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Review: Atlanta – Robbin’ Season 2×11, “Crabs In A Barrel”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the season finale of Atlanta - Robbin' Season - "Crabs in a Barrel" in which Earn decides whether or not he can go the distance.

While not entirely unexpected, a sense of hope was able to come through in the season finale of Atlanta – Robbin’ Season. “Crabs in a Barrel” is the proper follow-up to “North of the Border,” after the breath taken with last week’s “FUBU.” It is the episode that needed to happen to provide some clarity on where this show is headed. It could have easily doubled-down on drama for Earn, and there are indeed enough moments where inevitable doom seems to be coming his way, but Atlanta finds a way to conclude in a manner both optimistic to a point and fitting.

Now there is something a bit off about calling this finale optimistic, as one has to consider what’s taken place. Essentially, for Earn to survive, he had to play dirty. Hiding the gold pistol he had forgotten about in Clark County’s bag was a move made out of self-preservation. It also happened to be something Alfred needed to see to know his cousin can be the man he needs to be for this job.

I’ve put plenty of focus on the Robbin’ Season aspect of this season, and while this final episode did not bring things full circle regarding random crime and possible bloodshed, there was a more dramatic turn. While associated with a specific crowd, Earn is not a criminal. He’s the one getting taken during Robbin’ Season for the most part, but now we see him giving in to darker instincts. This action doesn’t come out of nowhere, either.

The choice shows why “FUBU” was such a necessary episode to have. Watching young Earn dealing with how to handle a scenario where he will have his life made worse provides so much perspective as to what has and hasn’t changed. He may have been a passive observer involved with tragedy when it came to the events of that fateful high school day, but a grown-up Earn is now directly causing the actions that benefit him in some way.

Clark County may have had a sinister edge lurking beneath his chill “yoo-hoo” attitude (recall his attitude towards the audio engineer in “Money Bag Shawty”), but Earn beat him. It may have been a last minute idea thanks to forgetfulness, but he took advantage of Chekov’s gold-plated gat.  Not only does this move remind us that Clark County is not the person Earn or Al want to be, but it lets Al speak some truth to Earn.

Whether or not Al was going to fire Earn before this action, one thing is clear – Al and Earn are family. That’s obvious, but it also means something. “You’re the only one who knows what I’m about,” Al says, making it clear that blood goes deep for two black cousins trying to succeed in the Atlanta music business. We’ve spent a lot of time watching Alfred this season. His exasperation is entertaining but also shows so much about who he is and what the Paper Boi identity has done to him. Earn may not be the best manager, but he’s also not a guy that will bull shit his cousin. There’s real truth that Earn understands, which is why Al needs him around.

Earn is also smart. It’s an aspect that tracks in the other parts of the episode. “Crabs in a Barrel” does a lot to bring Earn further down than he already was, but there’s a sunny way to look at most of it. For one, his smarts, along with Van’s, is rubbing off on his daughter Lottie. A parent-teacher conference goes in an unexpected direction when it is revealed that Lottie is advanced enough to the point that a private school would better suit her needs. Sure, Van isn’t making things any easier by letting Earn know she may be moving, but Earn is about to earn enough money to make that sort of education possible.

There’s also the way that Earn gets Darius. Never one to question the oddness, Earn accepts Al’s best friend for the way he is and provides straightforward answers to the odds questions that comes his way. It’s that sort of respect that lets Darius take Earn seriously when questioned about Al’s disposition. That Earn was also able to get Darius to the very Jewish part of town for the sake of a quick passport renewal, following his successful bribe to get the movers to finish up at Al’s apartment feels like a win as well.

One could speak to these things as negatives as well. Earn’s lack of authority tends to come out in unfortunate ways against him, but as Darius states, “Learning requires failure.” It’s been a tough hill to climb, but Earn is learning what it takes. Al is seeing that, despite being in a more questionable position during a stressful time. Maybe this regained level of control for Earn will build reconciliation between him and Van next season, but taking the good that’s already happened is fine for now. Plus, Earn also gets to be rid of Tracy for a while.

Atlanta – Robbin’ Season has been excellent. If the weakest episode could arguably be “Barbershop,” it’s only because of how slight it may be, compared to the dramatic duel taking place in “Helen” and the horror masterpiece that is “Teddy Perkins.” This season finale brings things to the appropriate close I wanted to see. It’s not about dramatic shifts amongst the characters, but evolving them to a new level that reflects what we’ve learned about them over the course of the season. During all of this, we’ve seen how crime and violence can take their toll on the characters in a variety of ways. It’s made for a unique viewing experience that has shown no signs of slowing down in quality.

Bonus Tracks:

  • “My Lyft driver was religious” – Earn’s excuse for being late to a meeting with the entertainment lawyer.
  • “Jewish dude” – Al’s reason for not wanting to hire that same entertainment lawyer (He wasn’t Jewish).
  • “Isn’t that why you chose Princeton.” – I was glad to get another conversation between Van and Earn before the season ended. Her talking about Earn’s intelligence and potential is heartbreaking only because she could so picture a good life with him if he tried harder and was around more.
  • “Rappers are procrastinators, no offense.” – I wonder if Earn will get that lawyer.
  • I hope the European tour goes well for Paper Boi.
  • Thanks to everyone who has kept up with these Atlanta reviews. It has been a pleasure to write them, and I only regret not having the chance to take a deep dive into the madness that was “Teddy Perkins.” That said, I’ll leave you all with Donald Glover’s latest music video, under his Childish Gambino persona, “This is America.”

Written by
Aaron is a movie fanatic and loves talking about such things…a lot. He is from Orange County, California, but earned a degree or two at UC Santa Barbara. He describes himself as a film reviewer, writer, podcaster, video game player, comic book reader, disc golfer, and a lefty. His mind is full of film knowledge and random trivia, but he is always open to learning more, whether it’s through box office stats, reviewing Blu-rays from The Criterion Collection or simply hearing first hand from filmmakers and others about various productions and behind-the-scenes tidbits.

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