TV Review: Atlanta, 4×1, “The Most Atlanta”

Being back in Atlanta feels nice. This may be the final season, but at least it wasn’t a long wait between where we are currently with Earn and the gang, and their European adventure that came years after season 2 had ended. Of course, just because the group is back in their home city doesn’t mean anything is less strange. While the second episode of this fourth season premiere block takes on a whole different angle and is more singularly focused, “The Most Atlanta” serves as a reminder of how the series has always been easy to sum up as how Donald Glover described it from the start, “Twin Peaks, but with black people.”

The way this first episode opens practically had me feeling like we were back in Robbin’ Season. However, this time it’s clear that things will be set during the Summer. Regardless, the episode opens at a Target-like store being looted, and Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) walking in obliviously in an attempt to return an air fryer. Unsuccessful in this transaction, his attempt to leave is stalled by a white woman in an electric wheelchair, who wants to block the various looters from leaving the store. Darius simply moves around her, but we soon learn she has a knife and will be coming after Darius for the rest of the episode.

Our other core cast members have their own episode plots to deal with. Al (Brian Tyree Henry) is stuck in traffic and chooses to get off the road for a pitstop. Listening to the record of a recently deceased artist, Blue Blood, he discovers the first part of a scavenger hunt that he believes may lead him to the artist, who may not be dead after all. Meanwhile, Earn (Glover) and Van (Zazie Beetz) head to Atlantic Station (basically an upscale mall), only to find themselves trapped in the area and constantly encountering their exes. Are they stuck in some sort of time loop?

Glover has essentially promised this final season will have less of a divide between our established characters and the semi-anthology format depicting wild American developments centered around race in various ways. I personally found it all to be quite brilliant, but I’m not opposed to having the focus back on this terrific cast, either. With that in mind, it’s not as though Atlanta has ever lost the thread in terms of its tone and conceptual ideas filtered through the comedic lens setup to tell these stories. For “The Most Atlanta,” I was pretty happy to see this episode serve as a statement of understanding where each of these characters are currently at with their lives.

Far be it from me to say I got exactly what was being put out there after one viewing, as this show has always been layered, but it is interesting enough to feel out what’s essentially being communicated about each. For Darius, the purest member of the cast, he seems to be dealing with how a lack of self-awareness could be getting him into more trouble than he realizes. It’s not new. Look back at the time he went to a gun range with a picture of a person’s pet as the target, upsetting those around him. Is this final season going to be when he steps outside his own zen-like box to consider what else his actions could lead to?

Paper Boi’s frustrations have constantly gotten him deeper into situations that didn’t need to be problems. And yet, we’ve often seen him happy and digging further into his curiosity when certain scenarios arise. Here, while unpacking the news about a death of a rapper he admired, his journey to uncover what’s going on in a scavenger hunt leads him to the actual funeral of Blue Blood (his real name was Gary), which is being watched over by the late artist’s wife. Only five people have figured out this scavenger hunt, despite the effort put into setting it up. “I guess you don’t always get back what you give,” the wife states.

We’ve watched Paper Boi rise in popularity throughout this show. He has to deal with levels of respect based on his station and how people around him want to take advantage. Last season, Al lost something personal to him, making us wonder if he feels like he’s been pushed back some steps. Perhaps this will be the season that finds him reigniting a flame that allows him to put in what he wants to become a successful artist akin to those he admired. At the same time, will following that path make him happy, even if others don’t give back the attention to his craft?

Earn and Van are in an intriguing position, as we don’t quite know their status. After taking months off from her life, Van is back in Atlanta, acting as herself again. We’ve seen Earn rise to the challenge of being a proper manager, and the next episode gives us even more details concerning his success. Regardless, these two are together and dealing with a world around them that wants to serve as a reminder of distractions and things that got in the way. Neither feel threatened by the presence of other men and women these two have dated, and when push comes to shove, they stay together in the most extreme of situations.

“I would never let you become one of them,” Earn states as he attempts to figure out where an emergency exit to this mysterious mall leads. That speaks to more than just Van being the mother of his child. Maybe the journey for these two will be figuring out if they can reconcile whatever differences they have for the sake of being a family. Perhaps that’s a bit too corny for Atlanta, but at the same time, even with all the oddities around them, do these characters not deserve happy endings? We’ve seen Earn go from being a slacker to becoming a man in charge, accepting his responsibilities. That has to pay off somehow.

By the end of this episode, all of the characters somehow collide in a spectacularly fitting manner. They regroup and drive on out of what became a truly wild day. One of the random women who dated Earn remained, and the episode uses that to remind us that someone is always after what you’ve got, for whatever reason. It’s a twisted dark joke to bring in the sound of the electric wheelchair, but Atlanta’s dabbles with horror still go over well. Having that hint of seriousness can go a long way when trying to secure a message about knowing where you’re coming from.

Bonus Tracks:

  • Welcome back to my coverage of Atlanta for its final season. I look forward to seeing what this leads to, but the journey has been very well worth it.
  • Don’t mind the abrupt ending I have here, as I need to cover the next episode right away as well.
  • “Kid Ink” – The confused look from Earn here.
  • This wheelchair Karen with the knife is such a wild and surreal horror villain to face off with Darius, who has had his share of run-ins with antagonistic forces.
  • “Track 11 is how to care for it.” – Blue Blood seems to have been a very clever artist.
  • “Y’all fuck with Blue Blood?” – Paper Boi’s perfect reaction to Earn and Van falling into the funeral.

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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