I mistakenly walked into the season finale of Atlanta with the idea that we more or less knew what was to be expected of this episode. A couple of hat-tips to the quirkier aspects of Black American culture, some behind the scenes insight to the struggles of the rap game, a moment of tenderness between two people simultaneously doing their best and their absolute worst to hold onto each other. Don’t get me wrong, all of that was present in tonight’s episode, “The Jacket” and has been there the entire length of the season running counter clockwise to some of the more violent and stark reminders of black life that work as commentary on each episode.
We’ve traveled with Earnest Marks through the season and, to be honest, we have gained little insight as to exactly who Earn is as a person. We’ve spent more time getting to know the idiosyncrasies of Earn’s cousin Alfred aka Paper Boi, his on-again woman Van; even Darius has been given more exposition to work with this season than its lead. But we rarely peaked behind the curtain to see what makes Earnest Earn. Why did he leave an Ivy-League opportunity behind? Why is someone of his seeming intellect under-performing at life so cavalierly? Atlanta leaves room for the audience to imprint their own imperfections and desires onto Earn. Season two opens up the possibility of us gaining some clarity on everything that’s been left unspoken thus far and I should have known that one can’t go into any episode of Atlanta thinking they know what to expect. We do not.
“It’s like I know y’all but I don’t know y’all”
What has been made abundantly clear, however, is that Earnest is a man on the hustle. Whatever inner demons or outside circumstances are to blame for the current status of his life, Earn is determined to overcome his immediate financial setbacks. Except, the early bird gets the worm and Earn’s sleeping in on a beanbag chair after a night of 151 proof Turn Up. He’s woken up by the host of the party who wants him out quick fast and in a hurry. I don’t blame him, seeing as how somebody poured beer into his Brita filter. That is so not Raven.
Earn inquires about a navy blue bomber jacket that he misplaced somewhere amongst the bacchanal. Party-host’s girl is trying to hit up the brunch spot and suggests, like Martin did, that Earn get to steppin’ up out their house and handle his business elsewhere. Earn makes his way on foot through the streets of the city deciding to retrace his steps. He passes by a crowd of folk in cow costumes for Free Chicken Sandwich Day. When Atlanta does surreal, it does it so well. He lands back at a strip club the fellas visited the night before and is given a hard time by the dude at the door. What’s Atlanta’s beef with bouncers? For the second time this season we see one acting unreasonable AF.
Anywho! After paying a $10 cover just to look inside for his jacket, Earn questions a stripper to see if someone has possibly turned it in. At first I was pleasantly surprised to see Amil from the Roc in this scene seeing as how she’s been out of work so long but then I realized she must have just been at the club working her regular-arsed morning shift that day when the crew showed up and started filming. Bloop. Earn is getting nowhere fast with this wannabe video vixen but I did appreciate the description of a dancer being “kind of light skinned but not super light skinned”. I assume this is how people from the South describe the actress who plays Van and seeing as how commenters last week were claiming Zazie Beetz is not light skinned at all, I suggest we all go back and study-up before the final.
“Lemme find out Ja Rule was just a dog”
Earn decides to enlist the help of Alfred’s Snap Chat to try to piece together the events of last night a la Hangover the First and we find out Darius thinks cameras (or maybe just Snap Chat filters, *shoulder shrug*) steal your soul. Let me find out Darius has just been pothead- smart this entire time as opposed to being, like, actually sagacious. LaKeith Stanfield’s performance all season has been a delight and whether he’s making dumb blanket statements about the major problems of black people or waxing poetic about the delicate flavor profile of sushi-flavored sunflower seeds, I’ve been a willing audience to his eerily specific form of pyrrhonism. Stanfield’s an actor that I expect to see a lot more of in the near future.
After meeting back up with his cousin and Darius, who apparently have never heard of the “Come together, Leave Together” pact, Earn borrows Al’s cell to track down the Uber driver from last night. The driver, Fidel, has the jacket but wants to charge Earn $50 to drop it off to him. They decide to drive Earn to Fidel’s place to pick it up instead and get some bomb-ass Jamaican food on the way.
“Most of this rap shit is appearances”
While parked on Fidel’s block Earn receives a call with some good news. Paperboi is about to go on tour with Senator K. All of Earn’s hustling has finally paid off. Al shoots his cousin an appreciative nod. Darius wonders if an all-black casting of 48 Hours would even work and I’m back on the Darius is the voice of our generation-bandwagon. Celebration time is tragically cut short as Al’s got a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. It’s quiet in the neighborhood. Too quiet. Something’s not right. He decides to pull off when suddenly several Atlanta P.D. squad cars surround them!
When I tell you, my heart jumped three feet out of my chest…! Episode writer Stephen Glover, who also penned the brassy “Nobody Beats the Biebs” could have very well had one of the lead characters be caught up in another police “misunderstanding” a fictionalized account of the countless brothers and sisters who have lost their lives at the hands of police brutality. It would have even been in line with the previous storylines of Paperboi being wanted for questioning by the police a few weeks back.
Instead, Atlanta turns preconceived perceptions on their ear as our actors stand down while Fidel is seen fleeing the house. Seconds later, he is gunned down by several shots to the back. The cameras decide to focus not on the actors and their reactions but to hold focus on the reality of the situation. How someone who was just alive is now gone. How their chance for ever telling their side of the story is gone. How life moves on around the tragedy. Earn still needs his jacket, after all. A jacket a man just died in while his wife and child looked on. Other series have made attempts and failed to capture the stark reality of the relationship that people of color face with the police. Scandal tried to sensationalize the already sensational with a similar storyline that missed the mark. Atlanta succeeds where Scandal and others have failed because it knows not to get in the way of that moment. The moment speaks for itself.
“One for the money, yes sir, two for the show/ A couple of years ago on Headland and Delowe”
After seeing their lives flash before their very eyes and Darius eating the two blunts they were smoking on the way down in a panic, the guys decide to call it a day. Paperboi tosses Earn his cut of the earnings, 5% and Earn looks at it with the appreciation of someone who’s had a rumbling belly for weeks. He decides to do the right thing instead of hanging out and heads over to Van and Lottie’s to make them dinner and have some family time.
Van no longer carries the weathered and worn face of a woman who is having to do it all by herself. It should be noted that her emotional wall comes down before Earn gives her the money. Sometimes all it takes is knowing you have a partner who is willing to fight with you and for you. Earn’s coworker Justin stops by and lo and behold, he has the contents of the jacket Earn has been looking for this entire episode! It’s a key and Earn looks so grateful to see it again. Earn says his goodbyes to Van for the evening and we finally see a little more of that chemistry that convinced us last episode that these two were good for each other. Earn’s going to call her tomorrow. And hopefully every day after that.
Earn is back on foot and we follow him as he makes his way to a storage unit. Outkast’s "Elevators" is playing through his headphones and could there be a more perfect song to close out the season? A song where Andre warns a fan about idol worship because we’re all like neck to neck?! Earn looks around the room, a room that seems to contain all of the contents of his life, with a sense of contentment. He settles in on the bed inside and Donald Glover bookends a wonderful season with all of the hope, despair, humor and wonder that Atlanta contains.
Jordan Kauwling is an early thirties Philadelphian but she tells everyone she's in her late thirties because she doesn't understand how math works. When she's not busy writing, singing, eating all the falafel or unsuccessfully finishing another craft project you can catch her talking junk on Twitter.