I’ve learned over the course of two seasons that when it comes to Atlanta go in expecting anything. When I first started watching the show I was following Donald Glover who I loved through his work in Community and his music. I was a fan and wanted to see what he could do in control of everything. I thought Atlanta was going to be another comedy from a writer/actor who I admired. I didn’t expect the show to be as complex and layered as it is. Atlanta is a comedy but it’s so much more than that. Here is a show whose presentation is so stylized and intricate that you that you don’t even want to classify it. Atlanta is Atlanta and there’s nothing else quite like it. Donald and Stephen Glover have given us complex storytelling that isn’t easy all the time. When it comes to subject matter or deciphering an episodes bigger message, you have to work for it. Atlanta is giving us a show that you can take at face value and be satisfied but becomes infinitely better when you take the time to peel away the layers. When you look deeper you see and appreciate the genius in the weirdness.
This season has focused a lot on telling character isolated stories hitting series highs with “Barbershop” and the genius “Teddy Perkins”. Sometimes when a show chooses to focus on a character or two per episode it risks isolating an audience. Fans who are there for the ensemble, but with season two of Atlanta the show has not only been adding new depth to characters but expanding this universe which seems to be a twisted version of our own. A place where rappers own invisible cars and Drake is Mexican. These subtle little twists that divide our two worlds. These subtle little twists that make Atlanta real but also an exaggeration.
When it comes character work season two has dived deeply into our semi-famous, usually gruff, rapper Alfred “Paper Bio” Miles who has been played tremendously by Brian Tyree Henry. Seriously, when this season is over Henry deserves a ton of nominations for his work in “Barbershop” and in last night’s “Woods”. Henry has taken the Paper Bio character who could have easily been just another disgruntled grumpy character and given him emotional depth and made him seem human. Henry’s portrayal is only half of the equation as Stefani Robinson, who wrote both “Barbershop” and “Woods”, seems to be so tapped in to what makes Alfred tick. The combo of the two has been one of this season’s highlights.
With that in mind, we focus on “Woods” which is the most personal look we’ve gotten at Alfred since the series has started. Here is a man who wants to be a rapper, who loves music, but wants nothing to do with the fame, or semi-fame, that it’s brought him. Paper Bio just keeps it real. He can’t be bothered with taking a photo with a fan or getting free stuff from clothing stores. He wants to still peddle drugs and do whatever he wants. That’s his image but in turn, it’s part of Alfred’s personality where he feels that maybe he can’t be bothered. I think a lot of that has to do with the passing of his mother, which the episode alludes to with the opening flashback and the number of characters who check up on Al throughout the episode, and the idea that nothing is permanent so just be true to yourself. Yet, Al isn’t being true to himself. There’s a degree of self-loathing within him and when it comes to celebrating even the slightest amount of success he sort of self-sabotages. Think of the basketball game in season one with Justin Bieber or more recently the rap show in the office. Al can’t be bothered because those things aren’t keeping it real, but a part of him knows that if he’s going to find success within music that this is what needs to be done.
The “Woods” is a giant metaphor for Paper Bio deciding what career path he’s going to take. Is he going to commit to the fame and popularity that he’s earned or is he just going to be another rapper who just vanishes into obscurity? The argument he has with the girl he’s seeing, who is Instagram famous, forces Al into a scenario where he has to choose. On a day that he’s filled with grief and just wants to remember his mother, Al is robbed by some would be fans who see him walking the streets. As they pursue him through the woods, Al is able to hide and survive. What follows is a bit of a walkabout. Al bumps into an old man who seems to know quite a bit about what’s going on as he mentions the muggers, music, and Alfred’s mother. My first impression was this man was never really there but that changed as the episode continued.
As night settles in the old man again finds Paper Bio and tells him he needs to make a choice. Either leave the woods or die here, but if he chooses to die then the old man is going to take his shoes, his wallet, his everything implying there are a hundred other people just like him looking for there shot. Then to punctuate these threats the old man puts a boxcutter to Al’s throat. It’s here that we see Al stripped away of all the bravado and tough guy exterior. With a boxcutter to his throat on the anniversary of his mother’s death, Al is human. With tears rolling down his cheeks he chooses not to die and then things get very Atlanta. Al dives forward leaving the old man standing there, an emergency broadcast alarm goes off, and we return to the show with a chunk of time missing. The old man is still standing there counting down to Al’s death acting as if Al didn’t get out of the way, and my immediate thought was Darius was right. If you recall last week, Darius spoke how the world we’re living in is nothing but a simulation, and it was easy to play that off as the talk of someone who was super high. It seems this week might have cashed in on that idea though. The emergency broadcast alarm and the fact that the old man doesn’t realize Al has moved certainly seem like a glitch in the Matrix. Could Darius be on to something here? Is the Atlanta universe filled with slight differences because it, in fact, is a simulation? I’ve often said that Darius is the spiritual guide to this show and I’m willing to throw my trust in him.
All that aside, Al escapes the woods and chooses to embrace his music career. At a gas station he’s approached by a fan and even though he’s emotionally exhausted, battered and bloody, Paper Bio agrees to take a number of photos with the fan. Even telling him to be careful out there as he walks off screen. What does this mean going forward? One has to believe that if Al is going all in on the rap career Earn’s job as manager can’t be alive much longer. Earn works hard, sort of, but he doesn’t have the connections that Paper Bio’s going to need. If Al breaks that connection what happens to their relationship? Can Earn survive because right now he’s walking around with a sense of inflated ego and sort of burning bridges, especially with Van. Getting fired would bring the whole house of cards down. With three episodes left we’ll just have to wait and see.
There you have it Geeklings, what did you think of the latest episode of Atlanta? Did Alfred make the right choice? Will Earn still have a job when the season ends? Are we actually living in a simulation? Sound off in the comments. If you’d like to talk more Atlanta you can find me on Twitter @iamgeek32. See everyone next week!
Images from FX