One thing I have to consider with Atlanta – Robbin’ Season is all the perspectives of who is robbing who and who may only seem like they are robbing. That’s the issue Earn faces this week, as he’s rewarded for his decent work as a music manager, but isn’t in a position to show off his wealth. “Money Bag Shawty” takes a good look at all the ways Atlanta can show off its ambitions regarding the thematic through line, while still playing like the sort of hangout episode that makes this show so engaging. All the characters have their comfort levels disrupted at various points in this week’s episode, but it always feels comfortable watching them, even as their frustrations become apparent.
That level of comfort gets disturbed almost right away as the episode begins. A white, conservative mother’s tearful social media rant over Paper Boi’s latest single goes viral, leading to the song going gold and earning the guys a big music check. Celebration drinks are picked up by a waiter who immediately shuts down Earn, as he tries to convince Alfred to give him a shot. It’s the sort of physical comedy moment that Atlanta handles so well thanks to the facial reactions Donald Glover provides, the minimal amount of talk, but extended staring Brian Tyree Henry can deliver, and the obliviousness Lakeith Stanfield allows for, which concludes with Darius stating, “I feel everything.”
Keep in mind, while this season has an aim to explore the criminal undercurrents in America and how that perpetuates specific ideas about African American culture, specifically in impoverished urban areas, Atlanta has also harnessed a tone to make scenes hysterical for their awkwardness. This is especially the case with Earn, who suffers one frustration after another while attempting to have a nice date night with Zazie Beetz’ Van (her first appearance this season). That said, these frustrations all stem from having the tables of this season turned by keeping the authority thinking Earn is actually in the position of robbin’.
For his and Van’s night on the town, the initial plan is to see a Fast & Furious movie (which Alfred was not able to get a single on the soundtrack for). Carrying one hundred dollar bills, unfortunately, makes things a nightmare, as Earn’s image is repeatedly called into question when it comes to thinking he’s on the level with this sort of cash. Racism is rightfully called into question, especially when the white man behind Earn also uses a Benjamin but flaunts a gun when Earn attempts to prove it. This luck carries on at the hookah lounge Earn and Van attempt to hang at next when the manager is convinced Earn has used a counterfeit bill, even when the cops know better.
This all speaks to how Earn presents himself, which is a strange thing to consider. “Sportin’ Waves” had Tracy asking for advice from Earn, because he knew how to speak to white people. “Money Bag Shawty” now wants to show us that Earn isn’t as much of a black-to-white liaison as we may have thought when it comes to how authority figures see him. However, it’s not all about Earn’s blackness. There’s a level of shabbiness that he must exude because the final meeting point at the club continues to find Earn not in a position to receive automatic credit for being a serious person that can handle carrying cash.
It’s not without trying, as Earn rents a limo for Van and the rest of the crew (including a ready-to-go Tracy) and arrives with fanfare (for Paper Boi) to a table that supposedly provides a bottle. Of course, Tracy ends up getting credit for being Alfred’s manager and that bottle needs to be paid for by Earn anyway. Additionally, Earn not only gets charged to turn a couple hundred into ones but is harassed into tipping by a DJ with far too much knowledge about Earn’s bank account.
With a need for respect, Earn’s last ditch effort is to randomly enter into a race with Michael Vick, who emerges from the shadow to prove it’s the real Michael Vick (this show has had fun playing tricks before – think “Nobody Beats the Biebs” from season 1). Obviously, this doesn’t work for Earn, as he’s the show’s Charlie Brown and the football is not about to stay in place for him to kick it. But we at least get a final joke in the form of Van stating how obvious it was that Earn would lose. It doesn’t hurt that this moment completely sums up the trials faced this week by Earn.
Meanwhile, Alfred and Darius meet up at the studio with Clarke County. Introduced last week, I’m looking forward to more visits with Paper Boi’s rap rival, as he adds a new layer to his sunny persona. Never mind the false nature of Clarke County’s lyrics when it comes to freestyling about the drugs and alcohol he had just told Alfred he doesn’t like to partake in. Let’s find more to enjoy in the dark attitude he takes towards the poor engineer whose computer keeps crashing during the recording session. While trying to relate with Alfred about his ability to get endorsements and play the game in a way Alfred won’t/can’t, the oddities of the world of Atlanta do not stop at Clarke County either, even if he is confident enough to stroll around with Harriet Tubman twenties.
“Money Bag Shawty” is not any closer to forming some sort of narrative objective for the group, compared to last season, which simply found Earn trying to become more financially viable for the sake of Van and his kid. However, it’s not a huge concern if the series continues to flow with such confidence while interjecting its thematic moments that reflect the “Robbin’ Season” subtitle. Getting the whole cast together for the first time this season was a nice sight as well, so now let’s just look forward to whatever other awkward scenarios come their way.
- That social media rant is a riff on another viral video concerning Vince Staples’ “Norf Norf.”
- “White Tears!”
- “Don’t let it crash again.” And that’s later followed by, “Y’all should go home.” – Not a good night for that engineer.
- “I caught her red-handed” – “You can’t say that!” – And a hilarious discussion that followed.
- “The owner was trippin’.” – The cops way of making Earn feel better after he had to pay his entry anyway.
- “It’s Michael Vick.”