Atlanta opens its season finale with Joe delivering a word to Earn. The party’s over, it’s the morning after, and he’s ready for this last straggler to get going. “I mean, it’s like I know y’all, but I don’t know y’all, you know?” he says. I know, Joe, which is exactly why I would have told Earn to get out of my apartment, too.
Joe knows Earn and Paper Boi enough to let them have a party at his spot, but not well enough to allow Earn to sleep over until noon. Not after someone set a trash can of his on fire. (Put out your blunts before tossing them, beloveds.) And especially not after someone poured a beer in his Brita pitcher. Have you had that delicious filtered water? Brita deserves respect!
In this way, the unseen party in Atlanta’s finale is like a one-night stand. Yeah, we had sex, but although I may be more familiar with your cheeks now, I don’t know your ass like that. Leave (get out) right now.
Of course, Alfred left long before a hung-over Earn woke up. And once he rolls off that bean-bag chair, Earn needs to find his missing jacket. It isn’t at Joe’s place, so we spend a chunk of the finale watching Earn retrace his steps as he goes on a hunt for it. His drunken self doesn’t exactly remember what all happened the night before, but thankfully, that’s what Alfred’s Snapchat is for.
First, Earn heads for the strip club. Along the way, we see some randoms in cow costumes giving Chick-fil-A witness. Then a kind soul shouts at Earn, “Free-chicken-sandwich day, nigga.” God, I love southern hospitality and free chicken sandwiches.
Once Earn makes it to the strip club, he is asked to pay a cover. “I was just here last night.” Oh Atlanta, where people just casually have lunch in strip clubs like it’s a Chili’s. You know that excuse won’t work, Earn. It is a brand-new day and a new entrance fee.
Earn gets the security guard to check inside for his jacket, except it’s not there. Ever distrustful, Earn pays the cover anyway, looks for himself, and proceeds to waste $10 and a couple minutes of his time. While inside, Earn meets a stripper who campaigns for herself to get a spot in a future Paper Boi video. In 2016, she’d make more money just stripping or even selling trinkets on Etsy, but perhaps she thinks the fame procured from doing a video will get her a lucrative detox-tea endorsement. Maybe even a weave commercial. Dream big, girl!
Jokes aside, what I liked most about this scene was the woman and Earn trying to locate a particular dancer. In the process, that have a pretty fascinating discussion about complexion: “She was kinda light-skinned, but not super light-skinned.” This may not make sense to those living in northern states, but in the South, there are levels to this issue. This is why I tell people in New York that I am light-skinned adjacent. Insert your shade here.
Anyhow, after leaving the club with no jacket, Earn finds his cousin and Darius outside, chilling on that couch we saw in the pilot. Reflecting on the previous night, Alfred makes claims like: “We need to start stunting on niggas more.” I appreciate him taking his rap career more seriously.
Earn disagrees, seeing as they actually need to make money to, you know, truly stunt on niggas. Darius pegs him as a killjoy, declaring, “Black people’s No. 1 problem is we don’t know how to have fun.”
Here’s a good tip: Whenever someone says, “Black’s people’s No. 1 problem is …” a lie will quickly follow. Folks like Darius have been saying this nonsense for years. Poor racial generalizations aside, Earn finally solves the puzzle of his drunken night and realizes he left the jacket in an Uber. During his flashback, we catch Earn doing a slow Milly Rock to old Nelly and Alfred sings along to J.Lo and Ja Rule’s “I’m Real.” These things are all considered old now, which in turn makes me feel a lil’ old — a feeling I’m not at all pleased with.
Earn calls the Uber driver, Fidel, who demands $50 to drop it off, which prompts Alfred to drive his cousin over there after hearing his pleas. While waiting for Fidel, Earn gets a call and finds out that Senator K wants to take Paper Boi on tour. Everyone, take a swig of something strong yet smooth in jubilee. Paper Boi is finally on the rise! It will be hilarious to watch these fools go on tour together, if that’s where season two is headed.
But first, “The Jacket” suddenly jolts into more serious terrain. The silence feels too eerie to Alfred, and after noting as much, he drives off only for the cops to roll on them, guns drawn. It’s easy to assume this is about that whole “the cops are looking for y’all” thing from earlier in the season, but as it turns out, Fidel is the one they want. He’s got the weight and the weaponry.
Earn spots Fidel wearing his jacket as he flees the scene, and moments later, the cops kill him. Earn had been stressing the importance of the jacket throughout this episode, so despite the fact that a dead man is now wearing it, he asks the cops to check the pockets. For a second there, I questioned how desensitized he must be for Earn to make such a request. Then I thought, Hell, I probably wouldn’t flinch either. As the orange politician would say, “SAD!”
There is nothing for Earn in those pockets, though. But once they get back to Alfred’s spot, he tosses Earn a wad of cash. “You did good, man,” he says. It’s nice to hear, especially since Alfred was rightfully suspicious of Earn for trying to latch himself onto his rising star. Earn has earned his keep, so good for him netting his cousin’s respect.
Back home, Earn is cooking for Van and their daughter. As they cuddle on the couch afterward, Justin rings the doorbell and hands Earn some keys. Turns out, Earn told him to hold them for safekeeping.
Earn then hands that money roll to Van. For some reason, she thought he got it by selling drugs. “I’m really flattered that you think I could sell drugs,” he says. That’s kinda romantic if you’re into hoodrat things. No shade. Van does add, “You’re a good daddy, though.” And as he leaves, “You know you can stay the night, right?”
He knows, but he leaves anyway.
As we see Earn walking away, Outkast’s “Elevators” kicks in. I mentioned it earlier this season, but the score of this show is sublime. The musical choices capture each moment perfectly. Towards the end of this first season, I can’t think of a better song for a show named Atlanta with a character like Earn. It’s the ideal choice to close out a stellar season.
The keys turn out to belong to a storage unit. It’s fairly large one, too. Enough for a bed for Earn to sleep on for the night. Is that his old dorm stuff? Things from an old apartment? Maybe we’ll find out in season two. Atlanta hasn’t told us much about his life, so perhaps it’ll just remain unexplained.
For now, we end with Earn lying down, music playing out his headphones, as he stares at the case he kept for himself. Two $100 bills.
He looks comfortable. He looks at peace. For the first time in a while, he looks as if things are going his way. After eyeing his money, Earns turns the lights off, ending the episode and the season.
Kudos to Atlanta for ending this first season exactly how it needed to. I’m glad the pace and tone remained consistent throughout most of these ten episodes. It’s been mentioned in this space before, but Donald Glover and the show’s writers have done remarkably interesting things in terms of storytelling. And each actor has offered a strong performance. It’s surely a recipe for even more great things to come.
Like Glover told us, Atlanta never aimed for grandiose statements about what it means to be black. It didn’t create black characters who fixate on how nonblack people view them. This season was a deeply thought reflection of a particular experience, a chance for black creatives to express facets of black culture their way. It’s a shame that this commands attention as a rarity, but it’s still worthy of celebration.
With Atlanta, Glover and company did good. I look forward to seeing a lot more of that goodness in season two.