Compared to the last three episodes of Atlanta, a truly stellar run of laugh-out-loud examples of the show’s chameleonic modes, “Snipe Hunt” is very chill. There’s no city landmarks or intricate surrealist set pieces; the conflict is interior instead of introducing some random antagonist like Nando or Zan. We don’t meet any new characters other than the brief appearance by the campground owner, which may be a record for this show. Instead, director Hiro Murai and writer Francesca Sloane produce a quiet family drama in the middle of a vast campground, focusing on characters and giving us more time with Earn, Van, and Lottie as a family unit.
Atlanta hasn’t spent extensive time in a rural setting since “Woods” (which Murai also directed). Back then, the woods were dark and menacing, even in the daytime, but “Snipe Hunt” has more of a dreamy, naturally sunlit vibe similar to the post-pandemic scenes from Murai’s work on Station Eleven. (If you didn’t catch Station Eleven, watch it. Please.)
Even though the forest is absolutely gorgeous, there also seems to be a hint of menace. At first, I thought it was just because I don’t fuck with nature like that, but there’s also a subversion in the shot composition. In the bookended shots where Earn and Van are loading and unloading the cars, they’re seen far away, like we’re peeking through the trees. There’s that great shot where Earn’s peeing and something emerges out of focus behind him, but it’s just Van and Lottie also peeing. Then there’s the moment of Lottie looking into the trees, like someone—maybe the campground host and his wife—is spying on her from a distance. Once I stopped getting close to the screen looking for some Haunting of Hill House hidden ghosts, I realized the voyeuristic framing can also signify an intimacy that comes from being alone with others in this vast landscape.
Once they arrive at the campsite, the trip isn’t the best ever or a catastrophe. It’s just slightly awkward. Van has obviously camped before (because of course she has), but Earn doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He tries to fashion a multi-room tent to a porch, but apparently a tent that large means they won’t have enough body heat to stay warm. While hiking later, he suggests crossing a river that would obviously sweep them away if they tried. Though Van brushes it all off, Lottie’s off in her own world, and as time goes on it becomes clear that she would rather address her mom than her dad. She even says while fishing that she wishes her grandma and grandpa were there.
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While Earn’s frustrated by the distance between he and Lottie, it makes sense. The six-year-old would probably want to be around people she’s more familiar with; we saw in “Work Ethic!” that her and Van’s relationship is very strong, and Grandma babysits her and takes her to Kirkwood Chocolate movies. Like Earn says, the three of them hanging out doesn’t happen all the time, and it’s awkward. Assuming Earn is working more and not around as much as he was in the earlier seasons, there’s a strain between the father and daughter that will take more quality time to heal. Which won’t be easy if they’re three time zones apart.
When Van and Earn finally have the L.A. conversation, after a day of enjoying nature, it’s clear that they both have issues to get off of their chest. Van says the quiet part out loud, that Earn’s trying to spend his way into Lottie’s heart with extravagances like renting out the whole campground. This big-money Earn seems more of a fan of throwing money at a problem than having personal accountability (see “The Homeliest Little Horse”), and there’s a valid concern about whether a move would change anything regarding his relationships with Van and Lottie. Van says she would rather stay in Atlanta, where she has familiarity and friends, not to mention support from Lottie’s grandparents. Van fears that Earn sees her as a “security blanket,” and it’s fair to wonder whether Earn would move her out and then leave her and Lottie to their own devices, without investing time in them as a family.
When Earn restarts the talk in the tent, it’s very natural, with him fumbling around, getting his thoughts out, and coming off as cocky. He then says he wants to be a family, but with a focus on Lottie, pointing out that she’s “the physical manifestation of what happens when we get together.” (Again, Sloane’s script is brilliant.) Once Earn can finally get the words out and admit that he loves Van as a woman, not just as Lottie’s mom, it seems to surprise her. The pair’s relationship has wavered from romantic to friendly to perfunctory, but from Van’s expression, it seems like she assumed that he would always be around due to obligation, not desire. This is the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen Earn outside of therapy. It really seems like something has changed in him since Europe, maybe because that was a moment where Van actually felt far away, like he could lose her. Either way, Van sees his sincerity and says yes, even though it will likely take some weeks of actions to back up his words before she’s all in.
I skipped over the actual snipe hunt from which the episode gets its name, but it’s the part of the plot that should become a classic family anecdote, mentioned offhandedly by Earn and Van as Lottie grows and they reminisce about her childhood through the years. When I first read the episode title, I definitely thought, like Earn did, that “snipe” would mean something racist, which means I fell for the same joke that he and younger Van did. The snipe hunt’s apparently an outdoor tradition, where newbies are tricked into searching for some mysterious animal with some made-up hunting strategy. The part where Lottie actually catches some hissing, land-eel-looking thing? Just a highlight of Atlanta’s Marks family vacation.
- I have never considered the purpose of sleeping bags besides, like, making sure you don’t touch dirt as you sleep (or a tent as shelter). That whole body heat thing does make sense!
- I always have an existential question when it comes to stunting: Is it that you have the money to burn, or does it just show that a salesperson/influencer/Instagram was able to convince you to get the flashiest, most unnecessary thing? (For the tent, the REI salesperson wins.)
- You know when people say a kid has “been here before”? Lottie gives that vibe, between the moodiness and catching the toad.
- Earn says he’s been dreaming of Van since Amsterdam, but they didn’t hook up until London. Amsterdam is where she started acting strange, though.
- Van’s “It’s a little Kanye being passionate…” can take you a bit out of the scene, but I get why the joke is there. Earn’s throwing a lot of emotion at her at that moment.
- The more I think about it, the more I love that this is just a chill episode. Atlanta’s proving that it can pull off anything, including familial slice-of-life.
- The needle drops of Sade’s “Your Love Is King” and “Love is Stronger Than Pride” bookending the trip are so lovely.
- The question Earn asks, “What’s so great about Atlanta that you can’t leave it behind?” It means little in the context of the possible move, but it is a theme I expected this season overall to explore more. So far, if anything, we’ve seen Al reckon with that question the most, as he gets reminders of his past and looks into a possible future. Earn’s been ready to cut and run maybe since those first therapy conversations, but he has already left before (for Princeton). It could be easier for him to leave. Basically, I’ve been waiting for the Earn and Al conversation about Earn’s move all season.