In A Map to the Door of No Return, poet Dionne Brand declares that, in the modern cities and towns of the Americas, to be Black is to be haunted. This season, as they navigate the European leg of Paper Boi’s tour, the lead characters of Atlanta find themselves far from their titular home in the U.S. but remain haunted by history just the same. In London, when the group sets out to meet a billionaire investor named Fernando, they quickly discover a white world consumed by a raced and classed grammar that concedes Black ghosts and centers white guilt.
As Earn, Van, Darius, and Al walk through London neighborhoods to get to Fernando’s home, a white woman sees them from her window and cowers behind her curtains as she talks into a phone. It is a familiar scene of surveillance in a city entirely new to the characters. On their walk, Earn lays out the stakes of their invitation. “How many billionaires do you know?” Earn asks Al rhetorically. Establishing the value an investor relationship would bring to the table, Earn emphasizes how access to money (or in this case, monied people) can facilitate the realization of their dreams and ideas. Through Al’s rise in fame as Paper Boi, each character has witnessed the world open up on account of capital. Where Al was once haunted by the specters of money and fame, he has grown to embrace its possession. Due to their proximity, Earn, Van, and Darius cannot pretend to be entirely immune to the luxuries new money provides either.
To their surprise, when they arrive at Fernando’s house, it is, in Van’s words, “giving Tales From the Hood vibes.” But Will, the wealthy investor, takes them up a set of steps and leads them into a much swankier, elaborate home within the “decoy home.” Fernando explains that the house’s duplicity functions as a security measure that allows him to hobnob with “influential people from around the world.” Al is impressed by the in-house Nando’s fast-food chain, which, in true exclusive fashion, is free for all invited guests. “You the Nando Nando?” Al asks Fernando, but no, he just likes the peri-peri sauce and is wildly rich. The two miscommunicate over their differing definitions of tree, and when Al tries to smoke some tree of his own, Fernando escorts him to his private poker room where they can smoke, drink, and gamble.
In the poker room, Al lights up at the table with a few older European men who inform him the game has a $20,000 buy-in. Al throws stacks of money on the table and, for a little dramatic flair, dumps out all the money in his bag. “Shiiiiiit,” he says as he leans into his seat feelin’ himself. As the poker game commences, Fernando asks him about his beliefs in the divine and the occult, to which Al is unsure but confirms that he does believe in God. “If you believe in God, you have to believe in the Devil,” Fernando tells him and cites violent mass murder and his own wealth as evidence of the Devil’s power. Of his own spiritual awakening, he tells a story about a Black ghost that broke into his home and touched his spirit, leaving him covered in ectoplasm. “That spirit came to me, it chose me, it cleansed me,” Fernando tells the men. Al laughs it off, likening it to a sex dream, but remains noticeably uncomfortable. In Fernando’s dreams, Blackness trespasses and titillates. After redirecting attention back to the game, Al wins a huge hand. Without celebration, Fernando walks away, and the other men at the table saunter off without a word. Al sits there confused. He won $40,000 from the game, and yet Fernando has disappeared when it is time to pay up. As the only Black man at the table, Al is ghosted, left with the story of a racialized ghost that, not unlike him, enters another’s home and gives of himself but gains nothing in return.
Meanwhile, Will introduces Earn and Van to TJ, a young Black British artist he is financing. TJ doesn’t even look at them until he hears that they are affiliated with Paper Boi. At this point, TJ introduces himself as a “multi-hyphenate” artist with “fingers in all the pies, bro.” Despite the hype, TJ’s work leaves both Earn and Van at a loss for words. As they look at one of his pieces, a photograph of an old white man in a Supreme sweatshirt and no bottoms, TJ calls them to note the “sadness” of the work. If there is anything particularly sad about the work, it is its lack of imagination. The photograph pantses its elderly subject for shock value and foregrounds the clothing of a streetwear brand that notably borrows its own aesthetics from artist Barbara Kruger. Van dryly puts it best: “So sad.” Will pulls Earn to the side to get his thoughts on TJ and his plans to invest in his idea for an influencer hostel. Earn doesn’t think TJ is talented and worries that he might be taking advantage of Will. It also doesn’t make matters simpler that TJ is watching him like a hawk every time he gets the chance to speak with Will. Faced with an apparent moral quandary, Earn grows anxious. After all, who, if not him, will protect that poor (but actually extremely wealthy!) white man from his own gullibility?
On another side of the house, Darius is in the kitchen trying to get some gin, when an Asian woman attending the party assumes he’s trying to flirt and dramatically shows her ring to ward off a conversation. When he clarifies his intentions, the woman, Will’s fiancée, MK, is rightfully embarrassed but unfortunately shameless in her apology. “I get hit on by Black men a lot,” she tells Darius. “Black guys love Asian women.” (It’s getting weird, MK!) Darius brushes it off and they part ways on good terms, but a white man named Socks tells Darius that he overheard the conversation and asserts that it was “fucked up.” Darius insists it was a “lightweight” offense, but Socks is more invested in signaling his solidarity with Darius as a Black man than actually practicing it. With Socks, Atlanta parodies the white progressive whose gestures feign concerns for others but, in fact, reveal an untenable self-centering. The telltale signs of such a mode include an inability to listen or respect Black voices when their perspectives do not serve the “ally” agenda or request more than performances of support. Drawing a crowd around Darius and exaggerating the details of the exchange, Socks declares to a group of hysterical white allies that what took place was “some real 12 Years a Slave shit.” Despite Darius’s consistent rebuttal, the crowd feasts on Socks’s version. “I’m not okay; I don’t know how you’re okay,” a white girl cries to Darius, who tries to explain that it’s not that big of a deal. But it’s too late, and when the white mob sees MK, they pounce on her without asking him what he wants. As it turns out, the performance of supporting him was nothing more than a license for white moral authority.
Al eventually finds Earn, and the two vent about their rough nights. Earn tells Al that TJ’s art sucks and he’s most likely taking advantage of Will. But Earn’s concern is partly selfish and misguided; he thinks TJ will make it harder for himself to access Will’s capital. Earn doesn’t understand that it is not Black mediocrity that makes Black art-making so precarious but the limited access to resources itself. The way Al sees it, sure, TJ might be scamming Will, but TJ is Black, and there are plenty of white kids scamming (“Hell, you think TikTok is?”) in this zero-sum game, which means “Black kids need to scam more.” As the words wash over Earn, he goes back to find Will but is stopped in his tracks by a framed photograph of three white men at the founding of Cape Town’s branch of the First Bank. Behind them, a Black man stands shackled in the shadows. Suddenly, Earn realizes the error in his thinking: The Black scammer is no match for white plunder. Thus when Earn finds Will, he decides not only to play along with TJ’s scheme but to get in on it as TJ’s manager. Will, of course, eats it up.
After Earn gets his piece of the pie, Al decides it’s time he got his. Ransacking Fernando’s home to make up for his debt, Al makes a show of robbing the billionaire. “Thanks for the Nando’s, bitch,” he shouts as they drive off. Where season two’s title of “Robbin’ Season” was a nod to the rise in robberies that plagues the Atlanta metro area in the days before the December holidays, this season continues the show’s interest in the themes of theft and loss. But unlike last season, which turned its lens toward the inner-city’s scramble for commercial goods, this season moves from Atlanta to Europe to uncover the unquantifiable losses wrought by history with humor and horror.
• English Breakfast Thief: Throughout the episode, Van is actively stealing small items from the house and placing them in the deep pockets of her robe. The queen of kleptos, she really said, “I’m from round the way; I’m leaving with something.” I’ll drink to that!
• Cedric Robinson Cider: “You know what that is, yeah, that’s ultimate white guilt,” a brown-skinned man says to Darius. Shocked by the persistence of racism in the U.K., Darius tells the man that he’d always thought “racism wasn’t really a thing here; I thought it was more about class.” The man corrects his assumption. “Racism and capitalism are hard to separate, innit,” he says. Somebody has been reading Black Marxism!
• Power to the People Pepsi: After the white mob attacks the Asian woman, Darius and the stranger discuss racism in Europe. “Anywhere you buy a can of Coke, some type of racism goin’ down there,” the man tells him. “What about Taco Bell?” Darius asks. The man is quiet and ponders for a few seconds. “They only do Pepsi, no racism,” he declares. Who can forget when Kendall Jenner tried to show us the way!
• Savage Mode Mule: When Al tells Will that he doesn’t listen to many British drill artists because he doesn’t understand them. Will responds and says, “Thank God for mumble rap, really gave us a leg up.” He then begins to name some British rappers, including none other than London-born Atlanta rapper 21 Savage.
• Reparations Root Beer Float: Vanessa pushes two different white people into the pool while at the party, and it seems to be a very cathartic moment for her. They fumble and float, but she’s buoyant.