Atlanta‘s second season, “Robbin Season” to be exact, finished up on a low-key note, one that felt discernibly different from the world the show inhabited for the rest of this year. As I wrote about earlier in the season, Atlanta really embraced horror in this run of episodes, so much so that each half hour (and sometimes more) enclosed itself within a house of horrors. Staying on theme, there was always a theft or crime of some sort, even if it was just metaphorical, although more often than not it was an overt reaction to the frights and strangeness that the characters found themselves trapped with. But its finale, “Crabs in a Barrel,” brought things back home (quite literally) and saw Earn hustling in a new way to stay as his cousin Alfred’s manager.
Like the Season 1 finale, “Crabs in a Barrel” (written by Stephen Glover) showed Earn in a desperate place. He knows that Alfred is ready to cut him as his manager and move on to someone with more experience, and the news comes just as he and Van are told that their daughter Lottie is exceptionally gifted and should be in private school. There’s a quick moment at the airport later in the episode when Earn blows past two young men trying to push credit card signups — something Earn tried (poorly) in Season 1 — giving them a curt “nope!” and moving on. He’s moved on, or wants to, yet he’s constantly having to fight for the position. So much so, in fact, that he uses his fuck up of bringing his Uncle Willie’s gun in his bag into the airport to his advantage (Willie had told him in the premiere he would need it for the music business, but no one could have predicted this is how it would have worked out).
Alfred sees that move as what he needed from Earn, for him to step up and act quickly and decisively. He spent the entire episode trying to keep everyone on track while also being flexible (with Darius’ connections for a fast passport, and Alfred’s choice of entertainment lawyer). He tells Darius that he doesn’t want hand outs, that he has to be a provider too (especially now that Lottie needs more attention and, with that, money). So instead of a dejected Earn going to sleep in a storage facility like the end of Season 1, he’s worked his way to being on a Transatlantic flight. It can be read as a triumph (Earn finally getting a win), or at worst him maintaining his position with his cousin, whether or not it’s good for the long term. Either way, Earn is trying to reclaim some agency in his life.
This grounded storyline felt completely different from everything we’ve seen from Atlanta this season, including Earn’s lackadaisical approach to growing up and stepping up, but mostly in regards to its style and tone. The surrealism took a backseat to real-life issues, and it made sense. The series had to come back down to Earth to make the way for a new chapter, and, Lord-willing, we’ll get one.
No discussion about the future of Atlanta can be completely without mentioning how busy its talented cast is, starting of course with its creator, the multi-talented Donald Glover. Atlanta‘s second season took a small hiatus after its first because Glover was off filming Solo: A Star Wars Story. He also just released a hugely successful music video for “This Is America.” His co-stars have lined up a stack of movies themselves, and frequent Atlanta director Hiro Murai just signed a first look deal with FX Productions to develop new television series himself. Getting the gang back together for a third season would not be an easy feat, presumably, but it would be well worth the wait if Glover sees a way forward with it.
There is always pressure on a show creator to at least match the quality of acclaimed past seasons with each new one, something that has not been typical of many auteur TV projects. But perhaps one of the reasons Atlanta has succeeded with “Robbin Season” (maybe even eclipsing its first) is because Glover was willing to go in a completely new direction with it, and deliver something we couldn’t have expected but which still felt so right. Naming a show after a city carries its own kind of weight, but the way that Glover has never sought to define Atlanta or the exact experience of living here is part of the series’ delight. Much of it is specific, sure, but it’s also a universal story about family, hustle, and finding your way, often through difficult compromises.
Whether or not Season 3 happens — or indeed, when it might happen — we should feel fortunate to have gotten the two seasons of Atlanta that we have. But if it does continue (please let it continue), it will surely remain fascinating, revealing, hilarious, emotional, smart, meaningful, and inventive as everything else we’ve experienced with it so far.