TV Review: Atlanta, 4×6, “Crank Dat Killer”

We may be past the midpoint of Atlanta’s final season, but “Crank Dat Killer” is not about providing any sort of movement regarding where this is all headed. Instead, here’s another off-the-wall episode that focused on the past coming back to haunt a person and an exploration of dignity. The latter portion was already examined to some extent when looking at things through the lens of a young black woman in last week’s episode, “Work Ethic!” Here, given how much effort Donald Glover has put into exploring black masculinity in various ways, there are some interesting ideas blended into an episode that also features an intense shootout.

While Van is not around this week, I was happy to see more of Darius, even though he’s still not exactly the central figure of “Crank Dat Killer.” Instead, we’re digging more into Al’s past to some extent, as he’s suddenly learning about a serial murderer known as the ‘Crank Dat Killer.’ According to a comment section populated by a black audience that Earn feels is more reliable than CNN, this person is going around killing people who made “Crank That” videos and posted them online.

I don’t want to have to blacksplain “Crank That” to people, but suffice it to say that Soulja Boy’s debut single from 2007 was a big deal, to the point of spawning a dance that was as big as the Macarena. Combine that with the early days of YouTube, and there was something of a phenomenon to behold for kids putting dance videos on the internet. What the Atlanta writing team is trying to say about all of this, I couldn’t tell you, but it does feel like a hilarious pitch – “What if an episode focused on a killer going after people who made ‘Crank That’ videos.” Well, it worked.

Last week’s episode was a delve back into horror to some degree, and I can’t fault how effective it is to see the show weave between humor and thrills. While Earn and Darius are on their own bizarre journey (I’ll get back to that), seeing Paper Boi become paranoid is always a success on this show. We’ve seen him deal with tough situations, having him call into question what he wants to prove of himself. If Al needs to take up arms and fight, I imagine he can and has. However, he’s also a smart man who doesn’t need to involve himself in situations if he doesn’t have to.

This series has constantly checked in on Al’s fame, exploring his life as a guy from the hood who raised himself to a higher level thanks to his rap career (and at least a bit from Earn’s management). In this current stage, however, does he still need to involve himself in hood antics? He tries to balance both, and sometimes it plays in his favor; other times it gets him into trouble.

“Crank Dat Killer” lets Al get a bit too focused on possibly being a target. He freaks out after calling Soulja Boy, who advises him to get a ‘Safe Farm.’ Some strange noises in his house, and he’s out the door, heading to the mall for cover. Just going out leads to another opportunity to watch Al struggle with fame differently. He can’t just go out and not be recognized, and as we know, Al enjoys this to a point but hates the idea of selfies, live posts, and whatever else.

The result of all this work trying to be incognito at the mall only leads to chaos, however. A man with pink hair arrives, stalks after Paper Boi, and opens fire when the time is right. What follows is a wild action sequence that leads to various Atlanta citizens pulling out guns and shooting back. Paper Boi barely manages to escape, but thanks to a rapper (Some Guy Named Doug, winningly played by Wisdom Allah), Al gets to see another day in exchange for recording a trash track at the studio.

Adding another twist, the pink-haired guy wasn’t even the “Crank Dat Killer.” The murderer was caught and identified as some random old man. Apparently, Al just encountered another random guy with an old beef with him. So what was this all for? Well, we’ll see if Al goes and buys himself that farm that he can lay low in, if need be. Otherwise, we can also wait and see if Al looking into where he’s come from and how he used to be will affect what’s going on in his current career and life.

Meanwhile, Earn and Darius want to get the new Nike Miracles, leading them to the Shoe Man. The only thing, the Shoe Man doesn’t want money. He wants to watch these two kiss in the back of his van. Obviously designed to throw the viewer off, it’s a funny, deadpan delivery, it still packs a punch as far as Earn’s concerned. Darius doesn’t care, of course. He just wants some shoes and doesn’t judge anybody. Earn, however, doesn’t know about trading away a level of dignity for some random man to get a pair of sneakers that go for $200 (and sell on eBay for $10,000).

This B-plot is too minimal to put in a lot more exploration as to what we’ve learned about both characters, but they take their stances and are understood. The episode tries to remove any sense of homophobia on Earn’s part, though one can still trace the initial gripe to a certain perception of black men. Ultimately, the kiss takes place, and the show doesn’t simply play in the background. However, it is short-lived when the Shoe Man takes a stray bullet from the pink-haired man (this portion of the episode was very mall-focused in setting).

As the three connect later, no real lessons seemed to be learned. There’s just introspection on the part of at least two of them. Not even the sounds of Some Guy Named Doug’s new track featuring Paper Boi does much to create a reaction, as it’s “more sound than music.” “Crank Dat Killer” is quite funny, by the way. By now, this show knows how to maximize the reactions these characters have to the surreal scenarios they find themselves in, making the episodes enjoyable regardless of where these people drift off to. That’s good, as visits to the mall are getting more and more dangerous.

Bonus Tracks:

  • “It’s a regular goddamned remote.” – Paper Boi getting too used to fancy TVs.
  • Some Guy Named Doug is very friendly, and it’s a shame his music is terrible.
  • So, Roberto. Yes, there’s a whole section devoted to wannabe rapper Roberto, who believes he just needs a moment in the right place to get his career started. Later, Paper Boi shoves him out of the way, into a glass window. A perfectly dispensed bit of setup and punchline.
  • “I think we’re above this. I think you know I’m right.” – Earn does well in describing how they’ve gotten by on style already, but Darius doesn’t care.
  • Shoe Man playing “All My Life” on the radio to help the atmosphere of the kiss was hilarious.
  • So, no one reloaded during that shootout. Lots of shots are being fired. Obviously, this is all exaggerated, but is there a side that thinks Al could have imagined some of this?

Atlanta is now airing on FX and streaming on Hulu.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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