Previously on Atlanta, “North of the Border/FUBU”
In a way, “Crabs in a Barrel” is like an exit interview for a team that barely made it through the second round but got swept in the conference finals. Some time had passed since that fateful car ride in “North of the Border”, providing all leads – save for the forever contemplative Darius – the room to engage in some introspection before life rushes by them once more, this time in the form of a months-long European tour. While Van and Alfred had significant epiphanies in their own right, Earn continued to learn more about himself at the 11th hour, especially how his limitations continue to hinder all those around him.
What began as a moderately attainable dream for Alfred quickly became reality, which proceeded to Earn failing upward. Despite his massive shortcomings, Alfred kept his promise to look after his cousin after all these years, but not without letting his frustrations being known. What we suspected would occur after “North of the Border” did, kind of… until Earn did something on the sly that proved to Alfred that he should have never doubted his cousin’s resolve. As Darius stated during the finale’s second act, “learning is failure”. Apparently D’s words resonated in Earn like an ancient gong calling back to his primal drive, compelling him to focus solely on his own needs. Failure cannot be an option now, not when so much is at stake for himself and his family.
Although Robbin’ Season didn’t end in a literal bang to complement its violent opening, “Crabs in a Barrel” was simultaneously a retrospective and testament to Earn’s continued development as a manager, father, and man willing to do what’s necessary to ensure his success. Naturally, Atlanta wouldn’t be Atlanta without its share of wildly conceived obstacles. Per usual, Earn had to juggle a number of things for Al and Darius, beginning with an interview with a suspect “entertainment lawyer” who’s only an 800-number away. With Lottie in tow, Alfred demands Earn find a Jewish lawyer if he really believes they need one (more on that later) and met up with Van at their daughter’s school to learn why Lottie’s teacher is stressing.
Amid the chaos and disappointment that are Earn and Van’s lives, Lottie appeared to be progressing quite well in the finale. Granted, she was in headphones most of the episodes yet remained engaged in the world as the adults went about their business. While her parents were prepared to hear the worst from her teacher, she assured them Lottie is advancing well past her lessons. The teacher insisted that Lottie be enrolled in Holy Oaks Academy ASAP because, well, the school she’s at is awful. It’s nice that Lottie’s teacher is looking out for her best interest however her final remark about the school was pretty dark and foreboding about the status of our state-run educational systems:
“If I see a steer smart enough to get out of the pen, I leave the gate open.”
After that disturbing end to their conference, the candor in “Crabs” elevated to an alarming level. This was especially in play during Earn and Darius’ visit to the passport office; Marks still had a number of questions about his place among the group and within the world and received answers that confirmed his doubts. One, thanks to the clerk in the office, Earn now knows according to this dude that Jewish lawyers may not always be the best but they are connected AF. Concurrently, Darius affirmed that Alfred was ready to dump Earn for Lucas (or anyone better) after the tour. “Y’all both Black. So, I mean, y’all both can’t afford to fail.” Of all the things Darius has pontificated and espoused in the series, this scene may be the realest he’s ever been. Earnest knows the truth in his words; Alfred is on the cusp of greatness and he is holding him back. Clearly it isn’t intentional but learning on the job could rob Al of greater opportunities.
By the time they return to the crib and hang on the couch where all their dreams began in the series premiere, it’s a little bittersweet. Nothing is out in the open, everyone knows what’s likely to go down and for the most part, they are at peace with it. Earn still refused to relent, as seen by not sharing the spliff. Not out of defiance but in the lingering hope of redeeming himself before Al made the toughest decision of his young career.
And then, there was the incident at the TSA screening…
When Uncle Willy told Earn he was gonna need that piece in the music business, no one could have expected it to be wielded with such subterfuge. Earn’s deception at the screening area assured Alfred – who was going to let Earn go after the tour – that his cousin had what it took for the business after all. What was probably a bit more surprising was Clark County’s response to Lucas getting arrested; the “wholesome” rapper feigned surprise over the whole thing but Earnest knew the truth… he put Willy’s piece in Clark’s bag. Not one to have his pristine image sullied, CC put the gun in his manager’s bag. In a way, it’s understandable. Clark may not be an affable character – we know he’s a damn terror after he made his boys beat his engineer’s ass in “Money Bag Shawty” – but he didn’t really deserve to get that cannon dropped in his lap. Besides, Lucas is White… let’s be real, he’ll probably get probation.
The finale was a near-perfect bookmark for Earn, whose anxiousness and insecurities bugged him all season. Since Willy’s monologue in “Alligator Man” Earn nearly sabotaged himself and Al’s rise multiple times to prove to himself that he was meant to be there, he can be as good as Lucas or any other manager in the game. Now that Earn accepted his limitations and knows Al recognized that turn in his personality, his time in Europe could be exactly what Marks needs to look at his challenges from afar and know exactly who he wants to be as a father, a provider, a man.
Or he could stumble back into old habits and fuck it all up. Time will tell.
Atlanta S2E11 Review Score
"Crabs in a Barrel"
Atlanta – S2E11 – “Crabs in a Barrel” | Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beets | Writer: Stephen Glover | Director: Hiro Murai