TV Review: Atlanta, 3×3, “The Old Man And The Tree”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews season three, episode three of Atlanta, "The Old Man and the Tree," in which our crew attends a fancy party.

Much like “Sinterklaas is Coming to Town,” this week’s Atlanta, “The Old Man and the Tree,” feels much more like the closest to “normal” this series can be. Whether or not that’s something that can be said week to week, we shall see, but with the reintroductions to the characters out of the way, here’s an episode that allows the ensemble to float in and out of each other’s orbit while going through various misadventures at a party.

The crew is now in London. After a walk through the city leading to the address Earn has on his phone, the oddness begins. With the gang believing they’re going to the home of a billionaire, they’re taken aback by the nondescript location they arrive at. In true Atlanta fashion, the façade quickly reveals itself to be a much more elaborate home, once stepping through the door, moving up some stairs, and essentially abandoning reality.

From here, the foursome takes on separate journeys. Staring with Darius, a simple misunderstanding leads him to meet Socks (not Sox). With Darius attempting to get a drink, only for a woman to confuse him to be hitting on her, Socks takes it upon himself to recount this story to others as a major racial attack. The way LaKeith Stanfield brings a level of aloofness to this series is always entertaining, so seeing him rattled by a gross exaggeration puts some comedic tension in his storyline that plays well against him.

Alfred finds himself at first bonding with the other wealthy men at this party by participating in a poker game featuring big money, cigars, and what seems like manly talk. Things evolve, however, as the billionaire Fernando tells a ghost story that turns into a theological discussion. Making light of what’s happening, Alfred finds himself with a huge winning poker hand that seems to upset Fernando. The night goes south from there, as the older man retreats to his room without paying, putting Alfred into a low-key rage (a random woman stealing his hat doesn’t help).

Elsewhere, Earn and Van are first hanging together, with the party’s host, Will, introducing them to TJ, a young black artist Earn quickly realizes is taking advantage of Will’s generosity. Van goes her own way eventually, while Will tries to convince Earn to be involved in some sort of setup he wants to put together. This whole section brings us back to Earn’s storyline regarding what moves he can make to be more of a real manager. Can he take on other clients? Should it go down like this? Ultimately, Earn may just find himself handling another artist, depending on the implications of the end of this party.

Real quick, however, checking in with Van, she continues to be on a journey of self-discovery. Earn finds her near a pool later in the episode, randomly pushing people into the water. There’s no remorse from her, just laughter (even as we see the second person nearly drown). Earn’s conversation with Van has a lot going on underneath the surface. They share a child together, but these two are not together, nor do they seem to be on each other’s wavelength as of late. What is Van running away from? Is it the stress of being a single mother who doesn’t know what to think of her former lover and his role in all of this? Or is there something else to consider? By the end of the episode, Van is still on her own, eating some fast food and avoiding Earn’s call.

The actual party concludes in true Atlanta form – chaos. After being shown an incredibly old tree earlier in the episode, Alfred decides to get back at Fernando by using a chainsaw on it to make a point. Darius tries his best to keep the innocent woman away from him before Socks and his group can pounce on her. The punchline of her being the fiancé to Will and getting dumped that night is cruel but darkly hilarious as well. Earn doesn’t even have a chance to register all that’s going on before the three of them rush out of the party before they have to deal with any consequences that may arise.

“The Old Man and the Tree” plays like a well-constructed farce more than anything. One can read into how Earn, Darius, and Alfred are treated at this party, but it’s not holding as much thematic weight as “Three Slaps.” Instead, there’s just a lot of fun to be had to watch this cast interact with the world. Maybe it’s the calm before the storm, or perhaps more lurks beneath the surface (I’ve only watched this episode once so far, and the show can be pretty layered). Whatever the case may be, even as a more straightforward episode with only hints of weirdness, Atlanta knows how to control its groove.

Bonus Tracks:

  • Each week is lending itself to some creative title reveals. This week features the title underneath the window of a white woman peeking out of her curtains with a phone in her hand, as she observes our black cast walking down the street, minding their own business.
  • “Do you like trees?” – Paper Boi read this entirely wrong, and the disappointed look on his face is great.
  • “I kinda like Moby” – Darius trying to help Socks deal with ideas for his balding.
  • “Everything’s just looking for balance.” – What could have happened if Paper Boi decided to embrace more of what Fernando was saying?
  • “Taking some time for myself.” – How much time does Van intend to spend away from her life at home and her daughter?
  • “And then she’s like, ‘All lives matter.’” – The increasingly wild story Socks tells to others about what happened to Darius was cracking me up.
  • “Racialism drives me fucking mad.” – Poor Will, he’s losing a lot of money and his fiancé this week.
  • This week’s sponsor: Nando’s

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,, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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