In its fourth and final season, Atlanta returns to the Peach State after following Earn, Alfred, Darius, and Van as they journeyed through Europe during Paper Boi’s tour. The third season’s experimental nature and gravitation toward the absurd were both lauded and critiqued by many, making us all curious about how Donald Glover and his team would handle the ending of such a beloved series. Glover described the last two installments of the show as “some of the best television ever made,” tweeting that only The Sopranos could compare. Although the reception to the penultimate season was polarized, to say the least (we even removed it from our “Best Television of 2022” list), I still have hope for this last season.
Most of my personal feelings about season three stem from my belief that I simply was not the target audience. I’m a Black woman writer and scholar of popular culture — I don’t need certain things spelled out to me, especially in a revelatory fashion. As much as I admire and appreciate Glover’s work, my main critique for him remains the same: His writing too often panders to white audiences. I prefer my Black art more Toni Morrison style; that is to say, I enjoy when creative projects are in conversation with the Black community versus projects attempting to explain the community to outsiders. There’s nothing inherently wrong with projects that do that, and I would argue it’s at times necessary, but man, do I love watching Black art soar without the restrictions of the white gaze or the anticipation of a white reaction. Many of the episodes in the first two seasons were a great example of this.
Coming back to Atlanta is the perfect and most obvious way to begin such a bittersweet ending, bringing the characters and actors back to where it all started. Atlanta is at its best when exploring themes of race, power, and culture through the core characters, and it’s hard to capture that outside of, well, Atlanta. Picking up after an undisclosed amount of time since the European tour, the episode opens with Darius attempting to return an air fryer to Target while the store is being actively looted. He approaches the counter in his usual aloof nature, unaware of what’s happening around him until the lone employee brings the store’s status to his attention, to which he understandably replies, “It kinda looks like a Marshalls in here.” He still tries to return the air fryer, but when the employee opens the register to get the cash, he pockets Darius’s money and flees. Darius tries to leave the store himself, air fryer in tow, but a white woman in a wheelchair is white-womaning at the exit, preventing the looters from leaving. It reminds me of a tweet I read once that said something like, “White people act like God left them in charge.” This woman is the embodiment of that tweet: She’s literally standing/sitting guard in her wheelchair, demanding that the looters return their items. (This is based on “Target Jennifer,” a Minneapolis woman in a wheelchair who attacked looters with a knife during the protests over the death of George Floyd.) Darius eventually bypasses her as the looters fight her off with fire extinguishers until she brandishes a knife. The last one standing in the aftermath, she sets her sights on Darius, following him with her knife armed and ready and her wheelchair motor purring as he runs to Alfred’s car.
Darius makes it to Alfred’s idle car waiting in never-ending Atlanta traffic. Alfred is mourning one of his favorite rappers, Blue Blood, after hearing of his death over the radio while Darius is in the store. They listen to Blue Blood’s latest drop until the wheelchair-bound Karen from Target catches up to them, swinging her knife at the passenger door, causing Darius to leap out of the car and take off running. Fed up with the traffic and an annoying fan trying to film him on his IG Live, Al pulls away to a gas station when he notices he’s across the street from a barbecue joint mentioned in the Blue Blood album he’s been listening to. He ventures into the restaurant and asks for the same meal Blue Blood raps about in the song: a zoo pie. Unaware of what a zoo pie even is, Alfred places an order with the standoffish man behind the counter, presumably the “Sonny with a mean mug” mentioned in the song. The zoo pie, which is revealed to be a concoction including baked beans and Fritos, comes in a blue Styrofoam box with an emblem featuring two B’s stamped on the inside of the lid and an address transcribed below. He realizes he’s stumbled upon a scavenger hunt with the clues sprinkled throughout the lyrics of Blue Blood’s final album.
The address and lyrics take Alfred to a community-pool locker room, where he finds coins with the same double-B emblem in one of the lockers. From there, still following the lyrics, he uses the coins to play a game at an arcade to win a T-shirt with a thumbs-up graphic on the front. This somehow leads Alfred to meet with a man who has a QR code tattooed on his forearm, sending him next to a comic-book shop where he finds a comic that features the double-B emblem. Next, he finds himself at a laundromat where a pair of 3-D movie glasses are waiting for him, sending him to a movie theater and, finally, after the movie, to a random storefront location. He enters, and taking in his surroundings, he sees he’s at a funeral. The only person there is a woman dressed in black, who tells him she’s Gary, a.k.a. Blue Blood’s wife. She explains that this is the funeral he wanted; the scavenger hunt was another way to outdo himself even in the afterlife. Knowing he was fatally sick, he recorded his album and made arrangements for the various items he laid out for those of his fans who accepted the quest. Alfred is apparently only the fifth person to show up, a testament to his passion as a fan and his own connection to Blue Blood now that he’s a famous rapper himself.
After Alfred says his good-byes to the casket, which features a fake skeleton in lieu of Gary’s now cremated body, Van, Earn, and Kenya, one of Earn’s previous flings, erupt from a random door in the room. Atlanta’s tendency for absurdism is alive and well in this episode through each character’s Alice in Wonderland–esque journey down a rabbit hole. While Alfred was on his scavenger hunt and Darius was running from a woman in a wheelchair, Earn took Van to Atlantic Station to get a new phone. As soon as they arrive, he runs into Kenya … and then another ex at the AT&T store. Van also runs into an ex, who happens to have been working at that same AT&T for the past ten years. They keep walking through the shopping center, passing more and more of their past romantic partners. They try to leave but get lost in what seems like an endless labyrinth of a parking lot until they run back into Kenya, who says she feels as if she’s been lost for a really long time. Earn and Van ask her point blank how long she’s been at Atlantic Station, asking what movie was playing at the cinema when she first arrived. She says it was Now You See Me 2, which was released in 2016.
Stuck in the graveyard of their coital pasts, Van and Earn find the emergency exit. At first hesitant to venture into the unknown under such circumstances, Van eventually allows Earn to lead her through the dark. The camera goes black, and we only hear their voices describing the area as having sopping-wet carpeted walls with little to no light. They kick their way through and stumble into Blue Blood’s funeral with Kenya following shortly after. As they walk out to the car, so Al can take them home, Darius hobbles into the parking lot asking for a ride home as well. Kenya, whose original 2016 mission to Atlantic Station was to get a gift for her dad, realizes she never actually got the gift. Darius gives her the unwanted air fryer and leaves her to wait for an Uber in the parking lot. Al, Earn, Van, and Darius drive off as Kenya waits; the final scene of the episode is a tight shot of the back of Kenya’s head as the purring of a wheelchair motor draws closer.
Atlanta After Hours
• Though it had some great moments, the third season left me less than satisfied and, truthfully, a little weary about what to expect next, but this episode was pretty solid. All of my favorite moments from last season were the episodes that followed the main characters, so starting with them, as opposed to a stand-alone story line, eased my worries.
• Being back in Atlanta after traveling internationally and evolving as much as they all have presents a number of interesting routes for storytelling. I appreciated the rabbit-hole concept of Van and Earn’s experience at Atlantic Station — the redundancy of being stuck in a loop is very symbolic of returning home after periods of immense growth.
• Hiro Murai’s eye is luring me to move to Atlanta; as much as the cinematography of the previous season was beyond gorgeous amid the striking European backdrops, there’s just something about how this show captures the city that makes me want to become a Georgia peach.