TV Review: Atlanta, 3×10, “Tarrare”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews the season three finale of Atlanta, "Tarrare," in which Van reveals the life she's been living in Paris.

We’ve reached the end of the third season of Atlanta, and I suppose it’s fitting that “Tarrare” brings some understanding and closure to what’s been going on with Van. Sure, that means the rest of the crew is somewhat left hanging (although there’s a post-credit scene with Earn that I will get into later in this write-up). Still, given that Paper Boi at least knows he owns his master recordings, grounding the finale in some human characterization for one of the series’ two aloof characters feels appropriate.

All season, the presence of Van has been a mystery. While nothing had been outright stated, it’s certainly clear she’s had some kind of breakdown that’s pushed her to go astray from her life. Has this been healthy? Earlier in the season, Van pushed people into a pool and laughed it off. Eventually, she ditched Earn altogether, only to reconnect by chance, after most likely stealing something and getting caught (only for Earn to stand up for Van). For this finale, Van has taken on the identity of Tarrare, a French kitchen worker who has connections all over town and isn’t afraid to beat someone to get what she’s after.

Wisely, “Tarrare” is told from the perspective of one of Van’s friends. Candace (Adriyan Rae) is visiting from Atlanta with two of her friends, Shanice (Shanice Castro) and Xosha (Xosha Roquemore). There are some questionable yet lucrative opportunities in mind for Candance, but everything stops when she spots Van. Last seen in “Champaign Papi,” we know these two women are friends, but Van, at first, pretends not to recognize her. Is this an elaborate act, or has Van really dropped off everything about herself to take on a new identity in Europe?

Whatever the case, Van’s become a familiar presence in the areas of Paris she visits. Candace and her friends follow along, as they want to get in on the parties and other fun rather than just see the touristy sites. Was it worth it? Well, during this madcap adventure, Van confronts a few different people, showing herself as the danger (thanks to the use of a stale baguette, no less). She also plays into an oddball relationship she shares with a game Alexander Skarsgard as himself. Oh, and there’s also the kitchen she’s working at with her partner, Marcelle.

I will not reveal the type of cuisine that ends up being served, but knowing that Van (Tarrare) has been chasing down ingredients to go with the meal, the payoff to this whole, strange ordeal is wonderfully ridiculous and perfectly fitting as to what Atlanta tends to go for. During this period of cooking, while Xosha and Shanice are seated and ready to eat (while wearing napkins over their head because it’s a very personal meal), Candance confronts Van, leading to our French-accented heroine freaking out.

Of course, it would come down to Lottie. While Van has been nothing but confident roaming the streets of Paris on a moped and attempting to pull off her wig and accent, trying to comprehend what this lifestyle would ultimately mean for her daughter is what snaps her out of this oddball version of a woman who was seemingly more secure than Earn as far as being an adult. After freaking out in the kitchen, Van and Candance have a good discussion by the Seine. Van confesses she just wanted to get away from it all and be more like Amelie. She also realizes she needs to go home.

Does this add to the season-long thesis concerning how whiteness is about where and when you are? I’m not so sure. One can trace these thoughts to the way Skarsgard is deployed in this episode or what takes place at this party with the mysterious dinner, but as far as Van goes, I’m not seeing that deeper connection. Van goes through miscellaneous adventures with Candice and her friends in tow, but none of her actions speak to being black in Paris. If anything, “Tarrare” veers harder into the surreal, eliminating how specific themes could play a role.

Early in the season, I had read that effort was being made to expand on how important women are to Atlanta. Perhaps that’s being saved more for the fourth and final season. Writer Stefani Robinson certainly takes an all-in approach to the characters this week, meaning anything Earn, Al, and Darius can do, Van can do too, but to what avail? Granted, I can’t understand all of the angles, but I do wonder what the show is trying to say when considering what Candice plans to do while in Paris to make $6,000. This is undercut by a joke that Shanice does the same, but why? Is it funny? I suppose, particularly because of the juxtaposition. But what else is there to this? I have ideas, but it didn’t sit right as a final beat of a very exploratory season.

That doesn’t mean the episode, as a whole, was off, but Atlanta tries to grapple so much, at times, that it does feel like the foot is slipping off the pedal sometimes. Can the same be said for the epilogue of the episode? Earn receives a bag that supposedly belongs to him. Opening it up reveals a couple of notable items. There’s a Deftones t-shirt that Earn nods in approval of. More curiously – a small framed family portrait of Earnest (Tobias Segal), the white man from the season opener, “Three Slaps,” who reappeared later in “The Big Payback.”

Earn’s face is inscrutable as far as reacting to a picture of this man and his family, but what does it mean to us?  As a way to wrap up the season, it’s a fitting final touch. This ghost-like presence appears one more time in the hands of Earn, and he may or may not be his white counterpart. What does that say about the Atlanta universe? Is this truly some kind of Twilight Zone or a Lynchian nightmare? Perhaps this can be explored in the next season. Or maybe Donald Glover feels he’s said what he needed to about these characters in this specific season when it comes to the always complicated conversation concerning race. Whatever the case, “Tarrare” doesn’t exactly tie a bow around everything, but it’s certainly been a journey.

Bonus Tracks:

  • “Rich Wigga, Poor Wigga” was initially listed as the finale, but perhaps the recent death of Kevin Samuels prompted Glover and co. to move that episode up a week, closing us off with this madcap adventure episode that still features a very specific bookend.
  • A quick Google search will provide plenty of information concerning the meaning behind Tarrare.
  • Among Van’s recent accomplishments while on her own, she’s the subject of a French magazine. She’s on the cover and everything.
  • “You didn’t even touch your negroni.” – Skarsgaard was a real sport coming into this show dancing to Ashanti, making inappropriate suggestions, furiously pounding himself, and then embracing the dinner. After Liam Neeson’s appearance, this was another fun surprise.
  • “This hood like Candyman.” ­– The balance of Candice’s friends being freaked out and accepting of Van’s life was pretty funny.
  • “I might lose the Baby Shark movie now.” – An all too real moment from Skarsgaard.
  • I’m honestly surprised this episode didn’t dive further into the idea of Van being Black Amelie.
  • While it’s obviously playing the situation as a joke (and really bordering on the line of demeaning, despite who’s in charge), staging the final scene by the Eiffel Tower and the amount of time taken on a fixed shot did make me laugh.
  • That’s going to do it for my coverage of the third season of Atlanta. Hopefully, readers found something interesting in what I had to say for the past several weeks. This show is pretty terrific, with each season delivering the goods. It’s also not without its layers, and whether or not I get to revisit all of them, this is a series that keeps me thinking.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of 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 We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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