atlanta’s undiminished display of violence continues to shake one to their core, but this time it stepped up the absurdity of the moment with Earnest nonchalantly confronting police to ask them to check the pockets of their suspect, as he wore the jacket he was looking for all day. It’s was a cringe-worthy moment for two reasons: we anticipated the worst response from the officers in this odd exchange; also Earn appeared progressively desensitized from the grossly negligent actions of cops who’d rather kill a man than fill out paperwork.
Ultimately, Atlanta gave us not only what we expected but what we needed and what we never knew we didn’t have on television. After being bombarded for successive generations with wholesome escapades from the Huxtables, Banks, Winslows, and Browns, for basically the last decade, we’ve finally seen a few shows created by and relatable to African-Americans that portray the nuances and full spectrum of our personalities. I write this not as a slight on the sitcoms we’ve enjoyed in the past, but as a relieving pronouncement which all our stories now have a greater opportunity to be seen and accepted after decades of our cultural identity being excised or stripped to their baser elements so as to placate to a wider (generally caucasian) audience.
Coincidentally, many colleagues who watched and reviewed Atlanta that aren’t, shall we say, versed in what I called “the Black Experience” in many of my reviews couldn’t understand some of the references mentioned. Additionally, the subtle importance of a few scenes has been lost among its general audience. Most recently, many wonder why Donald Glover didn’t wrap up the first season with a more satisfying conclusion.
It’s a simple enough reason with over four hundred years of history to back it up: Nothing has ever come easy to us, and we could never live up to societal ideals. When we say “the struggle is real”, it isn’t merely a catchphrase for a random-ass cat meme. Atlanta may be entertainment but it’s narrative is birthed from the social injustices, institutionized racism, and assimilated interests African-Americans live through on a daily basis. Still, even a series that gives rise to cultural awareness isn’t exempt from critic’s privileged ideals of the perfect show.
Where I believe people initially misconstrued Atlanta’s premise was in its promos. The destination being Paper Boi rise to fame isn’t as important as the cast’s journey, shining a light on society’s imperfections, from its corrupt institutions, slanted media, idol worship, privileged agendas and cultural derision.
Earnest Marks may not be relatable to all of us: he’s as frustratingly naive as he is ambitious as he is an obstinate, wandering baby daddy. He’s not going to change overnight… and that’s fine. This is the new everyman, warts and all.
However, for as many times as he’s tripped himself up in those ten episodes, Marks never lost focus on why he wants to manage his cousin to the top of the game. After being in jail overnight, involved in three shootouts, and drinking way too much liquor than he should have, Earn had come to the realization that this life that Al, Darius, and others presume is the goal, is nothing more than a trap. Remember Zan from “The Streisand Effect”, the self-promoting social media maven that exploits a foul-mouthed boy for thousands of vine loops? For all his effort he’s still only slinging pizzas and getting robbed in the process. There were a lot of lessons learned for Marks in Atlanta and they’ve narrowed his vision in the hope it’ll create something substantial. Time will tell if his decision to isolate himself (and save a few dollars) with his current living arrangement was the right path and not another setback as Paper Boi finally begins to heat up.
“The Jacket” may not have been the finale you expected, but it’s the one that was necessary. No one should ever expect Atlanta’s narrative to be tied in a pretty bow. Not when there’s still so much the Glovers and Hiro Murai must create, enlighten, and elucidate among their viewers. Stay woke!
Atlanta S1E10 = 9.7/10