Previously in Atlanta, “Barbershop”
Where in the hell to begin with this one…
Darius finally had a entire (double sized!) episode of his own to shine, yet none of us were prepared for the sheer insanity that would unfold during its running time. Thanks to the internet, Darius became acquainted with a talented recluse with a penchant for soft boiled ostrich eggs and a whole mess of daddy issues. All Darius wanted was an upright piano but was given unexpected trauma in a supremely crafted nightmare by Donald Glover and Hiro Murai.
Under the guise of the mercurial and downright creepy Teddy Perkins (played by Glover), the episode itself was layered with a multitude of references, allusions and portents for a number of issues that effectively shape the mindset of Black youth, and the typically unexamined burden of maximizing one’s talent. Naturally, “Teddy Perkins” focused on the significance of music, how its prevalence in our everyday lives shapes our worldview – and in the case of its creators severely alter their state of mind, depending on the manner of encouragement they receive. Of course not all of this could be observed at first viewing as the episode was a self-contained horror show within a series that flourishes within the surreal.
Off the jump it’s painfully apparent Darius’ host is meant to call back memories of the King of Pop and his eccentric yet solitary lifestyle. Frail, almost impish in appearance, Perkins was an artfully perceptive character that kept Darius on the defensive his entire visit. Nevertheless, Teddy’s dated perspective on music and the cultivation of talent were woefully skewed thanks to his abusive upbringing. From the moment he introduced himself and raised both hands to greet Darius in an awkward greeting, Perkins was on another level. We don’t know exactly how long he had lived on his own (his famous brother was around the mansion but believed dead by Teddy) yet his mannerisms proved the odd little man is throwing out his pithy questions and statements to test Darius for some insidious plot, which does occur but not as any one of us would have expected.
Aside from his unnerving appearance and idiosyncrasies, Perkins’ belief that pain was necessary to succeed in life was perhaps his most disturbing quality. Throughout the episode, Teddy made a number of remarks about sacrifices, and how today’s music – notably rap – hasn’t fully matured based on his singular belief that hardship and unyielding focus are paramount to creating a distinguished sound. While Darius countered that Jay-Z is our contemporary elder statesman, Perkins mentioned legends like Al Jarreau, Ahmad Jamal, Nina Simone, and Dionne Warwick, all of whom suffered in their respective ways for their art. Granted, Perkins limited view of the outside world stifles him from realizing the pain of reality continues to motivate artists of all styles. Nevertheless, Teddy was unconcerned about the goings-on beyond his safe space and focused almost exclusively on praising the efforts of a few hardened fathers like Joe Jackson, Earl Woods, Marvin Gaye Sr, and “the father who drops Emilio Estevez off in ‘The Breakfast Club.’”
The presence of pain has been such an influence in Perkins and his brother Benny’s success, they live this world in a wildly violent manner. Perhaps it may not have ended as they anticipated but I’m sure the brothers weren’t surprised by the outcome seconds before their demise. For as much as they thrived as virtuosos in their time, the pain and sacrifice Teddy lauds ultimately diminished him into a miserly, paranoid recluse that had nothing to turn to but the agony of his early years. I’m unsure what Glover was intending to relay through Perkins aside from the obvious references and sentiments about our relationship to music. At the very least there seems to be a subtle message about what we perceive healthy motivators in the creative process and how those could irrevocably distort our entire worldview, robbing us of enriched, fulfilling lives.
That… and the richer you become, the whiter you want to look.