Previously on Atlanta, “Nobody Beats the Biebs”
Atlanta – S1E6 – Value | Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz | Writer: Donald Glover & Stefani Robinson | Director: Donald Glover
This week’s episode of Atlanta brought to mind a number of things. Who are we to others? How much do we truly value ourselves? How would we respond when we’re near our absolute lowest? Every one of us has had these thoughts plow through our brains like an uncontrollable freight train on occasion; especially in the last three days before the direct deposit comes in. In life, there are bad days… and then there are some hella awful, terrible, no-good, sneaking sips of Hennessy in the stock room, I hate my life days.
Before we really jump in the deep end of “Value” props must be given to Zazie Beetz for making the best of this opportunity and carrying this episode entirely on her shoulders. As a Black male, I cannot claim that every Black woman has experienced a day of absolute wtf-ness like Vanessa. However, her ability to power through all the bullshit is a quality I’ve witnessed time and again within my own matriarchal family. Van proved herself to be extremely resourceful and embraced her spontaneity when the going got rough as it typically does in Atlanta.
Still, Van went through all this trouble just to make sure she didn’t reach a new low caused by her own hand.
In the first five minutes and change, Vanessa stood up for herself against vainglorious Jayde – only to collapse quickly under peer pressure. In the six episodes we’ve seen this season, a lot could be written about how this character is equally sympathetic and problematic as Atlanta’s sole female lead. Ah, yes… The P word. The first thing that must be accepted is when anyone regards a character as “problematic”, everyone is problematic depending on one’s view. In this case, however, Vanessa’s iffy qualities that have rubbed some viewers the wrong way isn’t due to her being a poorly written role. Rather, she wasn’t given a moment in the sun to be anything more than a Negative Nancy.
Granted, in the first 10 minutes of “Value” we were all by Van’s side when her “best friend” Jayde (Aubin Wise) was in town to spend one of her boyfriends’ money and post terribly lit Instagram pics of food she didn’t eat. Instead of going the WAG route, Van stayed true to herself and in spite of her current struggles, feels all right about her job and cautiously optimistic about her daughter’s future. It wasn’t long until Vanessa and Jayde’s Cold War shade throwing became a proverbial weave snatching, with neither one coming out the argument looking good. Even after all of Jayde’s ego-preening, name dropping, and twisted logic on how women should be valued, in spite of recognizing her friend is desperate for any form of validation after Jayde nearly forced Van to become her wing-woman so she could keep digging her hands in ball player’s pockets, Vanessa gave up her seemingly indomitable scruples for some Cambodian Red? A tiny bit of schwagg? A couple puffs of laughing grass?
What follows is Van confronting the consequences of her actions with hilariously cringe-worthy moments. Straining and boiling diapers for baby pee? Really? Goddamn, I hope that entire kitchen was demo’d afterward because no one will be using those pots to make mac and cheese ever again. After sweating over a hot stove and extracting a few ounces of yellow gold for the county school board’s drug test, Van couldn’t go through with it and confessed (only after spilling her hard work out of the condom… by tearing it open with her teeth. what?!) Like many of us, the principle Ms. Tieg (Milli M.) could strongly empathize with Vanessa and her wacky day, but there’s no way a person who can’t even have the decency to mask odors with Febreze has any right to supervise children.
In all seriousness, “Value” provided great insight into Van’s past as well as her constant adjustments (lowering of standards?) after what appeared to be a life of moral grandstanding. It’s clear her relationship with Earnest isn’t what neither one anticipated; the underlying current of scorn she emanates whenever he’s around is warranted. After all, Marks isn’t taking things as seriously as he should. This episode does well in humanizing Van and made her more relatable through an insanely unbelievable series of circumstances. Nevertheless, the laughs she evokes have only come from her misfortunes, unlike her co-stars that never seem to have enough one-liners and whimsical scenarios.
Vanessa’s value is present, if you purposefully look for it. We’ve only gotten a mere glimmer of what could be a richly layered woman in Glover’s comedy and hopefully we get more in the final episodes.
For now all Van can do is sit solemnly in her classroom and anticipate the dread that’ll be felt at the end of the week. Although things appear pretty terrible for her at the moment, it could always be worse. At least she doesn’t have to spend her last days with a problem child.
Atlanta S1E6 = 9/10