After a four-year hiatus, season three of Atlanta returns with a question: What can’t water wash away?
Opening with a night-fishing scene in which two men, one white and one Black, discuss their unease on the water, episode one of the new season begins when a forgotten history rises to the surface. As the two men look out into the murky waters, the Black man suggests they call it a night. “Hey, man, I think it’s ’bout time we haul it up out of here,” he says. “Yeah, it might be,” the white man responds, agreeing to head out once he finishes his beer. As they sit, lacking urgency in their plans to leave, the Black man begins to share a traumatic childhood memory of nearly dying in the lake. “This place always gave me the heebie-jeebies, man,” he says. “I almost drowned in [the water] when I was, like, 8,” he explains, noting that he “felt like [he] was being pulled.” Unsurprised, the white man suggests that he was, in fact, being pulled.
“It’s a whole town underneath us,” the white man tells him. “This whole lake used to be a town. Houses, farms, roads, there’s a whole raceway down there. State government built a dam, flooded the place. Anyone who didn’t leave drowned,” he explains. “Town was Black, dude … a self-governing Black town.” The Black man pauses as the information washes over him. “So, there are Black people under us right now?” he says to the white man, more like a statement than a question. “A lot of souls down there. That’s what pulled you under,” the other man responds. As the white man muses on about the sunken city, the lake’s haunted past, and the blinding effects of whiteness, his voice begins to muffle and his eyes disappear. “We’re cursed too,” the white man says as an array of dark-skinned arms ascends from the water, dragging the Black man into its depths.
The story of a flooded Black town (anyone else getting Lake Lanier vibes?) fades into a bad dream as its host, a young boy named Loquareeous, wakes up from a nap at his middle-school desk. As he awakes, the dream of a Black Atlantis is swiftly replaced by the “Change Atlanta” initiative, a program sponsored by the Atlanta Falcons and Domino’s Pizza to “promote my Black history in the curriculum.” The teacher announces that the program’s first field trip will be to see a movie, Black Panther 2. Excited about these plans, Loquareeous takes to dancing on his desk as his majority-white classmates cheer him on. “Loquareeous, sit down,” the teacher shouts over the thunderous classroom as students bang on their desks to give him a beat. As one might expect, Loquareeous’s vibrance is short-lived. Soon, his mama and grandaddy are called into the school to address his “disruption.” His mother is annoyed and tells the Black principal to instruct the teachers to give him detention like any other kid in trouble.
While sitting in on the meeting, the white school counselor mentions her familiarity with Loquareeous due to previous times when outbursts in class sent him to her office and suggests that his behavior may indicate a need to be held back academically. Loquareeous’s mother bristles at the suggestion and rejects the idea outright in favor of her earlier suggestion. Before she and the grandfather leave, they pull Loquareeous to the side and force him to dance as punishment as the counselor looks on. As the boy whips and Nae Naes on the verge of tears, his mother lectures him about the heightened stakes of his behavior. “If you don’t start using your common sense and start actin’ right, these white people, they gon’ kill you,” his mother yells. “Yeah, you laughing with them now, but they gon’ be the only ones laughing when you dead or in jail.” The grandfather, a man of few words, steps closer to the boy and slaps him three times across the face. The counselor looks on, horrified. “Don’t worry, I’m gonna get you out of there,” she tells Loquareeous as she walks him back to class.
What follows next is a series of unfortunate events (shout-out to my fellow Lemony Snicket fans!).
After the white counselor reports Loquareeous’s mother, Atlanta’s Family and Children Services come to the house to do a welfare check with cops in tow, and his mother, indignant and convinced of her son’s hand in reporting her, sends the boy off with the authorities. Loquareeous’s caseworker brings him to a new home, where he is greeted by a slow-talking flowy-skirt-wearing white woman named Amber, who immediately tells Loquareeous that he can call her “Mom” (strike one!). In the house, which stinks of homemade kombucha (strike two!), Loquareeous meets his “new siblings,” three Black kids named Lanre, Yves, and Fatima. While Amber shares with Loquareeous that she is in the process of making olive-oil shampoos and pickling every vegetable known to man, her wife, Gail, enters.
Unlike Amber, who is highly eccentric and talkative but unstable in the ditziest way, Gail is cold, firm, and exacting. She immediately rejects Amber’s invitation to Loquareeous to call them both “Mom” and throughout the episode makes it crystal clear that she will get rid of anyone and anything that stands in her way, including her adoptive children. For what seems like weeks, Loquareeous struggles to adjust to this new home, where raw chicken is cooked in the microwave (strike three!!!), no one seems to know what a washcloth is, and his adoptive mother has taken the liberty to rename him Larry. Loquareeous hate hate hate hates his new home and begins observing his mother-captors closely as he waits for his opportunity to escape. As finances get tighter, Gail and Amber begin to deny the children food, forcing them to do agricultural labor in the family garden while hungry. “We didn’t eat lunch,” Loquareeous cries out, complaining of his hunger while bending down in the soil. “You’re supposed to be hungry. If you’re full, that means you ate too much,” Amber responds. Taking sick pleasure in watching the children toil, she encourages them to sing a song to help them focus on the work. Innocently, Loquareeous begins to croon NBA YoungBoy lyrics. “I feel like I’m Gucci Mane in 2006,” he sings. Amber quickly cuts him off, laughing as she suggests he sing something reminiscent of a Negro spiritual.
At the local farmers’ market, Amber and Gail force the children to wear “free hugs” signs in front of the family’s kombucha stand. Loquareeous, wearing a fedora no child should have to wear, runs when he sees a white cop and tries to get help and quickly learns that he has no allies. “They make me sleep in a storage closet,” he tells the officer as he hugs him, holding on tight. The cop pushes him off, and when his mothers come to retrieve him, the cop dismisses Loquareeous’s concerns. “I think he’s just tired,” the officer tells the women. “All four of our children are Black, so we always make sure to tell them that the police are their friends,” Amber explains to the cop. The image of Loquareeous hugging the cop makes the front page of a local paper with the headline “Free(dom) Hugs.”
By this point, if you haven’t already picked up on the parallels, it becomes fairly evident that Loquareeous’s story is eerily familiar precisely because it borrows from the real story of Devonte Hart and his five foster siblings — Ciera, Abigail, Jeremiah, Hannah, and Markis — a group of Black children in foster care who were killed by their adoptive white mothers Jennifer and Sarah Hart in 2018 in a murder-suicide in Mendocino County, California, after years of abuse and relocation throughout the West Coast. Though he was presumed dead along with his foster siblings, Devonte’s body was never recovered.
In keeping with this gruesome story, the fictional Amber and Gail go on to commit the same violence as the very real women who inspired their characters. After antagonizing Loquareeous for being “a snitch” and later disappearing a Black caseworker who comes by to conduct a wellness check and discovers the children to be far from well, Gail sets the plan in motion. Amber is frantic and uneasy but maintains her allegiance to her evil wife. When she lies and tells the children they are going on a trip to the Grand Canyon, Loquareeous knows this erratic excursion is a bad omen. “Where are we going, really?” he asks. The answer is unspoken. The children, piled up in the back of the family minivan, communicate with one another with their eyes. Sensing imminent doom, Loquareeous shoots over a look that says, “These white women are gonna kill us.” The other children, having been in the home longer than him, lack his alarm. “We know,” one of his brothers says with a knowing glance. “Sweet release,” submits another. “My hair hurts,” Fatima whimpers without opening her mouth. After a short stop to set their dog Cornpop free, the adoptive mothers seal their children’s fates after a brief conversation. “Without us to protect them, what’s gonna happen to these kids? They’re gonna go back into foster care, they just release them in the wild like Cornpop; we’d be prolonging the inevitable,” Gail asserts, explaining to her wife why they must go through with the plan. “I don’t think I can do this,” Amber whines from the driver’s seat. “Don’t look back,” Gail tells her. Looking toward the back of the van as Amber drives the car off the ledge, Gail sees Loquareeous roll out the trunk before the rest of the family fall to their deaths. Loquareeous looks over the bridge as the van sinks and walks home, where he finds a key under the doormat and reunites with his mother.
A dream within a dream, Loquareeous’s story comes to a close just like the sinking town woke him from his sleep. Atlanta’s lead Earn wakes up and Loquareeous recedes into the dreamscape. Life is but a nightmare?
Songs of the South
• Something for the Hotties: When I saw Amber put that raw chicken leg in the microwave, I immediately thought of season one of VH1’s Flavor of Love when Hottie put a whole entire chicken in the microwave. “I think putting a chicken in the microwave is like the most sanitary thing you could do, plus it doesn’t have all the extra calories from the grease,” Hottie said emphatically, confident in her salmonella serve.
• Spaghetti Junction: This episode was a rough return, but one of the small moments of tenderness was when Loquareeous returns home to his mother. As soon as he gets in, he starts washing dishes and she comes over to him. “Ma?” he asks. “Yes, baby?” she responds. “There spaghetti in there?” he inquires, gesturing toward the fridge. “Yeah, there’s spaghetti in there,” his mom responds with a soft smile. If I’m being honest, I was not feeling his mom, but I hope that was the best bowl of spaghetti she ever made ’cause after everything he’d been through? That baby deserves it!