When Earn wakes up in a bed in Copenhagen, it only takes his phone a few seconds on the charger to reboot and remind him of his reality. As the messages flood in, a symphony of alerts and notification sounds swell. “Flight 3256 to Amsterdam will begin boarding in 2 hours,” reads a message from Swiss Air. “Yo where the fuck you at I need 20k,” Alfred texts him. A text from Van asking to be picked up from Schiphol airport lights up his phone once more. As he looks at the screen, Earn is set into a frenzy as he scours the room for his clothes. “Do you know where my underwear or my belt is?” he asks the woman he shared the bed with. She shakes her head. “Do you speak English” he inquires. Silence is an answer. After scrambling to get everything, Earn grabs a taxi to take him to the airport and calls Darius, who informs him that Al is being held in a Dutch jail. Darius, who has been “high since twilight,” is already in Amsterdam and is having the time of his life in the so-called Venice of the North. “This city is my Jesus,” he exclaims. Before his phone dies, Earn tells Darius to meet Van at the airport. Darius is confused about why Van, who ended things with Earn the season before, is even coming to Amsterdam. “Baby mama drama,” he sighs after Earn’s phone cuts off.
When Darius picks up Van, he learns that she has lost her luggage, and the two set out to find her a new coat. Feeling lost after losing a job she really wanted, Van came to Amsterdam to “figure it out” and struggles to hide the glaze of sadness in her eyes. In between some awkward small talk with Darius, Van picks a multi-patterned jacket and finds a slip of paper with an address on it in the pocket. “You have to follow it. It’s destiny,” Darius tells her, and just like that, the two set out to track down the coat’s original owner. Thanks to the “tour clout” which has accorded the duo a driver, the two are able to indulge in the adventure. They follow the address to home and, instead of turning back, decide to go along with it when a woman comes out of the home and assumes they are her drivers. The woman and her posse dressed in all white provide directions to another home. As Van and Darius enter, they are each given a white scarf and granted entrance into what they soon learn is a death ceremony led by a local death doula who explains that she is “here to help [her] friend and the people who love him let go.”
The dying man in question is Black and laying on a bed in the center of the room. “Pretty sure that’s Tupac,” Darius remarks hypothesizing that the theory of Tupac in the Caribbean could refer to the Dutch-colonized Caribbean. “How high are you right now,” Van asks. “High four sliding into five,” he answers. After being avoidant and crushing a plate of deviled eggs, Van connects with the death doula, sharing that she’s been experiencing panic attacks and feels “pretty aimless” as of late. “I think you’re exactly where you’re meant to be,” the doula tells her. Later, when the doula announces that the dying man is “ready to say goodbye,” Van volunteers to join the doula in sending him off. She looks at the man and holds his hand when suddenly the doula presses a button and the bed’s canopy comes down and suffocates not-Tupac. The group watches as the man struggles to breathe, gasping aggressively before he submits to his fate. Van is horrified, having expected less gruesome methods.
Once Earn arrives at the airport, he is running late for his flight but is right on time for embarrassment. When a man from airport security informs him that they have to pat him down to let him through to his gate, Earn tries to explain that he is without a belt or underwear and will be exposed if he raises his arms. The security agent insists. As his arms lift, his pants fall to the ground. After surviving being ass out in the airport, Earn manages to make it onto his plane. When he arrives at the venue for one of Al’s Paper Boi tour stops in Amsterdam, he meets with the organizer, who tells him that show is sold out, but the music laptop cannot be located. With six hours to find the laptop and have it sent to the venue, Earn is feeling the pressure. Without providing details about Paper Boi’s incarceration, Earn lets the man know that his artist will need an advance on his pay to the tune of $20,000. The event organizer pulls out a metallic case and hands Earn the money despite his shock.
Unbeknownst to Earn, however, Al is really enjoying his stay in a Dutch jail. When we first see him in the episode, Al is putting in his order for lunch as if the guard were room service at a hotel (not him asking for the specials in lock-up!). After ordering a bean soup (per the guard’s recommendation) and a Coca-Cola (with cubed ice not crushed!), he and the guard chat like old pals. When the guard informs him that fans are outside the jail with “Free Paper Boi” signs, he is pleased by their loyalty. Once his bail has been paid, Al doesn’t jump to his feet. “Imma get my lunch first,” he tells the guard before requesting that he hit the lights and reset the thermostat so he can finish his nap in the meantime. Fresh out of lock-up, Al is asking the guard about the fabric softener the jail uses when he sees Earn. When he tries to greet his cousin-manager, Earn unleashes a violent sneeze (throughout the episode, this man is coughing and hacking like he’s auditioning for a Mucinex commercial) which ultimately kills the reunion vibes. Bail turned out to be cheaper than expected, so Earn gives the remaining money to Al, who throws the dollars on his fans as a show of appreciation. Unlike season two, when Al’s difficulty adjusting to fame quite literally left him in the woods, this season, the chasm between Al and his persona, Paper Boi, appears to be closing.
Nonetheless, as Earn and Al walk away from the police station, anti-Blackness works to close the distance between Atlanta and Amsterdam. As the two walk away from the police station, they see a Dutch Saint Nicholas and his companion, a character named Zwarte Piet, a Blackmoor from Spain, who is represented with blackface and a curly afro-ed wig. “What’s with all the blackface?” Earn asks their Dutch driver, who asserts that the skin coloring is merely a reference to soot from the character’s chimney fall. “Sounds like Santa’s slave, but I respect the rebrand,” Earn responds.
When Earn and Al make it to their hotel, they are greeted with more and more blackface from the doormen to the cleaning staff. Shrinking to avoid two women in the lobby, Al rushes to the room. “I cannot with those crazy hoes today,” he says. When Earn asks if the girls are the reason Al was arrested he tells him he doesn’t wanna talk about it, but when they get to the room, the mess tells part of the story. “What the hell happened in here?” Earn asks. Al recalls taking two Dutch girls to bed (one Black and one white) when suddenly, a racist comment by the white woman is met with a slap and a heated fight between the women ensued, destroying the room. Exhausted from the aftermath of this incident, Al decides to take a shower while Earn takes a moment to call the transportation company to get the music laptop that was left in Helsinki during a previous tour stop in Finland. Later, when the laptop is recovered, a new problem arises.
When Al arrives at the Amsterdam venue prepared to perform as Paper Boi, he quickly notices that the entire audience is in blackface, their fake fros bouncing with anticipation. To become a global sensation requires an embrace of audience expansion, but to do so while Black, one must also face being consumed by audiences whose engagements with your craft will always bend toward caricature. And there is perhaps no more explicit representation of this dreaded anti-Black arc of popularity than to be a Black performer entertaining a crowd of minstrels. “Turn the clogs around bro; we ain’t doin’ this shit,” Al tells Darius.
Earn tells the event organizer that Paper Boi is sick and won’t be able to perform (after last season, he better be on his best managerial behavior!) and tells him that the insurance claim should cover the loss and more. “You fuck me?” the organizer asks, steaming with rage. “I don’t fuck anyone,” says Earn with an awkward laugh as he backs away slowly. The organizer flies into a rage and chases Earn out of the venue after vowing to destroy him. Looking for a proxy for Earn to attack, the man opts to brutalize a random concert attendee in blackface. “Why are you making me do this to you?” the man screams. When Earn finally makes it back to his hotel room, he flops onto the bed and has barely sunk into the mattress when his phone dings with a text from Al saying he’s hungry. “I need 300 pieces of fried chicken,” the message reads. “All legs.” Earn rolls over as if to rest, then rises once more.
Making a List and Checking it Twice
• Ice Me Out: Van was in the hotel hallway getting ice at four a.m., and I just want to know, is my sister anemic? All my iron-deficient baddies know eating ice is a way of life. We love representation! Van said we’re gonna be aimless and anemic all 2022!
• Hot Sauce in My Bag: When Al asks the jail guard if they have hot sauce, the man confirms that they do but warns him that it is “very spicy” and suggests that he doesn’t use too much. “Psssh, man, please, I’m from the A,” Al retorts.