‘Atlanta’ Season 4 Episode 3 Assessment: ‘Born To Die’ — Spoilers

In referencing the cousins’ most pivotal dialog so far, Episode 3 emphasizes how a lot has modified — and the way rather more nonetheless might.

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Atlanta” Season 4, Episode 3, “Born To Die.”]

Many desire to maintain enterprise and household separate, however for Earn (Donald Glover) and Alfred (Brian Tyree Henry), they’ve all the time been linked. Whether or not it was the shared social foreign money that stored Earn afloat in grade faculty (see: “Fubu”) or the partnership they shaped as burgeoning rap star and aspiring supervisor, the non-public {and professional} have all the time shaped a joint juggling act in “Atlanta.” However befitting the sequence’ remaining season, maybe it’s time for his or her act to finish.

Earlier than Paper Boi was making $1 million for “rap” classes, earlier than his long-running European tour, earlier than the boys even left Atlanta, Earn handed his survival check. All through Season 2, supervisor and managee weren’t seeing eye to eye. Mounting stress to boost Paper Boi’s profile mixed with a disastrous faculty live performance cease led to a frank dialog concerning the cousins’ shared future.

“Look: You’re household, man, and I’m attempting to journey with you, however generally that shit ain’t sufficient — as a result of cash is vital,” Alfred tells Earn. “I can see precisely what’s taking place out right here. It’s getting colder. It’s getting more durable to eat. […] I gotta make my subsequent strikes my greatest strikes, man, so one thing’s gotta shake. I don’t assume you’re minimize out for it.”

At first, Earn was petulant and dismissed his cousin’s lack of religion. In spite of everything, he’d felt disrespected or taken benefit of for a lot of the season — routinely arguing he was in the proper, even when it was clear that being proper wasn’t sufficient to unravel any issues. However when push got here to shove — or, extra explicitly, when a gold gun got here to mild within the airport safety line — Earn swallowed his pleasure and sense of righteousness, did what he needed to do, and moved the weapon from his bag to another person’s. He made certain that Paper Boi wouldn’t see his tour delayed or disrupted — that Alfred wouldn’t lose cash due to Earn.


Brian Tyree Henry in “Atlanta”

Man D’Alema / FX

“Simply know that’s precisely what I’m speaking about,” Alfred mentioned, as soon as they’d been safely seated on the airplane. “[People] don’t care about us, man. [People] are gonna do no matter they gotta do to outlive as a result of they ain’t acquired no selection. We ain’t acquired no selection both. You my household, Earn. You the one one who is aware of what I’m about. And also you give a fuck. I want that.”

Earn handed the check, however it’s uncertain he knew what it might value him. The no-nonsense, business-first model of Glover’s character we see in Season 3 makes clear he’s taken Alfred’s directive to coronary heart. He backs Paper Boi, on a regular basis, it doesn’t matter what. If the star desires to bail on a gig, Earn will get him out of there — even when the venue’s managers had simply bailed Paper Boi out of jail. When concert events do get began, Earn walks Alfred to the stage, listens to ensure every little thing’s operating easily, after which will get again to work behind the scenes. Whereas Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) cuts unfastened dancing, Earn robotically mouths the phrases till he’s happy the present is unfolding as supposed.

A lot of Season 3 retains Earn’s personal emotional state at a distance, however it doesn’t take lengthy for Season 4 to make up the bottom. Episode 2, “The Homeliest Little Horse,” illustrates his lingering resentment in excessive trend, as Earn let’s his spite circulation through an elaborate, prolonged, and brazenly hateful plot to destroy a girl’s desires. He hires actors, writes a script, and throws a “wrap social gathering” at a bar, the place video of her public embarrassment performs on a loop. The goal of Earn’s ire is much from harmless, however the revenge plot is an excessive amount of for Darius and Alfred, who try early, and the episode ends with Earn admitting he ought to most likely return to remedy.

But I’d argue Episode 3 makes an much more pointed insinuation of who Earn has grow to be and why.

Close to the top of “Born To Die,” whereas the Grammys Paper Boi was slated to attend are nonetheless airing, he, Darius, and Earn meet at a bar to observe Yodel Child — Alfred’s short-lived (too quickly?) YWE (“Younger White Avatar”) — win Rap Album of the Yr. “I inform you, the Grammys ain’t for Black males,” Darius says, because the Southern twanged companion of the late baby “rapper” accepts his posthumous award. Alfred, as he so usually turns into, is over it. He tried to play the sport — this time, by sharing his hard-earned fame as a Black rapper with a wealthy, white wannabe so as to make approach, far more cash — and the sport, once more, was too preposterous to benefit his participation.


Donald Glover in “Atlanta”

Man D’Alema / FX

Earn, in the meantime, had simply spent untold hours in a windowless concrete room ready for a gathering with D’Angelo — a gathering that by no means really occurs. Why? As a result of Earn is within the administration enterprise, and the administration enterprise requires fairly a little bit of absurdity. In spite of everything, if he wasn’t ready in probably the most unwelcoming Rally’s ever constructed, he would’ve been sitting in a board room, serving to to rehab the picture of a racist creator who pulled a gun on a child attempting to boost funds for an excellent trigger.

“How do you do it, man?” Alfred asks Earn about his administration duties.

“I simply bear in mind it’s not about what feels good,” Earn says. “It’s about what survives.”

Earn delivers that final phrase with a understanding gravity, and Alfred picks up on the connection. He as soon as advised Earn they needed to do no matter it took to outlive, and that’s how they reached this second. Earn is now prepared to do what Paper Boi isn’t. In a number of methods, that was all the time the case — the supervisor is there to deal with issues the expertise doesn’t wish to deal with — however “Atlanta” is extra occupied with pushing every man to acknowledge it’s not about survival anymore; it’s about what they need and who they wish to be. In interrogating these questions in truth, they might additionally discover their solutions don’t line up anymore.

Earn has made peace with this facet of himself. The query that’s tearing him aside is whether or not he continues to comply with this path — to a greater job in Los Angeles — or if he finds a solution to keep near Van (Zazie Beetz) and Lottie, his daughter. Possibly he can do each — by, say, transferring the entire household out West — however the place would that depart Alfred? With out his supervisor? With out his cousin? And if Alfred isn’t prepared to promote out so as to preserve his lavish life-style — if he’d moderately downgrade and pursue his passions (not not like D’Angelo, who took a 14-year hiatus after his Grammy-winning second album, “Voodoo”) — the place does that depart Earn? Wouldn’t he have to search out new shoppers? Or take a brand new job? Or discover one other solution to preserve his personal most well-liked life-style?

When Season 3 ended, I spoke to “Atlanta” author and government producer Stefani Robinson about a number of issues, together with an trade in Episode 8, “New Jazz,” between Alfred and Earn. When Alfred wakes up in a resort room, after a nasty journey left him handed out on the road, he’s not alone anymore. Earn is there. It seems Earn discovered him, took him again to the resort, and cleaned him up. However when Alfred wakes up, he’s nonetheless occupied with his expertise — and worrying about his future — so he asks Earn a query that’s been troubling him: Who owns my masters?  “You do,” Earn tells him; he made certain of it.

Once I noticed this scene, I took it as a candy second for the 2 cousins; a mark of how far Earn has are available in holding Alfred’s pursuits at coronary heart, and a important reassurance for an oft-worried star. In taking Alfred again to the resort, Earn took care of Alfred like household, and in securing the rights to his grasp recordings, he took care of Alfred like an excellent supervisor would. However once I requested if the scene indicated the cousins’ relationship was on strong floor heading into the ultimate season, Robinson — who, to be clear, didn’t write the episode — had different ideas.

“I feel professionally, completely, they’re extra on strong floor,” she mentioned. “It’s attention-grabbing, too, although: The opposite query turns into that familial facet of issues, proper? I nonetheless assume that there’s a little bit factor of mistrust in the truth that Alfred even needed to ask Earn.”

Evaluating Season 3’s “New Jazz” to the Alfred-centric Season 2 episode, “Woods,” she went on:

“There nonetheless appears to be this existential and unconscious query that’s enjoying behind Alfred’s thoughts like, ‘Do I actually wish to be right here? What am I doing? Can I belief these people who find themselves round me once I’m paying for every little thing?’” Robinson mentioned. “He’s kind of interrogating what it means to be well-known and who he’s surrounding himself with.”

Irrespective of the way you learn that scene or what’s occurred to date in Season 4, Earn and Alfred’s private {and professional} objectives might lastly be falling out of sync. I don’t count on a dramatic fallout between the 2 cousins, however such splits aren’t usually simple to navigate. With seven episodes left, theirs could possibly be the connection that defines how “Atlanta” ends. What occurs to Paper Boi and the enterprise he’s supporting? And, maybe tied to the previous questions, what occurs to this household? As a result of cash is vital, however survival isn’t sufficient anymore.

“Atlanta” Season 4 airs new episodes Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX, which can be found the subsequent day on Hulu.

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