At this point, anyone who watches Atlanta is used to Earn being treated a bit unfairly. He doesn’t ever really fit in anywhere. People treat him as lesser and take advantage of him. We saw it happen last week with Tracy. He’s a bit of a pushover and people constantly take advantage to crap all over him. Poor Earn. This week, Earn tries to use an influx of cash to stunt on people the way others stunt on him. Let’s just say it doesn’t go very well.
Failed Adventures in Stunting
Through a very upset white mom – who repeats some offensive lyrics she’s upset about right in front of her daughter, despite being upset her daughter heard them to begin with – we learn that Paper Boi has a new single. This new single gives Alfred and Earn a nice pay day. Time to celebrate.
Only Earn decides he’s going to celebrate by throwing money around to come off as a bigger deal than he is. He decides to do this basically only because of a Paper Boi fan stunting on him at the beginning of the episode.
It’s not very often that Earn comes off as a complete idiot, but he does here and then some. I get it; he faces so much shit so often that he saw a chance to dish it back out. Problem is he just isn’t someone capable of faking to make it. He tries to buy VIP tickets at a theater with a hundred-dollar bill, only to be told they don’t take bills that large, then sees an older white guy buy a ticket with one of his own. The usher just walks right over him. He goes to a club and tries to use another hundred (maybe the same one?), only to have the owner call it fake and kick him out. Desperately, Earn rents a limo and heads to the strip club with Alfred and Darius, only to have the DJ call him out and the club snatch his money away with every charge they possibly can.
To cap the night, he finds Michael Vick racing people outside the club and foolishly bets some money of his own on beating Vick.
It’s one thing to see Earn go through hard times as a product of circumstances at least partly out of his control. It’s another to see him inflict the hard times himself. Everything that goes wrong for Earn here happens because he chooses to be a prideful moron. He reeked of toxic masculinity throughout this episode, which is not normal for Earn. One guy hurt his feelings and he wanted to restore them. You can really see it in the way he refuses to let Van pay for the movie tickets instead.
He decided to value his worth based on the money he had on him and ended up looking even more like a fool than usual. You can see how he ends up bouncing back and forth between Van’s house and homelessness. Earn always came off a bit too smart for his circumstances in season 1. Atlanta’s making his failures a bit clearer this season.
Damn if it wasn’t fun in an awkward, cringing kind of way, though. The Michael Vick “race” might be a contender for Atlanta’s best ending scene.
All about That Paper Boi
Meanwhile, Alfred has a better, calmer day that seeded the possibility of even worse news for Earn; the possibility of Paper Boi getting a new manager. Along the way we got another look at Atlanta’s wonderful ability to blend different tones into a scene without anything feeling out of place.
Alfred’s time in the studio with Clark County showed him a different side of the rap game he hasn’t been a part of yet. One with connections to sponsorships, professionalism, and success. I know I mentioned last week how Paper Boi doesn’t appear to be into this for the attention, but the subtitle for this season is “Robbin’ Season”. What better way to live up to that title than having another manager steal Paper Boi from Earn?
I don’t think it is coincidence that Earn looked like such a fool in an episode where Alfred gets a look at proper management. Specifically, Earn looked like a fool trying to fake one image he can’t pull off. Just like he doesn’t seem to have any of the connections or sway to actually manage Paper Boi. He can get him some crappy gigs at radio stations. A better manager would have him raking in more dough for more enjoyable work. I can’t help but think Alfred will realize that soon enough.
Alfred even seemed to deliver a warning like this at the end to Earn. He sees how inadequate Earn currently is and how badly he failed at playing the big shot. Earn had the money to play the big shot but no idea how to actually do it. He dressed in a crappy sport coat with a crappy Coca-Cola shirt and let everyone step all over him. He looked like someone trying to play a role rather than someone who actually belonged in the role.
I can’t imagine Alfred will let Earn slide for much longer. Not when he sees how others conduct business. Earn’s only hope is that Alfred’s distaste for the consequences of greater fame win out over whatever ambitions he has.
It might also help when he sees how scary and fake Clark County and his crew were. Seriously, how does Atlanta manage to be so funny, dramatic, and terrifying, and often from line to line without skipping a beat? I can simultaneously believe that Alfred and Darius both thought of Clark County as a fake and a joke while also thinking he was completely terrifying. I just hope his entourage didn’t actually beat the hell out of that producer.
This season has a couple clear themes so far. One revolves around the growing fame of Paper Boi. He and Earn have more money, more fame, and more success than they did last season. However, it’s not playing out like they thought. Earn had money to throw around like he’s never had yet he still didn’t matter. He’s still an awkward dude struggling just to have a life with the mother of his child. Alfred has begun to matter in the Atlanta rap scene, yet it’s bringing him little more than unwanted attention from unwanted people.
Both are stuck in this awkward transition between fame and irrelevancy that so many possibly rappers never move past. It’s why I can’t help but think Earn will lose his job. He can’t take Paper Boi higher, and Paper Boi will need to go higher if he wants to remain relevant. It’s one thing to have a dream, and another to see the reality of the dream. Atlanta has tried to show those downsides a bit.
Of course, the other running theme has been about robbin’ season. Whether it’s literal theft like the season’s opening scene or Earn’s own self-inflicted theft of his newfound managing wealth, Atlanta has managed a clearer, more consistent feel to its second season. I loved the self-contained feel of the first season, but so often interesting things would happen and then be forgotten. The first season was more of a loosely collected series of stories than a connected narrative.
The second season so far has managed to have the entertaining, isolated adventures while also managing a stronger running timeline and set of events. Even if I have questions about how long Earn has suddenly been back in Van’s house. I hope Donald Glover and company keep this up. Atlanta has been really great through three episodes.