Recall how Atlanta – Robbin’ Season was a reference to the have-nots going after the haves, particularly in the months leading up to Christmas, as people start getting desperate. While last week had the show taking a break from the intense trials of Teddy Perkins for the sake of a New Year’s adventure to Drake’s house with Van, “Woods” puts us right back into the thick of things, and it’s after the holidays now. While not as surreal as “Teddy Perkins,” this is an episode that matches a character’s identity up against the desperation to live. It means dropping a lot of the comedy for the sake of an intense push to grow Alfred as a person; all while emphasizing the theme of this second season.
Things start well enough and in a way that’s typically Atlanta. Al wakes up from a night of presumably getting high and drunk. His mom is randomly cleaning up in the background. Darius appears and begins making pasta in a way that no one has ever attempted because he dreamed he learned how to. There’s no sight of Earn this week, but we at least learn Al is supposed to sign something to presumably attach him to some deal that will make Earn feel like he’s doing a decent job.
There hasn’t been much focus on Earn since he split with Van in “Helen.” He’s come up in plenty of conversations though, including this week. Al spends the first part of the day with his not-girlfriend Sierra, a former stripper-turned Instagram celebrity, where they get into discussions about building a brand. Al is very much against doing anything but “keeping it real,” which means wanting to hold onto Earn. Earn may only be doing the bare minimum to build Paper Boi’s cred in the rap world and with big businesses, but he is family, and satisfying the minor ambition Al seems to possess.
Sierra wants Al to fire Earn and find a real manager who can get him fancy shoes for free. Al considers it during the time he still has fun running around with this loud, but confident woman. An encounter later has Al once again defending Earn. I’ve found it interesting watching the show function without Earn around and noticing how the show seems to have little real regard or necessity for him. Donald Glover is great, and part of the point is his detachment from the world and attempts to break into it for the sake of himself and his daughter (and Van by extension). All that in mind, he’s not around this week. It’s Al’s show.
Before things take a darker turn, however, Al and Sierra get into a conversation at a nail salon about image. We know Al is not big on fans greeting him, taking a picture, or asking if he can listen to their music. However, Sierra is all about the world of social media and building a brand. And for a woman that many would instantly dismiss because of a (sadly) natural prejudice, she delivers some great insight into what it takes to stay relevant, especially as a black woman. However, she then tries to push further fame onto Al by taking a picture of her and Paper Boi to post, and it turns into an argument.
Now walking around on his own, things get worse. Al encounters fans who are at first excited to see Paper Boi in the wild, but then realize what they have. Robbin’ Season is back in effect and keeping it real goes wrong. Paper Boi is beaten at gunpoint, robbed, and forced to flee into the woods. It’s a real credit to Brian Tyree Henry that he can balance the tone of a scene like this. While tense, there’s some humor to be found in watching Al run away in his baggy pants. The frustration in his eyes always hits just the right note as well, which begins to inform much of the final portion of this episode.
“Woods” doesn’t necessarily get fantastical, but it was hard not to wonder if Wiley, the unstable man in the forest, was real or a manifestation of Al’s worries and repressed issues possibly involving his father. Atlanta has enough of a Lynch-ian vibe where an answer to that question will never be revealed, but it’s still a thought to consider. Was Al being threatened at knifepoint, or was he inside his head, figuring out if it’s worth it to stay “real?” If he is in his head, I guess it’s funny to think an imagined person would nickname him Deer Guts.
Freeing himself from the woods, under duress, Alfred breaks down before heading into a BP gas station. While icing his wounds with a drink, he’s called out by another fan. The weeks leading up to this and even in this episode, Al would reject anyone looking for a picture or treat him extra special. “Take them out,” he said to the fast food guy that put extra fries in his meal in the “Teddy Perkins” episode. By the end of “Woods,” Al is ready to take some pictures, even while wounded. He can be “real” and be Paper Boi.
We’ve seen plenty of consequences come out of Robbin’ Season, as the very nature of crime is obviously wrong. However, we’ve also received perspective. Alligator Man had his mind opened up by Earn as far as what’s been accomplished by those who have the smarts to do something. Tracy couldn’t get a job, even after stealing some nice shoes to wear to an interview. Earn’s night with Van on the town didn’t amount to much, as he was fleeced for his newfound cash everywhere he went. Darius had to settle for a nightmare in his attempt to pick up a free piano. Al has gotten almost nowhere, despite having all his fame. He may not fire Earn, but maybe they’ll start approaching things with more ambition in mind.
- “I’m gonna put my foot up in this.” – Darius’ plans to make pasta have him literally performing this act.
- “Black Aladdin” – Al initially rejects these shoes, but then reconsiders when learning a bit more about how to stay relevant from Sierra.
- “Everybody want to be a black girl, but the black girl ain’t makin’ no money from it.” – Two weeks in a row, the women get some interesting things to explain in the midst of an episode that goes in other directions.
- Hiro Murai’s direction in this episode is pretty spectacular. The forest scenes, in particular, have a great sense of space on display, complete with a great overhead shot.
- The episode is dedicated to Brian Tyree Henry’s mother, Willow Kearse Rice, who passed away in May 2016. Having recently lost my mother, this dedication did not escape me to think about how much this episode focuses on what it is to stay “real,” not giving up, and finding a balance to hold onto motivations. All things that would make a mother proud.