Robbin’ Season’s finale progresses in much the same way that last season’s closer did: We are, finally, given Earn’s perspective, in a sort of meandering, rolling-along narrative. And the question this time around is exactly the same: Is Earn alright? Is he really okay? And stepping into the closer, we’re left with several more questions: Will Al drop Earn as his manager? Will Al accept that his life is truly about to change? And following the violent rupture we watched in “North of the Border,” will our heroes find some semblance of normalcy?
We start with Earn in a Lyft, with Lottie in tow, to meet with a potential lawyer for Al. The driver is late, cruising to the tune of gospel. When they finally do make it to the meeting, Al’s already seated, already resigned to his cousin creating another unnecessary problem. When he nods toward Lottie, Earn says that he had to bring her, and Al rolls his eyes. How could he have expected anything less?
At the same time, the lawyer (“Highly recommended,” according to Earn) is a wash. His preamble tracks as well as the music Lottie’s listening to behind them. After a pause, giving us to time to glance at the Pollock painting posted behind him, Al asks the man for some of the people he’s representing — but, really, it’s a formality. In the background, Lottie notes that “she hates lemons.”
In the parking lot afterwards, Al says that he doesn’t want “Don King,” but “a high-level Jewish dude” from a “big-level firm.” We learn that Al’s on his way to a European tour, supporting Clark County. Luke hooked it up. They are literally flying out that evening. And when Earn quips that Al really should be headlining the tour, Al agrees, his tone turning just slightly darker.
“I should be,” he says. “But I ain’t.”
It’s a reminder of their working relationship’s tenuousness, in case we’ve forgotten where things stand. But Earn doesn’t have time to dwell on that — the next item on the agenda is rallying some (drunken) movers to pack up the house before their flight. The place is (mostly) packed, but in their haste, Al points out the smoking catalyst in a cardboard box from the season’s first episode — Earn’s uncle’s gun.
“You think you’re slick,” says Al. “You’re gonna jam me up.”
“I’ll get rid of it,” says Earn.
With that, Earn slips the piece into his backpack. He’s already onto the next thing, asking after Darius’s expired passport. And the audience takes a collective breath, because our guy just packed a piece in a backpack en route to an international flight from the United States of America.
In that way, we’re given the episode’s underlying conflict. Yes, Earn needs to pack up the house, but they aren’t going anywhere if Darius doesn’t update his passport. Yes, Al needs a lawyer, but it doesn’t immediately benefit Earn if he’s ultimately fired. And yes, Earn and Al need to come to a consensus, eventually, but that decision will be self-selecting if Earn jams them up at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport with a whole gun.
But while we see this, as the viewer, Earn doesn’t have time to pull back and observe — and mostly because throughout this episode, Earn is doing something we simply have not seen before: managing. He is juggling 11 different balls at once. Making moves. And while each of them is just that close to hitting the ground, for the episode’s duration he manages not to drop any of them.
The next ball is the biggest in Earn’s life: Lottie’s education. (She’s so big now!) He meets Van for a parent-teacher conference, where a woman informs them that their daughter “seems to be very advanced, very gifted.” Lottie’s excelling in everything. Her teacher recommends that they enroll Lottie in a private school. She adds that it has a reasonable tuition, declaring that Lottie’s education is being stunted at her current school, “which is awful.” When Earn asks if there’s something cheaper that can be done for Lottie, the woman quips that her parents could alternatively keep their child “in a happy two-parent household.”
“If I see a steer smart enough to get out of the pen,” the teacher notes, “I leave the gate open.”
So now Earn and Van are paying for private school. Earn notes that the tour money should cover the tuition. Van says that if Lottie does enroll, they’ll need for Earn to show up, and more than he’s been able to. Then, the two parents share a quiet moment, and it’s one of the first we’ve seen between them all season. Van tells Earn that he’s smart (which points back to another unanswered question hanging over Atlanta; why, specifically, did Earn leave Princeton?). She’d hoped some of it would be passed to Lottie. And Earn tells Van that she’s smart, too; maybe it’s actually hers.
Before he takes off, Van asks Earn if he’s all right. And there’s genuine concern.
“I’m fine,” says Earn, “Just, you know, stupid shit.”
“Okay,” says Van. “Stay safe.”
But — the passport. Darius knows a guy. The spot they’ve found themselves at caters to “a specific clientele.” Earn gets to talking with the clerk, who is Jewish, and with Al’s mandate in the back of his head, he asks the guy (after a query on proper pissing etiquette) if he thinks there’s a black lawyer as good as his cousin.
“There definitely is,” says the guy, after a pause, “but part of being good at your job are your connections. And black people just don’t have the connections that my cousin has. For systemic reasons.”
With that, the conversation’s over. Darius’s $350 passport will be ready in about two hours. (Earn is dropping money all over the place in this episode.) And during the wait, Darius asks Earn the episode’s recurring motif: “How’s it going?”
“I know you’re always at peace with everything,” says Earn, “but my whole world’s falling apart. So.”
Darius sits down. He tells Earn that Al’s world is “changing up with the quickness.” But Al will always provide for the people he cares for — and Earn says he doesn’t want handouts. He wants to provide. Earn adds that he’s getting better at managing, and Darius agrees. He really does see it.
“But,” says Darius, “learning requires failure.”
“Al’s just trying to make sure you’re not failing in his life,” he adds. “I mean, y’all are black, so — y’all both can’t afford to fail.”
Darius tells Earn that Al won’t make his final decision until he gets to Europe, because “it seems like an Al thing to do.” In this way, the show’s unspoken tensions are brought into existence. It’s good fucking writing. And Earn leans his head against the counter behind him, because he knows that what his friend says is true.
Before they depart for the flight, we’re gifted with a reprise of last season’s sofa shot. From our view, we can see that the leaves are turning. Robbin’ Season is finally over. When Earn asks to talk, Al says to wait until they land abroad, confirming Darius’s assessment, and then the three men just sit, sharing a joke, and joking before the next big shift in their lives.
Once they make it to the airport, Darius tells Earn that he just has to learn to trust himself. And, as if he’s heeding those words, things begin to happen very quickly: Earn raises a hand at the airport vendors, swerving right past his old life. He bullies his way past Clark and Troy, in an effort to get to the plane. And, unloading his bags for the TSA, he finds what the audience has known for the entire episode: The gun is still in his backpack. He forgot to take it out. Al will be going on a major European tour, without a manager, let alone anyone with his actual business interests in mind, and it will be no one’s fault but Earn’s own.
So, for what could be the very first time this season, Earn makes a decision. He doesn’t just let the bad thing happen to him. We watch as he clears security, with Al and Darius in tow. We hear a siren blare behind them. We see Clark and his manger held back by the beginnings of a scuffle. And as Al glances back once (with something a little like surprise), and then once again (where we nearly see the word etched across his face, “Good”), Darius shuffles beside him, looking right along.
Earn doesn’t turn around. And none of the men stop. As Earn’s uncle noted in the season’s first episode, he would need the gun for the music business. But it turns out there are many different ways to fire a weapon.
On the plane, Paper Boi quips that he’s never really left Georgia before. Then, he takes a quick glance at Darius, who’s sitting in the opposite aisle. Once he’s seen that his friend isn’t paying attention, he starts in on Earn:
“I saw what you did,” he says, “at TSA. You ain’t gotta say shit.”
“Just know,” says Al, “that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Niggas do not care about us, man. Niggas gonna do whatever they’ve gotta do to survive, because they ain’t got no choice. We ain’t got no choice, either. You my family Earn. You the only one that knows what I’m about. You give a fuck. I need that.”
“Aight?” he asks.
Nearly imperceptible, Earn nods.
“Aight then,” says Al.
So it’s done.
Darius starts the hype for the trip. All of us watching silently will the plane to take off from the fucking ground. And then (because when you are on a transnational flight from the States, you can usually count the black people on your fingers), we watch as Clark enters the plane. He doesn’t speak until Al calls him out. And Clark, in a voice that betrays him, tells our heroes that Luke won’t be joining them: Clark’s manager “got into some shit.” The cops took him. When Clark adds that the gun they found was gold, Darius looks upward, putting the pieces together.
“Shit was clean though,” says Clark. “Wish it was mine.”
Once he’s passed, Earn leans over to confirm what we already surmised: “The piece was in Clark’s bag.”
So, almost immediately, Al’s words are codified: Our heroes really are all they have. They’ll live or die by what they’re willing to do for each other. Earn and Van rob Lottie of a happy household; fame robs Al of his life; Clark robs Luke of his job; and, fittingly enough, with the final laugh in the season’s parting shots, Earn robs Tracy, absent the entire episode but almost certainly not from Earn’s plan, of a home. (Then again, it could be likelier that Tracy’s assault on Earn a few episodes back sealed his fate with the entire trio; whatever hope he had of joining them was severed then. Because you disagree with one another all you want to, but you never attack your own. And Tracy trusted that his bond with Al was stronger than blood — it wasn’t.)
I’ll leave you with this: If the past few months (to say nothing of the past few years), have taught us nothing else in entertainment, it’s to be wary of ascribing anyone with the mantle of “genius.” But between the efforts of Donald, Hiro, Stephen, Amy, Taofik, Stefani, Brian, Zazie, Lakeith, and the assorted crew, I think it would be safe to say that we’ve all paid witness to a collective round of that very thing: genius. Would that this were true of every show. But it could be that this is what happens when black creatives and their allies can tell the black stories they’re trying to tell about black folks, to black folks. Robbin Season’s low points were higher highs than those of its counterparts. Its singular exchanges surpassed other series’ entire plotlines, with casual gestures stronger than their whole narrative arcs. It was aggressively better. And it would be premature to say when it will happen again, but Atlanta’s existing has ensured that it will happen again.
Because now it is here. It exists. There are kids watching Atlanta the same way Atlanta’s creators paid witness to their respective influences. Now they have this in their repertoire. This beautiful, layered thing. And we — all of us — were here to see it. May it live a long life.