The last time “Atlanta” was on the air — May 10, 2018 — Donald Trump was still president, no one had heard of COVID, and the show’s creator, Donald Glover, debuted as Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars.” Story,” which was released later that month. If you can’t remember a time like that, don’t worry: no one else can either.
Season 3 of “Atlanta” — long delayed by both Glover’s schedule and the pandemic — is slated to premiere on FX on Thursday with two episodes (they’ll stream on Hulu the following day). And thankfully, the show, which Glover starred in for season one, filmed and directed Emmy awards, seasons 3 and 4 back-to-back. UnhappyGlover announced last month that the show’s fourth season, which will premiere in the fall, will be the last of “Atlanta.”
But none of these facts help you remember where the second season of “Atlanta” ended, so let’s get started now.
The show’s second season, “Atlanta Robbin’ Season” – coined by Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) in Episode 1 as he surveys the aftermath of a deadly crime and says “Robbin’ Season: Christmas is approaching, and everyone must eat – inventively deviated from the structure of the show’s first season. While there were certainly episodes where the “Atlanta” ensemble of Earn (Glover), Alfred, aka Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), Van (Zazie Beetz), and Darius were together in various combinations, the 11-episode season was hugely imaginative episodes that have ever broken every format “Atlanta” – or any show on television. In the fifth episode, “Barbershop”, for example, Alfred just wants a haircut from his favorite barber, Bibby (Robert Powell III) – but instead, he’s taken across town on a wild adventure; it’s the tonal opposite of the also Alfred-focused “Woods” (Episode 8), when he escapes a robbery, and ends up lost and alone in a forest, unable to get out. (Both episodes were written by Stefani Robinson.) In “Champagne Papi,” Van just wants to take a selfie with Drake after breaking up with Earn, but ends up at an absurd New Year’s Eve party (no, Drake isn’t there — but there are two cardboard cutouts of him for photos). And then there’s the indescribable “Teddy Perkins” – directed by “Atlanta” author Hiro Murai – in which Glover (white-faced and terrifying) plays the title character, who lured Darius to his mansion with the promise of a free piano to . .. well it’s not quite clear, but not for any good. “Teddy Perkins” is a rumination about child abuse, and about race as well as the presentation of race (think: Michael Jackson). It is a 34 minute horror film.
But the main theme of “Atlanta Robbin’ Season” is whether Earn can hack it as Alfred’s manager, and get his cousin’s rap career — which grows as the season progresses, almost despite Earn’s management — where it needs to be. In “North of the Border”, the ninth episode of the season, Alfred almost tells Earn that he is about to fire him – a conversation brought about by yet another mistake by Earn.
Which brings us to “Crabs in a Barrel,” the Season 2 finale of “Atlanta,” directed by Murai and written by Donald’s brother Stephen Glover. Here are six key things to remember before diving into the FX show’s third season. While remarkable, and perhaps quintessential of “Atlanta” at the moment, the season premiere does not pick up where the second season ended. But we’ll get there.
things are rather tension between Earn and Alfred
Alfred, never the most effusive person, seems to be annoyed with Earn by his body language and speech. The two are looking for an entertainment lawyer for Alfred, and Earn is not only late to their meeting with a potential, but he has brought Lottie (Mia Atehortua), his toddler. But Alfred doesn’t like this lawyer anyway – he finds it appalling that the man represents only one other rapper and has cast members from “Love and Hip-Hop: Atlanta” as clients. “Just find me a big firm—Jewish dude,” Alfred Earn orders. They are about to leave for a European tour, which Alfred attributes to Luke (Matthew Barney), who leads rapper Clark County (RJ Wilson). Earn clumsily says, “Yeah, but you should be the headliner on that tour.” Alfred reacts sharply: “That should be me. But I’m not.”
They leave for Europe that night and Earn oversees the move of Alfred and Darius from their home
The movers, who drink at work, don’t help matters. As Earn looks around, Alfred points to a box with a gold pistol in it — the one Uncle Willie (Katt Williams) had handed to Earn in the season premiere. Is it Chekhov’s weapon? Whatever it is, it goes off. “You’re going to confuse me,” Alfred tells Earn, who promises to get rid of it.
Then Darius tells a stressed-out Earn that his passport has expired, but he knows a place where he can get one that day.
But first Earn meets Van at Lottie’s kindergarten
Earn and Van have no idea why they’ve been called there, and they’re nervous – but Lottie’s teacher (Greta Glenn) is relieved to tell them she’s an advanced child. She says Lottie should go to a private school, a school she talked about with a friend, and has a “reasonable education,” she says. Earn and Van try to postpone it, panicked at the idea of paying tuition, and ask if Lottie can stay at the school she’s at now. “Stay here?” asks the teacher startled. “No. This school is terrible.” Earn asks if they can do something that would be cheaper “Keep her in a happy two parent home,” the teacher replies. Phew.
They leave together and Van confirms that Earn will be touring for two months – adding that if Lottie goes to private school she will need Earn to be more present. Van then says she knew Lottie would be gifted. “You’re smart,” she says. “I thought some of it would be passed on, hopefully.” Earn says, “You’re smart too.” He says goodbye to Lottie and emerges with tears in his eyes.
Earn and Darius sitting in the rush passport office discussing the right way to pee, surrounded by Orthodox Jewish men
They are called to a window and the clerk (Daniel Annone) confirms that, yes, they can renew Darius’ passport in a few hours, much to Earn’s surprise. He asks if they’re touring as part of a “rap entourage,” which also surprises Earn, who asks how he guessed. “We kind of have a specific clientele here, and rappers are procrastinators — no offense,” the clerk says. He has heard of Paper Boi and Clark and asks if Al needs a lawyer: “My cousin is primo.” Earn asks him if he thinks there are any black lawyers who are as good as his cousin. “It certainly is,” the clerk says cautiously. “But part of being good at your job is your connections. And black people just don’t have the connections that my cousin has — for systemic reasons.”
As they begin to wait, Earn gets a text from Van that she is thinking of going back to her mother’s house – with Lottie. Obviously she doesn’t trust Earn at this point, and he slumps into a chair and takes in the lyrics. Earn asks Darius if he thinks Alfred is going to fire him. “I don’t know,” Darius says. “Could be.” Earn looks like he could cry and says, “I know you’re always at peace with everything, but my whole world is falling down.” Darius tries to assure him that if Alfred fires him, he will do it in Europe so Earn can see the world.
For the last time at home, they find Alfred on the bench in the field
Earn asks him if they can talk. “Let’s talk when we land, man,” Alfred replies, possibly confirming Darius’ theory. They go to the airport and we see that they barely make it through security – where they encounter Clark and Luke. Alfred hugs Luke, who says to him, “Did you see that lawyer I sent you?” It’s a question that makes Earn wince – but he doesn’t know yet that he’s about to get revenge, albeit by accident.
As they search their bags at the TSA checkpoint, Earn opens his backpack only to find that he forgot to put the gun away. Here, Murai muffles the sounds of the busy airport while Earn quietly ponders his options. He turns to Clark and Luke and asks for a trash can – and then we see he made it through security. “Whose is this bag?” shouts a guard behind them, but Earn gets no further.
As Alfred and Earn board the plane, Earn squints at the window seat. “I saw what you did,” Al says to him softly. “At TS. You don’t have to say shit.” Earn stares straight ahead, both half-asleep and full of fear, bracing himself. Al continues: “You, my family, Deserve. You’re the only one who knows what I’m talking about. It can you care. I need that. Aight?” Earn nods.
Clark passes them as he goes to his seat: without Luke. “Luke got in trouble. The police took him away,” he said. Clark describes the golden gun and Darius looks confused. Earn turns to Alfred and says meaningfully, “The piece was in Clark’s bag.” Earn tried to get Paper Boi that headliner spot anyway – but now they both know how ambitious Clark is instead. As if there were any doubts.
This gun, fans of “Atlanta”, certainly has: not left for the last time.
One last scene: poor Tracy
The sun has set on the couch and we hear Tracy (Khris Davis) banging on the door – Tracy having beaten up Earn at Earn’s self-destructive assignment in “North of the Border”.
Alfred didn’t even tell Tracy he was leaving. Or move. Although Earn thought Alfred betrayed him in favor of Tracy, who was partially responsible for the comically disastrous events in that episode, Alfred has in fact chosen to remain loyal to his cousin and manager: Earn.