With this brilliant episode, Atlanta is over. I tried to go into this series finale with zero expectations, but of course I had some. I expected it to be non-traditional in that Atlanta way, which for me defaulted to chill. Even the trailer looked fairly calm, although it would obviously be a Darius adventure. And still, with my expectations to not expect anything, I nevertheless wan’t prepared for the absolute perfect mind-fuck of this quintessentially Atlanta episode, directed by Murai and written by Glover. Bravo, y’all.
The episode started in the chill mode that I initially thought, with Darius zoning out to Judge Judy as Earn and Al prepared to go out. Everything about this scene is so intentional yet subtle; it isn’t apparent until the second watch that the opening shot of Darius is framed to look like a tank, with that groovy soundtrack, Judge Judy, and the Popeyes commercial serving so much importance later. The conversation with our main trio of men is so natural, as Darius sets off on his own before they all go meet up with Van (though I wish they axed the Johnny Depp joke). Also, I appreciated that there were nods to the characters’ arcs in the prior few episodes, with Earn sharing Van’s wants and the “Old MacDonald” song about Al’s Safe Farm.
When Cree Summer (!!!!) popped up, I was hoping that Darius had found his perfect transcendental soulmate and they would finish the episode together, but I also appreciated the conversation as a lovely bit of exposition, since I didn’t know about sensory deprivation besides the Simpsons episode. Part of the brilliance of this episode is that Atlanta has two modes: the heightened reality and the grounded surrealism. When he runs into London, his wild former friend who can pass a sobriety test while cross-faded, it’s a segment that feels very much like the reality of Atlanta. She seems like a character who could’ve popped up in something like season one’s “The Club,” even up to stealing the cop’s gun. After she runs over the kid, and Darius drops the stolen gun, that wake-up moment as the gun fires and he awakes is a complete surprise, because everything was so thoroughly set up…except how it actually feels to be lost to the senses. So from here on out, I’m questioning everything that happens with him.
The “tea in the tea room” moment and the excessive laughter: Is Darius still in the tank, or are the excessively-laughing women? It really seems like it could be both, but then Darius gets kicked out. We then get this lovely, simple scene of Darius visiting his brother, the only time we’ve interacted with his personal history besides the Nigerian restaurant in “White Fashion.” It all feels so real, until he sees thick Judge Judy. Then there’s the moment of him awaking and waking up, and that final shot of him screaming in the tank with the door closed. Did he ever get out? Has he ever gotten out?
Meanwhile, Earn, Al, and Van are in a completely different storyline where it’s heavily hinted that Darius is gonna show up late after the story’s over. Van’s friend (Candice?) has invested in Atlanta’s first Black-owned sushi restaurant, run by a chef who studied under sushi masters in Japan. It’s Black-sushi fusion, in a spot that used to be a Blockbuster and still has the candy on the racks. The towels aren’t all white, but a random assortment. The apparent sous chef calls out “Sup” instead of “Yes, chef.” Al (and I) are immediately skeptical, and he’s staring at a Popeyes right across the street. (Van is less antagonistic, but quickly decides the meal ain’t it.)
When the main meal comes out, the infamous potentially-poisonous blowfish (another bit of Simpsons knowledge), Al’s done, Van’s done, I’m done…and Earn still wants to support the culture. Then master chef DeMarcus shows up and serves a truth-telling monologue similar to Kirkwood Chocolate’s. (Based on a quick Google, sushi is traditionally served at room temperature to get the best flavor experience, and chefs do make the meal bare-handed.) The man has a point that the phrase “Black-owned sushi” shouldn’t automatically bring pause (though the Blockbuster of it all probably doesn’t help). It’s a very honest, hilarious speech that raises intra-cultural questions. But then Darius storms in and punches the mad chef in the face before he can force them to eat the blowfish. They all speed off in a stolen pink Maserati.
The final scene is some Inception-type shit in the best way, not a corny reproduction but a clever instance in which Glover takes the belief that the audience has suspended ever since the invisible car and shoves it back onto us all for a brief moment. Have the past four seasons of the show just been Darius’ tank dreams? The Teddy Perkinses, Thomas Washingtons, and the white Earnest Marks would have you believe so. But in the end, the episode leaves it up to the audience. We don’t see whether or not Judge Judy is thick. The contingent who think that “It Was All A Dream” is a brilliant subversion of the trope, and the others who will be mad that the trope was even a possibility can fight it out on Reddit. But you can’t deny that it’s such a great Atlanta ending.
I’m really glad that this is how the show left us. I assume there will be naysayers about the ending, because you can find a naysayer about literally anything. I’m focusing on the craft of storytelling, the way the episode tricked us along with Darius multiple times, fit another social-commentary monologue into the B-plot, and did it all pretty much flawlessly. Tomorrow I’ll be sad that such a show has ended, but tonight I’m leaning back with a smile on my face, happy that Glover and the Atlanta team got to make their weird, indescribable, creative, excellent show.
- I’m writing this in a bit of a rush, but I’m super excited to find the two bookend tracks for this episode later.
- Seriously, I will be making derivatives of the “Old MacDonald” song to roast my friends for the next few months.
- I think this episode has the most hidden Atlanta logo yet, and I’m very happy about it. It’s like they’re going, “Bruh, you know what you’re watching. You know our style. We don’t have to say it.”
- I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been Popeyes discourse on Atlanta yet. It’s a topic that would’ve felt extremely dated if they didn’t find a unique angle. (Glad they did.)
- Sooooo many good jokes in this episode. Like Al about the Popeyes: “Smell like the manager mean as hell.”
- I really do think that London would be just as wild if it wasn’t a tank dream. Maybe not steal a cop’s gun, but probably the weed, vodka, and beer bottle.
- That shot of Darius looking at Al, Van, and Earn through the window was sweet. I’m gonna miss the four of them.
- It was a pleasure to recap this for you all.