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Paper Boi escapes to nature in Atlanta’s penultimate episode

“Andrew Wyeth. Alfred's World.” introduces us to the rapper’s Safe Farm

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Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles
Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles
Photo: Guy D’Alema/FX

I should have known after last week’s excellent mockumentary digression that there was no use of predicting what the last few episodes of Atlanta would cover. This show isn’t a fantasy epic or a linear drama where there are plot threads and questions that have to be answered. Instead, Atlanta created characters who have fascinated fans through their day-to-day struggles. A plotless show like this wasn’t going to end by giving viewers as much time as we wanted with each of the characters; instead, we’ll remember to appreciate what we can get. Still, it is a bit disappointing that this episode only features Al, with a little splash of Earn.

This week’s tagline, “They always making Paper Boi go through something,” is a good categorization for the series’ standalone Al episodes, including his chase through the “Woods” and his bad trip in “New Jazz.” Season four sees him escaping to a farm somewhere north of Atlanta, where he’s practicing his shooting, growing weed, and ignoring everyone’s calls. There have been hints that Al would make a life away from civilization all season, including the mention of a home in the woods in “Born to Die” and his at-home grow setup in “Crank Dat Killer.” Though he’d never mention it out loud, the title card song, “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” by Geto Boys, gives a hint of Al’s mindset after the mall shootout.

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For most of this very quiet episode, Al is building a farm alone with very little experience. The property is less gorgeous than the landscape we saw in “Snipe Hunt,” though Hiro Murai, returning to the director’s chair, still perfectly utilizes the landscape. This episode’s setting feels like a middle ground between the dreaminess of “Snipe Hunt” and the menace of “Woods.” The same seclusion that means Al can stumble upon an abandoned tractor covered in wildflowers means there’s no one around to hear him scream. I do not fuck with nature like that, let alone nature without any civilization nearby, so I appreciated this episode’s tightrope between the loveliness of solitude and little splashes of menace that show up even before the feral hogs (mainly the Confederate flag clock and the “We don’t call the cops” sign in the general store).

Once some hogs do break into Al’s shed and discover his weed, the show plays a little bit with the “30-50 feral hog” meme vs. the reality of the wild animals’ threat potential. Back in 2019, the jokes went more viral than the warning articles, so Al’s incredulity makes sense. In 2022, though, there have been way more articles about how these pigs can fuck up a person and the surrounding property. Clyde at the general store (played by She-Hulk’s boss Steve Coulter) says Al needs to take them down (with some very aggressive language), but he’s even averse to dealing with a dead mouse, so he tries to feed them poison weed first to no avail.

Farmer Al gets a win the next day, when he gets the tractor up and running. His brief celebration and drive around the lake ends with him stalling on a slope. As soon as he went downhill from the tractor, I was ready for some 127 Hours shit, but luckily his foot only gets crushed and not stuck. His journey back to the house sets up an excellent payoff of all the random threads of the show, from the Amazon driver not hearing his screams to the hogs returning to his back patio for another nightly meal to the rapper finally embracing his anger and going ham on the beast with his new cast-iron skillet. It’s a great moment of catharsis for the character, though I agree with Earn that the breakfast of bacon (from Kroger!) and whiskey is a bit much.

Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles
Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles
Photo: Guy D’Alema/FX
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Speaking of Earn, I was worried that some fight or impasse between the cousins had happened offscreen, since most of the calls Al was ignoring were his. Instead, everything seems chill between them, as the manager tells the rapper the same thing I had been shouting at the screen the whole episodes, that “farms are dangerous as fuck.” The episode ends with the team still making moves and negotiating contracts, but now both of them are preparing to move on to new phases of their life, with Earn and the family in L.A. and Al probably going between Atlanta and his Safe Farm. (He looks like a man here to stay, posted up with his ice pack and cane.)

Though this chill bottle episode is underwhelming as a penultimate outing, it does follow the overall Atlanta style. Strip away the unpredictability—shifting genres, impeccable needle drops, surrealist flair, and gorgeous filmmaking—and Atlanta’s about a group of people making their way from a life of hustling to a future of some sort of peace and calm. Everyone (besides maybe Darius, who’s still strangely underused this season) is just working toward a time where they don’t have to keep paddling like a swan’s feet underwater. Earn found that driving away from the campsite with Sade playing, and Al’s enjoying it as the fog comes in off the lake in slow motion. Whether we like it or not, we only have one episode left of the hustle. At least we’re getting glimpses of what peace will come after.

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Stray observations

  • I’m not that familiar with Andrew Wyeth’s work, but the NYT described the painter as “a reclusive linchpin in a colorful family dynasty of artists whose precise realist views of hardscrabble rural life…sparked endless debates about the nature of modern art.”
  • I’d love to read Taofik Kolade’s script for this one-man show of an episode. The points of Al chuckling to himself, and talking to the plants and animals, are so natural and well-placed.
  • Someone in the writers’ room should be proud of “These Backhoes Ain’t Loyal.”
  • The attack on a woman outside Houston actually happened in November 2019, so it pans out if the episode was planned out sometime in 2020.
  • This ep’s two other stellar needle drops are “Rollin’” by Dungeon Family and “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Cryin’” by Ray Charles.
  • My exact notes for the moments when the hogs show up: “Absolutely the entire fuck not nope nun huh fuck this no no no stay the fuck away from him Pumba.”
  • I always wonder whether cast iron is overrated when it goes on sale, and this episode is the best ad for Lodge that I’ve seen.