Previously on Atlanta, “Money Bag Shawty”
If the opening seconds of this week’s “Helen” was an allusion of Earn and Van finally establishing a health relationship, we all were sadly mistaken.
For once in Atlanta’s brief yet stellar run, Van is front and center and for a time, reveling in her surroundings. Taking a day trip to the very real Helen, Georgia, Van looked forward to reuniting with old friends, brushing up on her German, and making new memories in some old haunts with Earn. Unfortunately for all, Marks isn’t the most affable guy when out of his element. First-time writer Taofik Kolade defty shifts the narrative from Earnest to Van as the former’s unease and inability to loosen up in a relatively bizarre scenario gradually turns to hostility.
Earn has always been portrayed as a relatable, charismatic lead with plenty of flaws, yet every now and then – and almost always involving Van – Marks’ more problematic qualities hastily rise to the surface. In “Helen”, Earn showed his ass during Van’s big day out, simultaneously belittling Van’s traditions and projecting his insecurities upon her in the presence of her friends and one disturbing-ass man baby. Disputedly, Earn can be construed as the villain in “Helen”. While little appeared to be related to the overall arc of Robbin’ Season, Van’s identity is attacked on two fronts as the people see believed accepted her without reservation have a skewed perspective on Van’s value and status. In a way, she has been robbed of her entity in its full measure, and it’s something Van will no longer allow to continue.
It was really hard to tolerate Earn in this episode, like really hard. Everyone knows all relationships call for some compromise, and seeing as he never came up for air when spelling the alphabet for Van, Marks may have been engaged in some form of preemptive action. As soon as the scene jumped to the car ride to Helen, the first words out from Van were her concerns for Earn not liking their trip up north. Given the response from the locals and participants of Oktoberfest, Earn’s anxiety in being surrounded by so many White folk celebrating their Aryan heritage was pretty damn warranted. Still and all, Van had never appeared more like her true self until “Helen”. From the moment she set foot in the bierhaus and unveiled her dirndl, she was home. The waves of nostalgia (with a beer or two) pushed all Van’s troubles in the outside world far from her – save one.
Now we’d all have difficulty adjusting in a scenario we’d have little to no interest in, and from Earn’s perspective, this world is as foreign as all get out (see what I did there?). Between the odd games and lederhosen, the enveloping presence of the Schnappviecher, and the super fucking awkward exchange between Earn and a party-goer that thinks he’s a German character that involves blackface, this celebration may have more than a few of us internally screaming. Although the encounter was an acceptable gripe, everything else Earn has an issue with stemmed from his inability to look beyond his petty interests and his rampant insecurities.
Earn’s disdain only grew once he knew Van was having genuine fun and interacting with her fellow German brethren. Which is another aspect of “Helen” that was refreshing – we finally unearthed more about Van’s heritage. One of the better things Atlanta has done since its first episode is shine a spotlight on the diversification within Blackness in America, yet little focus had been placed on the and struggles of growing up multicultural. Being at Oktoberfest isn’t just a thing to do for Van, it’s a moment for her to reconnect with part of her legacy and share in a few jokes in Deutsch with a threateningly handsome bartender. And here is Earn, shitting on it. The one time we ever, ever see Van do something she genuinely loves and she cannot be emotionally supported by her baby daddy who recently lived in a storage unit. Add to the fact that her best friend Christina admitted her disgustingly narrow scope of Van, relegating her to the status of “Lottie’s Mom” or “Earn’s Girl” among her friends. What followed was a telling revelation about how Christina viewed the world; she chose white and Van chose Black, therefore her stature as a single mother is acceptable. How damn sway.
After all these stinging moments (and continued ain’t shit-ness from Earn), Van appeared to slay the beast twice – literally and figuratively. In beating Marks at his own game and realizing he’ll only keep failing upward, Van found a deeper resolve to become the woman she knows herself to be. Obviously Van took the bartender’s poignant words during the search for the Schnappviecher to heart: “You should start a relationship with yourself, if you really want to learn to love someone.” Easier said than done, perhaps. But when you had a boyfriend like Earn, well… it doesn’t hurt to re-prioritize one’s life after that fallout.
Atlanta S2E4 Review Score
Atlanta – S2E4 – Helen | Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beets | Writer: Taofik Kolade | Director: Amy Seimetz