Atlanta Recap: Oh, You Manage Rap?


Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 5 stars


Season 1 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Donald Glover as Earn, Zazie Beetz as Van. Photo: Guy D’Alema/FX

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Van is better than me. When it comes to the practice of patience, she operates at a level that I find befuddling. If I could gather Van’s homegirls for red wine and Drake, I’d love to know what they make of her dealings with Earn. There has to be a gaggle of them gagging over how much she bends for this dude.

Like, would you pick up your ex at his girl’s house? If so, you also operate at a level of maturity I’m two Star Wars prequels away from accessing. Yes, we begin the latest episode of Atlanta with the sight of Earn in bed, next to what’s-her-name. As Earn realizes he’s late for something, he rushes to get dressed and she asks, “Coming back tonight?” After a moment of hesitation, Earn answers, “Uh, no … thanks.” How nice of him to thank her for sex. Then he heads outside and into Van’s car, smelling like a one-night stand.

Van asks Earn if he’s high and his response is “… not really.” Technically, that’s a Vanid answer. The two are en route to the home of Monique, another one of the bougie people in Van’s life, for a pretentious Juneteenth celebration. If you’re wondering what Juneteenth is, let the Google guide you and may the white guilt flow freely thereafter.

As a Texan, I’m quite familiar with Juneteenth celebrations — but they don’t include black men leaning on a staircase, singing songs. I mean, Zapp & Roger might be playing, but it’s a much less formal affair than what’s going down at Monique’s place.

Consider their fixed cocktail menu, y’all: Juneteenth Juice, Frozen Freedom Margarita, Emancipation Eggnog, Plantation Master Poison, Abolition & Absinthe, Underground Railroad, and Forty Acres and a Moscow Mule. This is the kind of menu Phaedra Parks would create for a very special episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Monique strikes me as the type that would be on The Real Housewives of Potomac, though: I kind of hate her, but I do like that she likes Van. As she explains to Van, “You are a smart, beautiful, and determined lady like me.”

As far as Monique believes, Van and Earn are married, Earn actually finished Princeton, and they are the kind of adorable black couple her stuck-up ass can appreciate. Monique refers to Earn as Van’s “fancy Ivy League husband.” Why are they lying? Well, Van needs Monique to help out her career — you know, since she admitted to smoking weed after botching a drug test and all. We also meet Monique’s husband, a white dude named Craig who strolls down the staircase and shouts, “Happy Freedom Day!” Yes, he’s as annoying as he seems.

Earn isn’t eager to be at this party. You certainly can’t blame him after his interaction with Craig, who takes a liking to him. How awesome for Craig that he’s tolerant, but in a separate scene, he tries to scold Earn for having not gone to Africa yet: “You gotta go! Man, it’s your motherland. What are you thinking?” This guy is way too comfortable in how he talks to black people; just look at how often he reaches out to physically touch Earn, or wrap his arm around him. I guess I should be mad that he poured Earn a glass of Hennessy, but stereotypes like that and the splendor of Popeye’s Chicken are fine on my watch.

At one point, Earn tries to figure out Craig’s deal. Is he an archaeologist in African studies or something? Nope, he’s just an optometrist. When prompted by Craig to reveal which country from Africa his family is from, Earn quips, “I don’t know. This spooky thing called slavery happened and my entire ethnic identity was erased.”

As Monique later tells Van, “You don’t think I know how crazy my husband is? This whole ‘black people as a hobby’ shit? Slam poetry, Martin reruns? That nigga told my 95-year-old grandmother she was cooking her collard greens wrong.” He comes across as the type. I’m surprised Nana didn’t put hands and hot pots on him.

After his exchange with Craig, Earn finds Van and tells her he wants to go home. She’s not nearly as bothered by the party. “It doesn’t feel like you’re in a Spike Lee–directed Eyes Wide Shut?” he asks. Van wants to seize upon the reason she brought herself, Earn, and their lie about marital bliss to this awkward party. “Do you think that I am happy that I am having to prostitute myself for an opportunity?” she asks in response. “Do you think that I am happy that I need you here in order to do that?”

Earn answers in his typical sarcastic jerk-off fashion, so Van snaps back with some venom of her own: “Can we for once just pretend that we aren’t who we are? I mean, because we both know you’re good at pretending.”

After that, Earn plays along and we see them turn on the charm for these caricatures of black high society. (Or certain bastions of it, at least.) This includes the playwright who gleefully talks to Van and Earn about some new project she’s working on, which sounds like a Tyler Perry play penned by a grad student. When she’s finished, they get stuck listening to a holier-than-thou sermon from the pastor of a mega-church.

That’s not all. They get cornered by a group of ladies who invite Van to join the Atlanta chapter of Jack and Jill, a social organization that fits exactly with Monique and the other people at this party. It’s worth noting: I didn’t know what Jack and Jill was until I attended Howard University. Like Earn, I am not of that world.

Earn strikes a nerve when he starts telling these ladies all about his alleged wife, though: “Van does everything. She works, she raises our child, she’s smarter than me, better than me. I mean, that’s why I married her … Gun to my head, I don’t think I could even look at another woman.” The act went too far, it seems, and Van excuses herself to cry in the bathroom.

When Van gets back, she tells Earn, “You’re mean.” He apologizes, but she told him not to be sorry — she’ll just go get drunk instead. Eventually, Van and Monique have a private conversation where she reveals the reality of her life: “I get this big-ass house and he gets the black wife he always wanted. That’s marriage: I like Craig, but I love my money.”

Monique is all about that money, so she compromised herself and made a life with a man who doesn’t completely understand her. It raises the question: Would Van ever decide to compromise?

By the end of the episode, the valet guys recognize Earn as Paper Boi’s manager and request a picture. Then Craig, too, finally places Earn. He couldn’t put his finger on it before, but he knew he had seen Earn from somewhere. (No, it wasn’t the country club.) That’s when Monique turns up her elitism, making comments like, “You aren’t going to shoot up this party, are you, Earn?”

She describes Alfred as a “trifling thug,” prompting Earn to unleash his venom at Monique and her condescending husband. “I’m sorry, this is wack. This isn’t real life,” he says. “This party is dumb. She’s dumb. This is all dumb. You know that, Van. This is dumb.” He’s right to be offended, though I do wonder whether he took the wrong tone. If Earn checked Monique on her snobbery in a language she spoke, it would have stung her more. People like her expect that type of reaction. Meanwhile, isn’t Earn only here to support Van? She need a break, and these are the kind folks who can provide one.

The party was all about Van’s searching for an opportunity, but in that moment, Earn makes it about him. Again. Van doesn’t seem to mind, though: On the ride home, she asks him to pull over and they start making out. Maybe Van saw that party for what it was? Maybe she appreciated Earn for being real? Maybe she’s even a little proud of him? That’d be a big step for them, but it doesn’t change the fact that she’s still looking for work.

Good luck finding a new plug, sis.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know how these two are going to make it work. I don’t even know if they can. I want them to last, though. They offer a good balance to each other, and although much of their tension is rooted in Earn’s precarious place in life, I like watching them move together. Their relationship has led to some of the best aspects of Atlanta’s inaugural season. Let’s hope they get closer to figuring it out in next week’s finale.

Atlanta Recap: Oh, You Manage Rap?